I live in Utah, which is known for having a large Mormon population. Mormonism puts a strong emphasis on women dressing modestly. Modesty isn’t exactly a culturally revered virtue, so when Jessica Rey, an intelligent young woman with an MBA, gave a talk regarding the evolution of the swimsuit and articulately championed a return to modesty, many Mormon women found it liberating to their views. I’ve seen a lot of it on Facebook and I finally decided to watch it after viewing a collection of pictures on Buzzfeed, titled “25 Things Mormon Women Love,” one of which was Rey’s The Evolution of the Swimsuit and, creepily enough, the Romney’s marriage.
In case you aren’t familiar with the video, it’s quite concise at nine minutes, so give it a quick viewing.
After giving a short history of the bikini, her strongest urge for women to seek modest wear comes from the findings of a Princeton study. Rey claims that the findings of the study are that men are more likely to objectify women in bikinis than if they wear modest swimwear.
Firstly, this is precisely the wrong thing to be talking about and I know the phrase “rape culture” has been thrown around quite a bit lately, but it pertains specifically to Rey’s reasoning. She is pinning the responsibility of how a man acts on a woman’s shoulders. She never states at any point that men should be taught that it’s wrong to objectify a woman, no matter what they are wearing, she merely redirects it to emphasize the importance of modesty. By her logic, Americans shouldn’t create images depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad because Islamic extremists might kill them. It’s entirely fear-based.
Secondly, she has distorted (knowingly or unknowingly) the findings of the study itself. In the study, it was found that the men who were most likely to objectify a woman scored very high on hostile sexism. Why the hell would a woman care what a guy like that thinks of her? Even the men who scored highly on benevolent sexism were unlikely to objectify a woman in a bikini. The problem is not with women and what they wear, it is with sexist men. Her claims are not only offensive to women, they are offensive to men who behave respectfully towards women.
Now onto modesty itself. I think all kinds of swimsuits can look sexy and endearing on women, be they one-pieces or bikinis or even the kind from the ’40s that Kiera Knightley wore in Atonement. Hell, I quite like the designs of Jessica Rey’s swimsuits. The problem I have with upholding modesty as a virtue is that it’s nothing more than a reinforcement of demeaning gender roles.
The male swimsuit has evolved as well, it used to be a weird jumper thing (see Leonard DiCaprio in the Great Gatsby, for all the historical anachronisms in that movie, that’s one they got right), but Rey doesn’t lament the fact that men’s swimsuits are effectively boxer shorts now. We’ve already discussed that how much of a woman’s body she decides to show should have no impact on how she’s treated by men (or other women for that example). Let us not forget that conversations of modesty are only about the surface appearance of an individual. They steer the discussion away from the content of a person’s character.
So what, then, of modesty is a virtue? I’m not saying everybody should walk around naked, but if they did, why is that wrong? What, inherently, is bad about the parts of the human body we declare inappropriate? Have you ever asked yourself why a man’s nipples are not censored, but a woman’s are? The only difference between a man’s nipples and a woman’s nipples are that, after having a baby, a woman’s have the ability to lactate. Is that why we cover them up? That seems kind of silly, especially since women may legally breastfeed in public. Now, again, I’m not saying everyone should wander around naked tomorrow, but it is my view that we need to start thinking about what we believe makes it wrong in the first place. I believe how a person presents themselves physically should derive from a place of preference, not constraining pressures from society. One piece? Two piece? Three piece, four? If you sincerely want to wear a swimsuit like Borat’s, go for it!
The area in which Rey’s lecture truly upsets me is her conclusion. It turns out this whole time that she just so happens to run a swimsuit business. Her philosophical liberation of modesty is nothing more than a sales pitch. There’s nothing wrong with running a business of course, but on the subject of how women are viewed by society, it completely destroys your message. Her ad campaign is no better than a designer swimsuit billboard pressuring women to look a certain way (all of the women sporting her swimwear on reyswimear.com, by the way, are supermodel thin). It reminds me of that scene in Clerks when an apparent activist continuously talks customers out of buying cigarettes due to the harm it causes their lungs and instead suggests buying packs of Chewlie’s gum. He is then revealed to be a Chewlie’s Gum representative plugging his product. Don’t allow your views to be swayed by somebody trying to sell you their shit. What destroys her message even further is that her swimsuits are 88.00 each.
Her message, once all the debris has cleared, is “Men will objectify you if you don’t buy modest swimsuits from me.” And apparently, only women who can afford her swimsuits deserve not to be objectified.
Special thanks to Feminist Mormon Housewives who included a link to the study on their site.
A good friend of mine is quite the dish (I still don’t know precisely what that means, but I know it has something to do with somebody’s attractiveness) if I do say so myself. So naturally, she catches the attention of a number of suitors. She’s quite selective and often declines date requests, but is always open to making a new friend. About two years ago, another friend of mine asked her to go for coffee and she said yes, but mentioned right off the bat that she was interested in just being friends. After that, he never called her to go.
