Pinups and Pecs

“If you want to write something, or need a(nother) topic, I keep having discussions about if guys can do “sexy” and “pin up” photos like girls seem to be able to do. Proceed. I feel like you might enjoy that topic, somehow. I might be nuts. I probably am.”

 

So a friend of mine posted this on facebook as a suggestion of something to write about and it struck my fancy. I feel like there’s a lot to unpack in this discussion. So first of all, why do girls “get” to do pin up and sexy photos? Is that really ok? I’ve had discussions about this with others who are worried that even enlightened women trying to take back this trend may be contributing to objectification, or perpetuation a lot of old images of women. I think that that’s a danger, definitely. I think that if and when a woman chooses to do a pin up type photo, she should try to be subversive about it; in traditional pinups, women look submissive, domestic: they’re often shown doing cleaning, or in traditionally “female” settings. I feel a lot better about pinup calendars or pictures if the woman in it is being sexy in an assertive way, is actually looking the viewer in the face, is in a different type of environment than the traditional pinup.

 

And the thing is that I actually LOVE the idea of pinup type pictures. Because very rarely does the average woman get to do something that celebrates her body, her beauty, and her sexuality. I love that different body types can be celebrated in pinup pictures. I love the idea of something like suicide girls. I do wish that more types of women were celebrated in these pictures: I wish more women of color, trans/genderqueer women, overweight, older…all kinds of women got roped in when we choose to a pinup calendar or photo session.

 

But they aren’t. And I worry that’s because as hard as we try to do pinups for ourselves, to celebrate ourselves, and to be subversive, as woman showing off our bodies we cannot help but be subject to the male gaze. It’s just there. And no matter what we do about it, there will be men objectifying us. To me that’s just a really shitty thing that rains on my body positive parade, and it makes me really scared to promote or participate in pinup pictures because I don’t want to perpetuate objectification by using “the master’s tools” as it were.

 

So what about guys? I think that guys are in a really unique position when it comes to pinup pictures. Men really aren’t very traditionally in pinup pictures. There is the classic sexy firemen calendar, but those aren’t nearly as ubiquitous and don’t have the same vintage thing going where anyone can replicate the feel. You kind of have to be a fireman (or have a bunch of oversized hoses lying around) to do the sexy fireman calendar. So there is a blank slate when it comes to men doing pinup pictures. There’s no history of objectification (as far as I’m aware at least…anyone in comments feel free to disagree) that would put a historical lens on the pictures and make them problematic. And very, very rarely are male bodies put on display in a sexual way. Rarely are men told to celebrate being beautiful, being sexy, being hot. I think pinup calendars could be a GREAT opportunity for men to make body positivity part of the male conversation, and I think that particularly it could be incredibly beneficial to make it part of the straight male conversation, because generally flaunting your body is considered gay. Only effeminate men let people look at them and do any sort of objectifying apparently, because it’s a woman thing to be the object. But here’s the thing: BECAUSE men are not considered the object, because they are assumed to have autonomy and assumed to be an equal in any relationship (even the relationship between subject and viewer in a photograph), they can bend the traditional notion of pinup to be one that asks us to reconsider how we view women in pictures, how we view sexuality, and how much autonomy we grant those women we see in sexy pictures.

 

And just as I mentioned with women, this is a WONDERFUL time for different types of male bodies to be on display, to be celebrated, to be considered beautiful. Perhaps even more than women, men have a single body type that is ever shown as the pinup (mostly because all women’s bodies are more objectified), and so seeing more men as attractive and sexy and proud and embodied is a beautiful idea to me. Maybe I should go join a nudist’s colony. But it would also help young women to start to see a variety of body types and begin to understand the different bodies they might  encounter. More exposure to real bodies is the healthiest way to build attraction, sexuality, and honesty

 

I personally think that men in pinups is exactly the wonderful kind of subversive parody that Judith Butler would promote and love, but I think it’s even more active than a parody because it’s a challenge, and active question to the viewer about how they see the picture. If it was a genderbent pinup, then all the better (men in maids outfits anyone?). I don’t think that I want to see men be objectified the same way women have been, but I also don’t think that ever WILL happen. I think what IS important is to allow the power that a man’s body has to infiltrate the submissive space traditionally occupied by women, and to rebuild that space in such a way that says the space doesn’t have to be submissive or objectified. This is a place where I believe men can do far more for feminism and women than women can, because of the privilege that men already have.

