Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Hannah Davis (who has been discussed here by my collegue Charlotte Allen) is apparently not content to shock Americans by so fully sharing her “plus size” — read healthy-looking — figure. No, she’s decided to take on critics of her lascivious Sports Illustrated cover shot, in which she’s removing her bikini bottom. Davis charges that her critics are not feminists:
"There’s controversy every year, so I think it’s kind of just silly that they’re making it out to be the big thing; I mean it’s the swimsuit issue,’ Davis said. ‘There are far more scandalous pictures in the magazine if you open it up. It’s a girl in a bikini, and I think it’s empowering; I’ve been hearing it’s degrading. I think the people who are saying that aren’t feminists, because I think when you’re a woman and you look at that picture and if you overanalyze it as anything more than just a full picture, it’s just silly to me.’
Now, it may be that Davis’ critics are not feminists. But how is she defining feminism?
Davis’ definition seems to equate feminism and women’s empowerment with women’s near nudity and the power to turn on men, virtually all of them strangers, with a provocative picture. Is this what American women sacrificed for a century ago? Is this what Ayaan Hirsi Ali would recognize as the vital work of the feminist movement? Clearly not.
No one should be surprised that a woman motivated to pose for Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue finds the idea of flaunting her figure appealing — but a feminist act? Really?
A psychology professor at Princeton conducted a study several years ago that demonstrated that “in men, the brain areas associated with handling tools and the intention to perform actions light up when viewing images of women in bikinis.” In other words, bikini-clad women prompt men to literally objectify, and dehumanize, them.
Hannah Davis may want to think this through. I, for one, would rather be respected for my mind and character than reduced to one raunchy photo.