Some people may find it insulting, but let’s think about that for a moment. What on earth is offensive about “I would like to be you friend?” The funny thing is, I’ve had pretty girls in whom I was romantically interested tell me they only wanted to be friends and while I was a little put down, I’ve never been a person to turn down friendship. Am I any less pompous or entitled than the average guy (or girl)? Probably not. I may be even more so depending on who you talk to. (I am a liberal after all. My kind is nothing but entitled takers.)
I think I know my variable, though. I still remember middle school. I remember when the pretty girls I had crushes on wouldn’t even be friends with me, let alone date me. Around high school is when they found me tolerable enough to be around in a social setting and I was elated, even if I believed I never had a shot with any of them. In my adult life, friends are easier to come by for me, and while I’m not always the greatest friend in the world, nobody can say I’m ungrateful.
Who is anybody to say no to friendship? What is a relationship, but a close, intimate friendship that involves physical contact, involving everything from cuddling to sexual intercourse? Intimacy is not secluded to romantic relationships, there are many of my close friends both male and female with whom I’ve been more intimate than most of my romantic relationships.
There’s nothing pathetic or unfortunate about being “friend zoned.” There is, however, everything pathetic about some guy or girl whining about how their close friend doesn’t want to fuck them. Those kinds of people who take friendship for granted don’t deserve friends or girlfriends.
In the film “Milk,” Harvey Milk consoles a heartbroken Cleve Jones by telling him, “You are going to meet the most extraordinary men, the sexiest, funniest, brightest men. You’re going to meet so many of them, fall in love with so many of them that you won’t know until the end of your life which ones were your greatest lovers and which were your greatest friends.” I think it’s a wonderful way to anticipate life. Come what may, but never reject friendship or love or believe it is owed to you. It will lead to an unremarkable life.
Before the conversation after a mass shooting such as Sandy Hook or Aurora shifts into a debate on gun control, it typically begins with one of two responses. The first being shock and devastation that so many lives were lost, the second being outrage and hatred, with individuals proclaiming how evil and hell-bound the shooter is. While many surely experienced a mixture of both reactions, I’d like to address the second reaction as well as the sequential process of my own.
While shock, devastation and a degree of outrage and anger factored into my response to the news of the Sandy Hook shooting, I have a tendency to become existentially introspective when I hear of things like this. Pretentious as that may sound, I find it’s the best way to describe it. Though I find any such act as murdering children in school beyond the realm of comprehension, I don’t think of the young man who did it as “evil.” ”Evil” is so easily dismissed and doesn’t demand any second thoughts. It doesn’t call for understanding, which is the goal to preventing such unspeakable acts.
Perhaps the most disturbing thought for me is that given the circumstances, any given person is capable of this kind of atrocity. Or more specifically, I am. Certainly, I’ve had dark thoughts before and while I’ve never actually considered killing anybody, there were times when I was so miserable in middle school that I could see how somebody could be driven to that point. Thankfully, I had a good mother. She was attentive and raised me correctly (in the regard that I haven’t killed anyone, with anything else, I’ll let you be the judge). I imagine how I might have turned out if I didn’t have a consistent, loving parent in my life and had a mental disability that impaired my perception. When you combine social pressures, a lack of a good home life and a mental disability, it’s no surprise that it can result in a perfect storm that leads to horror.
One of Sufjan Stevens’ most popular songs is the beautiful and haunting “John Wayne Gacy, Jr” in which Stevens lyrically explores the tragic and disturbing life of the infamous serial killer from Illinois. You can listen to the song here. Gacy was known for drugging, raping and viciously murdering young boys in the neighborhoods in which he lived. Stevens boldly concludes the song with these lyrics:
And in my best behavior,
I am really just like him,
Look beneath the floorboards,
for the secrets I have hid.
Though anybody with a fraction of common sense will recognize that he is not admitting to murder here, it’s a supremely vulnerable verse to put into his song. Our knee-jerk reaction may be “I’m NOTHING like Gacy or any of these lunatics! I would never do something like that,” but when you look at Gacy’s childhood, things become less black and white. He was an overweight, non-athletic boy who could not compete in sports due to a health condition and was constantly mocked and bullied at school. His father was an abusive alcoholic, who beat him with leather belts as early as age four, called him “dumb” and “stupid” again and again, beat him through his adolescence and into his teens. At age nine, he was molested by a family friend, but feared his father’s reaction so much that he didn’t tell anyone. When Gacy’s mother tried to defend him, his father called him “sissy” and “queer.” He suffered blackouts, seizures and a ruptured apendix. From age 14-17, he spent roughly a year combined in the hospital, during which his father accused him of faking illness for attention. Nobody, without treatment, emerges from a childhood this traumatic free of a tortured psyche.