 

So I personally think that male pinups are a great idea. I don’t think it’s an infringement on a female space, I think it’s a reimagining of a traditionally oppressive space, and I really don’t see how it would lead to the objectification of men since men are nearly always assumed to be the subject and have autonomy, complexity and thoughts. Very rarely are they reduced to a body alone.

Pride

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Libby Anne and Dan Fincke at Patheos have a pretty fantastic series going that stresses engagement and civic thinking. They’re both part of the atheist/skeptical community (as am I), and have been putting out biweekly prompts that ask other bloggers to consider ethical and civic questions of importance.

This week’s prompt is about pride, the value of pride and the nature of pride.

I have a peculiar relationship to pride. I live in Minnesota, and here in the great Midwest, we don’t really do pride. Bragging is anathema. The humble brag rules, and being too proud is definitely considered weird. In general, I have fairly negative feelings towards pride, although I don’t view it as a sin or vice in the same way that I was raised to view it (in a Catholic school). In my mind, pride always has the ring of bragging or being overly self-involved. I realize that this is not the dictionary definition of pride, but it is always how I have considered pride. Being proud of someone else is completely acceptable, but being proud of yourself seems immodest.

I do think that something like positive pride is hugely important, but I would prefer to call it self-respect. This is the personal sense that you have done something well, and feel good about yourself. You can recognize your positives and accomplishments. That is great. That is something we need to cultivate more of, since the culture that I live in is one of “never good enough”. Pride involves showing it to others in my mind. And sometimes that’s ok. Sometimes you want to share, sometimes it’s healthy and wonderful to share. But the important kernel is the internal self-respect that says you acknowledge yourself as good.

In general, I think that some measure of modesty is great. It’s quite easy to put others down by bragging about your own accomplishments, it often makes you look foolish, and recognizing where you can improve is great. I think that modesty is 100% compatible with self-respect, because self-respect is internal, and modesty is about how you broadcast things to the outside world. But as always, there needs to be a balance between these two extremes. Modesty helps you to respect and care about others. It greases social wheels. It makes you more approachable. But self-respect (even sometimes branching into pride) helps you care for yourself by letting you acknowledge and honor the things that you have done, by allowing you to rest at times, and by giving you an emotional reward when you do well.

Sometimes pride does serve a social purpose, like pride in someone else or your group. Generally, I believe being proud of ‘your team’ or ‘your country’ is a little silly, since you have no actual ownership of whatever they have done. Being proud of someone else usually means to me that you respect them for it, that you feel they’ve done well. It’s more of a congratulations than anything else, but on a deep level, a level that says you feel happy to be associated with them. I wish that there was a word for this other than pride, because it seems to have a distinctly different flavor to it than personal pride. Where personal pride is about feeling good about yourself or telling others about what you’ve done, pride for someone else is about recognition of what they have done.

There is also group pride, particularly for marginalized groups. I really can’t speak to racial or ethnic pride, because I am not part of a marginalized racial group, but as a woman and as someone with mental illness I can’t understand feeling pride over those identities. Again, pride to me holds an element of boastfulness. There is nothing to boast about with these things. I cannot understand being proud of anything you have not achieved yourself. I do feel compassion, respect, care, and community for the other people in these groups and for my role in these groups. I feel that for many of these people I’m proud of them for surviving. But I am not proud of my status as a member of these groups, because for me pride is reserved for actions, and it is to be earned. However where an emotion plays a positive role in helping someone to deal with their marginalization, I certainly can’t speak against it. For other marginalized individuals, pride might be very important, and I have absolutely no right to take that away from them.

In general, I wish we had more words for pride, to distinguish the emotions that it contains. There are very valuable elements to pride; recognizing oneself, giving oneself permission to rest or recuperate after an accomplishment, feeling good about oneself, respecting oneself, or recognizing a good thing another person has done. In general, I feel that all of these things can be subsumed under respect, because I don’t see what in addition to respect there is about “positive pride”. The prideful element that seems to be added is the boastful, bragging, or raising yourself over others. I’ve never understood the importance of tooting our own horns. Whenever I see patriotism touted as positive, or ethnic pride, I’m simply left wondering what for? Can’t we illustrate our goodness through our actions instead of obsessively patting ourselves on the back? There’s got to be a way to feel good about yourself without throwing a parade.

Metaphors: Privilege and Spoons

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There’s a thing in the disabled community called the spoon metaphor. This was developed by a woman with lupus as a way to explain how her disease affects her, even when it’s not visible. While I don’t have a physical disability, I do have mental illness to deal with, and so sometimes I feel more comfortable explaining things to people through this kind of metaphor.

