A video has recently surfaced on the internet that explains the evolution of the bikini and the way in which this particular fashion item plays into the objectification of women. My task here is not to rehash Jessica Rey’s argument but is instead dedicated to exposing the conscious and subconscious factors that play into defining the sexuality of females. Nonetheless, I have found this video to be particularly interesting. Rey, the speaker, attempts to (re)articulate a form of modesty that promotes human dignity while also embracing and affirming the female body. Dissimilar to my previous posts that primarily deal with theology and exegesis, this post will investigate the current subject from a social and philosophical perspective.
Let me first acknowledge that it has come to my attention, after a brief conversation with a good friend, that focusing on “liberating” women from certain clothing items seems to be fairly unimportant. Unimportant in the sense that these conversations seem to be short-sighted as they seemingly reveal a mentality of, “If she just wore more clothing she would be able to flourish as a human being,” or “If she was able to choose to wear less clothing she would be able to flourish as a human being.” The former statement may be applied to a teenage female in the U.S. as the latter statement could be said about an Afghani female. Both of these statements however do not strike the deeper nerve of how the female sex is viewed and treated by the majority of the world—not excluding the enlightened United States.
I will emphasize that Rey does not hold to conservative ideologies of modesty. To be sure, Rey embraces and affirms the female body. Furthermore, Rey is disheartened at the current portrayals of women as she views this portrayal to result in women being co-opted into the sex-capades of our current culture. The result for the female can lead to poor self-image, objectification, and dis-empowerment. All this to say, Rey does not direct the blame to the female gender but understands that there are (both conscious and subconscious) social, cultural, psychological and economic factors that affect female sexuality. It is indeed these factors that rapper Lupe Fiasco rails against in his song entitled B**** Bad.
Rey and I both share a fundamental concern that the female body has become primarily recognized as a sexual symbol (this is, in part, Lupe’s lament). While sexuality is a human identifier, it should not and must not become THE defining factor in one’s worth. However, U.S. culture is undecided on whether or not it is negative for women to be viewed as glorified sex toys. This is evident in Nevada’s laws regarding prostitution, a 10 billion dollar pornographic industry, and corporations that objectify young impressionable females. The untrained reader will investigate these statements and conclude that U.S. female’s should just do a better job of covering themselves. However, this approximation puts an inappropriate burden on females and an unnecessary emphasis on “nakedness” being a moral taboo.
Allow me to comment on nakedness by creating an analogy. During undergrad I took a class entitled Imagination and Culture. The class focused on artistic pieces throughout the centuries. In some of the earlier pieces, the women (and men) were fully nude. Despite this fact, I never experienced “awkwardness” or “violation” because I had a respected professor who taught me how to view these beautiful masterpieces which in turn resulted in a healthier appreciation for the human body. This sort of education is lacking in our current culture which results in the female body becoming over-sexualized.
Finally, I should make clear that I am not suggesting that if one simply comes to an “enlightened” conclusion about the “beauty of the human body” they will be able to unabashedly view pornographic images. I, along with Calvin Seerveld, hold that art is to be prophetic and elusive—and pornography is neither one of these things.In regards to what Rey’s argument directly addresses, I suggest that a female in our current culture refusing to wear certain clothing items could be seen as a conscious act of defiance. What I mean by this is that for a female in the U.S. to say no to a bikini could possibly be similar to someone saying no to a t-shirt made in Bangladesh. It is not that the clothing itself is “evil,” it is rather what the clothing represents that is antithetical to the promotion of justice and equality.
In conclusion I must admit, when it comes to female sexuality and our cultures definitions I have a personal stake in the matter. As I have a younger sister who is 16 years old, I am becoming increasingly sensitive to subjects pertaining to the empowerment of women and cultures antagonism to this movement. I would hope that the reader appreciates this, and I hope that my sister does as well.
Dedicated to Hannah R. Daniels
Rachel Held-Evans: Modesty: I don’t think it means what you think it means…
An anti-human trafficking organization: The Manasseh Project