In last week’s Talk Up Topic, clothesfreelife.com posed the question “Does naturism / nudism have a women’s problem?” My thought? “Yes, similar to other areas of the society I’m in.”
Lately, I have been listening to a number of podcasts not related to clothes free living (shock, awe, maybe confetti). In doing so, I am seeing that all the concerns I and others have about being a woman in the clothes free community are the same issues that arise in society generally. One show I have been listening to lately is Another Round, hosted by two Black American women. They treat many subjects and have an amazing array of guests on their show, including Valerie Jarrett, Hillary Clinton, Audie Cornish of NPR, Queen Latifah, Melissa Harris-Perry, Margaret Cho, Uzo Aduba, Padma Lakshmi and the list goes on.
Episode #25 “Stop Telling Women to Smile” featured guest Tatyana Fazlalizadeh who is known for her moving street art. During the talk, she explains the purpose of one of her projects, “Stop Telling Women to Smile”:
“Stop Telling Women to Smile” takes…these prints that I create, and I go outside and I adhere them to walls outdoors. And what they are, are portraits of women who I sit down, I talk with, I interview them, I ask them about their experiences with street harassment. I draw their portraits and under those portraits I add text that speaks to street harassment and that speak to their experiences and what they want to say to men outside on the street. So they read things like:
“Stop telling me to smile”
“My name is not ‘Baby’”
“Women aren’t seeking your validation”
“Women are not outside for your entertainment”
The project highlights women’s desire to simply be human. As I listened to some of the statements, I saw my own experiences in them, including the directives from unknown men to smile for them. There is a desire to be in one’s honest experience without having to answer to, or perform for, someone else, and that is what these women convey through the project. But sometimes when women choose to be and speak for themselves, some responses can be less than encouraging, as illustrated by Fazlalizadeh’s answer to the hosts’ questions about the types of responses she has received from the project:
Hosts: What do they write?
Fazlalizadeh: Very gendered insults, which is the main thing that I have a problem with when it comes to that. So sometimes with street art, you put something outside, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. Anything could happen to it: people could rip it down, write on it, paint over it, or whatever. But with this work in particular, I’ve noticed that men, boys, whomever are coming and writing things on it that are specific to it being a woman on the piece and it being a woman’s voice on the piece. So you have things like “slut” written on there, people ripping it down or drawing this really crude imagery on it.
“with this work in particular, I’ve noticed that men, boys, whomever are coming and writing things on it that are specific to it being a woman on the piece and it being a woman’s voice on the piece.” – Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
I share these excerpts as a reminder that broad societal issues can affect how women approach naturism. I’ve read some comments claiming that women naturally have more confidence issues than men and that they naturally don’t take to social naturism or nudity as easily as men do, as if there were some code in our genetic soup that predisposed us to discomfort with our naked bodies and fear of being with others. My clothes free journey and conversations with women in my circles show that such a claim could not be further from the truth. Many of the women I talk with love being in their own skin on their own terms. However, the way people are socialized to engage women creates a lot of discomfort that contributes to a desire to not share oneself with others, and Fazlalizadeh’s project shows some of that. It’s not a question of a predisposition to low self-confidence. It is a question of whether women are afforded the respect to just be human in any area of society, among other things.
As another example, growing up, what made me most uncomfortable with my physical body was people constantly commenting on it. Every time I saw family members or family friends during reunions, the first thing they did was a 360 observation of how I looked physically and then state a judgment of how I looked. And then the cat-calls on the street from random men are (note the present tense) all about my curves. So, to step into clothes free living and see similar behavior online with commentary on bodies from some naturists all over again seemed to indicate that, at the end of the day, that’s all people care about, despite claims that it is not about how people look.
When treating the question of women and naturism, we cannot afford to lose the context of the rest of society. We have to remember that women are often judged as “asking for it” based on what they are or are not wearing. We have to remember that women were not always permitted to do yoga. The female body was not always studied in some lineages of medicine; male bodies were the default and the point of reference even for female patients. In the United States we are still paid less than men for the same work with the same qualifications. We have to remember all these things. So often, naturists treat naturism as something separate, a land of purity and equality. But the reality is that we are all humans, and there is no erasing a lifetime of socialization and humanity in one snap just by taking off a pair of pants. So much human action contributes to the question of women and naturism.
One last thing I want to share from Fazlalizadeh:
One thing that I think that all men could do better is listening to women and just not talking. Like listening to women, listening to them, because you have to do that, you have to listen. Listen and believe, and not be accusatory. Take a woman’s voice and her story as being valid, and that’s just it. Listen and believe what you hear. Don’t question.
As a woman, when I see men trying to speak for women, I not only wonder why, I also feel some frustration, because after listening to or reading what they share, I often end up thinking, “But that’s not really it, though” or “It’s not that simple.” It’s like when men would ask me for advice on how to deal with an erection. Why?! I am not qualified to speak to that. I can’t tell a guy what it’s like to be a guy. In addition, the way men treat the subject of women is very different than how women treat themselves as subject, which is something Earl D mentioned during last week’s Clothes Free Living Update Podcast. This is why it is so important for women to tell their own stories.
On Twitter, for instance, I wonder about the accounts some naturist men choose to follow, accounts such as NudeBeaches4Us , Nude Yoga Girls, Nudism Zone, etc. These are not the kinds of posts that are “inspiring” to me. For many women, this is just soft p*rn and it reminds us of popular music video #1,372 that came out yesterday objectifying women in skimpy “bathing suits”dancing around the man fully clothed with shades to barrier his eyes against the audience. But some men will retweet those pictures, claiming that these women are “so confident, free, natural.” But, to women, there is nothing natural or inspiring about poaching a picture of a silent nameless woman captured in the camera of some random person creeping about on the beach. Some men don’t seem to understand the difference between a woman telling her own story and the perspective / gaze of a voyeur.
I must highlight that not all men behave the same way. It is neither accurate nor conducive to make such a claim, because so much contributes to these challenges. There are many men who listen to and respect the voices of women. They do not treat women like objects for their satisfaction or to make themselves feel good. Many men are, what is currently coined, “woke.” And you will find women who would call me an attention-starved slut for opting to live clothes free and write about it. But, what I am getting at here is the importance of looking at this question of “women’s issues” in larger contexts, and investigating how our wider societal practices contribute to the challenges we observe within the clothes free community.
These podcasts are confirming that the challenges women face in naturism in certain cultures are the same challenges they face in the other aspects of those same cultures. In these podcasts and other media, women are saying that we want to speak for ourselves. We want to be heard and believed. And we want to be human on our own terms, not for the pleasure or comfort of someone else.
For all the questions plaguing the naturist community, whether it’s about women, men, those who are gender fluid, othered races and ethnicities, young, other-abled, etc. we cannot afford to treat the topics within the confines of the naturist box or claim that “all is well.” We have to be willing to see ourselves as an expression of everything going on in the societies in which we are placed in order to get a deeper, richer and more expansive view of the contributing factors. We have to listen to these other outlets. We have to read something that is not labeled “naturist.”
We have to look out in order to see within.