I’ve seen this video pop up a bunch on my Facebook Newsfeed, I’m guessing you have too. Some of my Facebook friends have really loved this video, some have been quite dismayed by it. I’m no fan. It falls into that same category of videos that purports to be empowering women to own and appreciate their bodies, but really continues to tell women that their body is either only as good as it relates to the perfect white, thin, young idealized body of modern fashion or that their body is a kind of public property. That Dove video that told women, “You’re not as ugly as you think you are!” falls into that category too.
It’s a slick video by a very intelligent and well-spoken woman (who played a Power Ranger? I will try to not hold that against her) and honestly, the bathing suits she eventually shows off from her own line are adorable. But that just makes it more insidious. This isn’t some overwrought, Evangelical-language laden, Bible-based appeal to women to cover up those dangerous bodies of theirs that will be blown off by young women. Instead it is presented as almost entirely secular (just one little, “in his image and likeness” snuck in at the tail end) and is extremely modern and hip (I’m sure I’ve seen that last bathing suit in a Buzzfeed article titled 29 Striped Bathing Suits You Need To Own Right Now-DIY It!). But the message is the same. Your body isn’t primarily yours, but rather it exists in the perpetual and persistent male gaze.
This male gaze is eternal (maybe it’s god’s?), unconquerable, and unquestionable. Don’t even bother trying to fight it or change it. Men are not to be chided for their participation in the male gaze, but you will be chided for falling under it. The male gaze is an insurmountable obstacle. Imagine yourself back in Victorian times where necklines went all the way to the chin, sleeves always met gloves, and dresses left only enough clearance from the floor to keep women from perpetually tripping. That was some modesty folks. Capital “M” modesty. But you know what they had to do? Put floor length tablecloths on all the tables because society was seized with panic that the delicately turned wooden table legs would be too much of a turn-on for men. Seriously. That was the solution. Not to ask themselves, “What is wrong with a person who would be turned on by a piece of furniture?” So basically, in this scenario, in 2013, women are furniture. Yay, progress.
When Ms. Rey cites the Princeton study that suggests that some men are part-time sociopaths who use the amount of clothing a woman is wearing to decide if she is a human being with thoughts, feelings, and motivations I get mad. I get mad because Ms. Rey isn’t mad. She isn’t mad at those men who are waltzing around objectifyng women. She doesn’t even suggest that their behavior is wrong! She just takes the opportunity to make a snide remark about the bikini’s power to, “shut down’s a man’s ability to see her as a person, but rather as an object.” That is crazy-talk. Can you imagine what the world would be like if that were true? “Sorry ma’am, I didn’t mean to cause offense by groping you, but that bikini of yours made me forget you were a human person invested with rights and dignities and protected by laws and I mistook you instead for a thing to be used at my own discretion for my own pleasure.” Yeah right, buddy.
And all those men who confuse women with household tools? They’re tools. Why doesn’t Ms. Rey call them such? Why instead does she make this women’s problem? Objectifying women is pretty obviously men’s problem primarily, and the cultural that created those men secondarily (I will accept arguments that switch the order of those two things, I will not accept arguments that insert women’s clothing choices into this problem). This is rape culture. This woman is preaching rape culture as body-honoring, God-honoring, modesty. This is atrocious. This masquerade should be offensive to women (it’s your fault that men forget that you’re a person), to men (it’s biologically impossible for you to remember that women in bikinis are people), and especially to Christians (God endorses those things I’ve said about women and men). Please don’t back Ms. Rey up just because she has designed some cute bathing suits and, from fifty years out, has continued to shame that poor, blue, woman in the yellow polka dot bikini.