I was amused and impressed to see that some women in Portland, Maine, decided yesterday to challenge the double standard about male and female nudity. Around two dozen women, organized by Ty McDowell, walked through the streets of Portland without shirts on, staying on the sidewalk because they hadn’t obtained a demonstration permit to walk in the street. The Portland Press Herald reported that the march, which attracted around 1,000 onlookers, was peaceful (“no incidents and no arrests” – it is illegal in Portland only to expose one’s genitals), but the organizer was “enraged” by the turnout of men to the demonstration.
The high attendance of men, McDowell said, defeated the purpose of the march, which was to normalize, rather than sexualize, women appearing topless in public. She said that in future, she would be more “aggressive” in discouraging oglers. One wonders what, exactly, that entails.
This march is particularly interesting in the context of Erykah Badu’s recent fine for disorderly conduct during the filming of “Window Seat,” her new music video, where she strips naked and feigns being shot in the head in the park where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Sgt. Warren Mitchell of the Dallas police force explained the citation, saying, “We feel that these charges best fit her conduct. She disrobed in a public place without regard to individuals and small children who were close by.” Mitchell said the department has had “people calling from all across the country to express their concern.”
Badu, certainly, was in a different category of nudity than the women in Portland. But one aspect of her project was essentially the same. She was trying to promote a sense of the female body as a subject rather than an object, and certainly de-sexualizes the female nudity that is common in other music videos (others thought that the video was just a publicity stunt, but that’s a conversation for another day). The reaction to Badu’s video and the Portland march show that we are very far from erasing the double standard about nudity – unlike men, women can’t appear shirtless in public without immediately being sexualized and objectified. Fair? Not so much.
Photo from Dominic Bartolini's Flickr photostream.