A Tale of Two Pictures part 2

Ok, lightening has still not struck, so I am going to stick with the blatant plaigurism of Charles Dickens.  Although, he did just celebrate his 200th birthday recently, so, no, I am actually paying homage to the great Charles Dickens.  So there.  🙂 

Ok, as I promised, this post also involves another picture, and I’m sure most Rafa fans can guess which pictures this is going to involve.  However, this post will not be a “Holy crap he’s so freaking hot I can’t stand it!” post, so if you’re looking for that, you’re at the wrong blog.  You’re looking for Nadal News.  Or the Vamos Brigade. 

Still here? 

Oh, you went over to Nadal News and Vamos Brigade to have the “Holy Crap he’s so freaking hot I can’t stand it!” conversation? 

Well, at least you came back. 


The SI Swimsuit Edition recently hit the presses, and low and behold, there are pictures of Bar Rafaeli and Rafael Nadal.  Needless to say, most Rafa fans are thrilled with these pictures, but New Fan and Arienna Lee posted the dissenting opinion.  In fact, I wonder what there is for me to add, and yet I feel I have to explain why these pictures actually make me a little sad, and why I agree with them in saying that I do not like these pictures. 

Warning: This post will be long and winding, touching on a lot of different issues, and will also contain spoilers for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. 

*Spoiler Altert* *Spoiler Alert* *Spoiler Alert* *Spoiler Alert* 

I posted a few months ago about how Caroline Wozniacki Makes Me Mad.  I went on to explain that it’s not really Caroline Wozniacki, it’s the way that women tennis players have no value apart from being hot.  Arienna Lee commented in my blog about how men are now being encouraged to portray themselves as being hot, rather than simply good tennis players. 

As if to confirm this, I noted a question in Novak Djokovic’s press conference.  One of the sports reporters asked him if he thought that men, like women, should be able to pose for SI Swimsuit Issue.  He gave a very politic non-answer, but he did say, in essence, “Well, men and women are supposed to be equal.”  I thought to myself, “Great.  Now we get to see Nole in a Speedo in SI.  Congratulations women, we are now equal.”  At the time, I also thought, “Why ask Nole this question?  What do they know that I don’t?” 

Two months later, I got my answer. 

First of all, as most fans have pointed out, these kinds of pictures are always airbrushed.  They create a false perfection that actually destroys a lot of the individuality of the subject, and therefore some of the subject’s appeal.  As I explained in Part 1, one of the things about Rafa that I really loved was his knee trouble, since I myself have struggled with knee problems. 

But the problems, for me, go much deeper than that. 

When I think about these pictures, and Nole’s comment, I remember an interview with an actress who played Dr. Holly Goodhead in a James Bond film.  She talked about how the film was made in the seventies, and she was very reluctant to take the role.  “I was a child of my generation,” she said.  “We were all burning our bras.  We weren’t supposed to be sexy!”  Fast forward 40 years, and not only are women under a tremendous amount of pressure to be sexy, but this pressure is now being extended to men. 

This is equality. 

I also find that many women want the pressure to be hot, or at least, don’t even recognize the pressure to be hot all the time.  I remember thinking about this in college, when a suitemate of mine nearly broke up with her boyfriend, after finding anime porn on his computer.  She told me that it wouldn’t have bothered her if she had found actual porn on his computer, but the Japanese animated pornography really bothered her.  I asked her why.  “Because I can be like the girls in regular porn, but it’s not physically possible to do the stuff in anime porn.”  I’ve decided to take her at her word.  But later on, I thought, “It’s not really true that you can do what the girls in the porn videos do.  Yes, you can perform the acts that they do, but you can never be like the girls in the videos.  Those girls will never get sick.  They will never get tired.  They’ll never have periods or pregnancy scares.  They’ll never get diseases.  They’ll never ask a man to talk about his feelings.”  Occasionally I would stay up late enough to see commercials for phone sex lines, and I was always struck by the tag line for one of them.  “Always tan, always wet, and always having fun.” 

Which brings me back to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. 

One of the many scenes that I found problematic in the film was the scene where Lisbeth first has sex with her working partner.  She undresses herself and when she approaches him, he protests.  He says, “No.”  She covers his mouth and says, “You need to stop talking,” before proceeding to have sex with him.  I thought, “If the roles had been reversed, we’d consider that assault.”  I was also struck by how unerotic that scene was.  I wasn’t even sure why Lisbeth suddenly decided to sleep with him at that point, and assumed it was simply an urge. 

Yet, at the end of the movie, she finds herself falling in love with him.  She buys a card to give to him, to tell him about her feelings, only to find that he has returned to his longstanding mistress.  Sad but resigned, Lisbeth climbs back onto her motorcycle and drives off, alone in the dark.  It is a powerful image of total isolation, the isolation that exists in the world of Dragon Tattoo.  In this world, a true connection of any kind between two people is pretty much impossible.  The best that Lisbeth can do is to use men sexually as the men use her sexually.  (Apparantly, the book states that not only was Lisbeth raped, but that Lisbeth had never met a woman in her whole life who had not been raped or sexually assaulted.)  When she is attacked, she uses a tattoo gun to write I Am A Rapist Pig on her attacker’s chest, and then promptly moves on with her life as if nothing has happened.  After all, she expects men to exploit her sexually, and she expects to do the same to them as well. 

Which brings me back to the pictures, and to objectifying men sexually.  We are clearly living in Lisbeth’s world.  Women, having no hope of being viewed as anything other than a sexual object, have decided to begin exploiting men the way that men exploit women.  As Nole suggested, we are supposed to be equal, and in today’s world, that means equal exploitation and objectification for both sexes. 

The same year that my suitemate nearly dumped her boyfriend over Japinese animated pornography, I saw The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard.  That play contains several monologues that stayed with me since that time, so much that I finally bought a copy of the play.  One of these monologues is a passage where a father and daughter are discussing love and sex.  The father, whose relationship to girl’s stepmother is in peril, gives a monologue about sex.

Henry: It’s to do with knowing and being known.  I remember how it stopped seeming odd that in the biblical Greek knowing was used for making love.  Whosit knew so-and-so.  Carnal knowledge.  That’s what lovers trust each other with.  Knowledge of each other, not of the flesh but through the flesh, knowledge of self, the real him, the real her in extremis, the mask slipped from the face.  Every other version of oneself is on offer to the public.  We share our vivacity, grief, sulks, anger, joy… we hand it out to anybody who happens to be standing around, to friends and family with a momentary sense of indecency perhaps, to strangers without hesitation.  Our lovers share us with the passing trade.  But in pairs we insist that we give ourselves to each other.  What selves?  What’s left?  What else is there that hasn’t been dealt out like a deck of cards?  Carnal knowledge.  Personal, final uncompromised.  Knowing, being known.  I revere that. 

We can either live in Henry’s world or in Lisbeth’s world.  We can either strive for Henry’s vision, or for Lisbeth’s vision. 

I can’t speak for anyone else.  But I am not ready to buy a tattoo gun yet.

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4 Responses to A Tale of Two Pictures part 2

  1. Zahra Costello says:

    Touché 🙂

  2. Arienna Lee says:

    Thanks for the mention, Emma!

    Also… Tom Stoppard! Yes, oh yes.

    “Knowing, being known. I revere that.” This is the essence of the psychological theory that I love, Emma. You might really enjoy Polly Young Eisendrath. Her writing on women & culture is right up your alley– and she uses mythology and literature to tell her psychology story, so the writing flows in a way I think you might like.

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