So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11 — The Final Roundup!

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’ve been watching Season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and have been documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men.

The season is over, the winner has been announced — and I’ve added up the total routines over the season, to see how many of them had women more naked than men, how many had men more naked than women, and how many had rough nudity parity between the male and female dancers.

In this final roundup, I have only included routines that included both women and men: i.e., I have not included same-sex routines or solos. I have also not included guest performances. I have only included male-female routines of the competitors, in routines that were part of the competition.

The totals:

GROUP ROUTINES
Women more naked than men 8
Men more naked than women 0
Nudity parity 2

COUPLE ROUTINES
Woman more naked than man 56
Man more naked than woman 1
Nudity parity 11

(For those who are curious, I break this down by different dance styles a little later in the post. For the routine-by-routine documentation, read the individual posts in this series.)

So the answer, in short is yes. Assuming that this season is representative of the show in general, then the female dancers on So You Think You Can Dance are, in fact, generally expected to show more skin than the men.

A lot more.

In group routines, greater female nudity outnumbered nudity parity by four to one. In couple routines, greater female nudity outnumbered nudity parity by five to one. And there was literally one — count ‘em, one — routine this season in which the man showed more skin than the woman.

When I started this project, I suspected that the show didn’t have nudity parity. I did this documentation project to see if my perception from past seasons were accurate, or if it was just confirmation bias. But while I expected that I’d find a nudity imbalance, I didn’t expect it to be quite this glaring.

Four to one in the group routines. Five to one in the couple routines. And that’s the imbalance between “more female nudity” and “nudity parity” — not the imbalance between “more female nudity” and “more male nudity.” Of the 78 relevant routines in this season, there was literally one in which there was more male nudity. I will say that again, in case you missed it — ONE.

sytycd-armen-way-and-marlene-ostergaardI wrote about why this matters in my original post in this series, and I’m going to say it again here. [Read more...]

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episode 14

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

Before I get into the breakdown of the relative nudity or lack thereof in this episode, I want to give the producers of “So You Think You Can Dance” kudos for the opening number. This was the most same-sex-oriented routine I’ve ever seen them do, and it was obviously about same-sex marriage: the men were mostly dancing together, the women were mostly dancing together, they were doing so in very romantically and couple-y ways, they were wearing white, and the music was that wedding cliche, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Nigel even more or less acknowledged it as such, in one of his pieces of self-congratulatory blather about how mind-bogglingly amazing his show is.

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11e7 opening group number

It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what it should be. It’s actually pretty pathetic that “So You Think You Can Dance” has been going on for eleven seasons, and this is the first time (as far as I know) that the U.S. edition has had any same-sex routine about love or sex. (Same-sex routines in the past have always been about friendship, competition, anything but love and sex.) Still, it was a Good Thing, and I’m going to praise them for it and encourage them to do it more.

So. Here are the nudity parity results for Episode 14, the Final Four performance finale. [Read more...]

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episodes 12 and 13

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

I’ve been letting the perfect be the enemy of the good: I haven’t posted the “So You Think You Can Dance” nudity parity documentation for the last couple of episodes, since I keep thinking, “Oh, I just have to find video links and the photos to illustrate it,” and I’ve been swamped lately and that task just seems daunting. So I’m just going to get the documentation up, sans video links and photos, and sans clever commentary. [Read more...]

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episode 11

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

So the main thing I want to point out about this episode: This is the first episode, of the entire competition this season, in which a man was more naked than the woman in any performance.

There have been six episodes in this competition so far (not counting auditions, for reasons explained in the first post). In the significant majority of the performances, the women have been more naked than the men; there have been a handful of performances in which there has been rough nudity parity, and the women and men showed about the same amount of skin. But this is the first episode in which the man was more naked than the woman, in any performance.

The first one. All season.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

So here’s how it broke down this week. (Note for people who are following this nudity parity watch but are not watching the show itself: The reason you’re suddenly seeing new names and faces among the dancers is that the competitors are now dancing with All-Stars, performers from previous seasons, instead of with one another.)

sytycd s11e11 opening group numberOpening group routine, hip-hop
Women are more naked than men (women have bare arms, bare midriffs, V-neck necklines, three of five have bare thighs with opaque stockings, men have short sleeves).

sytycd s11e11 bridget brandonBridget and Brandon, Bollywood disco (yes, really)
Man is slightly more naked than woman, FOR THE ONLY TIME SO FAR IN ANY PERFORMANCE THIS SEASON (woman has bare midriff, one bare arm, bare back, long flowy skirt showing shins and sometimes spinning up to show more of legs, man is shirtless).

