For those who don’t know, there is a British eccentric currently fighting for his right to go on long walks through the countryside without any clothes on. I’m still not 100% sure exactly what I think about it all, but a couple of days ago I wrote down a few thoughts I had about it and decided to publish them in the form of an open letter to the eccentric in question.
Dear Mr Rambler,
I would like to begin by praising your efforts to destigmatise nudity in our society. There is still a certain sense of Victorian-esque fear when it comes to the naked form, which can be problematic in forging positive relationships with our bodies. But perhaps that is the legacy of living in such a mild climate- protection from the elements was always going to be a necessity.
However, I do not think I can fully support your right to ramble naked. Before I get into why I am uncomfortable with this, I would like to state, for the record, that this is in no way an attack on you or your motives for wanting to walk in the nude. I am sure you are a lovely chap who wouldn’t dream of hurting a fly.
Sadly, though, there are a few men out there who are not as pleasant. There are men who seek to use society’s fear of nudity to intimidate and harass women. This is not uncommon- it’s likely that at least one woman you know will have a story about such an occasion. Whether it is someone ‘discreetly’ opening their trousers on the tube and giving it a good tug, or a bloke jumping out of a bush starkers in order to scare strange women. In my (limited) experience, this seemed to occur most often when we were teenagers.
And women are justified in their fear- sexual violence is common, and over 100,000 women are raped each year in the UK. Women are taught to be vigilant in avoiding such violence- which is an ineffective method of preventing rape, but nonetheless one that dominates policy. Such a strong message breeds this fear.
There are some bad men in this world who get off on scaring women. It makes them feel powerful and superior, and it can make women feel powerless and inferior. Now obviously I do not consider you to be one of those men. I believe that you are likely a kindly sort of fella who just enjoys walking around as God intended, being at one with nature and what all.
But not everybody is going to know that. You are a stranger to most. And when they come across a nude man in a place they may not expect, you may inadvertently scare them. You may make them feel powerless and threatened. That person has no way of knowing what your intentions are. And your right to be naked does not trump their right not to feel threatened.
I would very much like to live in a world where you are able to walk around in your birthday suit without scaring anyone. But first of all we need to create a world where other’s don’t intimidate and harass women. Where women feel safe. Where women would not even question a man’s intentions when she sees him wandering around starkers. Sadly I think that world may be a long way off.
My current thinking is that the best case scenario would be for him to win the case, and for the rambler’s fame to become so huge that people would recognise him and what he is doing and why immediately. But I’d quite like to hear what the rest of you think.