Male Nudity in Public: Time to Put Some Pants On

Come on, guys! We’re streaking through the quad!!

I’ve gotta admit . . . I am a man who used to love me some public nudity.  Some of my friends used to joke that you didn’t graduate from Earlham College if you didn’t see Jamie Utt naked.  It started just after high school when my friends Zach, Jeff, and I just couldn’t hang out without a little bit of nudity.  In college, some buddies and I had a tradition every semester during finals where we would stop studying, get naked, and streak the library.  Weren’t we just HILARIOUS!?  We would go to parties . . . NAKED!  AAAhahahahahahaha.

I didn’t just find my antics hilarious, though.  I honestly thought them a progressive redefinition of masculinity, one that challenged aggressive homophobia and that celebrated bodies.  After all, all those homophobic dudes would cringe and “Uhhhhhh” when my dudebros and I would run around with our things flapping in the wind.  And weren’t we just loving the masculine form that we had been taught from a young age to feel ashamed of and to hide?  Plus, most people found it hilarious (or so it seemed)… so why not keep doing it?

A few different times, women approached me to talk about how it bothered them that I (and my friends) were always getting naked in public.  Sadly (especially considering that I would have called myself a “feminist”), I never listened, simply attributing their concern to “prudishness” and their strange desire to control my free expression.

It took me a long time (and lots of times of being told) to realize what was actually going on: a simple recreation of oppressive, privileged, hegemonic, normative masculinity.

Now, I know some of my readership is saying, “What on earth do you mean by ‘normative masculinity’ and a ‘redefinition of masculinity?'”  So let’s back up.

The crux of the issue is that normative masculinity is (most often) destructive and restrictive.  Normative masculinity tends to reflect traditional values of Western patriarchy: physical strength, stoicism, dominance, self-reliance, control, heterosexual virility, violence, and power over.  Perhaps most importantly, normative masculinity tends to devalue traditionally feminine traits like emotive expression, collaboration, non-violence, community, and power with and through (particularly when men display these traits). As such, normative masculinity restricts both men and women into roles that do not allow either to be fully realized as human beings.  As such, it’s also often called hegemonic masculinity for the ways that it forces normative masculinity on everyone, even those who actively try to resist it.

One aspect of feminist theory and thought encourages a redefinition of traditional gender roles and understanding, and as part of that, normative masculinity ought to be challenged and changed.

Growing up steeped in many aspects of normative masculinity (as most men in the U.S. are), when I discovered the liberated feeling of public nudity and noticed the ways that other men condemned male public nudity as “gay,” I immediately assumed that this was part of the “liberation” I had learned about in my elementary understanding of feminism.  Hence, the “progressive redefinition of masculinity” farce that I lived under for a number of years.

I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until about a year ago that I truly began to question how problematic my getting naked in public actually was.  I’ve always found it a little strange when women streaked (though I never bothered to interrogate deeply why).  I generally just hated the way that many men took it as an opportunity to “ogle some boobies,” and I felt a paternalistic desire to “protect” the women from the male gaze.  Plus, it was never quite as “funny.”

A year ago I was at an ultimate frisbee tournament, and a couple of dudes and a woman streaked through the party.  Of course, I laughed.  Then one of the naked dudes asked me to help him “land shark” the party, an absurd display of public nudity where four folks hold up a naked person face down and with a frisbee wedged into his ass while carrying him through the party.  Get it . . . the disc’s a fin!  HILARIOUS!

Well, I agreed, but as I was carrying him around, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How many of these people really want this dick wagging in their face while they enjoy their drink?”

There, in that moment, I realized what so many women had been trying to tell me but hadn’t heard because I’m a privilege denying, traditionally masculine asshole who must figure things out for himself rather than listen to a woman.  Every time that I ran naked through the library, I was saying to everyone there, “This space is mine.  It is so much mine, that I can force my nudity on you, whether or not you like it or whether or not it makes you uncomfortable.”

I refused to consider the ways that my act of public nudity could be triggering for survivors of sexual violence.  I refused to consider the ways that my act of public nudity claimed all space as mine rather than as egalitarian and public.  I refused to consider the incredible amounts of privilege that it took for me to so brazenly strip down and flap in the wind.

