June 26, 2007

The Naked Double Standard

Filed under: 100 Days of Summer,Youth Rights — Katrina @ 9:17 pm

Nope, this isn’t a male-female thing. Not really anyway. Probably also noticed I categorized this under Youth Rights. Where could I be going with this? Just one of very many gripes I have on the subject of the objectification of children.

I also want to take this time to say that, considering the subject matter of this entry, if I catch any disgusting search phrases reaching this or any other page on this site that, well, let’s just say consider children in a less-than-innocent way, I’ll be publicly posting your IP address and any information a whois lookup of it will provide. You won’t find that crap here and any place you can find it can go to hell. Sick bastards.

Anyway, let’s move on. Objectification of children! What does that have to do with being naked? Oh, the examples are all over.

Let’s say you’re on a beach. You see a 2-year-old boy and a 20-year-old guy. Both are naked. They’re just walking along, heading to the water, to their towels, whatever. Certainly nothing sexual going on! Just two people in their birthday suit. Yet the reactions will be rather different. The 2-year-old? “Awww, isn’t he so cute? Look at his little butt!” The 20-year-old? “Ewww, that’s disgusting! Put that thing away, you sicko! How dare you! I’m calling the cops!”

Aha! What just happened here? Exact same behaviors and states of being, yet very different responses. What was the difference? Why is one naked person cute while the other is indecent?

You say the 20-year-old is an adult, thus past puberty and sexual maturity. I don’t really see how his being larger and more hairy really matter here. There is NOTHING sexual about being naked in and of itself. Sexuality and nudity are entirely different. And even so, he was doing nothing sexual. He didn’t have an erection or anything. He was just walking around the beach, minding his own business. Just happened to be naked. Naked as the 2-year-old boy also walking around the beach minding his own business. Now the little boy is obviously not sexually mature. He’s smaller and not as hairy. Such little differences in this situation, yet very big differences in how they’d be viewed.

Is that ridiculous notion of post-pubescent nudity being sexual the only factor at play here? Most people I know would say “yes it is, case closed” but I say not. What else might be at play here?

The showing of genitals is considered disgusting but perhaps not because of sex. Genitals are unfortunate enough to be placed in such close proximity to the urethra and the anus. You’ve got the pleasure and baby-making organs right next to the body’s trash chutes. So it’s guilt by association. Pee and poop are disgusting, as are the holes out of which they are excreted, and if the genitals are so close to those holes, they must be disgusting, too.

What does this have to do with the 2-year-old and 20-year-old? Well, the thought of the 20-year-old taking a crap is a pretty gross thought, right? How about the 2-year-old taking a crap? Also gross, but differently. The 2-year-old crap is gross, but in a way, it’s also “cute”. So when his parts responsible for this “adorable” expulsion of waste are visible, then it is also just “cute” and that outweighs the gross factor. While the 20-year-old showing his waste exits, that’s just horrid! Grown up waste is not cute. It’s just foul.

Are you thinking I’m a little off my rocker? What am I talking about, certainly the aversion to nudity can’t be about bathroom stuff, it’s all sexual! Nope. Ever heard of oral sex and anal sex? Quite common. Yet you can still show your mouth in public, but you cannot show your ass. Even in gender-segregated public bathrooms, the toilets are still behind concealing stalls. Not that anyone is doing anything sexual in a public bathroom (at least I hope not!). You don’t want to see someone peeing or taking a shit. Also, I recall what my college psychology teacher said. Some people can comfortably chat about orgasms, ejaculations, the clitoris, and any other detail about sexual matters, but if nature calls, when they get up to leave the room, they will no doubt still say they need to “powder their nose” or “go to the bathroom” even though he/she is clearly not going to take a bath. So, while yes, sex is a factor in the whole nudity controversy, so is the urination and the defecation, and they make up a large yet silent and forgotten factor in it.

