Why Nudity Can Be Empowering

The relationship that women have with their own bodies is a very odd one in our society. And by that, I am specifically referring to the fact that whether or not women should be clothed and in what situations it is appropriate is actually a very controversial and passionate conversation that our society holds.

Some people say that women should be conservatively dressed at all times, because if they’re going to ‘dress like a whore’ then they deserve to be treated ‘like a whore’.

Some people say that nudity is empowering, and that women should be allowed to wear what they want when they want.

And more recently, I’ve heard the argument that nudity is actually oppressive toward women – not because of that whole ‘whore’ thing that I discussed earlier, but because we live in a patriarchal society. This argument states that women should not dress provocatively, and they should not present themselves in a sexual manner publicly, because that is what society expects from us. Society sees us as sexual objects, and thus we are fulfilling that role for them. We turn ourselves into sexual objects because that is what we are expected to be.

But, personally, I take issue with this third argument. I take issue with the first argument too, but that isn’t my focus now – what I want to talk about is how nudity can, yes, be objectifying, but it can also be extremely liberating. It all depends on the context.

This third argument, in my opinion, is taking a very specific situation and using it to disregard nudity and open sexuality altogether. This argument focuses on the typical model on the cover of a magazine, dressed in as few clothes as possible and tipping her head back, full lips parted, passivity in her eyes. This argument focuses on women like Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears, women who are traditionally beautiful and who frequently pose provocatively, but they do so for a male gaze. This is the age-old argument against pornography: it’s all about the man’s pleasure, and never the woman’s. She can be sexy, but she must also be pure, faithful, silent. And, yes, this is an objectifying and oppressive situation. But it is just one side of the story.

Because as much as there are women who pose provocatively specifically for a male gaze, there are also women who can be openly sexual and be doing it for themselves, for their own pleasure. The pop singer P!nk, for example, who has vocally taken issue with the way that Kim Kardashian uses her own sexuality, has frequently sang songs about sex, posed provocatively for photographs and appeared scantily clad in her music videos, and has in fact been either publicly nude or close to. And yet, the difference between these two celebrities is that one never gets the feeling that P!nk is not in control of her own sexuality and her own body. She is not dressed that way because some male advisor told her that it would be the best move for her career; she is dressed that way because she wants to be dressed that way (or so her public image would suggest). And that creates a world of difference. No longer is the woman in question a sexual object, there to be looked upon by a man. All of a sudden, she becomes an actual person, someone with a body and a sexuality all her own, that she commands. She is in complete control.

And more than that, ‘nudity’ and ‘sexuality’ are not always the same thing. We always assume that, if a person is scantily clad or naked, that must mean that they are inherently doing so for someone’s attention, right? Well, not necessarily.

There are a lot of people in our society who are routinely told by society that their bodies are ugly. In fact, I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of people are told that their bodies are ugly. This message is given to overweight people, scarred people, people with stretch marks, disabled people, transgender people, people with extra skin, people who are older or wrinkled – the list goes on. And when people are told that their bodies are ugly, they are told that they should cover it. So the simple act of not doing that, of forcing people to look at your body when society has made it so easy for them to forget that it even exists, is a liberating one.

And to return to the issue of women and their bodies, women are told even more frequently than men are that their bodies are wrong, disgusting, and simultaneously, sexual objects. Women have been reprimanded for breastfeeding in public, because the act involves uncovering a breast, and people do not want to see that. Instead, the woman must segregate herself from society, feeding her baby in a dirty and busy bathroom. Women are told that they must maintain their bodies in ways that men find sexually appealing, and so if a woman goes into public with uncovered and unshaven legs or armpits, they run the risk of being told that that is disgusting. But the thing about these two examples is that they are not disgusting; they are naturally occurring parts of a woman’s body, but society has made it all to easy to forget that.

One good example of this sort of nudity that we’ve seen in the media recently would Amber Rose’s bottomless photograph that she added to Instagram, proudly showing off her pubic hair – something that women are often told that they should shave if they want to be considered sexy. If Amber Rose was playing into society’s expectation that she be a sexual object, then she would have also played into society’s expectation that she be completely hairless to make it easier for the average man to objectify her, but she didn’t. She wanted people to see her pubic hair because she wanted people to remember that women have pubic hair and that that’s okay. There should be no shame attached to it. It’s just a part of her body.