sytycd s11e11 tanisha ryanTanisha and Ryan, Argentine tango
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare back, mostly bare legs, very deep V-neck neckline, man is completely covered).

sytycd s11e11 emilio jasmineEmilio and Jasmine, hip-hop
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare back, bare midriff, bare sternum, bare sides down over hips — in fact, her entire torso is pretty much exposed except for her breasts and some straps to hold things in place here and there; man has short sleeves).

sytycd s11e11 valerie adeValerie and Ade, jazz
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare legs, I think a bare back although it might be illusion netting, man has short sleeves). Also, her front torso is largely clad in flesh tone fabric that gives the impression of nudity, including her breasts.

sytycd s11e11 rudy jennaRudy and Jenna, cha-cha
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare legs, bare back, bare midriff, bare sternum, man has bare arms, vest open to bare chest and midriff).

sytycd s11e11 jacque chehonJacque & Chehon, contemporary
Rough nudity parity (woman has bare arms, bare legs, man is shirtless). However, she has illusion netting giving the impression of nudity on much of her torso and back.

sytycd s11e11 ricky laurenRicky & Lauren, jazz
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare legs, deep neckline, slight keyhole under breasts, man has short sleeves).

sytycd s11e11 casey kathrynCasey & Kathryn, Broadway
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare back, deep scoop neckline, long skirt with slit that swirls up to show bare legs, man is completely covered).

sytycd s11e11 jessica twitchJessica & Twitch, hip-hop
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare legs, bare midriff, bare sternum, bare forearms, man has bare forearms).

sytycd s11e11 zack amyZack & Amy, contemporary
Woman is slightly more naked than man (woman has bare arms, long flowy sheer skirt that shows bare legs, bare sternum, largely bare midriff, man is shirtless).

sytycd s11e11 christina perry kathryn chehonKathryn & Chehon, backing Christina Perry song
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare back, long flowy sheer skirt that shows bare legs, deep V-neck neckline, he has bare arms, deep scoop neckline).



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episode 10

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

Sorry this post is so late, btw (this post documents the SYTYCD episode that aired on July 30 — the last couple of weeks have been a little, let’s say, challenging). I don’t have any particular analysis of this episode, except to note that the pattern that’s been consistent throughout this season has been an overwhelming lack of nudity parity between the male and female dancers, and this episode is no exception.

sytycd s11e10 opening group numberOpening group routine, contemporary
Women are more naked than men (women have bare arms, bare backs, long skirts with deep slits that mostly show bare legs, men have bare arms or short sleeves).

sytycd s11e10 bridget & emilioBridget & Emilio, jazz
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare arms, bare midriff, low scoop neckline, largely bare back, he is comoletely covered). Also, her outfit is largely skin-tight, his outfit is a regular-fitting suit.

sytycd s11e10 tanisha rudyTanisha & Rudy, contemporary
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare arms, bare back, deep V-neck, flowy skirt with a diagonal cut to hip that shows mostly bare legs, he has shirt unbuttoned to show chest and belly).

sytycd s11e10 jacque zackJacque & Zack, paso doble
Woman is more naked than man (she has lace stockings largely showing legs, bare shoulders, largely bare back, lacy sleeves partly showing arms, keyhole neckline, he is completely covered).

sytycd s11e10 emily teddyEmily & Teddy, Broadway
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare legs, bare back, bare upper arms, somewhat deep V-neck, he has bare forearms, shirt unbuttons to deep V-neck).

sytycd s11e10 jessica caseyJessica & Casey, contemporary
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare arms, flowy slit skirt that mostly shows bare legs, bare upper back, largely bare sternum, he has short sleeves, slightly scooped neckline).

sytycd s11e10 carly sergeCarly & Serge, quick-step
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare arms, bare back, bare sides, partly bare midriff, deep V-neck, he is completely covered).

sytycd s11e10 valerie rickyValerie & Ricky, hip-hop
Rough nudity parity (both dancers are pretty much completely covered, she has a slight scoop neckline). However, her legs are covered with skin-tight tights, her arms are covered with skin-tight flesh-toned sleeves, he’s wearing regular-fitting trousers and shirt.

Note: The mini-group routines, solo routines, and guest routine can’t be used in a strict gender parity comparison. The mini-group routines weren’t like the couples routines where one man and one woman are put into the same performance by the same choreographer and presumably costumed by the same costume designer; I assume that the guest performers picked their own costumes; and as far as I know, the dancers pick their own costumes for the solo routines. But for the sake of completism, I’m documenting them anyway.

