My Boobs Do Not Define My Worth
Warning: some adult content.
Someone on my facebook page recently posted this link to a counterpoint over all the flurry about how sexist and racist and generally horrible the Oscars were. The gist of the article is that the opening song “We Saw Your Boobs” is essentially right, because no matter how serious or good a film is that features a nude actress, all that men will see is that she showed her boobies, and the only reason the director or studio included the shot is to a.see her boobies and b.make more money off of her boobies. He argues that this is exploitative, and that if actresses really want to gain respect and make good films that are taken seriously, they should stop doing nude scenes.
Where do I start?
One of Seth’s main gripes is that nowadays in order for a film to be considered “serious” it has to have nudity in it, and that this leads to exploitation. Now I think that this is one of the few comments that he makes which has any validity, but probably not for the reasons he thinks. The reason it seems to have validity to me is because the idea that whether or not a woman shows her top has any bearing on the quality of a movie is just patently false. Oftentimes nudity can be used to shock or question or criticize certain ways of viewing the female body. It has been used that way in photography, in painting, and yes, in movies. In these ways nudity can have bearing on the message and quality of a movie. But that doesn’t mean that one can use nudity to ride on the tailcoats of movies that use nudity thoughtfully. It is somewhat exploitative to ask an actress to do something that really has no bearing on the quality of the movie (while telling her it does) simply in order to boost sales. It’s deceitful, and yes, it uses a human being as a means to an end without allowing them to fully participate in whatever project you’re working on. It is NOT exploitative because of boobs.
My problem with this complaint is that I’m just not sure if it’s true. Seth offers no evidence that these are the motivations behind including nudity, instead all he offers is a hypothetical conversation between a producer and an actress: “Today’s producers say, ‘Oscar winners like Anne Hathaway and Kate Winslet do nudity. It’s for the art! Besides, you want to be as successful as they are, don’t you?'” We have no idea whether this ever really happens. Yes Hollywood is driven by profit, no I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the motivation, but you need more than speculation to make this a really valid criticism.
Where Seth’s argument really falls apart though is when he starts pointing out that no matter how artistic or good or well-done or serious a nude scene is, men will still view it as fodder for masturbation. Because of this, he says that when a woman tries to do a serious movie that includes nudity as a way to gain respect, she’s really losing respect (the unspoken argument being that women should stop doing topless or nude scenes).
“You girls think you’re making art, but all we really see is that we got you to undress. The joke’s on you.” He (MacFarlane) reminded the women in the audience, including the actresses who participated in the sketch, that despite the awards they might be given that night, despite the respect their movies will garner, they are still showing their boobs for money. And by taking advantage of his naughty-boy image to say it, MacFarlane drove home the point that, while the actors might see their toplessness as “serious work,” the millions of guys at home with their pants unzipped in front of their laptops see it very differently.
The problem with this is that Seth is relying on the premise that the meaning and seriousness of a woman’s work and body comes from the men viewing it. He’s just like any other idiot who says “I can’t respect you if you show too much skin”, or “why don’t you respect yourself enough to cover up?” These ideas have been dismantled over and over, but apparently none of it sinks in, because the same victim-blaming nonsense keeps cropping up. Seth seems to imply that women who choose to include nudity in their careers for whatever reason they might have, SHOULDN’T do that because MEN will see it differently and MEN are right. Oddly enough the same argument doesn’t apply to men though…In addition, he seems to tell women that it’s their own fault for continuing to be nude because they KNOW men will view them as objects, so really the women are just objectifying themselves. He never seems to consider that women might have their own motivations for doing a serious art piece other than “will this please my male viewers? Will I gain their respect?? WILL THE PERFECT ACADEMY OF WHITE MEN HONOR ME???”
I think Seth is right, that men will continue to objectify women who do nude scenes. But I think that’s a problem that the men who are doing the objectifying are responsible for, not one that the women who are being objectified are responsible for. One of my facebook friends argued that actresses who do these scenes are also at fault because they WANT to be objectified for the money. There’s no way we can ever know the motivations of the actresses, but I think the best assumption is that the actresses who make serious, complex, intellectual movies are in fact serious, complex and intellectual people, and may have motivations other than getting the sexual attention of men or other than getting money.
I think that the best way to combat the idea that a woman’s nudity can ruin her career and her ability to be respected is to continue to break down the tight link between sexuality and breasts, or between a naked female form and objectified sexuality. One of the ways to do this is to include nude females in serious art pieces that approach it in a different way, or to continue to have these conversations and point out that men who are objectifying women need to stop. That includes MacFarlane at the Oscars and that includes all the men and boys nodding along at home.