So while nudity can be empowering in the scenario where it is used to foreground the woman’s control over her own sexuality, it can also be empowering when it is used to deny the belief that something about the woman’s body is disgusting or not right. And both of these types of empowerment are incredibly important. We as a society tend to ignore female sexuality, to focus almost entirely on the man and his pleasure, and so it is important to see women who are willing to say, “yes, I am a woman, and yes, I have my own desires”. Women need to know that it is okay for them to explore their own sexuality. And furthermore, women need to know that their bodies are okay the way that they are. When we do see nude or scantily clad bodies, too often they are all very similar – airbrushed, photoshopped, perfected into what the typical man would think of as ‘sexy’, but there are so many different kinds of bodies to have. Women with stretch marks need to know that they aren’t alone. Women with extra body fat need to know that they aren’t disgusting. And women with disabilities need to know that they are still beautiful. And one good way that we can prove this is by showing them examples. And these examples most certainly exist – they’re just told that they need to keep themselves hidden beneath clothing.

And yes, there are situations where nudity can be used as more oppressive than liberating. And yes, there are more ways to empower women than just nudity, and in some cases, some women would prefer modesty. These women are perfectly valid, but so are the women who are empowered by nudity or skimpy clothing. We as a society cannot ignore their experiences, and we cannot assume that every time that a woman dresses herself, she is doing so for the approval or disapproval of men.

The Sexist Writing of Poison Ivy on Gotham

Poison Ivy has always been one of my favourite characters in the Batman universe.

In a lot of ways, she is everything that the patriarchy demands a woman shouldn’t be – intelligent, independent, in charge of her own sexuality while simultaneously lacking any real interest in men. She can be written very, very badly, of course, but she can also be written very interestingly, as a woman who defies categorization and who demands to be her own woman.

Poison Ivy is also a very interesting example of a sympathetic villain, because while she does kill often and unapologetically, she does so because of a traumatic event that changed her forever. For those of you unaware of her backstory, Poison Ivy was held hostage by her trusted friend and employer, who then proceeded to experiment on her and biologically alter her, turning her into something that is more plant than human. Afterwards, Poison Ivy has a very difficult time relating to other human beings and grows to hate them because of what they do to what is now her own kind – plants. She vows to protect the earth from man kind, and she does so, frequently, by killing them. In her story, it is very easy to see her as a victim, someone who is coming to terms with a violent attack but doing so poorly. And although her attack was not a literal rape, there are many elements in it that resemble one – the fact that it was done to her by a close friend but also someone in a position of power over her, the way that it left her feeling changed afterwards, and if one thinks about her in this way, it might explain why her hatred towards mankind seems to have a special emphasis on the word ‘man’.

The reason why I explain this is just to set up the character that I am discussing here, as well as part of the reason why I love her so much, and why it was such a disappointment to see the FOX series Gotham butcher her so terribly.

And I’m not even talking about a mere poor writing of her character – I’ve seen that before, and as much as I don’t like it, neither am I going to dwell on it all that much. I’m talking about a television show that takes a character who can be interpreted in very interesting but highly gendered ways and reduces her to walking boobs without even the semblance of a brain.

And where am I going to start with this? How about I start at the very moment where she became an active character on the show.

For those of you who have not watched Gotham, what I am about to explain might sound somewhat strange, but this is the backstory that she is given on the show. When Ivy is first introduced, she is a child – around fifteen years old. She hangs around on the show for a while, never really placed in the foreground until about season three, when Ivy is grabbed by a man who has the ability to increase a person’s age by touching them. The next time that we see her, she is played by twenty-nine year old actress Maggie Geha. So why did the show decide to age her up by about fourteen years? Because they wanted to sex her up, of course! According to Gotham executive producer Ken Woodruff in his interview with the Hollywood Report, the writers wanted to explore Ivy’s sexuality, something that has always been an aspect of her character, and they didn’t feel comfortable exploring the sexuality of a child.

