Moveon.org has a new ad aimed at female voters urging them to vote out politicians who don’t believe in women’s autonomy over their own bodies as it pertains to contraception, access to abortion and healthcare. It’s a not a new message, and it’s a necessary one. But for heaven’s sake, did they have to be naked?
You can see the ad below:
Sure, I understand the artistic impulse behind the ad. Sure, I understand that in an ad about women’s autonomy over their bodies it makes sense for them to present them unclothed to underscore the point they’re making. Yes, I understand that by being frustrated at these women for taking their clothes off you could make the argument that I am engaging in the same body policing that these women are railing against from politicians. But I still object to the ad, because I think it’s counterproductive. Here’s why:
1. This is nothing new.
At a certain point, there have to be diminishing returns on the “women getting naked to make a political argument” concept, since it’s been around a long time. Remember this?
Or, more objectionably, this?
Regarding the PETA ads, you might there’s some equality there since they also run ads featuring nude men. But the ad above is substantially different from the one below, featuring, as it does, a nude female body in a public place, in contrast to a torso-and-up shot of a man that wouldn’t be out of place if seen on the street on a particularly hot day.
2. Using women’s bodies in this way reduces them to just that — bodies.
It’s true that politicians have very little business telling women what to do with their own bodies, but women are not just bodies. They have whole brains and hearts separate from their breasts, uteruses, and vaginas, and presenting women making political arguments as a collection of bodies reduces them to their physical makeup in a way that is counterproductive to the message they’re trying to send. Of course women should have control over what happens to them physically, because they are smart and capable and so much more than their physical forms. Why do they need to be naked in order to clearly communicate that idea?
3. I just don’t believe these ads are for other women.
The headline above this ad on the MoveOn site reads “Every Woman You Know Needs To See This Powerful Message From Several Mostly Naked Ladies.” I find it hard to believe that this ad is for women by other women, simply because women already understand this issue — they already live in those bodies, so reminding them “Hey! This is about Your Ladyparts!” doesn’t really need to be underscored by the visual cue of a bunch of other nude ladies. I suppose you could make the argument that some women might like the suggestion of nudity/looking at women without their clothes on just as much as men do, but then you have to concede that the point of the ad is to titillate the viewer, and I don’t think that’s what MoveOn believes they are doing.
The image of the female body is used to sell so many things already, and it does so by creating desire in the viewer. I understand the impulse to do something shocking and extreme to get one’s point across, but couldn’t it be something that leaves sexualizing women’s bodies in order to sell something (in this case, a political message) out of it?
4. Women can choose their choices, but those choices have consequences.
I don’t know the women who participated in this ad, and I am sure that many of them felt empowered by their role in it. That’s a valid feeling, and if that is their stance then I am happy for them. But I felt depressed watching it, because it feels like women are being brought to the table to discuss the politicization of their bodies in a way that continues to denude them of their voices and convictions, which should be all they need to make their point.
Think about an issue in which an ad featuring naked men covered by signs would make sense. It doesn’t, right? Reducing men to their physical forms to talk about a political issue is an absurd idea. I just wish that we could reach the point where the same was true for women.
Reprinted with permission from The Jane Dough.