There are other metaphors like this, for privilege and for being able. Metaphors about difficulty setting, smoke, and even My Little Pony. The most basic is a bases metaphor: when you have privilege you start at first or second base, and when you don’t have privilege you start at home and have to work harder to get all the way around. I’ve found metaphors can be extremely helpful, both for explaining things to other people and for reframing things in my own life. One of the most important things that metaphors can do for us is to help us move away from charged language (like privilege) and move into a place where we can start to assess the parallels of situations instead.

In general, we think in metaphors, often unconsciously. Most of the abstract language we use began as metaphor. The metaphors we use can change how we approach things (those who view time as linear often approach their lives differently than those who view it as cyclical), and metaphors can help us lay down different paths in our mind that are almost like intellectual shortcuts.

Each of these metaphors gives us different aspects of privilege. They highlight different things, whether it be starting with less resources as someone who is not privileged, or having something to help you along when you do have privilege, or the fact that you don’t notice privilege when you have it. That’s one of the things I love about metaphors: each one brings something new to the table. Of course things means that we always need to incorporate a variety of metaphors in order to have a well rounded understanding of any concept.

I feel that privilege is a place where intersubjectivity is extremely important, and all of these metaphors together highlight it. I’m a skeptical type person and run in many atheist and skeptical circles. Often in these circles I hear cries of “objectivity!” shouted out about how we should approach the world. If something can’t be objectively verified, then it’s useless. These have always rubbed me the wrong way, since true objectivity is pretty damn impossible (you’ll never escape your own perspective, or the distortion your own senses create: we’re always trapped in our own subjectivity), and I generally prefer intersubjectivity, which is the process of incorporating as many subjective viewpoints as possible to come closer and closer to objectivity.

Privilege is a beautiful place to do this. Privilege is an experiential thing, just like discrimination. These metaphors point towards the experience of being aware of someone else’s privilege and your own lack of privilege. This is not something you can measure, or objectively point to, but rather we can build up a picture of it through intersubjectivity. If we each try to take a stab at defining how we see and experience privilege, then we can add more and more pieces to how we view it, build it up into a more cohesive whole that has dimension and depth. Metaphors are a beautiful way to do this because narratives can’t give us concrete elements to focus on. Metaphors pull certain pieces of the experience and highlight them. So each individual might have a preferred metaphor that rings true to them, and whose particular elements embody and sum up their experience. These give us more discrete elements to combine.

I think that the importance of metaphorical thinking is lost in many other places. We forget that it allows us to view our knowledge in a different way and allows us to highlight certain things that can be brought together. The importance of multiple metaphors is certainly not highlighted. I think that these could be important tools in science, in politics, or even in pop culture. I wish more people would use their metaphors.

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“Because it’s so GREAT and ENVIABLE to have your womanhood validated by straight men’s demeaning cat-calls. Because, in some fucking alternate world I’ve never had the luxury of visiting, being deemed sexually attractive by the standards of our culture means no longer being subject to body-policing (seriously… in what fucking world?!?). Etc.”

I recently ran into this quote on Natalie Reed’s blog (hurry up and get over there, she’s leaving soon and the archives will disappear. You’ll miss out on LOTS if you don’t read some of her stuff) about “passing” in trans* culture, and how for many people, passing is the gold standard of “trans-ness” (I’m really bad with this language because these issues really aren’t my personal ones and I’m still educating myself so please forgive any offensive or inappropriate language, I am trying my best and if you see something that’s wrong feel free to comment and let me know). It’s in response to the idea that as a trans woman, being found attractive by straight men is wonderful.

What really stood out to me was the last sentence: “In some fucking alternative world I’ve never had the luxury of visiting, being deemed sexually attractive by the standards of our culture means no longer being subject to body-policing”. OH MY GOD YES. This is something that has driven me crazy for ages. The dialogue about bodies and body shaming right now very much centers around fat, fat phobia, fat acceptance. That’s fine. Those are obviously the bodies that get the most shaming and policing. But there’s something far more insidious that goes on, even with bodies deemed “attractive”. And that goes beyond fat shaming, and into straight up sexism.

I have always been relatively conventionally attractive. I’m white, I’m slim, I’m tall. I personally don’t think I’m all that much to look at, but in general I fit into the basic demographic categories that should make me “attractive”. That doesn’t mean that I escape from body policing or body shaming. While I obviously agree that a dialogue around fatness and the cruelty people bring to fat individuals is important, I also think it’s important to point out instances in which EVERYONE is body policed, and to recognize those as instances in which female bodies are viewed as public property.