And on the surface, this seems like a reasonable idea: it is uncomfortable to sexualize a child. Except for one thing: Gotham is about the characters of the Batman universe growing into their adult personas. It is a sort of coming of age story on one level, about Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, and Pamela Isley (or, in this case, Ivy Pepper) growing up to become Batman, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy. And as uncomfortable as this is going to make the parents of many teenagers, I have something to point out: fifteen year olds have sexuality, they are just learning about what that means and how they can explore it. To turn Ivy into an adult with her sexuality fully formed seems less like the show wants to explore how she grows into her sexuality and more like they want the men in the audience to drool over her. Imagine how different the show could have been if they instead decided to focus on a fifteen year old Ivy learning about the power in her sexuality, exploring that and what it means. It would have been less about how sexy she is and more about her learning to take charge of her body. Or, in other words, it would have been less about her as an object that men want to fuck and more about her taking charge of her own body and her own sexual power.

But Gotham is not interested in Ivy as a human being. They do not want to give her any real power. They just want to make her as sexy to the audience as possible, and a fifteen year old isn’t sexy.

And if you want more proof that Gotham doesn’t care about Ivy as a person, let’s look at the way that they characterize her after she becomes a foregrounded character on the show. Remember how I described her earlier – as an intelligent, independent woman with a hatred for all things male? Well, after Ivy becomes an adult and a walking set of boobs, she is then nonsensically made to take care of an injured Penguin (who openly and verbally abuses her constantly), and her defining characteristic seems to be how stupid she is. She is constantly bumbling idiotically into mistakes, not even realizing when she’s being manipulated by others. Now, I can forget the fact that Poison Ivy in the comics is a botanist with a PhD, because I know that she isn’t (yet) in the Gotham universe, but one of her defining characteristics in every previous adaption is the fact that she is manipulative. She knows how to get into people’s heads, and yes, part of that is because she employs the use of pheromones, but nonetheless, she is consistently smooth and seductive and charming. How is she supposed to do all of that if she doesn’t even have the wherewithal to know when someone is very blatantly lying to her?

Although I have no confirmation on this, my theory for this characterization of Ivy is very similar to the confirmed reason for why she was aged up: because the show only sees her as a sexual object. From the comics, they saw a character who was very open about her sexuality and they interpreted that character as stupid, as a doormat that can be easily abused and taken advantage of, when that is the furthest thing from true. Poison Ivy is a strong, independent woman. She is the woman who encourages Harley Quinn again and again to leave the Joker because he isn’t good for her, and yet here she is, allowing Penguin to yell at her and call her stupid. This isn’t just a case of the writers not understanding the character – this is a case of the writers taking a sexist and objectifying stance on a character who is so much more than the tits they reduced her to.

Why Wonder Woman is Important

If I had to choose between DC and Marvel (and many geeks do), I would probably choose DC. Don’t get me wrong, I love Marvel, and one of my favourite superheroes comes from Marvel (Nightcrawler from the X-Men, if you were curious), but I’ve always seen DC as just a little bit edgier, a little bit more willing to take risks. And not to mention, Harley Quinn and, for that matter, everything to do with Batman would probably have to be my favourite things from any superhero comic. So when DC began their own cinematic universe, I was downright dying to see it all come together.

But truth be told, their first three movies left me feeling disappointed. I personally considered Man of Steel to be an awful movie with absolutely no redeeming qualities. Batman Vs. Superman was a bit cheesier, and I loved the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman and Jeremy Irons as Alfred, but it was not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. And although I loved Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, I had some huge problems with the Suicide Squad movie, mostly because they romanticized the abusive relationship between Harley and the Joker.

I say all of this because, by the time that the release of the Wonder Woman movie became close enough to get excited about, I had begun to doubt that DC could put out a good movie. But nonetheless, I wanted to get excited. I really wanted this to be a good movie, because this was just such an important movie.

There have been superhero movies with female leads in the past. In 1984, the world saw the release of a Supergirl movie, in 2004 we had a Catwoman movie, and again in 2005, we had an Elektra film, but none of those films were critical successes, and more importantly, they were a vast minority, and both of those movies were released before Marvel’s great success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I write this, Marvel has released fifteen films, and not one of them have a female superhero as their lead. Their first superhero movie starring a female superhero, Captain Marvel, is set to be released in 2019, and it follows twenty films with male leads. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is DC’s fourth film, following two films with male leads and one film that divides its attention between one male lead and one female lead.