And therein lies why I was never quite comfortable when women streaked.  Rather than being a redefinition of traditional masculinity, I was simply enacting hegemonic masculinity, forcing my nudity on every person in whatever space I streaked.  When women did it, though, it was actually subversive, as women’s bodies were claiming space that is traditionally masculine (since all space is masculine in a patriarchy unless we construct it as otherwise).  Such an act of subversion made me uncomfortable because it exposed my act as really just another act of masculine assholery.

Dudes, we need to wake up.  I recently was hanging with some folks who were discussing the wonderful trend of unsolicited dick pics.  One of the guys, a known streaker, was describing how “creepy” he found this phenomenon, and I couldn’t help but wonder: how is an unsolicited dick pic any different from land sharking a party?  In both cases, a man is forcing his penis into the space of those who did not ask for it.  In both cases, consent is FAR from present, and in both cases, it’s a gross abuse of male privilege that, when we get down to it, is little more than sexual harassment.

To close, I want to tell you about my friend Margot.  I’ve known Margot since high school, and for a long time (until she got married and learned of the wonders of consensual, committed, crazy sexy time), she wore her innocence with pride.  She waited to have sex until marriage, and though I’ve taken a different route in life, I respect her decision and her commitment.  Recently, though, we were hanging out, and she said, “You know, the first penis I ever saw was yours.”  We laughed, but then I got sad.  She didn’t have a choice in that.  She didn’t have agency.  Maybe she wanted the first penis she saw to be her husband’s, but because of my “hilarious” antics, I took away her agency.

And for that I am profoundly sorry.

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50 thoughts on “Male Nudity in Public: Time to Put Some Pants On

  1. To tell the truth, Jamie, I was reading your blogpost and streaking still didn’t seem like a big deal…until I got to the last sentence. That really brought the point home in a way that “normative masculinity” didn’t. I didn’t streak in college, mostly because I am far more afraid than you of being judged by those who don’t approve. A lot of men did streak, though, and I always felt I was one-upping their normative masculinity (so to speak) because seeing them naked really turned me on, especially if I knew one of them personally. But I, also, was boxed into my own attitude toward the thing. If I was turned on, I thought, everyone else should be too. There was always a fair mix of naked men and women at Grinnell.

  2. lindseytburke@gmail.com

    I much respect the amount of self-awareness and self-reflection this post required. Thanks, Jamie.

  3. Ooooo this is a good one, Jamie!

    I often want to take the side of embracing our nekkid bodies (..pun intended?) and being ok with BOTH the naked female and male forms. Doing so really gets at some of our social issues: we often want to see boobies – but not vaginas. Women – but not men. There’s a lot in that.

    However – you make some really great points here, and it’s a good reminder to me, someone who has no hangups about nakedness, that my comfort level isn’t everyone else’s, and that being sex-pozzie, etc, means I respect that, too.

  4. Good job, Swift.

    Absolutely outstanding satire on feminist ‘thought’. To convince people that being bombarded with tits and ass in advert upon advert and page 3 upon page 3 proves women are objectified, whilst men’s nudity is proof of the *hegemony* of the nude male and the oppression of those forced to observe, exposes the fundamental fact that these theories of patriarchy are incoherent, un-disprovable, unscientific nonsense engineered to ensure rich white women can claim to be oppressed whilst ignore the problems of their poorer sisters. The line satirising trigger warnings (simply by being naked you are ‘triggering’ trauma in rape victims — of course, and motorcycle adverts should be banned lest they distress hit-and-run victims) was sublime. Bravo.

  5. I just have to say that I love this blog. I wandered in here from your recent Victoria’s Secret article and am really enjoying wading through your past posts.

    You know that paternalistic feeling you’ve had for streaking women? (Which, by the way, is beautiful and the epitome of true masculinity.) I’m feeling something similar as I read your thoughts. Ever since I gave birth to my son 2 years ago, I find there are times when I feel maternal pride in response to seeing men grow and evolve past their conditioning. I would be beyond proud if my son grew up to have the values you express here. For my little boy’s sake and for all men, thank you for having the courage to speak up and demonstrate that there are other ways to be a man.

  6. Nicely laid out. Er, nicely written.

    One undisclosed benefit to male streaking is that it lowers his chances exponentially for hooking up and procreating with any smart, classy female witness. So, genetically, big plus.

    Speaking of ladies, another way society denies women power by denying them space is proclaiming them worthless if they are very tall or any thicker around than a pretzel stick. They must maintain a tiny, flimsy outline to reinforce male ego projections of weakness, vulnerability, needing to be assisted and protected, etc. Heavyset men are just big guys, but big women might be too close to competition. How will he rule her world if she can reach the boxes on the top shelf, herself, and open her own pickle jars?

