Original article in Dutch in De Volkskrant from December 6, 2014.
Tanline free action against inequality
Opinion: Women should not be discouraged to visit a nude beach or a nude resort.
(Ine ter Berg is cultural anthropologist and board member of the Dutch Nudist Federation.)
Why do men have so much difficult to respect my personal freedom on a nude beach? Often it happens that when I’m enjoying the sunshine on the beach, that a man takes pictures of me. You won’t believe how often it happens that a man thinks it’s normal to come and sit very close to me (on a deserted nude beach!) and stare at me for a long time. Is it me?
If I have to believe the normal debates then it’s indeed me. It’s not uncommon to hear that, as a woman ‘you shouldn’t put yourself in this kind of situation’. If you do that then ‘you’re asking for trouble’. But is that really so?
The statements above result in creating a social norm in which isn’t not ‘normal’ that a woman visits a nude beach. What I see happening around me is that women often cave under the pressure and submit to this norm. Women avoid public places like nude beaches.
The result is that public spaces more and more become a masculine dominated area. This is how we reach vicious circles. While women of my mother’s generation in the 60s and 70s could sun bathe topless without any problem on a ‘regular’ beach, women of my generation apparently are unable to do this on a nude beach. Only in my back garden it’s possible for me to enjoy the sun with bare breasts.
This development, where public locations for nude recreation are less accessible for women, is remarkable. The most recent verdict of the court in The Hague (in the case of the Delftse Hout nude beach), the (well known) Tiki pool that opens its door for nude swimmers and the increasing popularity of saunas make me believe that the Netherlands is going in the right direction to get nude recreation (rightfully so) out of its taboo corner and make it more accessible.
Concerning nude recreation in general we’re certainly on the right track. On a warm summer day we can enjoy being naked in many places. Resorts, a local lake, a beach or a wellness centre. But my experience is that this is mainly true for men. The options for women are a lot more restricted. Resorts and wellness centres are no problem, probably because they don’t emphasise naturism. Beach visits however is a bigger problem.
‘Then go to a resort or a wellness centre’, you may think. ‘Women always make problems…’ But in this case women make a problem of it with reason. After all, it’s not the issue that there’s the choice of just one more or less nude location. This situation touches the uneven options between man and woman.
My experiences are written above don’t bother me because I am ‘objectified’ without wanting it (even though it’s very annoying). It’s not so much that I feel threatened at times (which is much more annoying). What troubles me is that, being a woman, I just have to accept this.
Last summer I was confronted with this oppression of acceptance. Two physically imposing, male friends had nothing more to say to me than “Yes, annoying, but what can you do” after they saw that I was hindered by another man on the nude beach.
I’m glad to see counter-activities rising. Recent initiatives like ‘free the nipple’ show that women are putting this social norm up for debate and no longer accept this imbalance between man and woman. The nude beach is a perfect place for this.
Regaining public space
Ine ter Berg ©
I want to call upon women to physically go against this imbalance and not to let themselves be discouraged to go to a nude beach or nude resort when they feel like it. By simply being there they can regain this public space.
Despite the ‘inconveniences’ I described earlier, nude recreation is the best thing. Nothing is better than to go into the water in your bare butt and come out of the water without a wet cloth (swimsuit) around you. Grab this winter period to dream of this prospect and pick a nice spot to go to. And when you go to a beach or a lake, take your (male) friends with you. Inequality is best battled when you do it with a group.
And be honest, what’s better than taking on equality while you get a tanline free tan?