“Women themselves try to undermine and discredit those of us who make decisions that differ from the norm.”
What surprised Cambridge University lecturer Victoria Bateman was not the amount of criticism she received, but how much of that criticism came from women.
Bateman, an economic historian, made news last week when she arrived to a university function wearing nothing but a completely transparent leotard and evening shoes.
In response to a volley of criticism she had received, Bateman told Pluralist on Tuesday that her provocative act was part of a fight against what she sees as a regressive trend in attitudes toward women.
“The world is on the edge of moving backwards rather than forwards in regard to women’s freedom,” she said over email. “That includes women’s freedom to dress as they wish — at both ends of the spectrum.”
She opposes Denmark’s newly-passed burqa ban as vehemently as she does Saudi Arabia’s modesty laws.
“I believe that fundamentally every woman should be free to do what she wants with her own body — whether to cover or uncover, to control her fertility or not, to be a home-maker or to pursue a career, and to monetize her brain or her body,” said Bateman.
At my #Cambridge College’s end of term supervisor dinner tonight wearing feminist fashion by @theuniformtalks #JennaYoung – with some added marker pen! Cambridge supports #MyBodyMyChoice. Do you? #feminism #liberty #DeedsNotWords pic.twitter.com/JWZuxWQdn6
— Victoria Bateman (@vnbateman) June 12, 2018
“My Body My Choice should be the mantra for everyone,” she summed up. “It sounds simple enough, but, increasingly, it’s a phrase from which people tend to pick and choose — to pick aspects that are important to them personally whilst ignoring those that are equally important to other women.”
Bateman argued that to fight this trend, society must recognize its root cause: “The (wrong) association of women’s bodies with sin and shame, and with it the notion that a woman’s value is in large part based on how ‘modest’ she is.”
Bateman believes that society’s unwillingness to reckon with its puritanical underpinnings has led to paradoxical results. For example, Feminists who call for the criminalization of “the buying of sex.”
“They deny that sex work could ever be voluntary,” said Bateman.
Sex workers’ “interests and voices are locked out of policy decisions which affect their livelihoods,” she added. “Whilst it’s deemed acceptable to monetize your brain, the same cannot always be said of the body – which tells us something!”
The Reaction: Through her “feminist fashion choice” (as she referred to it), Bateman hoped to provoke her colleagues (and other spectators) to think about the “deep seated” connection between “shame and sin.”
Among her fellow academics, her statement was received with encouragement. Not so much among others.
“What is interesting is how much objection and verbal abuse I receive (on Twitter) not just from men but also from other women,” said Bateman.
It’s the latter that disturbs her.
”If for centuries women’s bodies have been used and abused for other people’s benefit,” said Bateman, “why shouldn’t a modern day woman be able to subvert that?”
But she wasn’t surprised.
“You could say that the reaction proves my point,” she lamented. “That many people do (of whatever gender) associate the female body with sin and shame, and judge women on the basis of it. … Is it any wonder that it is taking centuries for women to achieve equality when (some) women themselves try to undermine and discredit those of us who make decisions that differ from the norm?”
She emphasized that she’s willing to engage anyone who truly wishes to have a dialogue. “I have never blocked anyone,” she said. “My approach to naked protest is always to be peaceful and pleasant — never angry, shouty or loud.”
“I just act as normal whilst being the elephant in the room,” she said.