MINI-GROUP ROUTINES

sytycd s11e10 mini group womenMini-group routine 1, all women, contemporary
Bare backs, bare arms, long flowy slit skirt mostly showing bare legs, mostly deep V-necks or deep scoop necklines (all have some bareness of sternum/chest), some bare midriffs.

sytycd s11e10 mini group menMini-group routine 2, all men, contemporary
Bare chests and backs
Note: There was some interesting gender non-normativity in this routine, both in the dance style and in the costumes, which featured flowy skirt-like things, similar to skirts often worn by women in the contemporary routines. However, rather than having their legs bare underneath, their legs are covered.

GUEST ROUTINE: ACADEMY OF VILLAINS

sytycd s11e10 guest routine academy of villainsAcademy of Villains, hip-hop, mixed-gender
All dancers literally entirely covered, including masks.

SOLOS
(Sorry, I couldn’t find still images of the solo performances, but the video links should work)

Serge solo, Latin ballroom
Bare forearms

Carly solo, contemporary
Bare legs, bare arms, bare back, largely bare midriff, deep scoop neckline

Casey solo, contemporary
Bare arms, very deep scoop neckline

Emily, contemporary
Bare legs, lacy back and sleeves that are partly see-through

Teddy, hip-hop
Completely covered

Jessica, contemporary
Bare arms, mostly bare legs, bare upper back, bare sternum



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episode 9

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

Before I get into this particular episode, though, I want to address a question that’s been asked a couple of times about this project — namely, whether a lack of nudity parity, even a consistent lack of nudity parity, necessarily implies sexism.

No, the fact that, in any given situation, women are showing more skin than men does not automatically imply that women are expected to show more skin than men — either in general, or in that particular situation. This trope isn’t even universally true: in Islamist theocracies, for instance, women’s subjugation and objectification is marked by the expectation that they cover up, not the expectation that they show skin. And of course, none of this implies that showing skin is bad or wrong.

But when you see a consistent and repeated pattern of women showing more skin than men, it makes you wonder if this isn’t just random chance or a random cultural quirk. That’s even more true given that there are places and situations where this pressure or expectation is made explicit (fashion magazines, dress codes, mothers — other examples welcome in the comments). It’s even more true given all the other evidence we have of the ways that women are routinely expected to be ornamental and to fit conventional standards of attractiveness, and are primarily or largely valued for our value as ornaments and sex objects. And it’s even more true in a situation like SYTYCD, where the dancers’ costume choices are being made for them and are the product of the producers’ and costumers’ conscious choice (influenced by unconscious cultural stuff, of course).

There’s an interesting Catch-22 about talking about sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, etc. If you talk about the phenomenon in general, and talk about broad trends and tropes, people will say, “Give me examples! I don’t see what you’re talking about!” But if you point to specific examples, people will say, “That’s just one example! One example doesn’t prove that there’s a pattern! Besides, that example is special, it’s an exception because (reasons)!”

So no. The fact that on SYTYCD, week after week, the female dancers consistently have more skin shown than the male dancers, with very few instances of nudity parity and virtually no examples (none at all so far this season) of male dancers showing more skin than the women — this does not, by itself, prove that women’s bodies are treated as display objects by our culture.

It’s just one small example of it.

So now, to this week’s data.

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 opening group number mandy mooreOpening number, Mandy Moore, jazz (or maybe contemporary — I’m not an expert, and I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between them)
Women are more naked than men (women have bare legs, bare arms, bare midriffs, mostly bare backs, men have either bare arms or short sleeves, some have scoop necklines).

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 valerie rickyValerie & Ricky, Bollywood
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare shins, bare midriff, mostly bare back, V-neck, man is completely covered).

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 bridget emilioBridget & Emilio, contemporary
Technically, they have rough nudity parity (woman has bare legs, man has bare forearms and open-necked shirt). However, her upper body is covered by a skin-tight, mostly flesh-toned leotard/ bodysuit thing that’s intended to look like she’s largely nude, with non-flesh-tone just on her skirt and bosom.

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 tanisha rudyTanisha & Rudy, hip-hop
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare back, sheer netting on sides down to sides of calves, midriff, sternum, man is completely covered). Also, her outfit is skin-tight, while his is a regular-fitting suit, maybe somewhat more snug than usual.

