The Inked Feminist: Body Mods and the Ownership of Self

While I was at work the other day, a customer commented to their companion that I have several tattoos. This isn’t something particularly surprising to hear someone note, and I’m not bothered by it on its own merits. Still, there’s something disconcerting about the way a tattooed woman is treated, versus a tattooed man.

First, there is simply the fact that being “brazenly ogled” as my one friend put it is, in and of itself, a different experience for a woman than it is for a man. Women’s bodies are under constant scrutiny that men’s bodies aren’t forced to endure, and thus it gives the exaggerated scrutiny of visible ink a more sinister undertone. If an inch of tattoo peeks out from under our clothing, we’re subjected to judgments of how “unladylike” it is to have a tattoo in such a private area. Yet, this does not stop onlookers from craning their necks to see under our skirts, beyond our blouses, and around all folds of clothing to try and sneak more of a peek than we initially allow. And if we have a tattoo that is easily visible in modest clothing, we are judged as “trashy” for having such visible ink.

Then we’re forced to encounter the double-standard of how if we got the tattoo, we should expect people to want to see all of it. This carries the same logical weight as, “If she didn’t want men to stare, she wouldn’t wear low-cut shirts.” Our bodies immediately become the property of the public, because we are no longer human beings, but rather objects there for the entertainment of our audience. It does not matter that we desired to modify them for our own personal reasons; all that matters is the resultant objectifying desire to gain access to anything a complete stranger may wish to view. Perhaps tattooed men suffer the same experience, but they aren’t also forced to deal with it simply by virtue of being male. For women, it’s just yet another excuse piled atop the many that tell us why our bodies are not our own to do with as we please.

Tattooed women also face prejudice regarding how our desire to modify our bodies reflects on our abilities to fill stereotypically female roles. By taking ownership of our own bodies, we are displaying the “masculine” qualities of confidence and personal responsibility, and thus are inherently failing at femininity. I have been accused of not being “wife material” because of my choices in bodily decoration. The questions here are both, “How could tattoos possibly affect your ability to be a spouse?” and, “Why the hell should women be expected to be ‘wife material’ in the first place?” It’s all part of the heteronormative social structure that tells women our strongest desire should be to find a male partner, and latch onto him for life. It’s assumed that the opinions of males on what makes females attractive should greatly influence our decisions, and for what reason? Not all women desire any sort of relationship with men, and of those who do, not all of them wish to be wives, or fit into a stereotypical “wifely” role. To assume otherwise is insulting, homophobic, and anti-feminist.

Women are further judged not only for the tattoos they get, but for their very location. The infamous “tramp stamp” is a perfect example: It’s assumed that a woman with such a tattoo is using it to indicate her promiscuity. This is ridiculous not only because there is no legitimate link between tattoo placement and sexuality, but because there is not a damn thing wrong with a woman desiring sex. It’s slut-shaming nonsense that men are never subjected to. Further examples can be found in what is deemed “inappropriate placement” for tattoos on women, almost always based on how it reflects on her inherent “classiness.” Society would still have us believe that women must meet a certain criteria for social acceptance, and if we are at all “tacky,” “trashy,” or “slutty,” we’re disregarded as undeserving of respect. Perhaps a man with a facial tattoo will receive similar treatment, but can the same be said of a thigh tattoo? A chestpiece? No, because these are not inherently sexualized places on the male form, whereas they are on a woman. We are expected to keep certain standards of beauty, particularly when it concerns those body parts which are most prized as male favorites.

A key point in the argument against tattooed women is simply the fact that we run against the mainstream ideal of female beauty. Our culture still implies that women must be pure to be truly beautiful (or even socially acceptable, and certainly to be worthy of being dubbed “good wife material”), and this means untainted flesh, pure as the virgin snow. It’s no longer just a question of who will buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, it’s a question of who will buy the cow when she’s already branded herself. (How dare that brazen bovine take ownership of her own body?) And we must put a premium on our ability to catch and keep a (male) mate, because otherwise, how will we survive in this world, all alone and…female?


About bunnika

shout at the brick wall; if it doesn't hear you, shout louder
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6 Responses to The Inked Feminist: Body Mods and the Ownership of Self

  1. Pingback: Feminism and Kim Kardashian

  2. zimpeterw says:

    I appreciate your thoughts on women’s tattoos. I can understand why women with tattoos feel they are judged by different criteria to men with tattoos. For me – an old baby boomer male without any tattoos or any adornments except a wristwatch, I just do not like big tattoos whether they are on male or female skins.

    Tattoos do not suggest to me that their owners are trashy or anything else, I just do not feel they add to a person’s natural charm and beauty / good looks.

    Contrarily, I have seen some smaller tattoos on women of all ages that add to their mystique.

