Ethics of Lust: All About Scantily Clad Women

Last week’s Ethics of Lust had a dildo giveaway, a discussion on drive-thru sex toy shops and a “vibrating cudgel”. What it didn’t have – as one commenter pointed out – was enough “cute pics of girls in underwear and links to cool tumblrs.” I completely agree, which is why the next few Ethics of Lust posts are going to focus on the laws surrounding displaying, presenting and showing body parts to others. While I can’t guarantee many links to cool tumblrs, I can guarantee you’ll get more pictures of cute girls.
Starting with this one:

Via I Speak For Myself

And this one:

via NY Mag

Why, you might ask, did I answer a request for more “cute pics of girls in underwear” with a picture of news anchor Mariam Sobh wearing a hijab and photographer Catherine Opie breastfeeding? Maybe this video (which won a Voices of the Year award at BlogHer ’11) from PhD in Parenting will help you understand:

The laws surrounding what you can and cannot show of your own body in public are so complex and convoluted that I could not even begin to cover them all in a single blog post. Whether they’re requiring the burqa in Afghanistan or outlawing it in Europe, limiting breastfeeding in public in Georgia or outlawing “sagging” pants that show your underwear, or worse yet butt-crack, in Louisiana, lawmakers always seem to have an opinion over what body parts people – most especially women – should and shouldn’t show.

Via Love Detour

Most of the laws, like the ones requiring niqaboutlawing scantily clad women or banning public nudity, claim to be for the purpose of protecting women from predators (read: men assume all men can’t control their “natural urges”) and/or protecting the public from “vulgarity” and “indecency.” Whether you agree or disagree with the benefits of the recent SlutWalks happening around the world, there’s no denying they have gotten people thinking critically about the societal and legal requirements put on women to cover up their bodies.

Like most other laws regarding sexuality, whether nudity in public is illegal or not hinges on a very subjective idea of “decency” – or even “properness” in regards to breastfeeding in public. The hardest part about writing this article was finding an exact amount of skin that constituted being “indecent,” as it varied so much depending on social mores and content. For example, how is this on a billboard ad for all to see ok:

Via American Apparel Ad Archives

But this on a website requires me to be over 18 to view:

Via NoFauxxx

Often times, the enforcement over whether something is “indecent” or not will come down to public (or I should say assumed public) opinion, or “properness”. Remember when ABC cut a Lane Bryant commercial out of its Dancing with the Stars line-up because it was too risqué, only to allow a much more revealing Victoria Secret ad to run?

Via Sinful Misadventures

The ridiculous reasoning for this kind of censorship goes something like this: the more skin you show the more indecent an image is, fat girls show more skin (because we have more skin) therefore they’re more indecent when seen in a bra and undies.

Via Queen of Sports

While most places still have “public indecency” laws, some countries and states have recognized that nudity doesn’t always mean indecency. Throughout the world, people are fighting forand winning – the right to bare their bodies in public if they so choose. Most recently, New York’s lack of a ban on being topless in public has inspired some great social experiments and parades of women marching through Central Park as bare chested as their male counter parts. These events don’t just happen in New York, though, as National Go Topless Day has inspired similar political protests across the nation (in fact this post will go live on August 21, National Go Topless Day, so go out and celebrate!).

Via The Gloss

Additionally, amazing mommy bloggers and breastfeeding rights activists have been working for years to change laws and social norms surrounding baring a breast to feed a child in public. Thanks to their work, 45 states now have laws allowing women to breastfeed openly in public, however only 28 states exempt breastfeeding mothers from public indecency laws.

Via BlogLovin'

While they may seem contradictory, laws disallowing women to be completely covered in public can be just as oppressive as laws disallowing women to be completely nude. A quick glance down the list of links on the Muslimah Media Watch website shows just how much Muslim women are having to fight for their right to cover up if they so choose: Egypt Air Hostesses want the right to wear a hijab at work, hijab used (once again) as a pawn in political campaigns, Iranian football/soccer team banned from the Women’s World Cup for wearing hijab. The list goes on and on.

Via Right2wear.tumblr.com

Feminist Muslims and their allies are fighting for their personal right to wear whatever they choose and many, like those pictured above, have joined the SlutWalks in protest of laws dictating women’s clothing. In response to FIFA’s hijab ban, The Right 2 Wear campaign organized soccer/football games all across the world, asking women to play wearing a hijab in support of women who are banned from playing the sport because of their clothing choices.

