So when I’d decided to comment on Calvin Klein’s recent upskirt ad on Facebook, I did not expect such a response!
As an openly sex-positive, kinky erotica writer and sex blogger, wow, I have not been called a Puritanical prude so much in my entire life!
But, overall, I think the conversation was great; you should check it out, if you haven’t.
Even with those whom I don’t agree with, I think it’s great that they were willing to engage on the topic in a way that was mostly respectful and well-thought-out.
And, actually, I think there are some very interesting discussion points on the other side that deserve to be talked about.
Like whether the model’s consent matters. She agreed to the shoot and likely is very proud of her picture. She does look beautiful in it.
But, oddly enough, her consent isn’t what I’m talking about. Don’t get me wrong, if she hadn’t consented, that’s a whole other conversation that would absolutely need to happen. But, so long as she did in fact consent, that’s not what I’m talking about.
This is about interpretation of art and how problematic portrayals of consent are damaging. Regardless of whether the model consented—I'm sure she did—that doesn't actually mean that the ad portrays consent. Those are two very different things. Even if the ad were portraying consensual nonconsent, there are ways to do so that focus on and showcase consent that the ad lacks for all the reasons I cite in this post.
I also think the point that the objectification of men often goes critically unexamined in a way that many of us don’t accept with the objectification of women is a very fair one. The iterations of and marketing for the Magic Mike movies is a great example. To be fair, I don't like most of their movie posters either. I think the movie’s marketing is often objectifying in way that serves the viewer more than it does the man in the piece of media. But we also do not live in a world where most men worry about the pervasive consequences of such objectification. We do, however, live in a world where it's legal in DC and many other places to take upskirt photos of women you did not get consent from or view leaked photos on sites like Reddit. The movie’s marketing also benefits from having a movie to help bolster its context; he is a stripper who enjoys his job. Within that context, good for the character being portrayed that he owns and enjoys his own sexuality. This ad came with no other context that “I flash #mycalvins,” a context that seems to make things more problematic rather than less, given that in the photo it’s not clear that she's not actually the one doing or consenting to the flashing.
I think it’s also fair to say that, by critiquing it, I’m adding to the ad’s visibility and therefore it’s validity. To be fair, you're entirely right. I am, in many ways, playing right into the marketer's plan. I am, however, also trying to use this as a way to talk about consent, what it actually is and what the media too often portrays it as and how the disconnect between the two does very real damage in the real world.
Because, if you look at that comment section, man! does it look like we have a very serious problem identifying consent.
Eye contact and playing with you hair...guys, that is not an assumed “yes.” And, take it from a kinky person, a stern look from a woman is also not and should never be considered a dominant form of consent without a lot of open and frank negotiation beforehand. Stern displeasure is only sexy if everyone involved knows that it’s a playful act. And, given this ad, we don’t know that.
And that was my point.
Problematic portrayals of murky consent or nonconsent being peddled as consent is a problem. One we need to fix. Because there are too many people who take that media and internalize it its problematic message and commit horrific acts, like upskirt photos in DC or the Steubenville violation or the USC shooting or the Fappening or the Cosby cases or the joedaddy505 assault or a dishearteningly innumerable other examples, because they claim they just didn’t know any better.
This should be unacceptable.
I’m all for porn.
I’m all for nudity.
I’m all for consensual sex in all its amazing and fun and healthy forms.
If you think otherwise, hello, we clearly have not met.
Because, if you took even two seconds to look at anything I’ve put out there into the wide, wide web, you’d know that I’m all for those things.
So long as consent is present.
Because consent is king.
Consent is the magical ingredient that makes everything sexy.
Which means, without it—without it being clear and explicit—whatever it is, isn’t sexy anymore.
Like I said before, what’s truly saddening about all this is that Calvin Klein could have avoided this. They could have portrayed consent and chose not to. They could have made it look like she were the one taking the picture. They could have given her a playful look, so this appeared to be a fun and consensual game between her and her partner. Hell, they could have put a toy in her hand or a collar around her neck and given a more clear picture of potential Domme roleplay.
Even the hashtag itself! The hashtag is being used by women, with all types of bodies and looks, to showcase themselves in their calvins. And, personally, I think that's great! They could have done that. And I and many like me would have had no problem with it.
But they didn’t.
And that's a problem.