COMMENTARY | America has a complicated relationship with naked. Unlike some other cultures, we Americans have a streak of old-school puritanism that makes us eschew public nudity. For us red-blooded yanks, nudity is tied almost exclusively to sex. This led to a complicated brouhaha over creator/actress Lena Dunham’s frequent nudity in HBO’s Girls. When a male reporter questioned the need for Dunham’s frequent nudity she, along with two co-producers, responded with outrage and immature bullying. Dunham felt that anyone not wanting to view her naked body had “issues” and she and her colleagues condemned the reporter as a misogynist. A female producer claimed that the question over Dunham’s nudity had put her in a “rage spiral” that rendered her unable to think clearly.
According to supporters of HBO’s Girls, asking about a woman’s casual nudity is clearly misogyny.
Interestingly enough, a new nudity brouhaha has developed at Wellesley College, a women’s university. A lifelike statue of a pale middle-aged man, sleepwalking in white briefs, has raised hackles across campus and beyond. Though some students find the statue interesting or innocuous, others find it disturbing. Some have claimed that a lifelike statue of a man in his underwear raises mental images of sexual assault. According to CBS, a petition to remove the statue, named The Sleepwalker, from campus has garnered hundreds of signatures.
Though the sleepwalking pose of the statue can be seen as a bit creepy, as a man I dislike the double standard that female nudity is inherently deep and artistic while male nudity is vulgar, disgusting, and linked to sexual assault. This goes a step beyond the old Seinfeld quote that a woman’s body is a work of art while a man’s body is utilitarian, “like a Jeep” (according to Elaine).
Stigmatizing male nudity may actually lead to more sexual assault by leading to more sexually dysfunctional men. They grow up ashamed of nudity, leading to social and intimacy difficulties. After years of frustration these men may not know how to interact respectfully with women. As a father, I want my son to know that there is nothing wrong with his body and that just because you’re not a stereotypical male model your body is not “gross” or “creepy.”
If we are supposed to respect Lena Dunham’s non-model nudity we should also not condemn the image of a middle-aged schlub in his briefs.