Via Payvand

Laws defining public decency and properness are so heavily tied to constructed social norms that even when they’re lifted, officials and lay people often still attempt to enforce them. Women walking topless through Central Park are going to be asked to cover up, mothers breastfeeding in restaurants are going to be asked to do “that” in private and women wearing headscarves are going to be gawked at by strangers. But, thanks to the activists mentioned above, that social change is coming and maybe one day soon the person who can decide how much or how little of my body to show can be me.

P.S. I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who came over to my site last week and signed up for the Eden Fantasys dildo giveaway last week! I’m glad the toys are going to awesome Autostraddlers and my beau is glad ze doesn’t have to trip over them to get into my apartment anymore.

Profile photo of Queerie Bradshaw

Lauren Marie Fleming is Queerie Bradshaw. She loves shoes, social justice and sex. Born a farmer's daughter, she believes everyone deserves a good roll in the hay, and feels empowered by her feminine sexuality. She frequently travels both domestically and abroad, exploring women and wine from all regions. A recent law school graduate, she fights for international rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of good porn. When not studying sex and the law, Lauren Marie Fleming is a freelance writer, speaker and consultant, owner of Creativity Squared, LLC, a digital publishing and consulting company and is Editor-in-Chief of QueerieBradshaw.com, a site for Frisky Feminists and Politiqueers.

Queerie has written 9 articles for us.

55 Comments

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    I’m Iranian and I think this hijab issue has been presented in a very… skewed way in liberal “western” media. While FIFA is being ridiculous here, the real blame lies with the Iranian government, not FIFA. Every single woman is forced to wear hijab while inside Iran (and also abroad if they’re representing the country). There is nothing optional about it. Saying that wearing hijab was the players’ choice is just plain wrong and ignorant of the struggle against compulsory hijab that has been going on here for years.

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      *(Asking in complete humility and, honestly, ignorance)* Are there not women, though, hypothetically given the complete freedom and choice to wear or not wear a hijab who would still choose to wear it?

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      I totally debated this with someone in one of the World Cup posts. Whether the women would choose to wear those uniforms or not, they are not given a choice. I agree with B. They must completely cover up by law, which is fucked up. In fact, Iran had worked out an agreement with FIFA where the women’s heads would only be partially covered, but Iran backed out and Ahmadinejad turned it into a political issue. I think the players are basically being caught up in something that really isn’t their fault and has nothing to do with what they want. FIFA sees it as a safety issue, Iran sees it as a religious/political issue and me? I see it as oppression.

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        I have a Muslim friend who recently started wearing the hijab (no one else in her family does), and she chooses to wear it for all her sports – track, basketball, soccer… Certainly no one is forcing her, but it’s also important to note that she is Moroccan, living in the US, not Iran.

        That said, I think many players would still choose to wear the hijab, but we have no way of knowing for sure, because they aren’t given the freedom of choice in the matter.

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      I agree that it is not always – in fact it most time is not at all – the woman’s choice to wear a hijab, but what this article is trying to articulate is that FIFA has just as little of a right to tell women they can’t wear the hijab while playing soccer as the Iranian government has a right to tell them they must wear it. Both are telling women what to wear, therefore both are oppressing women.

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        But the difference is, FIFA wouldn’t let men wear those head coverings either whereas Iran is imposing its dress code only on women. By your argument, any rules whatsoever on clothing for everyone are “oppressing women,” but that’s not true and seriously reaching. FIFA’s rules are universal rules. Iran’s rules are only for women and thus Iran is the only one actually oppressing women. FIFA is doesn’t discriminate on gender, Iran does.

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    It is always interesting to see someone critique a murky obstacle regarding notions of ‘autonomy’ and ‘expression’. As I read this article I notice that the ‘images’ are just as important as the prose in order to open perspectives. However, it is always easy to probe issues such as these in the way you have and completely neglect the scope and particularity of each conception of expression/freedoms. The following statement:
    “…that social change is coming and maybe one day soon the person who can decide how much or how little of my body to show can be me.”

    commits the mistake of conflating a number of issues under one umbrella; that is ‘it being ones choice to show as little or as much as they please’. It’s not the case that that’s the underlying issue concerning the hijab. If one believes that it is, they’re making the mistake of ‘mutual exclusive-inclusion’.