As a skinny individual, I have had people tell me that I need to eat more. That I look unhealthy. People have congratulated me when I eat unhealthy foods. I have had friends tell me I should wear more revealing clothing to show off my assets, and I have had boyfriends tell me to wear less revealing clothing because they didn’t want guys staring at my body. I have been told that I can firm up my fat into muscle if I exercise more, I’ve been told I’m too pudgy, I’ve been told my boobs are too small. Yeah, I’ve been cat-called. Starting when I was 13. I’ve been told my skirt is too short, that I should get contacts, that I should cut my hair or grow out my hair or wear my hear up or wear my hair down.

While many people who are fat think that they are the only people who get this type of interaction, the interaction that says “oh your body would look better if only…”, that is simply not true. They may think that other people pay no attention to how skinny people eat. Again, not true. All of these are marks of the way that many people feel as if they have a right to others’ bodies, or a right to some measure of attractiveness from the bodies around them. Most often this is in relation to women, which is why it appears to be a sign of sexism to me. More often than not, I get these kinds of comments from strangers or bare acquaintances, who feel that it is their business or duty to tell me how to look attractive or what to do with my body, although in some cases it’s someone who’s very close who feels that my body belongs to them. Most often it’s males, but sometimes it’s females who think they’re “doing me a favor”. I believe that on some level, the societal belief that they’re entitle to fat people’s bodies might be related to sexism. Often we see overweight men emasculated: the first derogatory term I think of when I think of an obese man is “manboobs”. Masculinity is supposed to be associated with strength, with physical ability, with virility, with power. These are not things we associate with the overweight, and I think that for many, being overweight is emasculating. This seems to allow other men to feel they have a right to criticize or control that body.

What all these ideas do is tell me and others that we need to be attractive (or masculine and fit). That that’s the rent I owe for taking up the space I’m in. That it is other people’s business how I look and what I do with my body. In reality, it should not affect anyone around me if I went out wearing a burlap sack, because what I do with my body and my clothes is my business, and I owe no one “cuteness”. And in high school when I was told over and over that my skirt had to be a certain length, or my shirt had to buttoned up so high, they perpetuated the idea that my body was dangerous, that boys would do bad things or be distracted or that it was simply WRONG if I let people see my body. And that my body had to be arranged in the appropriate way for those around me, both looking good (shirt had to be tucked in, right color shirt and shoes, no hair over eyes), and not showing too much to cause a ruckus.

Perhaps it should be time to start leaving other people’s bodies alone. Someone’s body is an intimate part of their self, and as a society we have cut ourselves off from that. We have decided that bodies are vessels that we need to perfect, and when we’ve perfected them then we’ll be free from any of this policing. But that’s not how it works. Bodies are an integral part of how we experience the world and ourselves, and our physical reactions to things make up a huge part of our identity. That is not something to perfect, but something to embrace. And no matter how “perfect” we become, if we view our bodies mechanically, we will always see how we could get better and continue to rip each other apart, because why would you keep something that is subpar? Our bodies don’t owe anyone else anything. Not attractiveness, not skinniness, not whiteness, not femininity or masculinity, nothing. We don’t have to earn our space or our bodies.

Body Policing and Attractiveness: They Can Live Together

Holy crap guys, thank you so much for all the likes and the follows! You are the BEST 🙂 I promise to have another post up today (it’s already written, just needs to get formatted and whatnot). Another wonderfully controversial one, so enjoy. Spread the word, tell your friends that it COMPLETELY MAKES MY DAY when I see you all here 🙂

Veterans and Hero Worship

A friend and I recently got into a bit of a tiff over John McCain and how much we should respect him. This led into a far larger fight about the military, military personnel, respect, and patriotism. And I had to use it as an opportunity to air my grievances against the hero worship attitude that most people in the U.S. have towards veterans. This article probably will offend some people, because the idea of questioning the respect and honor we give to veterans is unheard of. Democrats do it, Republicans do it, Libertarians do it…no one would think of demeaning those who fight for their country.

But I can’t help but ask the question…what’s so great about fighting for your country?

I’d like to try to break the question down a bit. First there’s the action itself. What is being a soldier made up of? Essentially the actions that define a soldier are violent: fighting and killing, taking things over, etc. There are some actions that soldiers undertake which are constructive, but generally those aren’t what we use as definitional of being a soldier. So the basic essence of being a soldier is killing or destroying. Those actions in and of themselves are not really things we generally feel are worthy of respect, so obviously the respect for vets doesn’t come from those actions in and of themselves.

