Nudity Historical Origins of the Repression

Nudity Historical Origins of the Repression of Nudity

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Historical origins of the repression of nudity

167. Repressive morality was developed by the state and the Church as a tool to maintain control over otherwise free individuals.256
Paul Ableman writes: "A complex civilization has an enormous investment in differentiated apparel. It is no accident that one of the first matters that a revolutionary regime turns its attention to is clothing. The French Revolution decreed classical grace and simplicity. The Chinese homogenized clothing. The Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran returned women to the black chador and so on. . . . Sexual energy is needed by the authorities of the world to maintain order. . . . It immediately becomes obvious why the true obscenity of killing and violence has always been of less concern to those in power than the pseudo-obscenity of erotic acts. Death provides no scope for a network of regulations by which society can be manipulated. . . . But sex is a permanent fountain of dynamic energy, which can be tapped for social purposes by regulations concerning marriage, divorce, adultery, fornication, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, chastity, promiscuity, decency and so on. All those who wield power intuitively perceive that in the last resort their authority derives from the repression, and regulation, of sexuality, and that free-flowing sexuality is the biological equivalent of anarchy. All transferrals of power, all revolutions, are invariably accompanied by transformations of the regulations governing sexuality." 257 Seymour Fisher writes: "The implications of nudity as a way of declaring one's complete freedom have often elicited strong countermeasures from those in authority. Nudity is punishable by death in some cultures. The Roman Catholic church has taught in convent schools that it is sinful to expose your body even to your own eyes. The wearing of clothes represents a form of submission to prevailing mores. It is like putting on a 'citizen's uniform' and agreeing to play the game." 258

168. Repressive morality has often sought to control not only nudity, but sexuality in general. Margaret Miles observes that "the regulation of sexuality was a major power issue in the fourth-century Christian churches. Regulation of sexual practices was a way to inject the authority of church laws and leaders into the intimate and daily relationships of Christians. Analyzing the canons of the Council of Gangra in AD 309, [Samuel] Laeuchli found that 46 percent of the eighty-one canons were concerned with sexual relationships and practices." 259 Philip Yancey notes that "between the third and tenth centuries, church authorities issued edicts forbidding sex on Saturdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and also during the 40-day fast periods before Easter, Christmas, and Whitsuntide--all for religious reasons. They kept adding feast days and days of the apostles to the proscription, as well as the days of female impurity, until it reached the point that, as Yale historian John Boswell has estimated, only 44 days a year remained available for marital sex. Human nature being what it is, the church's proscriptions were enthusiastically ignored." 260 Don Mackenzie notes that Christ and the very earliest church, in contrast, emphasized a message of freedom--"from demonic powers, from tyrannical governments, from fate. . . . [and] a prevailing commitment to the separation of secular and ecclesiastical power. . . . [The Church] adopted asceticism, not in obedience to its founder's teachings but as a bid for support in the face of competition, offering spiritual solace to people whose material world (the Roman Empire) was collapsing. Once the Church was officially recognized, it promptly discarded Christ's dedication to poverty, but it clung tightly to sexual asceticism as a disciplinary tool in a disintegrating society." 261

169. Repression of nudity is still used today as a means to further a repressive political agenda.
Regarding nude beaches, Patrick Buchanan, on PBS's "McLaughlin Report," said, "I think we ought to let the liberals do it, if they want to do it. Then take photographs and use them in attack ads." 262 The right-wing Christian Coalition uses blanket attacks on mere nudity and other matters of "morality" to rally support for their cause. Their method, as described by ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser, is "to prey upon the fears of millions of people who are all too willing to believe that sacrificing personal liberty will help solve our nation's problems." 263
A Missouri legislator, in 1993, introduced a bill that would have made virtually all public nudity--and even some nudity in the home--a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison! This bill was fortunately defeated, though by a narrow margin. Similar bills have been proposed all over the country in recent years.264