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    The issue of clothing is such a deceptively simple-seeming one that it really hides a whole mess of issues all interacting right under the surface. I’m in complete agreement with you that women should be able to decide for themselves how much skin they want to show and in what context. But how do they make those decisions? Maybe a woman who really, honestly wants to wear hijab does so because she’s been taught from an early age that there’s something wrong or dangerous about her body. Maybe a woman who really, honestly wants to wear skimpy clothing (or none at all) does so because she’s been taught from an early age that women are sex objects and this is how you get attention/approval. What then? I think like most issues, this will only get better when women’s lives as a whole are improved in every respect. Each area of life is so tied up with other areas, it’s really difficult, if not impossible, to address one issue on its own.

    In other news, in that video there’s a picture of a woman at 0:49 who happens to be one of my favorite bellydancers! Her name is Sandra and she’s awesome.

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      I completely agree with you that there are so many complicated reasons a woman does or does not dress they way she does, but forcing a woman to dress a certain way is never going to be the answer to these issues.

      I once heard an interview with a woman in France, asking her whether the new ban on burqas in public would change her mind on wearing one. She said, “I will not stop wearing the burqa, I will just stop going in public.” Her husband forced her to wear the burqa, but the French government forced her to stay indoors, thereby doubling her oppression.

      I think of this woman whenever I get into debates about forced clothing options for women around the world. I also think of something Fatemeh Fakhraie – who maintains Muslimah Media Watch – said at BlogHer 11, which went something like this: Women didn’t gain the rights they have in the United States by having Canadians come down, point their fingers at us and force us to change. We, the women of America, fought for the rights we now have and while we can support women in Muslim countries to do the same, we cannot force them to change into what we believe they should be.

      Which is why, as complicated of an issue as it can be, I will always side with the woman’s right to choose.

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      Amen sister…Also, isn’t that kid in the second picture down, the blond kid, a little old to be breastfeeding, he/she looks like he/she is about to start kindergarten or something.

      On a different note, I really do like these articles, and I like her blog. Keep them coming!

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          Maybe this a UK/US thing, but I thought kindergarten was equivalent to nursery school in the UK, which you do start at 2 or 3.

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          Ha, I am breastfeeding my 2.5 year old right now. I agree that the baby doesnt look older than 2.

          I am really disappointed to see an antibreastfeeding sentiment here on AS. Mothers have to fight so hard for the right to breastfeed in public without being harassed, told they are being indecent, told they are being disgusting, and far worse. There would have been a huge backlash if someone said “wow I could’ve done without pictures of fat women/Muslims/trans individuals.” I tend to think of AS as a safe space, but seeing people criticize mothers for feeding their children naturally makes me sad.

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          This thread makes me sad as well, especially on this particular post, which argues against this exact kind of oppressive backlash. I could debate back and forth about how it’s a woman’s right to feed her child until she deems it no longer necessary or how hypocritical it is to have issues with pictures of a woman showing her breast to feed her child but not to have issues with a woman showing her breast for your viewing pleasure, but I feel like this post addressed a lot of what I would already say.

          Instead I’m going to tell you a story.

          On Jan. 3, 2009, I went to NYC and happened into the Catherine Opie exhibit at the Guggenheim. While her other photos moved and challenged me in amazing ways, nothing inspired as much of a visceral reaction in me as did the one above of her breastfeeding her son. Days before at Christmas, my sister and I had talked about how gross it was that my cousin sat there, in front of the whole family, and fed her newborn baby. We believed she should excuse herself and go away from everyone else to do that.

          Staring at this image of Catherine Opie, I had the same grossed-out feeling of disgust in my stomach and it seemed to grow the longer I looked at it (I stared at it for a long time because it is spectacular and this little jpg does not do it any kind of justice). Why was she, a butch, breastfeeding? Didn’t I just see she has a femme wife in another picture, shouldn’t she have had the baby? Why is she still feeding such a grown boy? Why didn’t she at least put make-up on to cover up the red rosacea on her face? What’s with those tattoos? Why would she display such a private moment?

          As I found the hatred for this image grow inside of me, I realized that this image was challenging my notions of right and wrong in a way nothing ever had before. I asked myself why it bothered me so much and the only answer I really could come up with was that I hated it because it challenged my pre-conceived notions of gender and properness. Attempting to let go of that, I tried to see what this image really is of: a proud mother nurturing her son. What is more proper than that?

