Jessica Rey’s fairly recent video on the evolution of the swimsuit has been creating a small stir on the internet. She argues in her video that contrary to the position that bikinis empower women, they actually give them power to shut down a man’s ability to conceptually relate. The answer to this negative power is showing off ones dignity through modesty.
I find her argumentation lacking. Although it may have only been because of time constraint, her arguments lack the depth needed for the topic. First, read this post by Rachel Held Evanst. In it she does help to broaden the discussion beyond just men’s brains and a cursory reference to modesty.
Rachel points out that the article done by Dr. Fiske of Princeton University has several issues. She includes that the there was only a small sample pool, only headless pictures of women, and that the subjects used already had a sexist view. I would also like to add the critique of a control group. According to the book Wired for Intimacy by William Struthers, there is problem with studying the affects of porn and objectification because it is difficult to find a control group that has not had a great exposure to pornography. I would like to know the porn addiction history of the men in the study by Dr. Fiske.
I would surmise that individuals who have not been exposed to pornography, or any form of advertisement, would be less likely to objectify women. Almost all advertisements and pop culture objectifies women’s bodies and trains men to do the same. This is a culturally trained pattern that men must actively fight against in order to responsible for their own thoughts.
Men are responsible to keep their thoughts captive, but we cannot expect them to do this on their own. Should women cover everything up? That would depend upon your culture and I will leave that discussion for someone else. What is necessary is that we equip men to be able to deal with culture and its training to sexualize woman’s bodies.
From car commercials, to advertisements for watches to television series, women’s bodies are portrayed as sexual, completely clothed or not. In most advertisements it goes beyond how much skin is showing and into the body language of the female. She is postured so as to accentuate curves and present herself as a target.
Are female bodies innately sexual? I don’t think so. But our society is making it that way. As is evidence by some cultures that find the ankle to be the most sexual part of the female body, what is sexual and what is not is simply what we are trained to think. Currently we are training men to think of every part of a female as sexual.
As we seek to train men to control their thoughts, we also must train them to think counter culturally. They must learn to think of the female body as a person, not an object of value that helps to sell cars, watches, boats and deodorant. The battle of men and women to control their minds is constant. Understanding what culture is teaching us, and then learning what Scripture teaches us is another very useful skill for the battle.
3 thoughts on “Evolution of the Swimsuit and Man’s Responsible Mind”
I don’t disagree with the criticism of Rey’s argument. I am little disappointed that your piece focuses on how we ought to reconsider how we look at “women’s bodies” rather than women as, you know, humans.
While I am absolutely certain that you didn’t mean to, that your argument talks primarily about “women’s bodies” as its subject, rather than women is inherently objectifying, even its attempt to criticize objectification. (reread, for example, your last three paragraphs to see what I mean.) My point isn’t solely semantic– I’m suggesting that objectification is the cause and over-sexualization is the effect, not the other way around.
A problem I have that is solely semantic (but I believe to still be important, and is certainly essential if you want to engage in conversation about feminism outside conservative circles) is your use of the word “female” as a noun.
Something unrelated to any of this that I keep wanting to say about the subject is this: why can’t people offer a modest option for any format of clothes and simultaneously respect the decisions of people who choose less fabric? The designs of these swimsuits are not the only thing that reminds me of the ’50s.
Hello Karen, thank you for taking time to share your concerns.
After some thought, I think I agree with you. I know that part of me wants to be able to follow in the example of good scientific practice and be very specific in the area of my concern. The view of the female body vs. women as a whole person. But, in light of what you said I believe I have fallen prey to what I often disagree with, the separation of a ‘person’ from their body. I will definitely keep this in mind as I navigate the fragile road between using the language of positions I disagree with in order to help it make sense, and using new language that may complicate issues.
Though, I am not convinced that objectification is the problem and sexualization is the result. I think they are two separate issues that often coincide. A person does not necessarily treat a woman as an object of some definable value, or as something to be used, but could think of them as a person but be overly sexually stimulated by say, her hand.
As far as the use of the term, “female” as a noun, please help me understand. As far as I was concerned, I was using female in the last several paragraphs purely biologically. Society treats a woman’s biology different than a man’s even beyond reproductive biology. A woman’s stomach, neck and arms, all of which are also common to a male biology, are viewed differently. If you have references as to how feminism uses these terms (so long as they are journal article length, as at this point printed book list is longer than I am tall) I would be happy to read them.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply!
Two quick notes.
– I believe objectification and over-sexualization are are vicious cycle, but the objectification is a much bigger problem than in the sexual domain. Some perspectives cause people to (occaisionally) think of women as dishwashers and baby-makers, for example, or non-sexual decoration. Hopefully, the people you surround yourself with don’t do that often, but as a woman (who was once a pretty serious misogynist and didn’t avoid others of the same perspective) I can assure you that it’s not a thing of the past. (I can also point you to some dark corners of the Internet where it’s condoned and celebrated, if you need convincing.)
-I’m on my phone and don’t have any academic literature, but “female” as a noun has a (perhaps only colloquial, but definitely worth avoiding) sort of “shade” of being dehumanizing. The OED, famous descriptivists, say, “The simple use [of “female”] is now commonly avoided by good writers, exc. with contemptuous implication.” I’m not personally offended because I know you didn’t mean it that way, it was just a warning that you’ll get shouted out of the arena before you make your point if you use it in a discussion with an audience that includes many avid feminists.