Naked on the page

Montaigne shocked everyone when he
wrote about the size of his penis.  To his mind, it was small.  
Why, among the many thoughts I have encountered
today, does this one stay with me?
 There are other images in my head, too: diamonds from
the 1800s that are attached to springs so that when the wearer moves, they tremble,
shimmer and dazzle the eye, diamonds en
I tried to have a conversation last
night with one of my daughters about a trend that’s come to my attention
whereby people post images of their so-called private bits to their
It’s not that new, my daughter
tells me.  It’s been around for ages.
Apparently, there is a new law that
forbids the transmission of such images without a person’s consent. 
Jennifer Wilson, on her wonderful
blog, No place for sheep, refers to revenge porn, the business of people taking
it out on others by circulating compromising images or photos of the
person against whom they want revenge.
A while ago I heard about a young woman in the armed forces who had sex with her boyfriend and unbeknown to her he had organised that the
proceedings be videoed and circulated to his friends.  
What’s behind this, I ask
myself.  Why do it?  And what is it like for the person so exposed? 
To have a photo of your labia
online so that the entire world can see, or a shot of your penis, why so shocking? 
There’s the stuff of exhibitionism,
the pleasure we get out of showing off our bodies and the sexual pleasure we get
from being on display. 
Then, there’s the opposite: the
peeping Tom effect.  The pleasure some might
get out of looking, looking in preference to being involved, or being seen. 
I used to think of this as a masculine
activity, the Peeping Tom, the flasher, but women can get in on the act,
Women whose bodies have been put on
display for centuries. 
When I was a little girl and asked
my mother why the bronze Atlas holding a globe of the world on his shoulders in
the framed print on the wall of her bedroom was naked, she told me, ‘The human
body is beautiful’. 
I had trouble believing her then.  In a strange way I still have trouble.  Bodies can be beautiful but they’re also
haunting and troubling and exciting and frightening and all these things rolled
into one.  Anything to do with body bits,
internal and external seems loaded.
The other day I talked to one of my
sisters about prolapses.  In my mind’s
eye the image that stays with me is the one that first popped in when I was
One day my mother told me about a
cousin in Holland who had suffered a prolapse on the dance floor.  This cannot be, I now know.  You do not suddenly suffer a prolapse.  I imagine they happen gradually, but when I
was little I saw it happen on the dance floor.
My mother’s cousin’s insides slip
out onto the polished wood floors like glistening red jewels en tremblant.  And my aunt is mortified.  She runs through the room to the toilets dragging
her jewels behind her. 
I have since heard that a
prolapse as described by my mother, the one that happened to her cousin, was of her
This reminds me of other bodily
malformations like hernias.  I’ve not
seen one of these either.  
Again the idea
that your insides slip out of their moorings and appear on the surface of your
skin, like a burst bladder, reminds me of pregnancies, late term when it was
easy to see the imprint of my baby’s foot on the surface of my skin, the round
dome of her head. 
I have dreams where my skin is translucent
and I can see inside my body to the unborn baby squashed inside.  And this can only take place when one is
naked.  Naked on the page.
There is a YouTube series doing the rounds where a woman is interviewed and during conversation the camera stays on
her as she speaks.  She perches on a
stool, against a brick wall backdrop in a well lit room and as the interviewer proceeds
through a series of questions about the woman and her life, her relationship to
herself and her body, the interviewer asks her to take off items of clothing,
one by one. 
By the end of the interview the
woman sits in her underwear.  We do not
see the interviewer. 
There is something strangely
non-sexual about this disrobing.  Something
that puts us in touch with the woman as a whole person, a woman with a body and
mind, not just a sexualised body.  At
least that’s how I experience it.  
A slow
disrobing rather like entering into a meaningful essay where the writer
gradually unfolds ideas, thoughts, images about himself/herself until in the end
we are pared back to basics and somehow have much more than just a naked body,
and not just any body. 
In the YouTube clip so far I have
only seen naked women, and not all of them with ideal bodies. 
There are young bodies and old
bodies and even physically disabled bodies. 
I’ve yet to see a dark skinned body or a fat body or a hairy body or an amputated
body but I imagine there is scope for these and many more. 
One essential ingredient is the
capacity to be articulate in the English language in this instance and a
preparedness to let it all show.    
And finally, I came across this quote
from Anne Patchett: 
‘Forgiveness. The ability to
forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is
the key to making art … I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence.
Every. Single. Time. …. This grief of constantly having to face down our own
inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore is
key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book
I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I
will forgive myself.’

