I'm confused, so this will be a very confused column. It's sort of like one of those dreams where several seemingly unrelated threads of thought combine in really odd ways and you wake up thinking "I'm not sure I want to know anyone who could dream up something like that!"
The first thread is the art show in Toronto I saw with my daughter. This was a highly uncharacteristic act on my part, as music is my love, not viewing Great Art. But she loves impressionists and the Barnes Gallery (very famous among those who love that sort of thing) was showing some of its finest exhibits in an attempt to raise money to fix their roof. This was very exciting because it took several court orders to overturn the clause in the will that set up the museum to allow the works to leave the premises. Trust me, it was exciting for art lovers, and the crowds were huge. To my surprise I truly enjoyed the exhibit. The taped commentary was as interesting as the art, and I left with an understanding of another culture and it's values.
Not surprisingly I was fascinated by it's approach to femininity. A number of the paintings were of nude women, some erotic, some not; some rather off the wall, some very realistic. But most of these women were real, flawed, mature, unidealized people, the kind you would meet and know as neighbors, coworkers and people on the street. I left thinking what a vastly more sensible approach to femininity than the way our society portrays women. I also realized that the contemporary portrayal of women comes not from Great Art but from The Great Sales Pitch.
I won't get much argument when I say you can pick up any major magazine and see that the ideal woman is a skinny, bright eyed, young, well dressed, impeccably made up, young, professional, big breasted, flawless, young model type trying to sell you something you just absolutely have to run right out and get now. In more specialized magazines, the ones behind the counter at the store, the image being sold is the same, except for the well dressed part.
You can rail about the unreality of this popular image, but it has to be tapping into some real phenomenon or it wouldn't work. Face it, you can sell more power tools when the poster has a broad in a bikini holding a humongous drill (Yes, Dr. Freud, I understand what it really means!) than you can publishing a spec sheet. It's not confined to consumers of the male variety either. A comely woman with a mop will sell more floor cleaner or dish soap, and despite the best efforts of equal opportunity and feminism, those products are not aimed at males.
It gets even more confused because in advertising sex sells, and sex almost always implies a female image figuratively offering herself to a male consumer. There is a small market for the male hunk pitching to the liberated female, but men make significantly more money in this society and you sell to whoever has the money. Never mind what it's like in the real world of men and women, this advertising strategy works and will not be abandoned until our society adopts values and perceptions that no longer make it a viable way to make money.
With all this on my mind the next thread started in the mailbox, with an unsolicited "Crossdresser's Magazine". It's images of femininity were quite different from either of those above. This wasn't the first time I had gotten such a magazine, I even wrote a scathing criticism of the first one I received that Kym wisely didn't print. I have never gotten off on pictures of men in bras with dangling participles and my first reaction was disgust and anger; this was something that would set back all the good efforts of the transgender community. That is until a loud bonging in my head alerted me that my hypocrisy alarm was going off.
I have to be honest here, I read (and write) erotic fiction when the mood strikes me. To my mind "anti-pornography" and "hypocrisy" are synonymous. Sex is a normal human activity and nothing to be ashamed about, including what have come to be code worded as "graphic depictions" of it. My image of femininity includes strong women who enjoy sex. Although hard to come by, the few unbiased studies have shown erotic material, by itself, is neutral to beneficial. It has also been shown that combining violence and eroticism is a potent negative force, something to be truly worried about. So why did I react so strongly to this "Crossdressers magazine" when I am hopelessly liberal and a consumer of eroticism myself?
The answer seems to be found in good taste and civility. The "in your face" approach, the philosophy of individualism that ignores the comfort and sensibility of anyone who does not share your interests is causing a deterioration of society in general. This is a difficult distinction to draw, let alone defend.
I start with the idea that anything done in private between consenting adults is no business of anyone else unless and until those actions harm another party. If you define "harm" as murder, rape and mayhem the answers are still pretty clear. What happens if you define "harm" as an affront to your sensibilities. Can "harm" be defined as feeling uncomfortable around someone else? The confusion and difficulty come from balancing the conflicting sensibilities of people with different values.
As long as I wear my dresses in my home no one should care about it. It's when I choose to walk out the front door I have to consider others who will be uncomfortable with my chosen attire. I don't see how the clothing on a body can cause harm to another person, military uniforms with weapons excepted. But if I am going to advocate my right to wear a frock in public despite what anyone else thinks about it do I have a right to be upset by the attire of the people in the magazine I disliked so? Make it a step harder, do people who feel uncomfortable around homosexuals have the right to live without them. How about someone with a dark skin or a foreign accent?
The simple principle gets lost in a thicket of complications. My personal solution is to not force my peculiarities on others without good and compelling reason. In return I try to accept the peculiarities of others without undue discomfort. So if you get your jollies reading a magazine that caters to atrocious bad taste, go ahead and do so. I'll try not to sniff in superiority because of my superlative taste and breeding while you do so. But I wish you wouldn't send me a copy without asking first.
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