If you're from the US, at some point you've probably read the "Dear Abby" advice column. "Abby," a pseudonym first for a woman named Pauline Phillips and now for her daughter Abigail, takes a couple of letters from readers in each column and offers advice in regards to whatever issues they present.
Recently while playing around with the Yahoo News beta redesign, I noticed they carry her column. I haven't read her in years, it's sort of getting toward the end of my day, and I thought hey, I'll check it out, it's been a long time.
What I saw reflects...something, I'm not sure what. Either a shift in my perspective, or hers, or just a realization on my part, but it really irritates the crap out of me. Let me read you the column real quick, and then I'll explain - or try to - why it bothers me so much.
DEAR ABBY: My wife likes to sunbathe in the nude in our side yard. Anyone walking by on the sidewalk, or riding by on a bike or in a car can easily see her over our 3-foot-tall picket fence. She is a beautiful woman and has nothing to be ashamed of, but knowing strangers can see her in the buff makes me uncomfortable. She says I should get over it. Should I? -- EMBARRASSED ON ELM STREET
DEAR EMBARRASSED: Your wife assumes that your neighbors and passersby are as open-minded as she is. Please remind her that if a mother should walk by with a child, she could be deeply offended, call the police and your sun-worshipping wife could be charged with indecent exposure. A tall hedge in the front of your side yard would screen her from public view. Please consider it.
There are so many things wrong with this I honestly have a hard time figuring out where to start.
First: why have you blown a perfect opportunity to speak out against body shame? We are SO screwed up in this culture about naked bodies. We all have them. Every single one of us has them, including the dangly bits. Why do we insist on being ashamed of them and treating them as something dirty and disgusting to always be hidden away? That whole attitude is a major root behind so much criminal sexuality. Look across the world at developed cultures - where do you find "peeping toms" and people that molest strangers on subway trains and the highest rates of sex crime? Consistently in cultures where we are taught to be ashamed of and disgusted by our bodies.
And you encourage this.
Then to add insult to injury, you go for the good old "fear of authority" approach. "You could be CHARGED with INDECENT EXPOSURE." The whole *idea* of "indecent exposure" is laughable in a society with a healthy approach to the body and its functions. The very phrase itself betrays an ugly and ignorant perspective - what is "indecent" about the body? Why are genitals such odious and gross things to us? And why do we allow our lives and the way we conduct ourselves on our own property to be dictated by the most sexually dysfunctional members of our society. Someone who tries to have a person criminally charged for being naked in their own yard is sick in the head. Someone who takes offense to nudity is as well, and I find your "what about the children" subtext odious and far more offensive than the site of some old guy or gal walking around naked.
In Finland they have the "sauna culture" in which friends, families, and strangers routinely take saunas together nude. Now, I don't have the research on this, but I'd be willing to bet that there has rarely if ever been an incident in which someone was so overcome with lust that they just had to rape someone because they were nude in the sauna with them. You know one reason for that? Because when you see those bits every single day from infancy, *they're just not a big deal*. You got 'em, I got 'em, not a problem.
Maybe if we taught our kids to respect and love themselves and their bodies, they wouldn't be traumatized by the sight of a naked person. How much does a parent have to hate their child, to teach them that their bodies are dirty, sick, and evil things to be ashamed of? Do we STILL not understand how we CREATE sexual dysfunction including criminality by taking this ignorant, unnatural, and unenlightened "forbidden fruit" approach to things? It didn't work for God, why do we think it will work for us?
If you want to give advice, that's your business, but I sure wish just once someone like you with a huge platform would use it to encourage people to stand up to these kinds of sick and dysfunctional attitudes instead of perpetuating them because you're afraid to make your readers think for once.