Just last June I graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Sociology. Apparently my mom always knew that I would like sociology, but it took two years in college and a class with Francesca Guerra for me to figure it out for myself. Many (including, at times, my mom) have tried to suggest that maybe pursuing a graduate degree in something other than Sociology would be more practical, but as someone who has been bit by the Sociology bug I find it practically impossible to imagine going to graduate school in any other concentration. Yes, I am interested in doing a certificate program in documentary studies, but first I would like that M.A. in Sociology thank you.
Ok, so love Sociology. And I’m obsessed with the Sociological Images blog found on the equally intriguing The Society Pages. Oooh if I could spend my life writing for a blog like that! Yesterday author Lisa Wade posted about the “controversial” cover of this month’s Dossier Journal magazine. Later in the day Ms. Magazine posted an abridged version of Wade’s article, and I’ll link to that as well because I love Ms. Magazine and I think you should check it out!
Here’s the magazine cover in question:
Not only is this image sociologically compelling for the mere fact that the model is blurring gender lines, but also for the fact that mega-chain bookstores Barnes & Noble and Borders supposedly “bagged” the magazine. You know, like they do with pornographic magazines so that people going about their daily book-buying business don’t get turned on by boobies.
At first glance it’s hard to tell what exactly you’re seeing. Is it a flat-chested woman? Is it an androgynous man? What’s going on here? The model is in fact gender-bending male model Andrej Pejic. He’s a guy. So then why is this cover censored if men are legally allowed to bare their naked chests on magazines? Is it because the image is feminine enough to confuse people into thinking they are seeing a naked woman? And if so, why is this considered obscene enough to necessitate a censor? If a woman’s chest is no bigger than a man’s (and in fact, many men have bigger breasts than women) then why can the man show his chest but the woman must hide behind a censor? Oh so many questions! Have I confused you?
Also, why is it ok – in general – for men to be topless but not women? Why are naked female bodies (or in this case, an androgynous male’s) automatically considered pornographic? I urge you to read Ms. Wade’s article on this topic, as she is much more the expert than I. Plus, she is awesome. Her main point of discussion is when exactly does a naked body become obscene, and furthermore, how do notions of femininity effect what is considered unsuitable for the public? Here’s what she says:
All women’s bodies are targeted by the law, and men’s bodies are given a pass, breasty or chesty as they may be…Unless that man’s gender is ambiguous; unless he does just enough femininity to make his body suspect. Indeed, the treatment of the Dossier cover reveals that the social and legislative ban on public breasts rests on a jiggly foundation. It’s not simply that breasts are considered pornographic. It’s that we’re afraid of women and femininity and female bodies and, if a man looks feminine enough, he becomes, by default, obscene.