To the Editor:
Tribe 8 shows up. They put on a mad show. They weave wisdom and rage into an aural revolution. They transcend both old school bigotry and new school P.C. groupthink with sledgehammer force. They ain't your momma's granola feminism, they ain't M.T.V.-sanctioned, Alanis Morisette-listening Grrrls™, and they sure as hell aren't mine to define, so I best shut up about what they are and aren't. The only things I can be real sure of after last Monday's show is that they're lesbians. Proud ones. They play loud music. They say loud things. Really loud things. And ... sometimes they do it with their shirts off.
Oops. Somebody doesn't think that we should have headstrong dykes prancing around topless in the 'Sco at night. What's the problem here? Is nudity overtly sexual? Only if the viewer interprets as such. If you're a male viewer, and you felt uncomfortable with seeing a topless lesbian in the Review, let me reassure you: any sexuality depicted in that photograph wasn't intended for you. It isn't the right of the male outsider, the MALE GAZE, to determine when feminine sexuality is occurring. By announcing that a topless woman is a sexual object, you are defining her as sexual in relation to you. By attempting to force her shirt back on, you are demanding that she act in accordance with your sexuality. If you hadn't noticed, this is exactly the kind of gender politics that Tribe 8 speaks out against.
Ever notice how many naked women are in Allen Memorial Art Museum? Rubens and Modigliani strip a woman, stick her on the wall and it's "art." Every one of those naked-painting women was a real naked-model woman. Many of them were emotionally and physically abused by their artist/keeper. The captive muse has a long history in western art, and it still goes on today. David Hamilton's photographs of pubescent girls take wall space in museums and galleries worldwide, while mature female painters wait TriBeCa tables. If a heterosexual male painter captures a nude female image, it's high art. It seems that if a real live lesbian female artist takes her own clothes off, certain someone(s) think it's not. Are we willing to grant the male artist powers over a woman that we don't give to the woman herself? What Tribe 8 did was not about titillating the audience. It's about regaining dominion over one's own body and sexuality, and demonstrating this personal revolution in words and deed.
Even if we were to accept that nudity in art and expression should be banned from the 'Sco, how would we define it? Can women show a little cleavage? A lot? Just how much skin is too much? Even attempting to discuss regulations turns the `Sco into a strip club with pasties and g-strings. Once again, it seems that perception of sexuality seems to be defined not by the participants in a performance, but by those who would seek to regulate it.
It seems to me that there have been countless nude art exhibits, drama events, and dance pieces on this campus. There hasn't been any fuss or talk of censorship before. This time, a certain someone apparently went so far as to call the police to ask about whether or not Tribe 8 and the Student Union were breaking any laws. If the people who run the 'Sco are like the N.E.A., and Tribe 8 is like Robert Mapplethorpe, just who is it out there that's trying to be Jesse Helms?
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 8; November 8, 1996
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