Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Speedos for Feminism

A new local waterpark opened this season, and I took the time to peruse its rules board. Unexpectedly, I had a particular interest in the section labeled "swimming attire". Along with various articles not designed for swimming, and anything see-through, there was a part prohibiting "thong suits" and "men's speedos".

Now, I can understand the prohibition of thong suits. Thongs (for women or men) are deliberately provocative and - most importantly - leave bare nearly a person's entire bottom. But speedos? Aren't speedos basically the male equivalent of a woman's bikini? I mean, I know that speedos are notoriously unpopular in America, and frequently the butt of many a joke, but actually prohibited at a waterpark? That's insane!

Now, I figure, the rules have probably been designed to minimize exposure (read: public indecency), and to maintain a "family-friendly" atmosphere. And speedos are, it's hard to deny, more provocative than the below-the-knee baggy board short style that's popular among men these days. But you can't stand there and tell me that a fit young woman in a flattering bikini (even of the full-backed variety) is not sexually provocative! Yet, they're not prohibited.

So what's the problem with speedos? Is it because they "highlight" a man's package? How is that any different from pokies and camel toe? And if you're worried about genital outlines, there are suits specifically designed to prevent that (I know, I own one). Speedos are not fringe fetish wear, like t-backed thongs (American Apparel demonstrates). Speedos are designed for swimming, not for lewd exposure. They are far more substantial than the near-mythical pouch-on-a-string (have you ever seen anyone wearing one of those?). Hell, athletes often wear speedos at the Olympics! You can't get much more legitimate than that.

No matter how I look at it, I can't help seeing this as a double standard that disadvantages men. How come women can put on a bikini to look and feel sexy (and minimize unnecessary fabric floating around in the pool, which also takes longer to dry after you get out), but if a man dares wear a speedo, he's viewed as being either overconfident or a walking joke?

Believe me, if you do a search on people's opinions of speedos (and please, feel free to search for yourself), you get a whole lot of this: "speedos should be illegal", "nobody looks good in a speedo", "speedos are gross because they show too much", "speedos look ridiculous even on attractive men", coming from men and women. It's disgusting! And yet, what are people's general opinions of bikinis? "Hot," not gross. "Sexy," not funny. All this, despite the fact that not all men are fat, old, and ugly, and not all women have bikini-ready bodies.

And you know what it sounds like? It sounds like the old feminist argument about the patriarchy sexually objectifying women. I'll tell you what, it definitely smacks of a male perspective. Women in bikinis are hot, because men are attracted to them. But men in speedos? Gross. Why? Because men aren't attracted to them. Seeing a man in skin-tight swimwear raises most straight guys' gay alarm. The thing I don't understand is why women have jumped on that bandwagon, too.

Maybe it's because - as the dreadfully tiring stereotype goes - men are interested in looks while women go for something else (personality? sense of humor? their wallet?). But frankly, I think it's ridiculous to believe that women aren't visually attracted to men in some sense. Or maybe it's because - as another dreadfully tiring stereotype goes - men's bodies just aren't designed to look appealing the way women's bodies are.

Hell, I've said that myself - but I'm not attracted to men's bodies, I'm attracted to women's bodies. And you know what? That sounds a whole lot like more (straight) male perspective. Men are attracted to women's bodies and not to men's bodies (unless you're gay, and being gay is even lamer than being a woman), and so it's politically correct to say that women's bodies are beautiful works of art while men's bodies are ugly, utilitarian machines (though I bet the Greeks would have an argument with that).

And yet the fact remains that there are plenty of women out there without perfect bodies, and at the same time, lots of men who take their appearance seriously. Doubtless, the average guy probably thinks he looks sexier in board shorts than he would in a speedo (and the average woman would enthusiastically agree), but that's more cultural conditioning, if you ask me. We aren't used to treating men's thighs as a potentially attractive part of their body. A little grooming does wonders. And most of the population seems not to have passed the point of maturity where they can acknowledge that men have penises without giggling like little schoolgirls. But the bottom line is, you can't say that no man looks good in a speedo.

As it stands, it seems to me that wearing a speedo (in America, at least) has become a rebellious act. It undermines the straight male culture that holds so much power over society. And feminism is every bit about legitimizing feminine roles (like being the object of someone's desire) as it is about empowering women to adopt masculine roles. Wearing a speedo tells the world that you believe women aren't the only sex that can be objectified, and that men ought to be subject to the same pressures to be attractive as women already are. (And, as a side-effect, they can reap the same benefits - that is, of adoration and the feeling of being desired).

Damn, I could organize a really good protest around this. "Speedos for Feminism!" Unfortunately, though, I don't think there are enough men (or women) in this town who care. How sad is that?

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