Okay, away from the gross stuff. Where were we? We’ve got the 20-year-old being scorned for his nakedness because he’s sexually mature, thus making him being naked a sexual thing in and of itself, and also because when he goes to the bathroom, it’s not cute. The 2-year-old is adored for being naked, because the sexual factor is not present, and his going to the bathroom is considered cute. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either of these naked guys doing what they’re doing, just some people’s perceptions splitting stuff off into weird mental categories. Before the bathroom factor was considered, we knew at least one reason for the reaction to the 20-year-old, but not so much to the 2-year-old. The “cute” factor. What’s pleasing to the eye. And obviously pleasing to the eye isn’t particularly a sexual thing either since every chick on that beach would have her eyes on that naked 20-year-old guy! Hehehe.

Oh, wait, now I’m confused. If pleasing to the eye is a factor, then how come the situation isn’t the other way around? If the sexually mature 20-year-old guy is naked, wouldn’t he be what is pleasing to look at, while the physically immature 2-year-old would not be? Shouldn’t the 20-year-old get the praise and the 2-year-old be told to put something on? Would be if sex were nearly the factor we make it out to be, but clearly it is not. Linking sex with nudity seems to just be an excuse. But why? Why use sex to speak ill of nudity? What’s the real reason for nudity being “bad”?

The key lies in the mystery we have yet to solve here. How come a naked 2-year-old is okay but a naked 20-year-old is not? And if sex is not the only or main reason, what is? Seeing as sex would be the first thing that would come to mind, it’s probably safe to assume that the “real reason” here is not one people are generally consciously aware of. Something so deeply ingrained in our minds that we wouldn’t come close to thinking of it. Well, let’s see if we can extract it!

We were onto something with the “cute” and “non-sexually pleasing to the eye” factors. This beach scenario is FAR from the only situation where child nudity is not only not wrong but is seen happily. In some cases, it’s seen as a beautiful (in a way that adult nudity wouldn’t apply) and even a selling point. Look at any Anne Geddes photograph. A “cute” standard household decoration is one of about twelve naked babies sitting in a row, their backs facing outward, their butts all “adorably” showing. Diaper commercials, too, since there’s invariably going to be a shot of the baby’s butt to show how smooth and dry he is. And don’t forget all those scandalous pictures your parents took of you when you were little: taking a bath, sitting on the toilet, wearing a shirt and nothing else, etc.

Try applying every one of these examples to adults and see how very differently the scene changes. The adult equivalent of Anne Geddes photos could probably be found in Maxim (nothing sexual about the picture in and of itself, but changing the ages of the subjects makes all the difference). As could the adult equivalent of the pic of all the bare-butt babies. Again, nothing sexual, nothing would even be showing, but because it’s adults involved rather than kids, that makes it a no-no. Diaper commercials? Ha! Just imagine an ad for Depends or even Kotex showing how smooth and dry an adult’s butt is when they use that kind of diaper or maxi-pad! I’m sure it sounds disgusting (even without considering the fact that the Depends users are like old and stuff). And those scandalous baby pictures? Honestly, it may seem cute and all to have a picture of your little 3-year-old sitting on the toilet or in the bath tub, but could you even imagine doing that when she’s 25? Seems kind of rude, right?

Aha! That’s it! The “rude” factor. I think we’re onto something more here. Another factor in play is the “consent” factor. I mean, the 3-year-old girl might like the idea of a picture being taken of her in the bath tub, and a parent would be more than happy to do it. If the 25-year-old girl actually wanted this, think parent would do it? Kind of a shady thought! Even if parent consented, would be a significant degree of awkwardness. Not so much with the 3-year-old. If the 3-year-old did not want her picture taken while she was in the bath tub, do you think the parent would listen to her? Maybe. Maybe not. In that case, maybe consent isn’t much of a factor after all. But rudeness is. Why is it rude to take a picture of 25-year-old girl taking a bath but not rude to take a picture of a 3-year-old girl taking a bath (with the consent factor equal and thus cancelled out)?