    Same thing when a woman matures. The beauty of youth whispers inexperience and childlike innocence, nothing a guy has to worry about disappointing. But deep laugh lines and a grey hair or two signal a potential lady of wisdom, identity, and a much higher chance of no-crap-taking. She probably expects results. The penis trembles.

    If you still enjoy a good breeze-flapping for its own sake, don’t forget hot springs.

  7. It’s amazing how the things we do may or may not actually be helping a problem rather than solving it. I recently learned that some of the attitudes I had on race were actually enforcing old stereotypes rather than breaking them down. Boy, was that a wake-up call.

  8. LET’S GO STREAKING!!! EVERYBODY’S DOING IT!!!! ;)

  9. I love the reference to “Old School.” There is something freeing about nudity!

  10. Here comes a sentence I never thought I’d say, but what an incredibly thoughtful post about streaking. I truly applaud you for writing this and for the journey you have been on. Understanding others is a self-imposed goal, so thank you for imposing that goal upon yourself to understand those who you originally disagreed with or dismissed. Everyone should be like that, but sadly so few are. Also I would just like to add that I’m a Margot, and the last paragraph really saddened me. But the fact that what she said saddens you as well shows how much you have grown and how empathetic you are. Bravo for all of the above, this was one of the best Freshly Pressed posts in a long time! (Other than mine of course ;) )

  11. You know, it takes a big person to admit that what they did was wrong. It’s takes an even bigger one to apologize. I am very impressed by what I read here, particularly the last part. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  12. I’ve seen nudity in ultra-primitive societies and in advanced settings. In one, it is a fact of life and the social norm. In the other, it is imbued by some with some kind of philosophical statement value. It doesn’t bother me at all in the setting of primitive societies but it has always seemed like very poor taste to me in privileged societies. If you’re lucky enough to own clothes, wear them. There are plenty of other things the privileged can be embarrassed about besides someone’s nudity.

  13. This is really interesting. Thanks for writing.

  14. I hate clothes but like you (now) I wear them in public.

  15. A funny and very skillful self-analysis. Much thanks.

  16. good for you!! get some nice undies hahahaha

  17. So glad you came to this realization. I find it mind boggling that a person who’s profession involves preventing sexual violence took so long to come to the realization that unsolicited male nudity is offensive and sexually harassing to probably the majority of those present (at least the sober ones.) While Freshly Pressed posts are often well-put personal revelations that evoke little more than comments such as “Nice post” or “congratulations on being Freshly Pressed,” yours is sure to evoke some thought-provoking discussion, although perhaps some of it negative or uncomplimentary. But then, I doubt that your would have written this for all the world to see if you were not ready for that.

  18. Suprisingly poignant. A phrase I did not think I would use in an article about streaking. ;) Respect my friend. I enjoyed every word.

  19. Interesting with good comments a a result. I think my gang got that out of our systems just before college. It was crazy and fun and we did it because that’s how we were then. Everything changes in life. But when we did it we were just a group of guys doing silly shit with guys. We got over it and really never looked back. Your points are valid and true. As we grow we learn more about life and when we learn from our mistakes it can kick your ass. Great job of writing and bringing back old memories.

  20. Didn’t know some guys streaked not just once, but several times for fun. The guys I know, would just find it…weird. (Thank goodness. These guys now have daughters, for cripes sake. Ask yourself how to explain this to your children, nieces, nephews…)

    I know my partner wouldn’t do it. He doesn’t even ride his bike or lie out in the sun with his shirt off. We’ve been together for last 22 years and he has been relatively fit..

    You know what my guy has said: “Guys down there? Yuck…” :)

    Am thinking of the naked bike rides that do happen annually in some big cities worldwide… for people to see ogle naked women in public outdoors….it might be funny..but above all, it is different for women: For them it’s real vulnerability, she ends up looking weaker, not stronger to a bunch of strange guys (who don’t care her at all), and under the wrong circumstances, dangerous.

  21. I am so glad that you were able to finally see what that act takes away from another. Many men are never able to recognize what is wrong and how they negatively affect us. The past is the past. You can’t change it, the best you can do is apologize. But you can surely educate other men. And somehow, I think you will.

