There’s been a lot of ink spilled on the death of Farrah Fawcett–even the august New York Times has more than half a page today. Like the rest of the mainstream media, it gingerly avoids the n-word: nipple. But nipples are why Farrah Fawcett signifies; she embodied quite an important cultural shift in US society.
I kinda stopped watching teevee before Charlie’s Angels came out, but I’ve never heard anyone argue that it was one of the great masterpieces of the medium or that, with better politics, the then FFM would have rivaled Vanessa Redgrave or Jane Fonda.
Cultural achievement was not why the red swimsuit poster became ubiquitous in the late ’70s. It was because you could see her nipples right through the damn fabric.
Observers have long noted that American males, the straight ones anyhow, tend to have deep-seated breast fixations, and psychiatrists and anthropologists and creative people in diverse artistic fields have responded in their own ways to this fact. But there have been changes within that general pattern.
In the decades before Farrah Fawcett arrived on the scene, the sexualization of breasts in film and photography was centered on the size of breasts and particularly on cleavage. Think Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield. Cleavage is fairly artificial, the product of confining clothing designed to produce it (or fake it). And it has nothing to with the actual erotic zones on the breasts. It emphasizes the preparation of the female as passive object for consumption by the male gaze.
But the claiming of sexual agency by women was a part of the ’60s upsurge and of the modern women’s movement born during it. The red swimsuit poster marked the mainstreaming of the nipple (and underscored the then-shocking symbolic dumping of painfully restrictive women’s undergarb enacted at the Miss America pageant less than a decade earlier).
This was, I’ll argue, a historic advance for materialism and for democracy. Nipples are, among other things, full of actual nerves which can carry actual sexual sensations. Even in guys. And pretty much everybody is born with them. Even guys.
I make no giant claims that Farah Fawcett ended the sexual objectification of women, nor even that the real advances in sexual enjoyment and equality she symbolized are solid-look what happened to Janet Jackson. But she deserves credit for the role she played, not the pussyfooting around we’ve been treated to since her death.
Crossposted from Fire on the Mountain.