In defense of nekkid pictures, even of dudes
The debates are going to continue for days about how wrong Weiner was during this, of which I'm going to maintain my concerns that it's much easier to sit in judgment of someone else's choices when you're not the one having to make them while a howling mob is outside calling for your head. And there will be debates about whether or not what he did is adultery; my feeling on this is that it's alarming how many people feel secure in making declarations about other people's marriages based on what they prefer for their own. Adultery should be strictly defined by the people in a relationship, full stop. But this post isn't about any of that.
This post is about another concern I have, and had with the Chris Lee situation, and has been growing generally as the distinction between "men sending pictures of themselves to women who are welcoming of such pictures" and "men who send such pictures unbidden". I'm seeing a lot of people bunching them altogether and saying, "Ewwww….who wants to see that? Why would any man think a picture of his cock/chest/etc. be something a woman wants to see?!" Now, I'm not talking about men who take a picture of their cocks and send it to someone who really hasn't sent any kind of signal that she's interested in that. I'm talking about pictures that exist in the context of a flirtation or an outright ask for pictures. I'm seeing the same judgment laid across the board, on Twitter and forums and blogs. And I'm going to have to push back and point out that this is sexist.
Why? Well, you know what never happens when a naked picture that a woman sent to a paramour gets out? The "ewwww" reaction. No one ever says, "Why would any man want to see that?!" or suggest that the distinction between wanted and unwanted pictures is unimportant because there's no such thing as a man who would find it arousing to have that kind of picture sent to him. To use some radfem terminology on you, that's because we think of women as the sex class, and the viewing of their bodies as sexual things as normal and natural, but to do that to men is considered feminizing and therefore "gross".
Again, since this is the internet and people want to distort your arguments beyond all recognition, I'm not talking about unwanted cock pics. Those are often threatening in nature, because men are positioned as aggressive and violent in our culture, and so unsolicited nudity is not only harassing but scary. But the blanket assumption that it's always foolish, unsexy, and stupid for men to take cameraphone pics and send them to women they're flirting with bothers me. It carries with it the assumption that women are sex objects and men are sex actors. And that women aren't sexual beings, but that we simply tolerate sex from men in order to get romance. I would argue instead that women are very much sexual beings who can find the male body quite arousing, and therefore a picture of a man in the context of a flirtation is not only normal but should be immediately understandable, just as the picture of a woman in a flirtation is.
Honestly, the fact that gay men exist and can look at each other with lust should have put to bed this ridiculous notion that men's bodies have no sexual allure. But no. The myth that women are for romance and men for raw sex and relationships are about a tense exchange of these conflicting desires has such a hold it overrules common sense understanding of the facts at hand.
This bothered me with the Chris Lee situation. From what I understand, the woman ratted him out not because she was delicately offended that a man would think she'd want to see something like that, but because she recognized him and was upset that he was a cheater. In fact, he sent the picture in response to communications they'd had, if I'm not mistaken. The idea was to show off that he had the good despite his age, and let's face it, he made his point. Personally, I'm glad that we're entering an era where men are toying with the idea that their bodies might have some aeshetic value that women may appreciate. It opens the door to other ideas that we need to embrace as a society, the first being that because you can look at someone with lust doesn't mean that you should stop looking at them as a full human being with full human rights. And if straight men are seen as people who can incite lust, then we're halfway there—no one is going to take away their right to be full human beings with rights, such as the right to say no.
Which goes back to Slutwalk, as many things do lately. In her pathetic attempts to debate strategy instead of stand by her suggestion that anti-rape activism shouldn't be a feminist priority, Melissa Clouthier tweeted something about how women who go on Slutwalks don't understand how men think. (i'm paraphrasing, because I don't want to wade through her ridiculous Twitter feed.) The implication is that men, when they see women in short skirts, cannot be expected to see the person in the skirt as a full human being with full human rights, including the right to determine who penetrates her body. I disagree, of course—not only do I see men accomplish this amazing feat all the time, I also have point out that how much skin is "too much" is so culturally constrained that making essentialist arguments falls apart after a minute's thought. The argument "you know how men are" is an illusion, and part of what upholds it as an illlusion is the strict policing of men to make sure they don't present themselves in sexualized ways reserved for women, thereby collapsing the wall that's been built between being sexy and being a full human being with full human rights.
So, by all means, denounce men who harass women with cock shots. But let's be clear on distinctions. The problem is not that a cock shot is always unwelcome and that women can be considered as a class not into that. A lot of women (and gay men and yes, even straight men) find penises and male bodies in general arousing. And there's nothing wrong with a straight man who wants to be seen as sexy by women, any more than there's something wrong with a woman who wants to be seen as sexy or a gay man who wants men to find him sexy. In fact, we should be welcoming of a world flexible enough where all people have the right to try to feel desireable, and all people have full human rights, regardless of their sexual status.