Bare chests and exposed breasts.

I’m stuck on an issue which on the
surface seems lightweight but for the moment it won’t leave me alone.  I’ve mentioned before the No place for sheep blog, where its curator, Jennifer Wilson,  puts up posts from time to time on controversial and to me
fascinating topics. 
Recently she posted a picture of
one Damon Young, philosopher from Melbourne university and a chap who has of
late developed a reputation as a social commentator and thinker at the
forefront of our community.  In
other words his popularity is on the rise.  He’s also the father of two young children, with an
accomplished wife.  An all round
good guy.
Damon put up a photo of himself, which
he took with his i-phone, and posted it on his website and on twitter.  In this photo he is naked from the
waist up.  It seems he took the
picture almost as an experiment but casually and I gather it might have something to do with
the furore raging here in Melbourne over the rights of women to breastfeed in
I suppose it comes down to the
business of bearing your breasts in public. Damon can expose his chest
comfortably with little fear of derision, 
but women as a rule do not feel as free and easy about exposing
In her beautifully written blog
post, Jennifer Wilson wonders about why this might be. 
This post has hooked into my
preoccupations of late with the ways in which many men seem so much more
comfortable in commanding the limelight, not all of them mind you, but as a
group in contrast to the majority of women who command the limelight in a
different way, if at all, primarily as objects of beauty. 
I could go on for ages about this
but it’s not what troubles me. 
I’m troubled by the fuss that
erupted in the comments stream of Jennifer Wilson’s blog when I dared to
suggest that the conversation about what to me was an important topic seemed to
have become derailed into banter, light mockery and what I thought of as a sort
of posturing, which I ascribed to the largely male commenters –like a posse of
‘bare-chested Damons’. 
This need to make light of the
topic I thought might have to do with infantile anxiety aroused in relation to
the notion of female breasts and I said as much, politely I hope. 
I do not know in fact whether the
commenters on Jennifer’s blog are male or female because they do not represent
themselves as a rule by their own blogs. 
Many comment only and hide behind avatars and often unusual names. 
But they are forceful in their
views and dare I say they clobbered me, at least one person clobbered me, in my
feeble attempts at protest.
It’s not the first time I’ve found
myself risking decapitation for daring to speak out, and it’s not the first
time I’ve wondered why it is that the very thing I’m protesting about seems to happen. 
It’s not the first time I’ve found
myself in trouble in the blogosphere and no doubt it won’t be the last. 
I remember my timidity when I first
dared to speak on line, how fearful I was of upsetting anyone.  Now I’m less fearful but still conflict can cut through me even as I tell myself it does not matter a jot. 
These people are virtual
people.  If I met them in real life
I might find myself drawn to them, even though online we have crossed
swords.  These people might in real
life be more timid and shy than they are on the page.
It could be worse.  I could be living in a country where
women are not allowed to speak at all.  Not just women, but people of particular classes, religions
or sects.  It need not simply be
between the men and the women. 
It reminds me of the war between
the big endians and the little endians in Gullivers Travels.  The
big endians believed we should approach our boiled eggs from the big end, while
the little endians had formed the view you can only eat an egg from the little
end down.  This was enough to cause
a war. 
I have answered my own
question.  I shall regard this
dispute on line as akin to the one in Gulliver’s Travels.  It is
such a trivial concern in the scheme of things however much it points to bigger
and more concerning issues.