Posted on | June 5, 2014 | 69 Comments
The #fem2 hashtag is Twitter’s shorthand for feminism and, while surfing it last night, I came across a column by Justine Harman, an editor for the web site of Elle magazine:
OK, then. This is an issue feminists call “body image,” which isn’t really an issue so much as it is an excuse for women to write silly columns about their feelings. Justine Harman is super-silly:
So here’s the deal: I’m kind of known for my boobs. Though I’m 5’3″ (on a good day), my breasts are somewhere between a 34C and a 32D and naturally possess what a high school classmate once called “indomitable turgor pressure.” Translation: My cups, most definitely, runneth over. As a result, I spent all of high school and college wearing low cut halter tops with little or no support. And I beamed with pride whenever someone suggested my teeming décolletage was fake. “Touch them!” I’d demand of guys and girls alike. But as I’ve gotten older, Father Time hasn’t been so much cruel as he’s been fair to my cleavage.
At 29, I can no longer wear a flimsy tank without also wearing a granny bandeau. . . .
(Gravity is a weapon of the patriarchy!)
And though I’m learning to adjust to my slightly less-than-Jessica-Rabbit silhouette, it seems that the rest of the world would rather not. The ideal breasts — regardless of the natural, biological progression of the feminine form — are perfectly symmetrical, gravity defying, and Blake Lively-esque. . . .
(Whose “ideal” is this? Who is Blake Lively? Could Elle please post side-by-side comparison photos of Blake Lively’s “gravity defying” breasts and Justine Harman’s pendulous udders, so readers could vote on which we like better? I don’t know if that would strike a blow against patriarchy, but it would probably drive a lot of traffic.)
So, last week, when Scout Willis launched her topless protest against nipple censors and Monday night, when Rihanna proudly displayed her lovely, but very real, rack in that dazzling Adam Selman getup at the CFDAs, I breathed a sigh of relief. That’s right: Rihanna’s body makes me feel better about my own. . . .
(Y’know, I saw the Scout Willis topless thing on Twitter last week and had no comment other than to express a fear that John McClane might show up and kill me if I said anything rude. But my lame Die Hard joke didn’t get any laughs, so . . . Anyway, back to Rihanna’s boobs and Justine Harman’s “body image” issues.)
Whether or not we realize it, from a very young age girls are on the receiving end of some pretty mixed breast messaging. From corseted Disney princesses, to Christina Ricci binding her burgeoning bosoms in Now and Then, to Thora Birch bravely revealing her uneven pair in American Beauty, we’re told that boobs are simultaneously objects of adulation and humiliation. And due to my lack of understanding about how I should feel, I’m still not sure which of the following incidents was more scarring: the time I was busted for stuffing my bra in the eighth grade, or the time a guy I knew in college pulled down my tube top, under which I was most definitely not wearing a bra, after he lost a game of beer pong.
Both situations made me feel embarrassed for something I wasn’t fully aware of yet: my inherent need for approval from men. . . .
(ZOOM! Out of the sky, deus ex machina, the patriarchy makes its dramatic appearance. The problem is not that Justine Harman takes too seriously the “messages” she perceives in pop culture, neither is her problem the vapid emptiness of her soul, nor even are we permitted to ask why she was wearing a tube top while playing beer pong with guys in college. No, ultimately the problem is men, and Justine Harman’s need for male approval.)
At age 13, I wasn’t mad that a girlfriend had outed me for wearing toilet paper crescents in my bra but rather that I was a late bloomer. I was pissed that the guys in my class weren’t passing notes about my feminine assets. And instead of being livid that I was assaulted at a party, I was upset that my “friend” didn’t like me enough to respect me. It never occurred to me that maybe he just didn’t respect all women.
(You see how “the personal is political”? Justine Harman’s “late bloomer” insecurities were manifested as a tendency toward exhibitionistic display — “Look at me! Look at me!” — and, rather predictably, some guy reacted badly to her display. But feminism turns idiosyncrasies and aberrant behavior into politics, so that this becomes an issue of “respect [for] all women,” especially large-breasted college girls who wear tube tops to beer-pong parties.)
I had so actively campaigned for boobs — “I must, I must, I must increase my bust” may or may not have been a constant refrain of mine — it didn’t occur to me that they weren’t civil servants.
So when Rihanna, a woman who was very publicly the victim of domestic violence, displays her body with pride, it sends two messages: She refuses to equate being undressed with being vulnerable; she doesn’t give a shit what people think. Her nudity — as opposed to, say, Warrior Sports’ recent Instagram post of Playboy Playmate Jessica Ashley clutching a new hockey stick in ecstasy, her pert nipples just visible through her wife beater — has nothing to do with men. And she clearly doesn’t care that they don’t sit up as if suspended on a highwire or that her nipples aren’t the size of Tic Tacs. When Rihanna bares her perfectly womanly breasts, she’s doing it because Rihanna feels like it. And that makes me feel tremendous.
And that’s it. There’s your conclusion to nearly 700 words of Justine Harman’s empowering message: Why is it awesome for Rihanna to wear a see-through dress? “Her nudity . . . has nothing to do with men.” Along the way to this odd claim, Harman throws in the non sequitur of Rihanna’s status as a “victim of domestic violence” (she got beat up by Chris Brown), as if there were an obvious connection between that fact and Rihanna’s wardrobe choices.
Feminists oscillate between utter confusion and fanatical certainty, and this kind of Rorschach inkblot reaction — “Rihanna’s breasts are sending me messages!” — is further evidence that feminism is less a political movement than it is a psychiatric symptom.
— Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain) June 5, 2014
— Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain) June 5, 2014