I think Chimamanda is right. We all *should* be feminists; privilege is a real thing but so too is the burden of maintaining privilege. So I keep writing. The message on Aly Raisman’s body is that a woman shouldn’t have to be modest to be respected. I agree and wrote about it.
Here’s the link. Applause or disagreeing and disdainful commentary is welcome.
This is what it looks like.
What We’re Still Not Getting About #metoo
A lot of times, I start writing a piece then I abandon it. Usually it’s because life’s complications push it out of my primary focus until the issue has lost its currency. But sometimes a point just sticks in my craw and the piece won’t let go of me. So, forgive me I’m late in addressing the peg for this story, but I think the point is still relevant. Perhaps more so.
Simply put, there’s a lot to the #metoo movement that people, well yeah, mostly men, are either willfully oblivious about or need the point hammered home to them. I was feeling like a handyman a couple of months ago, so I’ll don the overalls again now.
Two months ago, I started writing because I was outraged by the response in some circles to Aly Raisman posing nude for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The outrage wasn’t the usual prudishness, it was because she had been one of 150 women who bravely testified against Larry Nassar, who was convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault for molesting girls when he was the team doctor for USA Gymnastics. In addition, she went on 60 Minutes to tell her story. Yet the near universal acclaim she received for those activities was almost entirely undercut by the reception she received for appearing in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.
SI has long recognized that smart, accomplished women like to look good in swimsuits, and probably close to half the famed issue is now devoted to photographs of women celebrating their physical self- confidence rather than models being objectified to accommodate male fantasies.
Given the capriciously high standards of beauty that women are subjected to, I’m inclined to think that any woman, who likes the way she looks in bikini deserves a high five, a bottle of their favorite wine or some such. But that’s beside the point. Sexual harassment isn’t actually about sex! That’s the point. It’s about power and the intimation of rape. The acts of sexual harassment closely mirror those of rape. They are attacks of the sovereignty of a woman’s body by an outsider with no right to that access. It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference if they were motivated by lust or by thoughts of chocolate mousse. The act is wrong and usually, preferably always, criminal. It is intolerable in a just society.
To equate Raisman’s appearance in the magazine with the culture that facilitates or even excuses this behavior illustrates (sorry!) that we just aren’t getting the gender politics in 2018. This silly association, the worst sort of false equivalency, is on the same low level that blamed women in miniskirts for rape. If every woman in New York City decided on some warm day to dress in their sexiest, most revealing outfit, or forego clothing altogether, the only agenda for Gotham men is to develop a respectful response and keep their eyes on the road. Lust can be a great motivator; it isn’t an excuse for disrespectful, antisocial and illegal behavior.
The disapproval that Raisman received also obscures the fact that her posing was entirely consistent with the boldness and courage that she demonstrated in testifying against and speaking out publicly against Nasar. She posed nude, not to please men but to celebrate her independence and the ownership of her body. Lots of women are doing just that. They show up in my Instagram feed following the examples of Nude Yoga Girl, Rhyanna Watson and others. They show up at Burning Man, New York City Body Painting Day and the World Nude Bike Rides. It’s become a vital way of embracing the glass as half or three quarters or whatever full and it flips the bird to a culture that screams at women that the glass is really ten percent empty.
I used to think that as a society we had at least learned to respect women in pantsuits, but the 2016 election has persuaded me otherwise. It isn’t optional. Whether she’s fully dressed or completely undressed society has to find a way to respect women and their own prerogatives. It really isn’t optional; the survival of the species depends on it.
Martin Johnson is a freelance writer whose work on music, sports and culture has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Newsday, New York, Vogue, Rolling Stone, The Root, Slate, The Atlantic, and numerous other publications and websites. He also blogs at Rotations, and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.