Monday, August 25, 2008

Does This Image Make You Want To Rape?

I am a strong proponent of liberal expression even when it is somewhat offensive. At the same time I am sensitive to the issues surrounding the exploitation of women. American Apparel ads have served lately to cause a schism in liberal circles between those who would more value one consideration over the other.

When this ad appeared on a billboard in New York's lower east side someone eventually spray-painted it with the message "Gee, I wonder why women get raped?". I've seen the same ad on a billboard on Yonge Street in Toronto and I have to say that I didn't decide to rape anyone as a result of seeing it. Consider that this photo is a self-portrait taken by the Artist Kyung Chung. Her backside wrapped in tights is turned to the camera as she's slightly bent over. It is undoubtedly an erotically charged pose but I fail to see any exploitation. She is a strong women artist in a strongly sexual pose, completely in charge of the situation. There is no hint of compulsion within the narrative of the photo. The character is bent over suggestively and one of the reasons it is so alluring is that she is in charge of the situation and seems to be demanding the service of her imaginary lover. Chung's photo does not portray the female character to be vulnerable in any way in which she doesn't want to be.

People seem more sexually liberal in Europe where you're likely to see this kind of advertising but with even more nudity. In cultures where women are presented and represented in scant cladding we don't find them to be at higher risk of being sexually assaulted. I would argue exactly the opposite. Cultures wherein the revelation of skin is discouraged seem much more dangerous to women. If a women shows any flesh in Saudi Arabia she might be considered a slut and therefore much more likely to be raped than in Copenhagen where she can walk around (weather permitting) in next to nothing.

Someone is quoted in a newspaper article about Chung's photo saying "I don't think you need a PhD to recognize that ... [this] is nothing but an ad for - and I'll put this gently - anal intercourse," - What? First of all who would produce such an ad? Would it be presented by the AIAA (Anal Intercourse Association of America)? Secondly, why does penetration of one kind seem demeaning to her besides another kind. I think there are actually some people who enjoy such things and don't need to be forced to do it. Also she might want to note that that's not the the only kind of penetration possible in that position, but if your dirty mind causes you to leap to that scenario then you have to see that the model in the picture is demanding it not resisting it, so how does rape or a demeaning scenario even come into it?

What if instead of discouraging sexually suggestive ads we just didn't make such a big deal about them? Wouldn't women be safer in a society that viewed such images as commonplace? It seems to me that sexual repression is more likely to lead to desperate acts of violence against women than sexual liberation. I'm sure that the critics of these ads have nothing but the best of intentions to protect women from harm but that photo of Kyung Chung can also be seen simply as a beautiful and powerful image created by a beautiful and powerful women.

As a point for comparison the story being told in the D&G ad below seems to more clearly cross the line. The narrative within this vignette clearly suggests a gang rape scenario. Even though this ad is aimed at women and even though some women may have such fantasies I can see why it may be offensive.


Anonymous said...

These images are racy and risque, sure, but what this hoopla really speaks to is the question of people's sophistication about media and its effect. More than anything, we (as citizens of a modern media-drenched society) need a higher level of sophistication and critical understanding of images. There's nothing in here that the history of art hasn't already explored in great detail...

Yuliya P. said...

Hello Jake :) I stumbled on your blog and read through it. I decided to comment on this post.

I am going to have to break this up, since what I typed is quite long, sorry!

Let me say, I am a girl. But I would find no "empowerment" and no such feeling as "strong woman" and "in charge of the situation" if God forbid I posed like this ever in my life. In fact, I would be humiliated, ashamed, completely embarrassed that I ever exercised such poor judgment and revealed my body in such a manner for the public to look at me.

Let me explain myself :)

I think a woman should respect her own body and keep it pure for her husband and her husband only.

Just because a woman covers up and does not dress according to fashion, does not mean she has low self-esteem or does not feel "empowered" in her own body. For me, and perhaps other women, it is the contrary. As a girl that does not wear revealing clothing, I find it empowering that I do not display by womanly body parts for the public to see, if that's one way of putting it. It's like, I have a treasure, and it's mine only, I am in control of it, I am empowered by owning it and keeping it. I get to decide who will see it, I am the boss. This is what makes me feel like a strong woman.

Yuliya P. said...

I think there are a good number of women out there who may feel the same way I do., like for example, women of Islamic cultures. I am not Muslim, but I respect the Muslim tradition of women covering up. Some women are forced to do it, some rebel against it, yes, such situations exists and, unfortunately, these are the situations that surface in the west, giving us reasons to form misunderstandings. There are women who simply choose to cover up, not wear risqué clothing, and definitively not approve of such provocative positions. It is a matter of modesty and sophistication. Self respect is just this, valuing what you have and keeping it good for as long as possible. Displaying it to the public, making it acceptable and commonplace in society, which is the reality of today, takes away from the value. It’s like a used car.