          This image made me stop expecting women to cover-up and leave the room if breastfeeding and made me consciously support a woman’s right to breastfeed whenever – and wherever – her child needs to eat. (It also blew away my pre-conceived notions of gender, but that’s a whole other post).

          So, I’ve been where you are, and I just ask that you take a bit more time to think about what anti-breastfeeding comments mean for women, even those who are not mothers. If you still don’t want to see these images, fine, just, as the video says, discreetly avert your eyes from them.

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          I’m not anti-breastfeeding. I just don’t want to look at pictures of it happening. Posting pictures of it seems a little, well, gratuitous with the absolute intent of being somewhat provoking. I’m not anti many things that I would still prefer not to have to look at. Posting pictures of women breastfeeding and then saying we’re supposed to look away isn’t the same as a woman breastfeeding in public and saying we should look away. I don’t have any problem with women discreetly (not naked, as depicted in the pictures) breastfeeding in public and any insinuation that I somehow want to oppress breastfeeding mothers from doing what is natural is pretty ridiculous.

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          @LovelyLlama Breastfeeding is an activity, not who someone is. I could also do without seeing pictures of people doing other natural things like, I don’t know, puking. Comparing pictures of nude women engaging in the act of breastfeeding with pictures of people who happen to be overweight/trans/Muslim/whatever is an absurd way to twist around some idea that I discriminate against women who breastfeed. So, yes, speaking of being a “safe place,” let’s not rush to paint someone as hateful simply because we have a different opinion or preference than them. Thanks.

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          By comparing breastfeeding to puking you continue to really miss the point. You are ignoring/minimizing the political and feminist struggles that breastfeeding women have gone through as well as the continued discrimination and harassment breastfeeding mothers face in the workplace and out in public. Breastfeeding women regularly have their rights violated and are kicked out of establishments they have a right to breastfeed in by law or told that they should cover up or feed their children in disgusting public restrooms. Women have been illegally fired for asking for reasonable accomadations to pump in the workplace. A women’s right to breastfeed her child is far more comparable to other struggles women have had to go through for equality than it is to puking.

          For many mothers, breastfeeding is a component of their identity as mothers, often a large component. Your comment as well as the comment expressing disgust over the age of the child being nursed do come across as at the best really ignorant and at the worst hateful.

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          That’s fine, but that has nothing to do with not wanting to see a gratuitous picture of it specifically meant to make readers a little uneasy. Apples and oranges.

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    I’ve been looking into the hijab ban in France since I study French, but oh man, it’s such a complicated topic with so many grey areas. I’m glad you wrote this article, Fleming, it’s perfectly articulated as always.

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    Thoughts/Feelings”
    1. All I want for women is to have in agency in their choices.
    2. Goddamn, the woman in the Lane Bryant commerical.
    3. Goddamn, the woman (I think it’s Adriana Lima) in the Vicky’s ad.
    4. Goddamn women are amazing, I LOVE WOMEN CLOTHED OR NOT.

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    Saying that women who wear the hijab do it because of internalized oppression (“They don’t really want to do it, they just think they do”) seems quite patronizing to me. I’ll trust that women are able to make choices for themselves.

    I wish that instead of dictating how much skin a woman should show (be it by banning the niqab/burqa in Europe or outlawing nudity) we could focus on providing safe structures for the women that *are* actually being oppressed to escape their oppression.

    Anyway, great article! I like your take on things.

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    I enjoy wearing sexy,sheer,short revealing tops,no bras and short skirts no undies.I like going out in public dressed this way. Not all the time,just when I get the urge to dress down revealing and very scantily. I’ve done this ever since I became a teenager. I enjoy being noticed and all the attention guys of all ages give me. NO,nothing ever happened I didn’t want to happen.
    Growing up at home I would dress like this and model the clothes for my older Brother when we were the only ones home. I also modeled these outfits for my Dad also.
    Even growing up at home at times I went around the house topless.
    Now older I still get urges to dress very revealing. I do and still go out dressed scantily. I get almost the same attention I did as a teenager. It really gives me more confidence and the fun and satisfaction is well worth it. And at home I still enjoy going around the house topless,and sometimes when we have company,depending on who they,he,is. Even in the summer I will go get on the riding mower and mow the yard topless with just my short skirt on. I get some pretty good looks and repeat drive bys. We live out in the country. In warm weather it’s nothing to see me outside topless.

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