Regardless of initial reason for it, as things stand, the genital region is considered “private”. Basically means there’s a bit more decorum when it comes to who can touch or look at the body parts deemed “private” as opposed to your arm or something. Could be for sexual reasons, could be the bathroom reasons, could be any number of things, but about the main thing about being naked is showing the body region that is deemed private, deemed personal, deemed yours and yours alone. And we’ve thus far established that it is not okay for the 20-year-old guy on the beach to be naked, thus exposing his private region, because he’s sexually mature, his bowel movements are not cute, and it’s “rude to look”. The 2-year-old boy on the beach, however, can be naked all he wants, because he’s not sexual, his bowel movements are a little “cute”, and for some reason it’s not “rude to look”. He’s got his private region, the part that has a bit more strict rules about who can touch it or look at it, and it’s just as exposed as the 20-year-old guy’s, and they both clearly chose to be naked, chose to expose their private regions, yet doing so is not okay for the 20-year-old but okay and celebrated for the 2-year-old. And we’ve already ruled out sex several times now.

Does the “cute” factor then outweigh the “rude” factor? Clearly in the beach situation and very clearly in the girl in the bath tub situation. Translation? The little kids are so “cute” that the factor of it being rude to look at them naked, whether or not they want it, is insignificant. The 20-year-old’s “cute” factor is slim to nil, so it is rude to look at him naked in public, whether he’s okay with it or not (I’m obviously not talking about in intimate situations, but even those would all be consensual). It’s not okay for you to be seeing his private region, due to this rudeness factor, and for that reason the police will take him to jail for allowing people in a public place to rudely see it. No such thing would happen with the 2-year-old (I’m assuming this isn’t some whackjob fundamentalist place, but even then it isn’t likely).

Where in the world am I going with this now?! Isn’t it a good thing that the 2-year-old gets in no trouble? Yes, that in and of itself is good, but the worrying part is why, and that’s what this long spiel has been trying to uncover. We know sex is not a major factor, and that the little kids are not entitled to privacy because they’re “too cute”.

Let’s look one more time at that cute factor, because I think we’re near our conclusion. What does cute make you think of? Small? Yes, the kids are small. The small factor helps reduce the gross factor in the case of the waste holes. Uninformed? I would say the kids’ being still so little and underdeveloped means they haven’t achieved a great level of cognition yet, but then again, same could be said of some cognitively disabled adults, but they can’t be naked in public either. What else is “cute”? Lesser? Inferior? Amusing? Novelty? Trivial? Cute animals?

By Jove, I believe we’ve got it.

That’s it! Inferiority. Novelty. Trivia. Animal. Comes as no surprise, really. The difference in how the nakedness of the 2-year-old and the 20-year-old is viewed is because of the simple reason that we consider the 20-year-old a full, civilized human like the rest of us (and thus above being naked), while we do not consider the 2-year-old to be as human, thus his nakedness is okay for something so inferior, so animal.

For that is yet another factor of nudity. When I was a kid, we were laughing about nudity LONG before we ever knew anything about sex. The bathroom factor, yes. Bodies are usually covered up so comes as a funny shock comedy kind of thing for someone to be naked, thus laughter ensues. Something even more subtle was at play and remains at play as a far more powerful factor in the subject of nudity yet rarely called upon. It’s the inferiority factor. To be naked is to be inferior. Could also call it a vulnerability factor, since to be naked is to be exposed and unprotected. That’s the thing about intimacy. It’s not so much a sexual thing (although the sexual thing is an offshoot of this), but more of exposing selves to each other, trusting each other to allow the vulnerability. To be naked is to be bold, in a crazy, what-the-hell-are-you-doing kind of way, due to the vulnerability and inferiority factors, and to be naked is to wear that openness with pride, which is why the opposite, wanting to remain covered up, is modesty. Pride is to do gutsy, dangerous, crazy things. Modesty is to not risk it. The answer is right there in our language, too, yet this conclusion took so long to reach!

I know, you’re probably thinking “I’ve read all this time just to find out that?!” Don’t believe me? All the pieces fit. Explains why child nudity in the media is so much more commonplace than adult nudity. Even when unnecessary.

A scene in that stupid Nicolas Cage movie “The Family Man” is one example. He’s changing his infant son’s diaper, and sure enough, during the change, the little boy starts peeing all over him. During this, there are a couple of views of the boy’s naked crotch. As if you couldn’t already figure out where the projectile liquid was coming from. Had the little boy instead been an adult peeing on Cage, rest assured the crotch shot would not have been there, and if it had, would have affected the MPAA rating. Wasn’t necessary. Yet it was necessary for the little boy apparently. Why? Because little boys are subhuman, duh!

