Saturday, 12 January 2019

Why nudity is worth defending

Riders in the 2009 World Naked Bike Ride pause in front of the White House

Nudity ought to be legal and accepted everywhere it is physically safe. The fact that it is not is a societal injustice. I know most of you aren’t going to agree straight off the bat, so let me lay out my reasoning and see what you think.

Admittedly, it’s not a major societal injustice. There are other injustices with more dire consequences for more people, that more deeply undermine our ability to trust each other and are more urgent priorities. Relatively few people share my autistic sensory aversions to clothing, and those aversions don’t usually rise above the level of mild discomfort unless it gets very hot or the clothing in question is wet. (Swimming-togs feel like knives cutting me.) But most of the time, I think, struggles against different injustices help rather than hinder one another. Raising people’s awareness of one injustice makes them more alert to other injustices, not less. It isn’t a competition.

First point: People deserve a degree of respect simply on account of being people. That includes being able to go about one’s daily business without harassment from one’s fellow citizens. There is no amount of clothing one might wear or not wear that would make one deserve to be yelled at, ogled, pelted with rubbish, or chased off the streets. It is therefore unfair to yell at someone, ogle them, throw things at them, or chase them away because of what they might choose to wear or not to wear.

Second point: Injustice is fundamentally the same thing as unfairness. We just tend to reserve the weightier word for when there are graver consequences, such as when discrimination is enforced by the police or when it prevents people from participating fully in society. Therefore, if people are threatened with arrest or prevented from participating in society due to what they are wearing or not wearing, that is an injustice. If the law allows or prescribes for it, the law is unjust.

Third point: People are in fact harassed, arrested, and ejected from public places if they go nude. We’ve just agreed that this would be an injustice if it happened; well, it does happen, and therefore it is an injustice.

Finally, this particular injustice is enforced by society as a whole, not just by officers of the law. That makes it a societal injustice. The fact that nudity is not legal or acceptable is a societal injustice. There you go.

Somehow this is easier to see when the body taboo in question is that of a culture that isn’t our own – when it’s Arab police forcing women into hijab or French police forcing them out of it, Victorian missionaries imposing Western clothing on Pacific Islanders or that one group of Pacific Islanders (the Kwaio on Malaita in the Solomons) who impose toplessness on Western visitors. But an injustice is an injustice, and it is in the nature of societal injustices that they feel like ordinary common sense to enculturated members of the societies that enforce them. Which would include ours. Which means that just because wearing clothes feels like ordinary common sense to us, doesn’t mean that it’s not a societal injustice.

Now, how serious an injustice is it? Is anyone seriously hurt by having to wear clothes (obviously not counting us autistics and our autistic sensory issues which make us, as we are reminded daily, such a nuisance to normal people)? Well, there are a couple of problems that I think are bound up with it.