Two cases involving the behavior of women being scrutinized has recently garnered a lot of public attention, so I thought I’d post on the subject and give my two cents.
First, let’s talk about Miss New Jersey. Here’s the recap: 22-year-old Amy Polumbo (Miss New Jersey) was almost forced to give up her crown after “racy” photos were anonymously mailed to pageant officials. It turns out that she was able to keep her crown, but after seeing the photos that were ultimately released to the public, I’m wondering why it was a problem to begin with. The photos– which show no nudity at all– are hardly racy. One shows Amy’s boyfriend pretending to bite her nipple through her shirt (whose boyfriend hasn’t done that???), a photo of her with her legs spread (she’s wearing jeans), a picture of her in a Halloween costume where she’s holding napkins over her breasts (not topless), and a photo of her doing shots with some girlfriends in a bar (she’s of legal age).
Likewise, in 2002, Miss North Carolina (Rebekah Revels) relinquished her crown after an ex-boyfriend called pageant officials and said he had topless pictures of her. No one even saw the pictures, but the woman paid the price anyway.
That brings me to Heather Hull. Heather was a correctional officer in Pennsylvania when the opportunity arose for her model for Playboy magazine. In an effort to do something she’s always wanted to do (model for the magazine and see if it would jumpstart a modeling career) but NOT draw too much attention to it, Heather died her hair from blonde to black and used her maiden name in the magazine. Nor did she talk about being in the magazine. However, when someone at the prison where she worked recognized it was their very own Heather, the prison fired her for conduct “unbecoming” of a prison guard. Her attorney is now suing the prison for wrongful termination, pointing out that Heather did not violate her union contract and to suggest that modeling for Playboy was conduct “unbecoming” was hypocritical since they were allowing the magazine to be brought into the prison to be read by inmates and prison staff. So is the magazine immoral or not? If it’s not, how can she be considered “immoral” for posing in it? If it is, why is allowed inside the prison walls? She has a good chance of winning her case, but again… it seems like there’s a lot of hoopla over nothing here.
The more disturbing thing here is how our society views what’s “acceptable behavior” for women. Honestly, are there a lot of women out there whose boyfriends don’t have some sort of naked picture of them? Should all women just refuse to have a silly, fun evening in bed with their boyfriends, never letting their guys take any possibly compromising photos of them because at some point someone might consider it “unbecoming?” I don’t know a lot of guys who would appreciate that. And why is it okay for entities like Playboy Magazine or the Miss America pageant to parade these women around in bikinis or nude, and yet somehow– the “unbecoming” conduct falls on the women who take part in it?
It’s hypocritical to buy Playboy and enjoy looking at naked women in magazines and then suggest the women who model for them are somehow immoral for doing so. If all the women suddenly decided they were sick of being judged and stopped posing in the magazine, there’d be NO magazine. It’s almost as if society is saying– hey, sexy women, we want to see you naked and appreciate you as a sex object, but if you make the decision to do this yourself and be in charge of your own sexuality then we’ll view you as having less than stellar morals.
And that brings me to society’s expectation of women in general. I don’t think this perspective is reserved just for models and pageant contestants. It affects all women in this country. Women have a right to make these decisions without being judged for them, or to worry about losing a job that had no business telling a woman what she could do or couldn’t do with her body as long as it didn’t affect her job performance. Why is it even remotely acceptable for a woman’s job to have even an opinion about what she does in her free time? Are men fired from their jobs for cheating on their wives? Not any I’ve heard of. That, to me, seems more immoral than posing in a magazine or taking party pictures with your boyfriend.
While not every woman would choose to be in Playboy given the opportunity for their own moral reasons are because they don’t want to deal with the potential fallout in their personal lives, it doesn’t mean anyone has a right to persecute the ones who do choose to. Our culture seems to have a lot of conflicting expectations about women, sex, and a woman’s decision to bring light to her own sexuality. I think we’d all be better off if we could get past some of them and realize that if men want to celebrate the female body by admiring them in magazines and pageants, etc., then women need to be able to fully explore themselves as sexual beings without risking their livelihoods or worrying about being the center of a scandal.