  22. I just wrote a post about how my 14 year old daughter gets unwanted dick pictures (junk mail) from boys at her school – the same boys who sit next to her in English and Science class. Yuck. These dads need to talk to their sons about this because those kids aren’t listening to the girls or the teachers. Good post.

  23. I do not know why you guys in the “West” make such a loud noise of something so trivial. If one travels to Africa, you will notice the village folk carry out their routine work in an attire like you guys call “streaking”. For them, it is a way of life. If you come to India, in many places, for centuries, some communities, have never known the concept of wearing a cloth to cover their body. This again, is a way of life. Societies have evolved and become more progressive over a period of time, but some, choose to remain stagnant. Free choice does exist in the world today, but sometimes I wonder, why would a progressive, affluent society choose to portray “antics” practised during the medieval period in history and create a sensation !!!!!!

  24. Great post- great awareness. Thank you for this.

  25. Reblogged this on IV-FDM.

  26. I can’t help but agree that in a way this might be cruel reminder to victims of sexual violence.

  27. It presented a well thought idea on social norms esp on feminism and maculinity whilst keeping the interest of readers by keeping it as light as possible without losing focus. Kudos.

  28. If we want to see what a man looks like naked — and sometimes we do — we’ll choose the time, place and guy. Until then, keep it zipped. Why anyone wants to see male genitals flapping in the breeze is beyond me.

  29. Reblogged this on Somebody comes across something perfectly wonderful and commented:
    A new prospective…well thought out!

  30. Reblogged this on Toutsi19's Blog and commented:
    Nicely put. Invasion of space can have many ways of expressing itself.
    It all depends on how you look at it

  31. in taking the freedom to do as you please to far, sometimes we take away the rights of others as well. this an thoughtfully written reminder to all of us who are simply comfortable in our skins and sometimes have the tendency to overplay it.

  32. I respect you so much for your self-awareness and honesty. This was a lovely post, thank you for sharing the story!

  33. Imagine this: That young person like Helen Reddy and the song. ‘I am woman’. At 20, we men are agog. But as that woman and ourselves get older, we gag. Why, because we are putting too much stock in being young and forgetting those gray hairs got there for a reason.

  34. It’s not surprising. But they must maintain a tiny outline to reinforce male ego projections of weakness. Still it’s amazing

  35. Well spoken. WordPress randomly selected this post to advertise to me, and that is what brought me here. Kudos to you for being open to change and looking from another’s point of view.

  36. This is such a wonderful piece. I’m so glad I got to read it.

  37. So females streaking’s still Okay? I’ve never done it, but I think it should be on the list of things to do before I die. Just because

  38. Dudebro. High fiving a million angels. I can’t even begin to tell you how much thoughts like this mean to me.

  39. does it look bigger in the headlights lol

  40. Wow I really didn’t think much into the streaking thing until you mentioned what your friend said. It was kind of sad. We all make mistakes or not the best choices but it’s nice to see someone actually admit it. Thanks for sharing

  41. […] Male Nudity in Public: Time to Put Some Pants On. This isn’t written by a Christian dude. Still, it’s interesting how modesty can be transferred. […]

  42. […] naked in public.  But it wasn’t until some people called me in to consider the roots of sexist male entitlement present in my streaking that I realized that it wasn’t just good fun.  But it doesn’t have to be as overt as […]

  43. Reblogged this on CHANGE THE NARRATIVE and commented:
    A poignant excerpt:

    “There, in that moment, I realized what so many women had been trying to tell me but hadn’t heard because I’m a privilege denying, traditionally masculine asshole who must figure things out for himself rather than listen to a woman. Every time that I ran naked through the library, I was saying to everyone there, ‘This space is mine.’ ”

  44. Nudity isn’t something that typically bothers me, and as such I’ve never been too fussed with it. Even raising two little ones I’m more likely to launch into a lesson on how bodies are all different and reaffirming their ownership of their own bodies than suddenly panic in the rare event of a random act of public nudity. So why would this article ring true if nudity isn’t an issue for me? As a mum trying to raise healthy children I was suddenly confronted with the challenges of societies unbending rules on female public nudity vs the need to feed tiny humans through the biologically elegant system available to all mammals. We have a society where masculine form is permissible but the female form is not, even when it is doing exactly what it was designed for in a selfless and unsexualised manner. Thank you for this article and mostly for the vocabulary to explain what’s going on.

  45. […] around naked in public. But it wasn’t until some people called me in to consider the roots of sexist male entitlement present in my streaking that I realized that it wasn’t just good […]

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