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 jessica marcquetJessica & Marcquet, foxtrot
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare back, bare sides, arms covered on top and bare on bottom, long skirt that twirls up to show legs, man is completely covered).

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 carly sergeCarly & Serge, contemporary
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare legs, bare arms, deep scoop neckline, man has bare forearms (wrists, really) and slightly dipped neckline).

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 emily teddyEmily & Teddy, salsa
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare legs, bare arms, bare midriff, bare sternum, largely bare back, man has bare forearms, shirt open to deep V-neck).

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 jacque zackJacque & Zack, jazz
Woman is more naked than man (woman has mostly bare legs decorated with stockings and garters, bare arms, deep scoop neckline, bare back, man has bare arms, V-neck).

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 brooklyn caseyBrooklyn & Casey, hip-hop
Woman is more naked than man, but not much (woman has bare arms, slightly bare midriff, slightly open neckline (more open than his), man has bare arms). However, she has skin-tight leggings, while he has skin-tight leggings covered by loose long shorts.

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 group routine 1 sonjaGroup routine 1, contemporary (Sonja)
Women are more naked than men (women have bare legs, bare arms, men have bare arms).

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11-e9 group routine 2 travisGroup routine 2, contemporary (Travis)
Women are slightly more naked than men (women have wide, deep scoop necklines, men have somewhat deep V-necklines). However, women have skin-tight leggings, while men have looser dance slacks.

Summary:
Just as was the case last week, in all routines but one, the women are more naked than the men. In most cases, that difference is significant. And even in the cases of rough nudity parity or the cases where nudity imbalance is not dramatic, the woman’s body is revealed more than the man’s, with more skin-tight outfits.

So You Think You Can Dance, Nudity Parity Watch: Season 11, Episode 8

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

I don’t have much analysis of this episode, except to point this out: There was literally just one routine tonight in which there was nudity parity. Every other routine had women more naked than men. And in all but one of those routines, the nudity imbalance was dramatic, with the women very noticeably more naked than the men.

All but one.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

(Also, apologies for the lateness — I was traveling, and only just saw the episode Sunday night.)

so you think you can dance s11e8 opening group numberOpening routine, all 18 dancers, hip-hop
Women are more naked than men, although not dramatically (some women have low necklines and backs, some women are completely covered, all men are completely covered).

so you think you can dance s11e8 jacque zackJacque & Zack, hip-hop
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare legs and short sleeves, he has bare forearms).

so you think you can dance s11e8 jordan marquetJordan & Marcquet, contemporary
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare legs, bare arms, deep scoop neckline, he has bare arms, deep scoop neckline).

so you think you can dance s11e8 jessica stanleyJessica & Stanley, jazz
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare legs, bare arms, scoop neckline, deep scoop back, he has bare arms, open back).

so you think you can dance s11e8 Bridget EmilioBridget & Emilio, jive
Woman is more naked than man (she has mostly bare legs, bare arms, somewhat low neckline, mostly bare back, he has bare forearms).

so you think you can dance s11e8 Emily TeddyEmily & Teddy, contemporary
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare legs, short sleeves, deep scoop neckline, deep scoop back, he has short sleeves).

so you think you can dance s11e8 Brookyln CaseyBrooklyn & Casey, jazz
Woman is more naked than man (she has mostly bare legs, bare arms, low neckline, low back, he has bare forearms, shirt open at neck).

so you think you can dance s11e8 valerie rickyValerie & Ricky, Viennese waltz
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare arms, low neckline slightly covered with flowers, low back, long skirt that covers legs but swirls up in twirls to reveal bare legs, he is completely covered).

so you think you can dance s11e8 carly sergeCarly & Serge, hip-hop
Complete nudity parity (both dancers wearing essentially identical skeleton costumes, both completely covered).

so you think you can dance s11e8 tanisha rudyTanisha & Rudy, Broadway
Woman is more naked than man (she has mostly bare legs, bare arms, low neckline, he is completely covered).

Summary:
See above. In all routines but one, the women are more naked than the men, and in almost all of those routines, that difference was significant.

All but one.

I’m just sayin’.

On The Ethics of Vampire Slaying in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

Buffy with bloody knifeSpoiler alert, for people who haven’t watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” but plan to.

I was recently re-watching ““Becoming, Parts 1 and 2,” those Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes where geeky witch Willow does a spell to give the vampire Angel his soul back. And suddenly I had a burning ethical question.

