I got to meet Stoya and Molly Crabapple the other day and I’m still kind of in a glow. Spending time with both of them and hearing all of the interesting and funny things they had to say was both wonderful and thought-provoking. As we were leaving, Stoya asked (rhetorically) why it was so hard for people to find a middle road between condemning her and calling her a genius– a sentiment she later reiterated on Twitter. Her comment made me think about how smart women and sex have such a strange relationship, in which prominent sexuality is tied to lack of intellect, a lack of strength, a lack of talent.
It is almost impossible to find a situation in which the display of female bodies or female sexuality doesn’t carry with it the weight of how you will be judged and discounted. There is a logic behind it that comes from the assumption both that women’s bodies are out of their control and that they use sexuality as a method of persuasion, a combination that makes unchecked female bodies somehow dangerous.
The fact that the nude female body has a significant effect is evident in the concern that Molly voices in her New Republic profile (“she worried that, as a former nude model, she would be deemed unserious and unworthy by full-time activists”) and seems disturbingly relevant when the author of a critique of that article on the San Francisco MoMa blog decided to draw attention to that very fact by implying that her attractiveness is what inspired the reviewer to treat her so seriously. Being a nude model is not a former job like being a bar-tender or temp, it seems– it colors every future image, action and interaction. Why should a reputation for burlesque art or nude modeling be any less serious, less intellectual, less valid than other pursuits? No, really, I’d like someone to explain.
Critiquing the idea that sexy or even flirty has nothing to do with intelligence, The Lingerie Addict responded to the ‘Letter to Victoria’s Secret’ and hit on one point that I thought was especially important: since when does having cute panties, even with flirty messages, mean that a girl isn’t smart or focused or capable? The letter, a letter that went viral from a dad condemning Victoria’s Secret’s ‘Bright Young Things’ line for high schoolers, reminded me of all the times that it was implied in high school that it was the ‘stupid people’ who were having sex– and how that must have also undermined the confidence of anyone who had sex, whose intelligence was somehow now in question, as if intelligence had anything to do with it.
In all seriousness, I wish I understood why some people get so upset when they can’t file me under either complete idiot or brilliant genius
— Stoya (@stoya) May 6, 2013
On Twitter this week, Stoya asked why people can’t handle it if they don’t see her as an extreme and I became interested in honestly answering this question. I think it’s because there is no place for someone like her in a conception of the world in which a female porn actress is stupid, simple and degraded. Being interesting and multifaceted, she doesn’t play her part as a bogeyman that scares young women into controlling their sexualities, so she has to be elevated to the height of a genius that no regular person can comprehend or contend with.
Now, I think Stoya is clever and funny and a brilliant writer– but she is human, and probably sometimes an idiot and sometimes a genius and usually somewhere in between. She’s not a symbol and she can’t be summed up in a one-sentence cliché, which I think scares people. If having sex on film doesn’t define her, what does that say about the rest of us who are supposed to cover ourselves up and avoid talking about sex for fear some nipples forever existing in cyberspace will define us for the rest of our days?
The truth is, if I were to post a picture of myself in a bra and panties (something I haven’t done up until now) it could be a terrible decision. My credibility could be questioned forever by people who would simple have to say that I posed in my underwear to suggest that I was shallow, silly, attention-hungry and sexually available.
It’s not that I want, necessarily, to pose for you in my underwear in a daily basis (in fact, I really don’t want that). But I’m tired of having to fear judgement. I’m tired of having to defend lingerie by saying doesn’t have to be sexual without being able to point out that really, there’s nothing wrong with it being sexual either.
If my credibility depends on me keeping my clothes on, that’s ridiculous.
I chose the images in this photo to go along with the theme of ‘undressing.’ Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!