Now I am the first to admit that actions aren’t just always bad or always good. Duh. Sometimes intention or consequence plays a role in determining the ethics of an action. So let’s look at intentions. Well the most obvious intention that people cite is “serving and protecting your country”. I’m just going to start with this one, and then move on to some others as well. I’m not entirely sure what is honorable about serving the country to be honest, and I honestly would like some kind of explanation for what is good about it. A country is simply a group of people, most of whom you don’t know. Serving that group of people can be a good thing, however we don’t seem to view it as a positive across the board. Public servants for example are rarely lauded for their service. And there are definitely instances in which serving and protecting the people who are part of your “in group” is distinctly a negative thing: think of racial violence or the mafia. So protecting and serving isn’t inherently a good thing either.

In addition, most of the recent wars we’ve engaged in have not been about directly protecting America. We have not been attacked by the countries we’ve invaded, and we have been in little to no danger. In general, those countries that we have invaded have not asked for our help, and have had mixed (if not negative) reactions to our presence there. So the larger mission of serving and protecting may not even be present at all in the recent wars we have engaged in. I find it hard to laud people for engaging in violent action when no one is being protected, and they really aren’t welcome.

In addition, there are many extremely negative incentives that some people have to go into the military. There are a disturbing number of individuals who join the military for explicitly racist reasons, like for the express purpose of killing those of a different color, or of “destroying the enemy” (read: the brown people). Some people join the military for money, for education, for “honor”, for family tradition, or all sorts of other reasons. Now I will add the caveat that there is definitely a racial and class element to a lot of people’s experience of joining the military, and in no way can I fault those who have few options and take the best option given to them. That said, I don’t necessarily think that ANY of these motivations for violence are good reasons for us to respect and honor someone, and I particularly don’t think that the very bad reasons among them (racism) are excused by the fact of “protecting and serving”.

 

So the intentions generally aren’t inherently honorable or worthy of respect either. Some people might think it’s honorable for a man to protect hearth and home, but I personally think it’s an outdated concept of honor that thrives on violence and patriarchy, and really isn’t worthy of our respect at all. Respect is earned by those who contribute something to the world, not those who destroy things in the world.

So what about consequences? Well the consequences of war are generally death, which is a bad one, I generally don’t think death is something we should respect people for bringing about. SOMETIMES it’s a better world (although this is nearly always arguable), but generally that “better world” comes at the expense of those in other parts of the globe, often civilians, often those we view as not as important because they’re brown. Even if it DOES improve the world (e.g. WWII), it comes at a huge cost of life and the mental health and well being of those who survive. PTSD is a huge consequence of war. Should we respect people for bringing these things about? I don’t necessarily think so. While I do think that the people who suffer through war should have our compassion and kindness for the difficulties they’ve gone through, and they certainly should have our support in dealing with PTSD or any other ailments they have gained during their time in the military, their actions themselves aren’t praiseworthy, the motivations for their actions aren’t praiseworthy, and very rarely are the consequences of their actions praiseworthy. In most cases, we barely break even in the consequences of war. So why do we continue to hero worship those who have fought? Why are they untouchable in political discourse, when those who are fighting poverty, hunger, child abuse, sexual abuse, or other clear ailments of society are ignored? I will never understand.

Welcome!

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Hello one and hello all. My name is Olivia, and I will be your host here. Welcome to Boredom Breeds Contempt, a site that was born out of the excess of blog posts I’ve been writing recently. I’m a regular contributor at teenskepchick.org, and have had quite a bit of time on my hands lately, so I’ve just been putting out too much content to limit it to a blog where I am one of ten contributors. And so I came here, which is to be the home of all the posts that don’t quite fit into the teenskepchick world, or are a bit too personal, or simply just don’t fit into our schedule. I’ll try to post on a fairly regular basis, but at the moment I’m contributing to 3 other blogs as well as working full time, so posting might be a bit sparse as I begin.

As for me, I’m a 20 something young woman, interested in feminism, skepticism, mental health, atheism, philosophy, dancing, reading, writing, editing, intersectionality, and a variety of other things. I hope to touch on all those subjects at some point, and if you have any thought provoking questions or ideas you want to throw out, feel free to comment or email me at oliviajames27@gmail.com. I like to rant, I am highly passionate, and I can get emotional, but I do try to keep myself in the realm of sanity and use critical thinking to evaluate my posts and opinions. There will be some moderation of comments: no slurs or the like, and please stay on topic. Otherwise, welcome and I appreciate feedback and discussion. I’d love to get to know my readers!