Why don’t they just keep doing the re-ensoulment spell — on all vampires? Or at least, on all the vampires that they can?

Yes, it’s a somewhat difficult spell — although given that Willow could do it when she was a fairly inexperienced witch, it clearly can’t be that difficult. And yes, it’s very likely (although I’m not sure they specify this) that the spell can only be done one vampire at a time, and that you need to know which particular vampire you’re re-ensouling. But given what a scourge vampires are on humanity, wouldn’t it be worth doing, as much as possible? At least from a harm-reduction perspective, even if they could only re-ensoul a couple/few vampires a week, wouldn’t that be worth it?

*****

Thus begins my new piece for io9, On The Ethics of Vampire Slaying in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To read more about this burning issue of the day (well, this burning issue of 2003), read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

So You Think You Can Dance, Nudity Parity Watch: Season 11, Episode 6

Are female bodies displayed and objectified in pop culture more than male bodies? If so, how much?

sytycd logoI’ve been watching So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, since about Season 4. I’m a fan: yes, the show is often cheesy and very gender-normative, but it’s fun, and much of the dancing is quite good, and some of it is very good indeed. Plus it’s interesting to watch dancers work in dance styles outside the ones they’re trained in, and to see their dancing grow (or not, as is sometimes the case) as a result.

But there’s a trend I’ve been noticing on the show that bugs me, and I’ve decided to start documenting it — partly just to see if I’m really right or if this is just confirmation bias, and partly because if I am right, I think it’s worth documenting. The trend is this: In choreographed performances, there’s significantly more female skin shown than male skin. Whether the dancers are partnered in male-female couples (as they typically are), or are dancing in group routines, the men and women either show roughly the same amount of skin, or the women show more skin than the men. It is very, very rare for the women to be more covered up than the men.

Here’s why this matters. A big part of sexist culture is the sexual objectification of female bodies. Insert standard rant: Women are routinely expected to be ornamental and to fit conventional standards of attractiveness: we’re often valued only when we fit these standards, and are dismissed when we don’t (while at the same time, in a no-win game, we get slut-shamed and trivialized when we do). Beauty and attractiveness isn’t just more important for women than it is for men — the standards are far more stringent. Women’s bodies are put on display in popular culture more than men’s, and this display is often objectifying, with the bodies being dehumanized (e.g., shown without faces), treated as interchangeable, treated as things to be owned or acquired, treated as tools of other people’s purposes without regard to our own agency, etc. And all of this often shows up in sexual ways: women’s sexuality in particular is often treated as more important than anything else we might have to offer, while at the same time is dehumanized, treated as interchangeable, treated as something to be owned or acquired, treated with disregard to our agency, more carefully watched and judged than men’s, more stringently controlled than men’s, etc. Standard rant over.

sytycd-armen-way-and-marlene-ostergaardBut it can be hard to critique all of this without seeming prudish, anti-nudity, or anti-sex. And it can be especially hard to critique this in dance, which by its nature is all about showcasing bodies and the beautiful, amazing things they can do. The art form is inherently physical, sensual, often sexual. So it’s hard to say, “Look, they’re displaying female bodies in an objectifying way,” without drawing the response, “Um…. they’re displaying everyone’s bodies. That’s sort of the point.”

Which is why I’m focusing here, not on whether women’s bodies are being displayed or even sexualized, but on whether women’s bodies are being displayed and/or sexualized more than men’s. If everyone’s bodies are displayed in much the same way, then I’m wrong, and in this instance my observation is just confirmation bias. But if women’s bodies are displayed and/or sexualized more than men’s, then I have a point.

And yes, I realize SYTYDC is just one small part of both the dance world and the pop culture world: this analysis isn’t intended, by itself, to be proof of the sexual objectification of women. This phenomenon has been amply and thoroughly documented elsewhere. This is just the example of it I happen to be looking at right now. (I also realize that this analysis is very much based on a gender binary: the show itself is super-gender-binary oriented, so that’s unfortunately inevitable, and that’s actually part of what I’m documenting here as well.)

So, with all that being said: Here is my data on nudity parity and the lack thereof in So You Think You Can Dance, Season 11 (the current season). I’m starting with Episode 6, since this is the first episode with most of the choreography and costuming chosen by the Fox network and its employees. (Until now, we’ve just had auditions, with costumes self-selected by the dancers: there are interesting nudity parity issues to be observed there as well, but with self-selection, the issue of whose perspective is being expressed is more complicated, as is the sex-positive feminist question of women choosing to display our own bodies and our own sexuality in a sexist and objectifying world. With routines choreographed and costumed by the network, I think we can fairly see the patterns as reflecting the viewpoint of the corporation, to the degree that a corporation can have a viewpoint.) And I’m doing this several days after this episode first aired because I was away for much of last week visiting family. I’ll try to be more prompt in the future, but I make no promises. [Read more...]

