Bodies. Flesh burning on Mont Royal street, Mont Royal Park and Parc la Fontaine. It’s a special summer-time Montreal dish, served up all over the Plateau: sun-roasted ass cheeks. Is this a sixties renaissance? Free love, no war?
Ursula le Guin writes in her novel, The Dispossessed, of two worlds: one is anarchist, the other hierarchical and capitalist. In one of these worlds, women are hairless and naked, highly sexualized and subservient. That's capitalism, baby. In Orwell's 1984, a novel unashamedly based on communism, women are sexless, un-feminized. So, herein lies the irony: has women’s nakedness made us more free?
Montreal is no Rio de Janeiro; still, some of us stumble into this urban playground surprised that it ain't nothing to walk around in your bra and undies. I’ve taken advantage of the fact I can wear a black bra and a see-through white shirt and be respectable. I like that women can wear or not wear what they want and that that still doesn't make it ok for unwanted, un-consented-to overtures. I take comfort in a society like that.
And yet, there’s an undeniable connection between women’s public nakedness and capitalism. Le Guin was writing in the seventies, and she understood something I think most of us are still trying to grasp. I used to think that she got the whole look wrong: baldness is not sexy, it's long hair that's all girly and glam. Except I was too literal; I get it now: every other kind of hair that is not on your female skull is not ok. As women become less hairy and more naked, they become more and more the object, like the faceless, bald mannequins in the window (So maybe baldness is coming too...?)
Men are the window shopper, the spectators. Often, I’ll jealously eye men biking down St.Urbain wearing tee shirts and jeans.No skirts or styles, just plain. Recently Michelle Obama complained that her husband wore the same tux to seven state dinners and nobody noticed. Yet every single one of her outfits was scrutinized to the hairpin. Amal Clooney makes a speech at the UN about how to deal with ISIS in international law. The media reports on her style and baby bump.
What I really wonder is if and when all this flesh will finally desensitizes us. I have a vision of Montreal women walking Mont Royal in a hundred years where daring and risqué is an outfit that covers her from neck to toe. I imagine the outfit will be tight - we’re not talking Burqua - and she will be wearing heels so high, she can barely walk - just like a girl I watched on Sherbrooke Street last week. I imagine there will come a time of flesh fatigue, but even that won't end the connection between women’s bodies and capitalism. Somehow, women's bodies, these bones stacked on bones, cushioned by increasingly small amounts of flesh, will continue to be used to sell, sell, sell on Saint Catherine Street and on Mont Royal.