The idea of nakedness has long enthralled or appalled me. From the masterpieces of the Dutch masters with those half-dressed women draped over chaise longue, surrounded by cherubs, babies or interested men, to those dreams in which I find myself half dressed, no skirt or underpants, those dreams in which I find myself fearful of exposure or discovery.

I watched a Youtube clip the other day where the film makers arranged for a young mother breastfeeding a small baby to sit on a park bench in the middle of a busy street somewhere in America.

They filmed her and watched and waited as passers-by saw fit to insult the woman for her disgusting behaviour. Men and women alike.

Even when she responded, ‘I’m just feeding my baby,’ they said she should be doing it in private.

And then, by way of contrast they chose another beautiful and well-endowed model to sit on this same bench with her breasts half exposed. This time although people passed by and many looked – one man even came over and began to chat the woman up – not one of them threw insulting language her way.

The point of the story?

Well they then placed the two women side by side on the same bench and waited. They also propped a male type of minder against a fence nearby and when people stopped to insult the mother feeding her baby, this male minder asked the question:

‘Why is she, the women with the low-cut cleavage okay and she, the breast-feeding mother not?’

The typical response from the one or two they recorded – both men I observed, ‘She’s hot,’ referring to the full breasted model, but ‘She’s disgusting,’ referring to the breastfeeding mother.

So, nakedness in all its many forms can trouble us. It’s not nakedness per se, the nakedness of a new born, of a small child in a bath, though.

It’s the prurient eyes of adults, some adults, including the distorted minds of the paedophiles who can fast shift that naked innocence of childhood into something else, something to be exploited.

And it’s not long after we get into double numbers in age, ten years and over that we begin to feel uncomfortable about being seen naked.

So, nakedness is clearly connected to the sexual.

My analyst once told me that a father who walks around naked in one family, or a mother or any parental figure who walks around naked in one family, might signify very little given the intent of their nakedness. Comfort, convenience whatever but in another household, such as my own, a father sitting in his chair in the loungeroom stark naked carries a heavy weight.

The weight of exhibitionism, as if like a peeping Tom he draws pleasure out of disturbing his children and his wife by his nakedness.

This then in contrast to the folks who take themselves off to nudist camps.

I suspect the motivation behind nudist camps are many and varied but some of them might well be as seemingly innocent as wanting to go back to nature, so called, of waning to go back to the way things were for us when we were born. Wanting to be free of the pressure of clothing, even though clothing is a great help when it’s freezing cold and you’re in danger of hypothermia and death if you don’t rug up.

And there you have it, a potted history of nakedness, though I left out one essential point here and that is the imbalance between those who are naked and those clothed. And the way this reflects something of our misogynistic world today.

Those men in suits who look on at the naked woman in the garden from that famous painting of Suzanna and the Elders.

As Hannah Gadsby points out in her famous ‘Nanette’ performance. What was wrong with women in these centuries that they could not do up their blouse buttons and so found themselves with one breast popping out inadvertently?

Even writing this risks censure and titillation, the topic itself so troublesome. Most likely because it brings out the vulnerability in us all.

The Nazis stripped naked the Jews on their way to the gas chambers, for all sorts of complicated reasons, like wanting to get at their valuables, but also, I think to disarm and humiliate them, wanting to render them like cattle on their way to her slaughter.

Nakedness is inevitable for us humans, but it’s also loaded.


Notice Box

My father turned one hundred and one in February this year.

For the past thirty-five of these last one hundred and one years he has been dead. Dead the way I wanted him for the best part of my childhood.

Eventually I gave up on wanting him dead because I stopped living in the same house and wasn’t daily exposed to his unquenchable need for recognition.

For my father, recognition took the form of sex.  Or put more succinctly, recognition involved the presence of another person’s body, preferably a woman’s, into whom he could release all his pent-up energies and frustrations.

Unleash his desire.

When I first encountered my own sexual desire as a child, it came to me in the rush of pleasure I found in my father’s art books, the naked bodies draped over couches.

Not until I heard the comedian, Hannah Gadsby, question the nature of art and the way in which the women in art books are displayed as helplessly half dressed and flayed over couches, did it occur to me that I have viewed sexuality through the male gaze.

I have been attracted to the desire for another through this lens where women are the recipients and men the givers.

More recently I’ve been pondering this phenomenon called the incel movement, a subculture of predominantly young men who find themselves unable to draw the attention or attraction of a woman and thereby feel increasingly rejected.

These men isolate themselves and spend their days resenting these woman, who fit the stereotype of blonde, blue eyed and beautiful, the ‘Stacys’ as the incels call them.  They believe these women are attracted only only to – again stereotyped – virile hunks, hyper masculine men, the ‘Chads’, as they call them.

These disaffected have men banded together through the online world to form a group of involuntary celibates – hence the name ‘incel’ – involuntary because, unlike priests in the Catholic Church or other people who practise celibacy by choice, these men believe that celibacy has been foisted upon them.

They feel rage towards those women whom have rejected them as well as towards the men whom they believe have taken the women from them.

This rage can reach murderous proportions and some of the incels have become crusaders, hell bent on eliminating these women who have caused them such pain.

No doubt it goes back to childhood deprivation of some sort. Parents who were unloving towards a child, or abusive. Or a child who for whatever reason was never able to come to terms with being denied love or not getting things his own way.

Such experience can breed a sense of entitlement, as if these men are entitled to the love of a woman.

I expect it doesn’t just apply to men, but given I’m reflecting on a binary here as dictated by these involuntarily celibates, I won’t try to expand on it more.

If sex is as primal as hunger and thirst as primal as the need for shelter and warmth, as primal as the need to make sense of our experience, then I suspect some of this entitlement is connected to our human need for recognition.

When I was a kid at school, the nuns took offence at those other kids in the class who demanded more attention. These kids were mostly boys, boys who could not sit still at their desks, boys who insisted on talking to one another even when they had been told to stay silent, boys who spilled their bottles of regulation milk at recess just for fun.

Mother Mary John called these boys ‘notice boxes’. In my mind’s eye I saw red postal boxes the type that still line our streets today. These red-letter boxes reminded me of guards on duty, their letter slit a mouth and all wore a crown on top painted in red with the letters HR below in honour of the queen.

Why Mother Mary John chose to call these boys notice boxes and their association to letterboxes puzzled me?

Mother Mary John saw it as a problem when any child sought attention, as if it signalled a defective personality this wish to be noticed.

And yet, isn’t that what we all want/need? Some sort of recognition, some sort of understanding?

And sex is one way of exchanging such recognition though it cannot come by order, any more than those boys who commanded so much attention from Mother Mary John need not have been punished because they did not yet understand the need for all of us to take it in turns to take centre stage.

Which brings me full circle, back to my father, a man who struggled to find his place on the human stage, wanting to take up all the space given the nature of his childhood, a mystery to me still, though I understand is as one dominated by paternal authority and abuse. My paternal grandfather was the chief archivist at the Dutch registry for births death and marriages in Haarlem and a man who put his own impulses and desires first at the expense of his wife and children. In later years he wound up in jail for his crimes but not before he had set in train a crescendo of destruction that found its way onto the next generation.