    • bunnika says:

      A really large part of this seems to be lost on you, so let me clarify:

      The idea that women have some inherent “mystique” that can be “added to” by only small (read: dainty, feminine) modifications in misogynistic. Implying that being alluring men like yourself is an inherently good thing is misogynistic and heterosexist. A man (you) telling a heavily tattooed woman (me) your negative opinions on my body modifications and those like mine is a demonstration of your male privilege, and misogynistic. Saying you understand why women “feel” as if they are judged differently than men (hint: it’s not a “feeling,” it’s a fact) is placating, is minimalizing of our marginalization, is misogynistic.

      I was raised by a pair of baby boomers who don’t even have so much as the wristwatch, so I get where you’re coming from, but that doesn’t make that place any less prejudiced. It is not your place to tell women what adds to or detracts from your specific idea of femininity and attractiveness. For example, what did you hope to accomplish here? Making sure I know you don’t think I’m attractive? Making sure other women like me who read this will know that? What good does it do? What on earth can you hope to accomplish by telling women your standards for their bodies? Nothing good. Nothing at all good can ever come of that sort of behavior, that sort of commentary. Women are not obligated to design their bodies to best meet arbitrary standards of female attractiveness, that is the entire point of this post, and you glossed right on by it, riding a wave of entitlement and privilege.

      Your opinions on women’s bodies don’t matter, and they should stay right in between your ears. If you don’t find certain modifications attractive, don’t seek romantic or sexual relationships with women who have them. But do not think it is your place to publicly state those personal opinions, as if they deserve consideration next to those of the women choosing to modify or not modify our bodies as we please. These public declarations of what men think women should look like are exactly what created and support the culture of man-pleasing that female appearance and self-esteem is socially rooted in. It’s misogynistic, and it needs to stop.

  3. zimpeterw says:

    As much as your point “may have been lost on me” so has mine been lost on you, specifically
    “Tattoos do not suggest to me that their owners are trashy or anything else, I just do not feel they add to a person’s natural charm and beauty / good looks”

    So here are a couple more points.

    1) Most of what was in you original post is your opinion, you are quite entitled to it as I am to mine. Just as you may not like guns for instance, or certain types of art or music, I do not like large tattoos on either male or female bodies.

    2) If you take offence at comments which are merely and politely expressing an opinion, then don’t allow comments on your blog. I try to support other bloggers by leaving comments and engaging in debate.

    3) I am not sure what the purpose of your blog is, that is entirely your business, however most bloggers like traffic and increasing numbers of visitors, comments and debate are a good way to achieve this.

    4) It seems we are poles apart on most things, I have no problem with that, I came to your blog from a link in another blog, I read your original post with interest if not full agreement, that’s life.

    5) It seems you might be a bit prickly about receiving compliments from an old male with whom you disagree, however I will take the risk and end by saying that as much as I might not agree with your opinions, I do appreciate the clear and forceful way you write about them.

    • bunnika says:

      Way to demonstrate that my response was just as lost on you as the OP was.

      1) You are welcome to your opinion, as I specifically said; I just said that stating that opinion is misogynistic, and explained why it is. Freedom of opinion or speech isn’t freedom from criticism, and it certainly isn’t freedom to be a bigot.

      2) If you can’t handle having your male privilege challenged, don’t be a misogynist on a feminist blog. I try to support equality by not letting privilege go unchallenged in my comments sections.

      3) The purpose of my blog is all over every single page (up there on your right, if you’re having trouble locating it), as is the purpose of each individual post. This is seriously the most ridiculous thing to feign ignorance about, I’m sort of stunned.

      4) …what is the point here? You commented with privilege and prejudice, I replied by pointing it out. It’s the point of this blog, again, right up there for you to read. Be privileged to a minority whose chosen to dedicate a chunk of her life to challenging privilege, and you’re going to get your privilege challenged. That’s life. I realize that most of your life is spent without people calling you on your bigotry, but that won’t happen here. Don’t like it, go to some other part of “life.” This blog is not your life, it’s my blog, and I’ll run it how I see fit.

      5) “Prickly” is an interesting term to use in gaslighting a woman, but it won’t impact how I respond to you, or others like you (and neither will your age; check out some of the arguments I’ve had with men younger than me on here, they can be far “pricklier”). I’m not “prickly,” I’m pissed, fed up, and speaking back against the people privileged over me who come into my space, wave their privilege around, then act like I’m the unreasonable one when I call them out. Tone argument me to death, it doesn’t matter. You are being a misogynist. Do it on my blog, and I’ll put the stamp right on your digital forehead.

  4. Thanks for this post! Adding it to my Feminist Media Round Up that is focusing on my Marked Mama Series!

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