Saturday, October 25, 2008

Males Look. Females are looked at.

And other cultural stupidities.

Early on, a conversation. How would the story be changed if instead of modestly risking shame, Godiva rode round town enjoying the experience? Wanting to be seen.

Easy answer: It would change the dynamics of the story entirely.

I found what claimed to be a legal definition of exhibitionism which read “a man who exhibits his genitals to a stranger in public”. Whether this is true or not, I was writing a poem so I could run with it. By this definition Lady G, being female, couldn’t be an exhibitionist in its sense of crime or perversion.

Western Europe and the English speaking world have always had an odd attitude towards display for men. There may have been a time when dark age war lords went round bejangled and bejeweled rattling their gold rings and torques like a Christmas tree with a bad temper, but for the last several centuries competitive Male display has been displaced to signs of ownership and consumption. Look at my House, my Hummer! Look at the girl on my arm and the jewels I bought her. Dark suits, uniform drabness-with the maker’s name and the price tag what distinguishes- Male display is about achievement. Until very very recently, the male body has not been an object of display since the Greeks. Go look in your art gallery. Nudes. Female nudes.

For females it’s different. It's almost considered perverse in mainstream cultures to not want to be on show. From the sexualized pre-pubescent strutting her stuff in the pages of Barbie Magazine to the girls on the free 2009 Indy calendar dressed in the kind of swim wear they could never swim in, striking “provocative” poses you’re not meant to take seriously, from the fashions that suggest and reveal to the pictures of half naked smiling girls in the pages of the paper; to be seen, watched, admired, and then to need to be seen, watched and admired, to worry if you’re not: it's the cultural norm.

There are a lot of people making a great deal of money supporting those that take it seriously. Vast industries, fashion, cosmetics, media, all built on the tangled confusion inherited from the Medieval Christian church’s ability to complicate desire.

And with it comes the cult of Youth. You don’t just have to look like you’re nineteen. You have to act like you are. Nothing wrong with this when you’re nineteen. Hopefully you’ll grow out of it. One day you might be an adult.

But when you’re thirty nine? Shouldn’t you be living your age?

How difficult life is for those who object. Who don’t want to be pinned to a wall. For those with minds and voices and abilities who didn’t want to be judged on their appearance. For those who would grow old without fear of wrinkles.

It’s easy to forget it’s equally difficult for those who reject the only possible position the pictures offer.

Untangle that one.

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