Friday, May 02, 2008

Boobs on Thursdays

According to Nightline, a mall in South Auckland has a bar that drops the blackout curtains in the windows on Thursday late nights and staffs itself with topless women. The owner is a woman and she's all for it. The landlord is a man and he's all for it. The local councillor is a woman and she's scandalised and characterises the topless bit as a warm-up act for the hookers up the street. She also cites fears that children might see "breasts on display" while shopping. The topless staff were not interviewed for the story.

I'm not sure what I find worse - the sanctimony, the objectification, the hypocrisy (since when were the strip bars virtually next door to both the viaduct and density housing in central Auckland subject to the same moral outrage?) or a social system which makes all these options popular and easy. Or the telling fact that it's sort of ok to bare one's breasts in the name of commerce but probably not to be publicly identified to be doing so.

This is one aspect of gender politics I remain incredibly ambivalent about. Do we conclude that something is rotten in the state of Denmark (heh) if some women elect to be paid to be looked at partially naked and some men elect to pay for this in some way? What does it mean about the relationship between men and women more broadly? And what exactly does it say about New Zealand as a society that the women who go topless in South Auckland on Thursday nights don't appear to want to go on TV and talk about how it makes them feel to the rest of us?

Which brings me to the Danish boobs video (see commentary at kiwiblogblog - I can't find the original youtube article) - I'm so ambivalent about this piece of media that I've been unable to finish my post on it. But on the surface, I have to say it displays a healthier attitude to the human female form than we seem to be right now, even if it contains a lot of normalising discourse (young, blonde, thin, pert) about what's ok to find attractive. I guess, given that the Danish government is paying the women to remove their clothes it's not the same straight commercial relationship you see in the bar situation, but even so, there are parallels - the women are still being paid to be looked at topless.

I think it might be too late in the evening to unravel exactly what the relationships between sex, shame," the gaze" and the commodification of women's bodies in both situations are, much less where I stand on them. However, this whole mess is indicative of the fact that gender continues to be a heavily contested terrain, even if it's easier to ignore than engage with at times.

4 comments:

stargazer said...

so how do you feel about the naked news, soon to be screened? i can't say i'm conflicted about this, i absolutely hate it!

Lyn said...

I was thinking about doing a post about it after seeing the woman who will front in an interview on Campbell Live. She's a streaker who won't talk about her other adult-industry jobs on telly in case her son is watching, but does say naked news-reading is a way of getting into legitimate news reading and isn't it better that she reads the news naked than being on the DPB? I'd never lambast anyone for making the choice to be topless on television, but the appeal to the sensibilities of social conservatives in the last comment is indicative of her need to legitimise the choice and the difficult position she finds herself in, being subject to moral scrutiny, feminist scrutiny and a sexualising gaze that she is supposed to enjoy - but not too much, especially since she's a mother. How do I personally feel about it? Kind of repelled (I don't want to be looked at in this way and by her actions she's encouraging people to do this to women), kind of interested. I think it's a very uncomfortable place to put yourself. I'm interested in how she legitimates it and why she wants to do it, and what the audience thinks of the show and how they read it. I'd love to know why particularly do you hate it?

mardypants said...

Lyn, you've made very interesting comments on these matters. The South Auckland situation is complex though as a father of two girls, I don't want them to see womens' sexuality as a form of male entertainment (but neither do I want to be overly prudish - it's a difficult and fine-line to stick too).

KBB didn't set out to say that nudity and/or sexuality were bad topics or to say that women should be chaste and modest. Our point was to say that the sexism that we believe persists in the National party is being legitimised by Farrar and Franks and Franks, at least, should know better. I agree the video was mild. In fact I'd not even noticed it until I was told about the Herald piece. What annoyed me was Farrar's indignation about the criticism and Franks part-contrition and part-rejection.

Lyn said...

Hey Mardy - I should have made it clearer in the post that I think the issue of the video appearing on Franks site was well covered elsewhere on the blogs - by you guys and by the standard - I contributed to comments on their thread and on yours. However in doing so I realised that the messages in the video were crossing contested terrain and was interested to give this a bit of an airing independent of the video's political implications for the election. Morally the video is mild - from a feminist standpoint it's kind of weird and disturbing. But the exact nature of the weird and disturbingness is hard to pin down and it's hard as you point out, to know where the line is. I think things like this that are hard to categorise can be productive points of analysis because the fact that we don't quite know what to do with them may reflect inconsistencies in our symbolic universe that might be leveraged towards better understanding of how gender and power operate. But until I make myself do the hard yards on the vid I can't really comment further.