Watch the Grammy’s and then flip over to the HBO show “Girls.” Viewers of both programs will see women in various stages of undress. Perhaps not on the Grammy’s. CBS ordered the pop divas who sashay across the stage to show less cleavage.
Lena Dunham, the star and creator of “Girls” operates under no such restrictions – although people like Howard Stern wish HBO wold make her wear a burka. Dunham included nude scenes in several episodes, much to the consternation of critics like Stern, who had this to say about Dunham’s body. Stern apologized and the two have buried the hatchet. Dunham dissed the entire city of Detroit in the process.
Soraya Roberts argues that reactions to Dunham’s on-air nudity is about who controls the airwaves. The interests controlling TV decide which female body is used and how that body is used. Those people think that Dunham’s full figure disqualify her from appearing nude. Roberts essay appears in the on-line magazine salon.com.
The fact that people would rather look at Beyonce or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover girl, is a related but separate issue. The real issues for Roberts is who determines which women are allowed to be shown nude on screen? In what context is that nudity portrayed? Who is the audience for that nudity? What artistic, political and cultural message is the depiction of the nudity seeking to convey?
Dunham may be nothing more than an woman who is extremely comfortable with her body, and an artist who wants to creative control by acting in her own show. Roberts calls Dunham “unconventionally beautiful” That means Dunham is challenging the male conventions about which women can appear on screen without clothes?
Roberts believes that image control is the real issue that men have with her nude scenes. The fact that she does not have the ideal body type is mere icing on the patriarchal cake. Roberts places Dunham’s work in historical context of 1960s and 70s era women performance artists who had a feminist perspective.
These women, such as multidisciplinary artist Carolee Schneeman used their art to comment on the body, sexuality and gender. Schneeman appeared nude in works such as “Eye Body” and the experimental film “Fuses,” and she confronted similar criticisms now faced by Dunham, according to Roberts.
Schneeman would be considered universally attractive. A point Roberts believes proves that the male dominated establishment had a problem with Schneeman’s attempt to control of the manner in which female nudity and eroticism was depicted.
Roberts uses a quote by Schneemann to drive home that point. “A woman using her own face and body has a right to do what she will with them, but it is a subtle abyss that separates men’s use of women for sexual titillation from women’s use of women to expose that insult,” she wrote, adding, “Men can use beautiful, sexy women as neutral objects or surfaces, but when women use their own faces and bodies, they are immediately accused of narcissism.”
Roberts says that Dunham also faced accusations of being a narcissist.