Last month we released “The Skin Gap,” a YouTube video which humorously conveys a pervasive gender inequality that no one ever talks about: the societal expectation for thin, young girls and women to show off more skin than their male counterparts in the same social settings.
We received a lot of support for this video, but there were some dissenters: “How dare you tell women what to wear!” went some of the complaints, even though we are very much are NOT telling women what to wear. We are simply publicizing an inequality which persists and asking people to consider what pernicious effects feeling pressured to show off one’s body might have on girls and women.
While we do maintain that every adult gets to pick out what clothes he or she wears everyday, there is yet another double standard – this time in the body shaming category – that must be pointed out too. You must never, ever, ever tell a woman to put more clothes on. OK, I lied – you can – if a woman is “too old,” like the guy I recently had shabbos lunch with did. The conversation went something like this:
Him: Your skin gap definition is not entirely true. Older women do show off their bodies, like [name of older actress]. She does lots of movies with nude scenes.” (Said guy then proceeds to make a face which looks like he is going to gag.)
Me: (Makes face which indicates “I told you so.”)
So yes, we do recoil in disgust if an older woman shows off too much of her body or say, if a pop star who was known to wear skimpy, risqué clothes in her youth continues to do it even when she’s old enough to be a granny. We don’t want to think of women like that as sexual beings. It used to be OK to do the same thing to women who were deemed “too fat,” to show off their bodies, but then “fat-shaming” became a thing, so while many people still secretly want to tell women who are not “thin enough” to put on more clothes, it is no longer considered socially acceptable to do so.
So back to what I was saying – we can’t tell
thin, young women to put more clothes on, lest we, (gasp) “slut shame” and yet we ALL. THE. TIME. tell men to put more clothes on. How many times have men and women exaggeratedly thrown their hands in front of their eyes, screaming “MY EYES” at either the sight or the proposed sight of a man’s nakedness? How do people react to a seeing a “plumber’s crack” vs. seeing that same body part exposed in a wardrobe malfunction of a “young, thin” female celebrity?
This double standard became abundantly clear to me at an event at the YouTube headquarters I attended several months ago. There were a panel of creators discussing how they grew their following, and the audience was invited to ask questions. One woman in the back began:
woman in audience: “I’m wondering if you guys think I should be careful to not dress too suggestively in my videos because of the message it might send people.”
men and women on panel: “Girl, you should be PROUD of your body. Be confident. Show it off!”
The audience began to cheer, and gripes about the need to “free the nip” on social media came next.
man on panel: “Actually, it’s an interesting point you raise because I started working out recently and I’m feeling pretty proud of how my body is looking. I’ve been wanting to show off my hard work by posting topless, muscle pics of myself online, but my girlfriend said she’ll dump me if I do.”
female panelist who had just complained about the injustice of the “unfree nip”: (Covering her eyes) “Um, honey, we do NOT want to see that! Listen to your girlfriend. Keep your shirt on!”
The audience began to cheer again, but I sat there shaking my head wondering how no one else saw the blatant hypocrisy. While I don’t think anyone should shame another person nor tell someone else how to live, I think we must consider the following: What are the ramifications of thin, young women hearing over and over again that their bodies are meant for other people’s enjoyment while “older,” “larger” women and men hear that “nobody wants to see that stuff?” Does our society not break down into “objects of desire” and “objects of repulsion?”
What if we lived in a world where we all agreed that “that stuff” would not be for anyone to show or see in public? What if we could take out the comparisons and shaming and hypersexualazation away completely by simply agreeing that certain parts of oneself are meant for a private time and private space? Why, it might just lead to body (and human) respecting and equality.