Your Body is Obscene if You’re a Woman, or Look Like One
I should begin by warning you that the following article may be not safe for work . . . and that’s the entire problem.
Jezebel is reporting that the new issue of Dossier, a fashion and art magazine, is wrapped in opaque plastic on the stands at Barnes & Noble due to a cover image that has been deemed offensive: a topless man.
This isn’t just any man, though: it’s Andrej Pejic, a model known for his androgynous beauty. He’s often made up in traditional women’s cosmetics and hair styling, and has even walked runways for women’s collections.
Because he is styled in a feminine way on the cover, with his hair in big blonde Marilyn Monroe curls, the baring of his chest has been declared as obscene by flagging bookstore chain Barnes & Noble. The chain offered Dossier the choice between destroying all copies of the magazine that were meant to be put on B&N’s shelves or wrap them in opaque plastic to avoid offending consumers. Dossier chose the latter.
The Jezebel article is informative but manages to completely miss the point in a way that made my jaw drop:
But Pejic is a man. And pictures of shirtless men, in Western culture, are not considered “obscene.” So why is Pejic’s cover getting the same treatment as a porno mag? What message are the big bookstore chains sending — that the male torso is only appropriate all-ages viewing when the man in question is ripped? Does the Barnes & Noble newsstand have a minimum biceps standard, no skinny dudes need apply?
The article implies that the real story here is that skinny men don’t get equal treatment to muscular men. This makes little sense – rarely have skinny men enjoyed so much attention from the fashion world, thanks to the skinny hipster ideal that popular brands like H&M and Urban Outfitters cater to. Skinny men appear in popular magazines without shirts on – probably not in the same numbers as muscular men, but they’re never censored and it’s not considered illicit to display them in a public place. Pejic isn’t being censored because he’s skinny. He’s being censored because he is styled like a woman, and women’s torsos are sexualized to the point that we consider them obscene while men’s are not. This is the same problem that leads to pointless whining over women who breastfeed in public.
Jezebel mentions this issue in a parenthetical aside that suggests that this isn’t the perfect time to talk about it:
(Why it is exactly that women’s toplessness is considered inappropriate for magazine covers in this country is a question for another day, but this debacle does call into question the general ridiculousness of these standards.)
Why wait for another day? Let’s talk about it now, and every day until we’re allowed to possess breasts that we don’t have to hide for fear of – what? – damaging children? Driving men into sexual rage? You know, all those terrible consequences that we prevent with padded bras, and that other cultures prevent with burqas.
There is nothing damaging about seeing a breast, and there is no reason to expect that men are more likely to attack and rape a woman if they catch sight of one. Those who feel that the amount of skin a woman shows determines her likelihood of being raped are more than welcome to show me the rape-a-thon that must go on at nudist colonies, but until then I remain firmly convinced that men rape because they want to rape. @nalarsen pointed out to me on Twitter that at least Barnes and Noble are going out business. The problem is that the culture that practically demanded their action will persist indefinitely.