There is a debate occurring on the internet. That isn't news. Neither is the subject matter of the debate. It concerns women, their bodies and objectification of same. The objectification of women and their presentation as naked subjects for consumption by the male gaze has been going on for hundreds of years. It's been given various names over time such as "art", "porn", "comics", "lap dancing" and many more besides. Traditionally it's worked like this: women were represented (or presented) by men for men, whether as artists' models, employees or made up imaginary women that only ever existed in the progenitors head. Women had very little input in the process or the output, so the theory goes, they were just there.
Now, things are a little different. Alongside all the rest, we now also have women making representations of women for the consumption of others, including (but not exclusively) women. Take Katie West, who I'm using as an example because her recent post is the subject of debate on Penny Red's blog. In a nutshell (although please read the links as I'm paraphrasing for brevity) someone wrote a nasty note to Katie West complaining about the submission inherent in her work and stating that, because of this, she was not a positive role model for young women. Penny Red, whilst acknowledging the bile in the note and saying some interesting points, admits to sympathising with this position - because she believes that such representations of self-objectification contribute towards the unpleasant societal attitude that makes a woman's body more important than the woman herself.
Which it might well do, but that is a societal prejudice that needs to be dealt with by society at large, not by castigating individual female artists who want to portray their own bodies in their own way. The problem is not just about women and their bodies. It's about women and how they are seen as representing themselves. When a man does something it is not considered as representative of his gender. He's just a person doing something. When a woman does something she is a flagship of womanhood, held up for all to see as an example of how all women act. And that's the real problem - the real tension that underlies these arguments - that each woman in the public sphere is somehow held accountable not just to herself, her own wants and desires, but to every woman. How ridiculous is that and how outlandishly old fashioned? And yet this is what is happening in the mind of whoever wrote that original note. The idea that one woman's decision to produce so-called "objectified" images of herself on the internet reflects upon all women, upon all women's bodies.
Obviously, women should not be defined by just their bodies. Equally, neither should women be told what they can and can't do with them, even if it upsets other women, even if it upsets other feminists. Take me, for example. I enjoy sexual objectification, it gets me off, it makes me hot. I love images of it, especially ones that include me. I write publicly about it. The reason I did it was because I wanted to and because I enjoyed it. I'm interested in what it says about me, what it says about those who interact with me and what people think about why I did it. And I'm a feminist.
If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.
5 weeks ago