Take a Gander

I’ve been debating about whether to post something about the whole Janet Jackson breast-baring incident [warning: explicit image]. Then I got lazy, it burned out of import. Then Howard Stern got banned, and it brought up the issue again. I got lazy again (see a pattern?). Now George Carlin has gotten into the act, and while I won’t comment on his remarks on religion, he said something that made me want to write about the issue again. He said:

“And yet, they’re very inconsistent — on that Super Bowl broadcast of Janet Jackson’s there was also a commercial about a 4-hour erection. A lot of people were saying about Janet Jackson, ‘How do I explain to my kids? We’re a little family, we watched it together …’ And, well, what did you say about the other thing? These are convenient targets.”

Carlin’s quote highlights the hypocrisy of the ads during the Super Bowl. We can’t see a woman’s breast, but we can talk about a man’s penis and how to make it erect. It seems that every woman is meant to be Draupadi, where men are trying to take off her clothes, and then we get upset when it actually happens. The blame is then shifted to the woman for letting it happen in the first place. It relates very much to the way rape victims were treated – and continue to be treated – in that they are perceived as having “asked for it.”

Why is it that only Janet was blamed for the incident? Clearly there is a power dynamic involved with both race and gender. However, it was so incredibly one-sided. Justin Timberlake did issue a quick apology about a “wardrobe malfunction,” but nobody seemed to notice that his role was to rip the clothes off of a woman. The subjugation of the woman is considered perfectly acceptable, but the fact that she allowed it to happen is not. It is Janet’s fault that men expect her to use her sexuality and she should be condemned when she does so. Such reasoning is perverse and repugnant. Timberlake should have been raked over the coals for simulating the act.

Of course, this objectification of women has severe real world consequences. The female kicker on the University of Colorado’s football team has accused her teammates of harassing and raping her. One sports writer gets the implications behind the case very well. Initially, the coach was supposed to be disciplined, but now it seems the issue wasn’t severe enough to replace him. I understand there are legal concerns at play here, but there has to be condemnation for the coach from the university, from the campus community, and the surrounding locale. He should be made to feel as uncomfortable as the kicker was. He should be made to hate his life as much as she was. But we know that won’t happen, because it’s just not that important to people.

This attitude towards women and gender relations has to be stopped. Forcing women to wear the veil or the bikini. Denying women the veil or the bikini. Both are the same thing, an exercise in male power over women. We say it and recognize it as such, but do nothing to change society. Perhaps part of the solution rests in honest and open discussion about sex and sexuality, the taboo subject that charges gender relations. More important is a strong restructuring of our history to give women their place at the table. There are enough women who have impacted history that you don’t need to go searching for them, but you need to talk about them. That in turn would allow us to look at the world us with new eyes; to see who walks with us; to see who walked before us; to see who’ll walk after us.