Nothing excuses the actions of John Wayne Gacy, Jr. or Adam Lanza, though when we dig deeper, we can find a strong degree of explanation. Even if we could prevent guns from being in the hands of any criminal, it doesn’t address the problem at its source. Hopefully with the health care provisions taking effect in 2014, mental health will be easier to attain. What, effectively, would guarantee people of all tax brackets available access to mental health care? Single payer medicine. It’s the only realistic way to provide this desperately needed treatment from a young age. By utilizing public insurance and employer insurance to private institutions, France is number one in the world when it comes to health care and they don’t spend nearly as much as we do per capita. This would fundamentally address and even solve a large number of the problems we currently face, many of which derive from untreated mental health.
If we understand the demons burrowed in the depths of our psyche, perhaps we can conquer them. What better way than getting people, regardless of their income, the help they need?
Sometime yesterday evening I reposted a quote on my facebook timeline. It read: “We live in a fucking culture where more fucking people are offended by ‘swear words’ than they are by famine, warfare and the destruction of our fucking environment.” Provocative, to be sure, but I agreed with the sentiment and added my own “Thank you. Seriously, people, grow the fuck up.”
It prompted some interesting discussion. A few friends of mine agreed that swear words were disrespectful, unintelligent, classless and offensive. With words that have clear derogatory origins, such as “nigger”, I would agree. Ascribing a word as vulgar for being socially considered as vulgar, however, is idiotic.
Consider the word “fuck” for example. Many people will wince if you use it around them. Chances are, however, if you ask them why it offends them, they won’t be able to give you an answer outside of “uh, it’s offensive.”
The origins of the word “fuck” are commonly regarded as an acronym, either “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” or “Fornication Under Consent of the King.” If you ask somebody if either of those phrases offend them, I guarantee you they say “no.”
Neither of those are actually the real origin. It was first recorded in the 15th century and likely has Germanic origins. There are many different candidates, such as the Middle Dutch “fokken,” which means “to thrust, copulate with” or Swedish dialect “focka,” which means “to strike.” There isn’t any definitive origin, though. Nobody truly knows exactly how it came to be used as it is today.
In Harry Potter, the title character did not grow up in the wizarding culture and whenever he uses the word “Voldemort” everybody loses their shit and berates him for uttering the name. Everyone, that is, except Dumbledore. ”Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself,” he states wisely. We could learn a lot from that. As humans, we need to be respectful towards each other and that means not seeking out to offend for the sake of offense, but we shouldn’t be fearful of words.
Typically, the word “fuck.” for all its. uses has something to do with sex and while there is no definitive origin, most of its candidates have something to do with copulation. I think that’s telling. We live in a society where parents can’t bring themselves to have open conversations with their kids about sexuality. Conservative social groups are constantly working to fight the purveyance of content they find questionable, typically involving the depiction of sex. The public conversation seems caught on one side of two extremes, hiding the topic of “sex” under a rug or depicting it graphically, often resulting in an extreme disrespect of women and even men.
So many people spend so much time being “offended” that they don’t stop to ask why they’re offended in the first place. Perhaps if we asked the question “why” more often, we might be inspired to address things frankly and dispel fear based on misunderstanding.
Gay rights are on the fast track. Within the past four years, the public majority has grown to favor gay marriage as opposed to, well, opposing it. Yesterday, it was announced that the Boy Scouts of America were potentially close to ending their ban on homosexual participants in the organization. President Obama has stated that his immigration reform will include same sex couples. DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), along with Proposition 8, is set to be ruled on by the Supreme Court this year. While there is no clear indication that either of those will be upheld or struck down, the tide is turning and irreversibly so.
The Republican party is beginning to recognize that they can no longer depend on the white vote (which is why they are “evolving” on immigration) and opposing gay rights endangers their future. More than the Republican party wants to uphold their purported values, they don’t want to lose again as awfully as they did in 2012. More and more Republicans are coming out in favor of gay marriage, including Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich.
Nine states now legally recognize same sex marriage, but there are a plethora of states that could remain holdouts for decades to come, including Utah, Idaho and many other southern states. With society becoming more progressive when it comes to gay marriage, it is likely that federal action would be taken if such holdouts were to occur. The federalization of gay marriage seemed to be virtually impossible four years ago and yet it could be quite likely to pass less than four years from now.
Some gay activists have criticized President Obama with favoring marriage equality without any actually doing anything about it. However, considering he specifically addressed the issue in both his inauguration and proposed immigration reform, he’s made it clear— He intends to take action. And he could very well be the president to pass a comprehensive gay rights bill similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
He still has a GOP House majority to go through and the 2014 midterms are far off enough to be considered uncertain, but even if Republicans maintain the House, the passage of a bill could be imminent. Republicans are attempting to rebuild the party after their lashing and with gay marriage being likely to be favored at no less than 60 percent by 2016, enough Republicans may cave, fearing their reelection chances in certain districts that favor equal rights. Granted, any Republican (and Democrat for that matter) has the fallback argument of “states’ rights,” but this time it may not be enough.
President Obama may just be the man to reach a historically tremendous achievement that guarantees the right to marry for every LGBT American. And it will be possible due to the evolution of public opinion. We are the change we’ve been waiting for, indeed.