Saturday, May 15, 2021

Are Women Taking Ownership Over Their Bodies?

Recently, we have been seeing a surge of women barely clothed in public. It has caused an uproar; a mixture of disgust, shock and intrigue. In our neatly conservative society rooted in the norm that a woman must be respectable (in this case, in ‘dignified’ clothing), the sight of a woman exposing her ‘lady parts’ is cringe worthy.

It is something reserved to be the raunchy behaviour of western celebrities, women with loose morals and women who are desperate for the male gaze – not as a sign of women celebrating their bodies. We have seen some of the most provocative and controversial pictures surface across our media, from our very own celebrated personalities to unknown party enthusiasts in Gaborone. Is this the beginning of a body revolution?

The past week, a picture of a young woman who was seen at a popular lounge spot circulated on social media and her duct-taped breasts became the centre of much unwanted attention. She got dragged in heavy criticism that branded her as having no self-respect, while very few people credited her for being brave enough to ‘flaunt what she has’. We have also seen pictures of personalities such as Sasa Klaas and Berry Heart in brow raising clothing. While some call it distasteful and attention seeking, some celebrate it as women who see the importance of embracing their bodies.

I asked a few people what they thought about this.

“It is the poisonous effects of imitating western culture,” said Kago. “Women should not aspire to be like these celebrities who are always naked. No man, as much as they find it entertaining, wants to make such a woman a wife,” he added.

Mbi Gosalamang said women have the right to own their bodies, but they must do it in ways that dignify them, as opposed to degrading them.

In these modern days of explicit music videos and hyper sexualised content in most media, it seems we struggle to differentiate between what confidence is and what obscenity is regarding how we define sexiness. It’s hard to be conclusive about what a woman who owns her body must look like or to even be in agreement about images that don’t add value to the worth of a woman. It is mostly subjective, although men are definitely given the leeway to set the standard of what defines sex appeal.

Women’s bodies have always been a battlefield on which opinions clash about what makes them respectable. Most of the scrutiny that is subjected to their bodies is emphasised by our belief systems, be it cultural or faith based. The ideal woman is depicted as a woman who covers herself and submits herself to her society’s ‘respectability values’ without question, while women who expose some skin are loosely called prostitutes.

However, there is a hypocrisy we hardly notice, considerably in the cultural context. Before traders introduced clothe to our tribes, uncovered breasts and exposed thighs were normal thing. Being naked is not a ‘western phenomenon’ it has been made into. Maybe now, because our modern life demands that we clothe ourselves differently, there should be ways in which we draw boundaries to what should be acceptable.

Lorraine Kinnear, who is a local stylist and photographer, said women can be sexy through the way they carry themselves and this is not dependent on showing off skin or being naked.

Mpho said women must be allowed to wear whatever they please as this is their right. “Men do as they please with their bodies, why must women be looked at differently?”

As much as women must celebrate their bodies, we must be realistic about the implications that fall on those who decide to do that. Women deserve to own themselves, to embrace their figures, but in that freedom, they must not reduce themselves to mere gratifiers of the male gaze.

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