Not only that, but this film is Wonder Woman’s first live action cinematic appearance. She has had a television series of her own, but she has not had a mainstream movie of her own until now, which is miserable when you consider her male counterparts within DC. Batman has starred in seven live action films, whereas Superman has starred in nine.

So why is it that we have received so many films with male superheroes and so few with female? Well, because studios have doubted for years that the typical movie-going audience will be interested in a superhero film starring a woman! For years, movie studios (including Marvel) have cited the previously mentioned flops of female superhero movies as a reason to avoid making more of them. So, yeah, it’s a pretty big deal that DC was willing to release a mainstream Wonder Woman film, especially so early into the game. And not only that, it’s a pretty big deal that they chose a woman, Patty Jenkins, to direct, because of the top 250 films released in 2016, only 7% of those were directed by women.

So this movie needed to be good. It needed to be, because if it wasn’t, the future of female-led superhero movies was in jeopardy.

So how was it, really?

Well, I am proud to confess that, upon seeing it, not only is it the first legitimately good movie released in DC’s extended universe, but it gave no disappointments. Truly, it is the sort of movie that future superhero movies will try to emulate, and I couldn’t be happier.

In some ways, Wonder Woman captured a side of superhero story lines that I have always loved, and that is the idea that all people, good and bad alike, are worth saving. Wonder Woman explores the idea of empathy, who deserves it and who doesn’t, and a lot of the focus of the film relies on the strength of emotion and of love – two ideals that, interestingly enough, have been labelled feminine and, in a lot of ways, have been excluded from other superhero movies.

And I’m not saying that love is completely excluded from other superhero movies. Many of them feature love stories, and although it isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Amazing Spiderman 2 dealt with a superhero’s reaction to the loss of his love. But Wonder Woman deals with this differently. For Wonder Woman, love is her strength. She quite literally gains strength through her love for her significant other, her love for her friends, and, even more interestingly, her love for human kind en masse, including her own villains. In Wonder Woman, love and emotions are her asset, not a weakness. Not something that makes her silly and illogical. It makes her walk across a battle field and face fire from enemy troops, and it makes her win the battle in the end. And although I won’t say that this is an aspect that would not be represented in a superhero movie made by and starring men, I will say that this is an aspect that is unique to this film.

And it is so important that this aspect is available in Wonder Woman, because love and emotions have been labelled as ‘feminine’ for years, and more than that, they have been labelled as inferior. Emotions are seen as illogical, but Wonder Woman argues against that. Wonder Woman states that, yes, she is a woman, and yes, she is emotional and loving, but that is her strength. That is what helps her protect people, what helps her defeat her villains. That is what makes her amazing.

And there is so much more that I can say about this film. As I said, this is very much a movie about empathy, and it shows empathy towards everyone – toward people of colour who have faced discrimination or historical genocide, toward people who were born in the wrong time and place and are just trying to do the right thing, toward people who have given up trying to do the right thing and have turned instead toward hurting others. Wonder Woman is a loving and wonderful film that I cannot recommend enough. And even though it took a long time for the DC extended universe to put out a great film, I am so glad that when they did, it was this one.

Why Bother Fighting?

I suppose I’ve always taken it for granted that everyone believed, whole-heartedly, that fighting was important.

I’m not talking about fighting in the sense of barroom brawls or schoolyard bullying. I’m not talking about unnecessary physical violence, or even physical violence at all. I’m talking about people who stand by their beliefs to the death. I’m talking about people who refuse to let injustice or cruelty go forgotten or unmentioned. I’m talking about people who will not allow themselves to be pushed around or bullied, they have to stand up and do something. I thought that that was something that everyone believed in, it was just something that was difficult to enforce when the time actually came to do it.

But the other day, I was proudly listening to the news as they talked about people who were trying to stand up to Donald Trump. People who believed in something and were not willing to just let it go. People who needed to fight. And while I was listening to this, someone raised the question, “why do they even bother? They can’t win, so what are they doing?”

I was taken aback by this question. I suppose I’ve heard it raised before, but it’s been a while since I’ve needed to give the answer to it. Because, the way I see it, when you believe in something whole-heartedly, whether that be equal rights for others or equal treatment for yourself, what else can you do but fight?

