Thursday, March 06, 2014

Looking Up Your Skirt

In Massachusetts, a court ruled that it's legal for someone to take pictures up women's skirts on public transportation.  And yes, the man who was doing that, one Michael Robertson, is clearly an asshat (now take a picture of that).

But the reason why Robertson won his case has to do with the way the existing Massachusetts law is written: 

The court ruled that the law as written only applies to people in private when they are nude or partially nude. The court did say that riders should have protections from peeping toms on the MBTA, but the law as written needs to be updated.
"We conclude that (the law), as written, as the defendant suggests, is concerned with proscribing Peeping Tom voyeurism of people who are completely or partially undressed and, in particular, such voyeurism enhanced by electronic devices. (The law) does not apply to photographing (or videotaping or electronically surveilling) persons who are fully clothed and, in particular, does not reach the type of upskirting that the defendant is charged with attempting to accomplish on the MBTA," read the decision.
"At the core of the Commonwealth's argument to the contrary is the proposition that a woman, and in particular a woman riding on a public trolley, has a reasonable expectation of privacy in not having a stranger secretly take photographs up her skirt. The proposition is eminently reasonable, but (the law) in its current form does not address it," read the decision.
Well, that's all I planned to write until I read some of the comments (mea culpa, though most of them were weird trollery and many of them were sensible).  The very first one:

If women want to dress scantily, I sure as hell will see whatever I can. I don't need a shot of testosterone.

And then there was this:

That's not a Green Line train in the photo above and the ladies on my Red Line trains to/from work are never that pretty :-(

Anyway, with the recent popularity of wearing black tights with no skirt, and the amount of camel toe being displayed all over the trains and in general as a result, it's not like you need to be doing the upskirt yeah, there's that....because Lycra. Now, if we could just get them to move on past the whole Uggs thing...blech...

Those do a neat reversal, blaming the imagined victims for showing too much flesh, right?* But there's also that whiff of 'cover-yerselves-wimmen' which I was a bit shocked to find on a liberal site.  And then another whiff of the idea that women's bodies indeed are public comestibles, that they can be judged in the manner of Olympic gymnastics or figure skating, that no woman out there can declare herself to be outside the competition (except perhaps by wearing a burqa).

That general ranking wouldn't bother me if we did the same to all bodies, partly, because I think that doing it to both men and women would reduce the amount of such judging I see.  Imagine, say, me going on here about plumber's cracks and big bellies and moobs and mullets.
*The question of "appropriate" clothing is a tricky one and I'm not addressing it here.  It partly depends on societal norms, but because those have traditionally been sexist the norms themselves need rigorous interrogating under bright lights before any simple conclusions can be drawn.