Another example is a conversation we had back in college in my creative writing class. We had just read a very disturbing poem which seemed to be about a parent (wasn’t apparent whether mother or father) thinking his/her baby boy was just so adorable and happy during a diaper change that he/she wanted to put his “wizzer” in his/her mouth. The class was about split on that one. Half of us, myself included, were disgusted and calling the narrator a pedophile. The other half seemed to think differently. They said that there was no indication of it being “sexual”, that it was merely playful adoring affection. The rest of us were all “WTF?!” Then one guy in the class, on the other side of the coin, mentioned that “a baby is like a novelty” and told a story of him going into his infant cousin’s room one time, seeing his little cousin sleeping naked, and bit the little boy’s butt because he thought it was so cute. Wow.

I was at Red Lobster one time and was in the bathroom. Was finished and was washing my hands when a woman came in with her three young kids, two girls and a boy. She changed the boy’s diaper, and then took the smaller of the girls into one of the stalls. Without closing the door, she sat the girl, pants down, on the toilet and she did her business. No real privacy (although, granted, only ones around were her mom, her brother and sister, and me). But then when the girl was done, the mom had to go. Oh, you guessed it. The mom decided she deserved the privacy she didn’t feel her daughter was entitled to, and she shut the stall door, three little ones standing by the sinks waiting for her.

A similar story to the above would be how my aunt would change my cousin’s diaper in front of everyone, but when breastfeeding, she needed privacy. Uh huh.

I could go on and on. All situations you might not think much of (well, except for the poem thing I guess), but all signs of the extent of how we objectify children. How they really are little more than pets to us. And it’s so subtle. Most of us don’t even realize just how far it goes. These might all seem like very nothing, unimportant situations, but the situations themselves aren’t so much the issue was to the silent beliefs and motives behind them.

And it’s an underlying issue in the youth rights movement. Yes, we deal primarily with teens, and this nudity stuff doesn’t apply to teens, but they are viewed as children sadly, not terribly far out of not being allowed to close the bathroom stall door to pee. Hell, a little kid can still be referred to as “it” sometimes and that’s considered acceptable, even when the gender is known and you’re talking about a specific little kid.

So, after all this, what do I suggest? Well, I’d like to see the nakedness laws relax, so the 20-year-old on the beach wouldn’t be arrested or even looked at as obscene. Naked does not mean sexual even if sexually mature, and we need to realize that. In doing so, we’d maybe get over the inferiority thing even. Would still be skewed, seeing as little kids wouldn’t have developed the desire to hide the privates as much as older folks, but there’s a lot of adults who wear clothes only because they’d be arrested otherwise. I do not think the rudeness factor should go away, and that it should be considered just as rude to take pictures of an unconsenting naked 3-year-old as it would of an unconsenting naked 25-year-old.

I support the relaxing of the naked rules, yes, but that comes second to me supporting equality among the little and the adult in that respect. Of course, the two should go hand in hand anyway.

Children are not pets. Children are not property. Children are not novelties. Children are PEOPLE!

This has been Day 34 of the 100 Days of Summer, Round 7.


  1. Awesome! You thought this through very well. Even I am impressed.

    Comment by Conor — June 28, 2007 @ 12:49 am

  2. She thought it through very well because we had a 5 million word discussion about it on my forum 😆

    Kat, nicely done, but TL;DR (well, ok, I DID read about half of it, but still).

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a shit. :cute:

    Comment by Lord Galen — July 4, 2007 @ 9:43 am

  3. True! I’d never realized that before.

    My dad used to take my picture in the tub all the time, no matter how much I bitched for him to stop. He did the same thing to my mom, just to be annoying. So I don’t think it applies here…

    Comment by Lisa Marie — June 5, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

  4. […] it seems it’s only adult nudity they’re (usually) all that pissy about. […]

    Pingback by Sure, Why Not? » Protect the Squeamish Ageist Adults! — June 21, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

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