Dowse exhibit a forbidden fruit

ROSEMARY MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 30/08/2012
Paul Young
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
ALLEGED DISCRIMINATION: Paul Young objecting outside the Dowse Art Museum against a female-only video display.

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OPINION: The curiosity of men is unbounded; the more it's satisfied the more it demands. Call it one of nature's unaccountable quirks, like warts.

In my case, awareness goes back to the girls' toilets in the long-demolished primary school where I learned that boys like to peep under the door while you pee.

They also liked to peep at the girls in the changing sheds when we had swimming classes, in case they could see us - gasp - naked. You'd think success on one occasion would be enough. Mystery solved.

But no, it only arouses male curiosity all the more. What if some girls look different? Is this amazing anatomical difference universal?

And so there's no way of beating them at this nonsense, which keeps many odd magazines and websites going. Perhaps you have to live in a harem to get over this peculiarity, which I once did.

I've seen more girls' naked bodies than you could count, since the school showers had no curtains, and I can assure you that none was in the least bit exciting. But this is a fact no man would ever believe, and so we're left with men in a snit over a video that only women will be able to view, at Lower Hutt's Dowse Art Museum.

Paul Young, 60, has complained to the Human Rights Commission about it in advance, on the grounds of "open discrimination". The short film, which is not playing as yet, is restricted because it's made by a Qatari woman writer and film-maker, who shows fellow countrywomen without their obligatory veils on, preparing for a wedding.

Gosh, you might say, they may actually have faces, how amazing. And of course there are plenty of women around us - fat ones, chinless ones, pretty ones, daft ones, ones with big noses, some with blue eyes, a few with tattoos - who have faces, too, in all their deeply average variety. How exciting, on a scale of one to 10, could seeing a few more be?

But a law of human psychology kicks in over anything forbidden, and because seeing the Qatari women's faces is forbidden, it's possibly the most exciting thing going in Lower Hutt, infinitely more so than it would ever be if they could be seen without a hassle. They are special because they resist being looked at by strangers. They are, in fact, the opposite of us. We insist on it.

I'm not sure what the exact purpose of the video is, but I suspect the reaction is exactly what the maker expected. It creates in our non-Muslim men a deep curiosity over something they normally take for granted, a curiosity unwelcome to women who regard the male gaze as such a problem that they hide all of themselves, apart from their eyes, when they're in public.

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That turns men who insist on viewing them into voyeurs, who seek to override their wishes, which are in effect a demand for privacy.

That's maybe a bit insulting to men like Mr Young, who I'm sure is quite harmless really. But it's also a comment on how women in our kind of society no longer have any mystery, because we let it all hang out.

I mean this literally, having recently seen the startling sight of a young woman trotting through town with half her bare buttocks literally hanging out of her shorts.

Mr Young believes there is a "human right" involved in his being able to peek at women who don't want him to. That's an attitude that I link, though admittedly it's a long stretch, to that of Julian Assange. It's about consent.

The WikiLeaks hero-to-some seems to think a woman consents to everything he feels like doing to her if she has once succumbed to his manifold charms.

He is wrong.

So is anyone who thinks they have a right to view images of any woman who does not agree. Personally, I see the charm in covering yourself completely on bad-hair days, or days when you just feel grumpy.

Many's the time - going way back to the bathing sheds - when I've longed to be invisible.

Related stories:

Complaint Over Women-Only Exhibit

Men To Be Barred From Exhibit

Editorial: Public Funding Not Appropriate For Exhibit

- The Dominion Post

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