Some Thoughts on Beauty and Ownership

“At last, something beautiful you can truly own.”

jaguar xke in mad menThis is the fictional tagline that Sterling Cooper Draper Price comes up with for the Jaguar ad campaign in “Mad Men.” (It’s in the episode The Other Woman — warning, synopsis has spoilers. Yes, I’m re-watching old episodes, it’s getting me caught up on where we are in the new season.)

And it’s gotten me thinking: What does beauty mean?

So the idea behind this tagline, and the ad campaign, and indeed this entire episode, is that the Jaguar XKE is like a mistress: beautiful, sexy, desirable, impractical, temperamental, unpredictable. And the tagline is, “At last, something beautiful you can truly own.” The implication being that you can’t really own beautiful women, and that many men feel this is a sad sad thing (one of the major themes of this episode) — but you can own a Jaguar XKE. You can get that sense of deep satisfaction from it — and you can keep it, and own it, and have that experience of beauty whenever you like.

But the thing is, as Michael Ginsberg himself says (the copywriter who comes up with the campaign and the tagline): It isn’t just people who you can’t own and keep. It isn’t just people who are elusive and changeable. Possessions are like that, too. Or at least, the experiences of pleasure we get from possession are like that. As Michael says when he’s pitching this idea to Don: Even very rich men, who already own many beautiful things, are still dissatisfied. The beautiful things they have aren’t enough. The Jaguar ad promises that this thing — finally, at long last, unlike all the other things — will satisfy their longing for the unattainable.

It’s a false promise, of course. And I started thinking about why that is.

Beauty is, literally, in the eye of the beholder. And by that, I don’t mean that it’s a matter of taste or opinion (although of course, that’s also true). I don’t mean that different people experience different things as more or less beautiful, or that duck-billed platypuses see each other as beautiful and see us as fugly. Well, what I mean is close to that.

I mean that the experience of beauty is literally in the eye, or the brain, of the beholder.

I mean that beauty is an experience.

And that means that it can’t be owned, or kept, or held onto.

Some objects or people are “more beautiful,” in that they’re more likely than others to evoke that experience in more people. But the beauty doesn’t really reside in the objects or the people. It resides in the mind and the heart and the body of the beholder. And trying to hold and own and keep this experience of beauty is actually what makes it slip through our fingers. Letting transitory experiences be what they are is what lets them sink in deeply and resonate throughout our lives. Struggling to keep them, to make them permanent, is what makes them slip away — and makes us miss the point.

megan-don-draper-mad-menIt’s one of the themes of this episode (and indeed of the entire freaking series). When we try to hold and own and keep the people in our lives who give us pleasure and satisfaction and a sense of beauty, we actually drive them away. And when we take them for granted, when we act as if they’re ours forever and we never have to do anything else to keep them around, we drive them away. It’s only by letting people be who they are, by not taking them for granted and respecting their right to make their own damn decisions, that we deepen our connections with them — and increase the chances that they’ll stick around. If you love something, set it free, and all that. Except that if it comes back, it still isn’t yours. It never was. We don’t own each other. We can’t.

blue suede shoesEven with objects, ownership often doesn’t work. Often, the experience of beauty is one of surprise. We tend to get inured to the beautiful things that are all around us. (I think this is one of the reasons I like buying new clothes and putting together new outfits: I like seeing myself in a new way, so I can more easily see myself as beautiful.) Part of the experience of beauty is the experience of the extraordinary — and when something is in our life every day, it becomes ordinary. We can find the extraordinary in the everyday, but it takes more work.

And you know how, if you’ve had an amazing vacation someplace, you often have this desire to try to re-create it, to go back to the same hotel and eat at the same restaurants and visit the same museums — but if you do, it isn’t the same? And if the place is amazing again, it’s because you did something different, or saw something you weren’t expecting? That.

We can certainly load the dice. We can own beautiful objects. We can make connections with beautiful people (beautiful in all senses of the word, not just physical). We can create beautiful experiences for ourselves — or experiences that are likely to be beautiful. We can work to make a life that is more likely to create the experience of beauty.

We can own beautiful things. But we can’t own beauty.