170. Much of the origin of repressive attitudes toward nudity may be traced to the political setting of the early church and church-state, though not the teachings of Christ Himself.
The earliest writings of the Christian church show no evidence of the negative attitude toward sexuality and nudity which so characterize later years. This negative attitude grew slowly among some segments of the faith, but was by no means universal. For some, asceticism represented a means of remaining pure for the impending return of Christ. For others, it was a reaction against the hedonism and homosexuality common in Greek culture, or against the sexual excesses of the dying Roman Empire.265 For some, it grew out of a mixture of Christianity with the legalism of traditional Judaism; and for many, it grew out of preexisting personal and cultural prejudices. Clement of Alexandria, in the late 2nd century, and Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, in the mid 3rd century, both condemned the nudity common in Roman public baths primarily because it offended their personal ideas of female modesty. (In the same era, Tertullian was condemning women as the "gateway of the Devil.") Jerome, in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, also condemned nude bathing, especially for women. He considered pregnant women revolting, and felt that virgins should blush at the very idea of seeing themselves naked. On the other hand, in the same period, Jovinianus, a Christian monk, campaigned actively in favor of the public baths. In the end, the decisive actor in the controversy was Augustine. He was a firm believer in the doctrine, introduced long after Christ, that the body and sexuality are inherently sinful. (He applied this doctrine to women's bodies and sexuality especially aggressively.) Augustine was a shrewd politician. By aligning himself closely with the imperial court at the beginning of the 5th century, he effectively ensured that his version of Christianity became the dominant one. By the Dark Ages, with the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Church became the last remnant of Western civilization, with a monopoly on education, and tremendous control over ideas. Thus Augustine's heritage of anti-sexuality became the predominant force in Christianity, even though such ideas are impossible to find in the teachings of Christ Himself.266

171. The aversion of early Christian church leaders to casual nudity was due in part to an association of nudity with paganism and homosexuality in the surrounding cultures.
In many pre-Christian pagan religions, such as those practiced in western Europe and Great Britain, nudity- -especially female nudity--was a powerful force, and played an important role in pagan worship and rituals.267

172. The Church's aversion to nudity derived, in part, from its roots in the cultures of the ancient Near East, where nakedness had signified poverty, shame, slavery, humiliation, and defeat. Naked, bound prisoners were paraded in the king's victory celebration, and slain enemies were stripped of clothing and armor.268

173. Before Western civilization, nakedness was a normal element of life and considered acceptable in many circumstances. However, as Freud describes in Civilization and Its Discontents, psychological repression of the awareness of our natural being was a necessary step in building civilization, by disciplining the masses into taking part in vast and self-abdicating social projects.269
Lee Baxandall notes that, by contrast, "the post-industrial, newly greening era offers fresh options, a chance to integrate the natural human being with post-industrial values, technology, and knowledge." 270

174. Nudity has often been censored primarily to avoid the more difficult task of managing it.271

175. Recreation managers often "permit" nudity on remote beaches without facilities or lifeguards, then use nudity as a scapegoat for problems including litter and drug use that inevitably appear in high-use recreation areas without active management.

176. One of the greatest challenges faced by clothing-optional beaches is that their popularity, combined with their scarcity, leads to intensive use, which in turn conflicts with environmental and management concerns.
This has been a source of problems at several beaches across the country, including Sandy Hook in New Jersey, and Cape Cod National Seashore, which closed its traditionally nude beach ostensibly for environmental reasons in the mid 1970s.272

177. The "secondary effects" of an actively managed nude beach have in actual experience proven to be less crime, less inappropriate behavior, no drug dealers, an increase in parking revenues, and an increase in business in the adjoining commercial area.273

178. Nudity has often been repressed for economic reasons, not because it was considered immoral.
Bernard Rudofsky writes: "In the 1920s, in some parts of Europe people used to bathe in public without feeling the need for a special dress. At the height of summer the beaches on the Black Sea swarmed with bathers who had never seen a bathing suit except in newspapers and picture magazines; their holiday was one of untroubled simplicity. . . . The idyll came to an end a few years later when tourism reared its ugly head, and the protests of foreign visitors led to making bathing suits compulsory." 274 The same thing has recently happened in the former East Germany, where traditionally nude beaches are now being restricted to appease more conservative European tourists.275

179. We must never forget that for any freedom that is lost, we bear partial responsibility for letting it be lost.
In the words of Frederick Douglass: "Find out just what people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of justice and wrong which will be imposed upon them. . . . The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those who they oppress." 276


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