Friday, November 7, 2008

2 views of women's sexuality--both offensive

Forty Deuce has a good post about the changes that were made in promoting the Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha--changes brought about because of a cultural difference regarding women's bodies.

For most of my life, it has amused me bitterly that the only group of people who are solidly in line (but not in agreement) with feminist views about the exploitation of women's bodies is that group comprised of extremely conservative, reactionary citizens--whether they are Muslims or Southern Baptists. It is a case of correct conclusion--wrong reason. In the case of the 2008 Doha tournament, it was considered offensive to the major Qatar culture to show the arms and legs of the tour players in photos, so a decision was made to use silhouettes instead. According to the tour, this decision was made because the tournament coincides with the celebration of Ramadan, but one wonders if a concession would have been made under any circumstance.

I, of course, am more than put off by a belief that it is wrong for women (yes, they are women, not "girls") to show their limbs in public. Or the belief that if women show their limbs in public, men will not be able to help themselves and they will have "impure" thoughts (and commit impure actions). Qatar does not require western women to abide by national customs or by Muslim customs, but it is considered a sign of cultural respect to cover one's limbs to a reasonable degree when one is in Qatar. Anyone visiting there--especially during Ramadan--would probably want to show some semblance of regard for national customs.

The other side of the coin is the western idea that women's bodies should be shown generously, and can be--and usually are--the objects of ridicule and obscene evaluation. In our recent U.S. election, we saw both major female candidates trashed relentlessly via attacks--not on their policies--but on their gender and sexuality. These attacks were launched not only by idiots on websites and greed-mongers who produced crude bumper stickers, but also by the mainstream news media. No one stopped them, and protests were drowned out in all the usual ways.

So the culture that tells women to cover up believes that women's bodies are dangerous and should be hidden, partly to protect men. And the culture that encourages women to show their bodies does so in order to please men, and to continue a tradition of humiliation and assault.

Not much to like in either of those alternatives. Eve Ensler once said that--though behaviors differ from country to country and culture to culture--attitudes toward women are the same everywhere. How true.

I once heard an interviewer posit to Daniela Hantuchova that--since she enjoys fashion--she cannot be taken seriously when she calls for tour women to be treated as athletes, not sex objects. The articulate Hantuchova's response was that women ought to be allowed to look good off the court without being exploited as sex objects. That is true not only of tennis players, but of all females.

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