I find that this scenario, this way of thinking and expressing a woman’s strength leads to the opposite of women's liberation, and does the opposite of woman's empowerment. Today's methods of women expressing their "strength" spoon-feeds men the fantasies they crave, gives the man reason to use his imagination on how he, I don’t know, may dominate over the woman... if that makes sense. Today’s fashion is influenced, dominated, controlled by what men desire to see the woman as; that is, as mere sexual partners. If men are in control of this, how is that empowering to women? I laugh when I hear the following statement: “I dress sexy for myself, so that I look good.” If you must dress to impress yourself, to look good for yourself, to feel sexy, is that not an indication of low self-esteem, unhappiness in one’s own body?

I apologize if I come off as too opinionated, or too conservative, or I seem like a nutcase. I am not trying to be a bad guy here, lol. I just want to offer a different side of the story. But if that is the case, I think the same way of other's who hold your opinion on this whole issue of women and "empowerment" through posing in such provocative poses.

Yuliya P. said...

I said something earlier about husband... Let me explain :)

If I were a model, and posed in various fashion adds like this one for American Apparel, then say a couple years later I found the love of my life and married him, etc.. etc... Then looking back at my modeling years with my husband, we revisit such provocative photos, we talk about how millions of other men may have seen this photo, etc… etc… My heart would break for my husband. His heart would break as well, thinking that millions of men have seen the wife loves and honors and cherishes in such provocative pictures, and worst of all, used their imaginations upon viewing it. Thjis in turn, could affect the husband in how he treats his wife (i.e. perhaps with less respect, with less honor). I stronger union, love, and marriage would exist between the wife and the husband, thus reducing the chances of misunderstandings, eliminating trust issues, etc… perhaps reducing chances of divorce. This can be attributed to the woman keeping herself for her husband, valuing herself so worthy and so empowered, that only the one man she loves and cares for can have her. What a happy picture that paints.

“What if instead of discouraging sexually suggestive ads we just didn't make such a big deal about them? Wouldn't women be safer in a society that viewed such images as commonplace?”

I do not think that such an attitude can ever be passed off as “no big deal” because people cannot help their impulses, and cannot control what they think when they see images like this. It’s about privacy, modesty, valuing one’s body. Viewing such images is commonplace these days; it is in the fashion and advertising business. It dominates the western culture (I am form America, mind you, lol). But is it really producing the safety that is sought after? Some young girls, of ages 12 or 13, who have no better judgment, fall into situations where they are exploited by men, simply because they want to “dress sexy for themselves” and since sex is advertised all over the place, it must make it ok for them to advertise their bodies to anyone who wants a peak. I wish our society was more conservative. Because they are bought up to think this way, that this is “acceptable,” some fall into despicable fates, like prostitution and sex trafficking… yes these are extreme examples, I know! But they are examples nonetheless. This type of attitude leads to other types of attitudes, a ripple effect. Girl must instead be encouraged to value themselves and keep their bodies to themselves, not give it for the whole world to see.

I hope I did not offend you, or anyone who may read this. This was not my intention at all! :)

Ashwin said...

I completely agree with Jake on this (though I might not in some other issues).

Now let's critically analyze this, the question is, was this image morally acceptable ?

Now we can ask our self why this wouldn't be morally acceptable. One, contemporary morality suggests that women should come out as modest in their sexuality and thus protective of this virtue. If you agree with this orthodox thought then I could say that you're right, such images are not acceptable and we should burn the advert, spank the model and ask her to go back to the Kitchen where she should have been in the first place (aaand there goes my neutrality!!)

Now I for one do not agree with this very Victorian thought model. Why should women be modest with their sexuality ? Because their future husband might think that such women would have shown their 'assets' to multiple men and thus are not 'pure' enough for him. Would you want such a husband ? If you do, aren't you just playing yourself to the tune of this very bigoted man ? Why else should a woman not express her sexuality ? I see not one reason why woman shouldn't and due to the many years of such active opposition towards female sexuality, should actually be encouraged in today's times.

JakeJakob said...

I somehow missed the earlier comments on this post.

@Yuliya in particular deserves a response having so thoughtfully written a detailed reply.

I fully support young women such as yourself who choose to arrive at your moral decisions whatever they may be, as long as they do not then oppress and enforce upon other women what they consider to be morally acceptable. The whole point is that women should be free to choose for themselves and not be told how they must or must not enjoy their own sexuality.

I find that societies that enforce modesty on women reflect much about the sexuality of the men in that culture. They seem to have a very disappointing notion about the self-control of men. It's as if they believe that we can't tempt men with explicit images because they wouldn't be able to keep themselves from ravaging the women. Well, in order to participate in a civilization they simply have to learn to control themselves. Liberalism doesn't espouse that everyone do as they please, it asserts that you should be able to do as you please as long as it does not infringe upon the freedoms and liberty of others.

That artist who chooses to reveal herself in such a sexual manner should be free to do so and the men of low self-control will just have to grow up and accept it.