I’ve been seeing this quote floating around Tumblr. It caused some red flags the first time I saw it but I decided to ignore it because I figured eh, there are more important things to focus on. But I have now seen it reblogged by a lot of the people I follow. People I like. People who are awesome, feminist, funny Tumblr people. I do not fault them. This quote, after all, is kind of innocuous. It is very, very sweet. In a world full of so much mean-spirited broken shit, who doesn’t want to believe that humanity has a sweet side once in a while? I get it. I really do. But once you start noticing the subtle ways that things like sexism and racism and homophobia and slut shaming fuck up everyone’s lives, you can not notice it. You can’t stop. Though this quote seems harmless, so often in this day it is the seemingly harmless things that continue to perpetuate our current social systems.
So here is the quote:
“Your naked body should only belong to those who fall in love with your naked soul.” –Charlie Chaplin, in a letter to his daughter, Geraldine.
See, very sweet. A father writing to his daughter wishing the best for her. A man that we have all heard of. One who has a storied place in the history of film and entertainment. It fits with the Tumblr aesthetic I have come to know. Now, I couldn’t find any verification that Charlie Chaplin actually said this. For our purposes, let’s assume he did. Charlie Chaplin was born in 1889 and died in 1977. Even if he wrote this letter towards the end of his life things have changed dramatically, for women in particular, since then. Yet this quote has acquired almost 200,000 notes on Tumblr.
When I was younger and first learned about sexism and the patriarchy along with the vastness that is rape culture and the ways it affects our lives, one of my teachers pointed out a distinction. Sexism does not always look the same. The kind we are more attuned to, which is more obvious, this he called “hostile sexism.” This includes things like cat-calling, street harassment, violence against women, rape, sexist jokes, etc. There is another other, more subtle kind though, which he called “benevolent sexism.” Now, this kind can also be obvious. For example telling a woman she cannot perform a task due to her inherent weakness. However, more often this kind of sexism manifests in ways that we tend to ignore. It puts women up on a pedestal. It is harder to point out and fight because many see it as good for women, as them gaining something by it. “But it’s nice to get free drinks. It’s just nice to have a man hold the door open. Etc.” Sure, on a surface level these things, like this quote, seem nice.
But if you unpack them, if you break them down, these little actions are contributing to the idea that women cannot take care of themselves. That they are less than. For me, this quote ultimately does the same thing. What I read when I looked at this quote was. “You do not get to decide who should see your naked body, but rather you should follow this impossible guideline that I have decided for you.” What if I want to have sex on a first date? What if I want to be an art model? What if I don’t want to subscribe to this ideal that only romantic love can possibly facilitate fulfilling sex for women? What if I am more comfortable showing someone my naked body than showing them my naked soul? What if I just want to have sex or even just lay next to someone else naked? What about that? This quote shames all of those choices and more. I own my body. I, and I alone, should be in charge of what I do with it.
On another level, quotes like this help to maintain the status-quo, which is that a woman’s value is inextricably tied to how many people she has had sex with in a way that a man’s value is not. So, sorry, Charlie Chaplin, but I don’t think this quote is sweet and I don’t think it’s cute.
Meredith is a writer, artist, grad student, and seamstress living in northeast. While sometimes called a “feminist killjoy” she wears this label proudly and tries to help others gain awareness while continuing to become more aware herself.