And why do we fight? Why do we bother? I mean, people have fought battles since the dawn of time, and they have continued to fight even when they knew they couldn’t win. So the way I see it, we do not necessarily fight because we know we’re going to win. We very well might not win. Good battles have been lost again and again, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth fighting.

We fight because we can’t do anything but. We fight because we cannot be silent, we cannot allow people to get away with things that are not fair or right. We fight because it is better than laying down and being walked over.

We fight because we need change, and that will not happen if we do not demand it. We fight because, if we don’t, then nothing will ever progress. We fight because life is not always easy or fair, so what other choice do we have?

And even in fighting, things are not always fair. Good people have been torn down, threatened, spat on, even murdered in an attempt to silence their fight, but that doesn’t mean that they should never have fought. That doesn’t mean that their efforts went to waste. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X both were assassinated, but they and the things they believed in and fought for are still remembered today. The Taliban tried to silence Malala Yousafzai permanently, but she still fights. And she fights because it is a worthy battle that she cannot back down from.

And hopefully we do win. Hopefully our voices are heard and changes are made, but even if they aren’t, that doesn’t mean we should back down. All it means is that we have to keep trying.

Hot or Not: Women and Competition

It was a very usual day, and I was passing the time in a very usual way – by bumming around on the internet. And while I was there, I came across a very usual post, one that I have seen variations of before and will see variations of again. This particular post used the figures of two female celebrities, Madonna and Lady Gaga, and it asked the question: which of these two women is hotter?

Now, there are many things that I could say about this post. I could say that Madonna and Lady Gaga are both intelligent business women and artists who have fought to keep themselves relevant through the changing years, and yet this post reduces them to their physical beauty. I could say that both women are much more than their appearance, and more than that, they have represented themselves as being more than mere objects whose beauty is to be judged and determined by others. But that isn’t what I’m going to say. As much as all of that is true, what I am going to discuss is the manner in which these two women were being pitted against one another as competition in beauty.

And this is not a rare occurrence for women either – sometimes very directly, such as the example of the post that outright asked whether Madonna or Lady Gaga was hotter, and sometimes more subtly, such as when people make comments like “girls who are *insert body type here* are much more attractive than girls who are *insert body type here*”. This last example gets passed around quite often. Women who are a bit larger are made to feel as though they would be more beautiful if they just lost some weight, but in attempt to validate women who are larger, the internet produced a quote that read “real men like curves, only dogs go for bones”. And body weight is not the only area through which women are pitted against one another. Women who don’t wear make-up are told that girls who do are more beautiful, while women who wear a lot of make-up are told that girls who wear natural make-up are more beautiful. And the competition doesn’t even end at physical beauty – many women, especially teenage girls, feel the need to insist that they “aren’t like other girls”, as though to say that there is something wrong with other girls while she is inherently better.

In a lot of ways, it seems as though our society has decided that there is one clear way that is ‘right’ to be a woman, but they haven’t entirely decided what that way is. Some will say that curvy women are hotter, some will say that skinny women are hotter. Some will say that feminine women, who enjoy doing their hair and nails, are better, and some will say that masculine women, who fix up trucks and live for sports, are better. Some will say that Madonna is hotter, and some will say Lady Gaga is hotter.

And you know the reason for this? The reason is that there is no one way to be beautiful.

We too often forget that. We think that we can come up with a definitive winner in this competition that all women were unwillingly entered into. Who is the hottest woman? What is the best way to be woman? But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. One person will like skinny girls, and another person will like curvier girls. One person will like girls who wear a lot of make-up, and another person will like girls who wear natural make-up. There will always be someone out there who will think you are beautiful, and there will always be someone out there who will think you are not, no matter what you do. It is impossible to please everyone, so really, why bother? The only person you have to please is yourself. So long as you are happy and you are comfortable in your own skin, the right people will be able to see that and love you for it.

So let’s stop pitting women against one another. Let’s stop saying that one woman is hotter than another because, really, she isn’t. Both women are beautiful, and they are beautiful in their own ways. And this idea that women need to be in competition with one another to be the most beautiful or gain the most men (if the woman in question wants men, that is) is only hurting us in the long run. We should be supporting one another, not tearing each other down. We should be trying to make our fellow women feel like they have value, like someone out there cares about them, because that is a much more beautiful thing to do than tearing each other down to build ourselves up.