Please Keep Making Calendars (if you want to)

Argh. This is tough. I love Rebecca Watson, but I think this is literally the first time I’ve disagreed with her about something. And strongly.

Rebecca Watson has posted a blog in response to (I assume, due to the timing of it) Secular Woman, Inc.‘s creation of a nude atheist calendar project. In it, she lists several reasons why she wishes atheist and skeptic organizations would stop making nude calendars. Hemant Mehta from Friendly Atheist also posted a blog in support of Watson. I’d really just like to take a moment to address the first two of Watson’s criticisms:

1. Regardless of the intent behind the calendars, regardless of how much fun we had making them, regardless of how empowering we found them, regardless of the racial and age diversity we showcased, and regardless of the fact that they were run by a woman and benefited women, pin-up calendars added to an existing environment in which women were seen first as sexual objects and maybe if they’re lucky they’d later be seen as human beings with thoughts and desires of their own. Back in 2005, I thought skeptics weren’t affected by the patriarchy and that misogyny was something left to the religious. In a community like that, a pin-up calendar of women would be absolutely fine. I learned that a community like that does not exist and it was naive of me to assume otherwise.

2. Adding a calendar of men did not balance out the calendar of women. In a perfect non-patriarchal world, it would, but what I realized was that the women in the calendars were not being seen in the same way as the men in the calendars. The women were objectified on a level unmatched by those viewing and commenting on the men. This was something difficult for me to objectively evaluate at the time and was just a hunch based on my casual observations, but that hunch was confirmed last year when I had shitlord after shitlord emailing me to tell me that I have no right to complain about being groped or propositioned at conferences because I posed in a calendar for skeptics (see my filthy slut photo as the featured image on this post). If Phil Plait ever complains about a woman grabbing his crotch at a conference, I’m confident that no one will forward him his entry in the 2007 “Skepdude” Calendar and tell him to stop being such a whore if he doesn’t want that kind of attention.

First off, if the intent behind the calendars is good, and the people making them both had fun and were empowered by it, then that’s all you should need right there. If you want to pose nude (or semi-nude) for a calendar (or anything else) go right ahead. The whole point of feminism is that nobody but you gets to tell you what to do with your body. I realize that Rebecca isn’t saying otherwise, but if you want to make a nude calendar then you should. Don’t let anybody else tell you not to.

The problem here isn’t that women are being sexualized. If you’re posing for racy photographs with the intent to distribute them, then I would hope that you realize that being sexualized is inevitable, if not the whole point.

The problem is when assholes fail to have the ability to see someone in a sexual context for a few seconds (or, I guess, a month) and then treat them normally in any other context. The problem is when these people objectify women, rather than recognize that sexuality is only one small part of an entire person.

So what’s the solution? I don’t claim to be smart enough to know for sure, but I suspect that the following things will help:

  1. More nude calendars with more diversity: Everyone get naked! Let’s try to create a culture where people can be sexual and still be taken seriously. We need more men to strip for the cause because, as Rebecca points out, nobody takes nudity as a mark against men. Maybe, just maybe, we can normalize nudity to the point where it’s not something that people can hold against women. The Atheists Breaking Through calendar is doing awesome in this regard as it has a mix of men and women, including a trans woman. That’s great! Let’s do more.
  2. Don’t give in to trolls: If we let the solution to “dumbasses don’t know how to deal with nudity” be “get rid of all the nudity” then you’ve basically let win kind of people who think that a woman who has appeared naked in a photo once can no longer be taken seriously. If you want to express yourself by appearing nude, then stopping yourself because of negative reactions you get is letting people silence you. And you know what? If that’s a barrier to you expressing yourself that you don’t want to put in the time and energy to traverse, that’s fine too. But what bothers me about Rebecca’s suggestion to get rid of the calendars is that she’s adding to that barrier rather than fighting against it. “If you think that ignoring assholes and bullies makes them go away, you are wrong”.
  3. Stop being an asshole: If you’re the kind of person who can’t take a woman seriously if you’ve seen her boobs, then kindly fuck off. I honestly wonder how you can even have relationships with women. I imagine most of you would actually love to see some boobs, so how do you deal with that in real life? Do all your relationships (romantic, sexual, or otherwise) teeter precariously over the brink of seeing the other person naked? If you have sex with someone do you magically become unable to have a serious conversation with them? How do you operate in life? I honestly don’t get it. But regardless, don’t be that guy. Just… don’t.

Posing nude can be fun. It can be sexy. It can even be empowering.

Although it sucks that there are people in this life who will try and take that away from you, if you decide that your desire to do it outweighs the drawbacks, then great. Go for it.

I did some nude modelling for a friend’s photography art project in university. It was awesome. I am so proud that I did it, because I do have body image issues and being able to be open like that was a huge deal for me. I would do it again in a heartbeat. JT Eberhard, who will be appearing in the Atheists Breaking Through calendar, said it beautifully:

As a recovering anorexic, taking those pictures was extremely difficult, but it was worth it.  This is what flooded into my mind when Bridget asked me to be in this calendar.  It will be scary, but ultimately I think it will be good for me.

I think the human body is beautiful.  After those pictures, there were times when I thought mine was as well.  After years of coming to loathe reflective surfaces but being unable to resist looking at them, that feeling was like breathing oxygen for the first time.  I suspect that participating in this project will allow me to recapture that sensation.

So yeah. If you want to pose naked, then do it. If you want to publish the photos, then do that too. Hell, if you like looking at the photos of other people naked, there’s nothing wrong with that either. You just need to be able to go back to treating the people in those photos normally after you’ve looked at them. Don’t objectify them just because they have tits or a dick.

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