Over at Jezebel, they’re having this discussion about Ellen von Unwerth’s photos. In fact, her whole book of photos of women is available for free on the internet. It is completely not safe for work. Not even a little bit. Boobs, gals comparing pubic hair, touching themselves, touching each other, bending over so you can see their underwear, tugging cutely on said underwear–on and on and on.
And the discussion over there is interesting, about whether photos like this are less problematic because they’re taken by a woman, about whether they’re vulgar, about whether they’re exploitative, about whether, in other words, it’s the same sexist shit on a different day.
For me, I experience the images as playful and as women performing playful and sexy for other women. I’m sure I’m biased, but I feel like I can tell that those photos were taken by a woman. They’re sexy, but in this “we’re doing this with you” way, not in the performance-y “we’re doing this for you” way of photos of women taken for straight men.
“Imagine you’re us or here with us, doing this, too.” is what I feel like I’m being asked as a viewer.
And the thing is, I really want to.
But after 400 pages of photos, I realize I can’t. The “you” invited is not me. It’s not a lot of women. And the more photos you see, the more you realize what a very narrow slice of womanhood is represented here. And yet, I can’t help but feel like the emotions being expressed are pretty universal–women want to be funny and at ease with each other and ourselves. We want the ways we’re intimate with each other (not just sexually, but sexually, too) to be recognized and recognized as having value. Women are so often set against each other that seeing photos of us in which that’s not the case is pretty awesome. I think.
And I want to see myself that way, too. I want to be the cute girl in the flouncy skirt straddling the man in the top hat in some Moulin Rouge fantasy world. Or I want to see women who look like me doing that. I want to see women who look like my mom and her friends sitting at the piano naked. I want to see more women of color. I want to see women who don’t have perfect bodies.
And yet, I know this is a kind of bullshit want.
Opening up the gates so that we can all be sexy doesn’t really get us past the whole “women are for sex” problem.
So, I don’t know. I was hoping when I started out this post I’d end up somewhere, with some understanding, but I didn’t. I did get to look at naked pictures, though, so that’s something.