• Nathan Riley, MD

Truth Is Beauty

Updated: Jul 20, 2019

Truth is Beauty, sculpture by Marco Cochrane, on display in the Black Rock Desert

What if women could smile at strangers without eliciting a pick-up line? What if women could wear whatever they wanted? What if a woman could comfortably stand in a crowded room without fear of unwanted groping? What if women could offer hugs to others in need without worrying that the recipient might misconstrue her intentions? What if women could bend down or reach high without worrying about revealing surreptitious skin? What if women could walk home alone? What if women could dance like nobody’s watching? What if we celebrated women who enjoyed sex? What if celebrated women who didn’t enjoy sex? What if women were empowered to give birth — rather than to fear it? What if we trusted a woman’s intuition? What if coercion towards interventions in birth was a thing of the past? What if we didn’t have to require hospital policies to ensure that women weren’t unfairly consenting to sterilization procedures? What if we believed victims of sexual assault? What rape kits were used judiciously? What if women didn’t feel compelled to request a female doctor? What if we, as a society, decided that sexual assault was unacceptable and assigned punishment accordingly? What if women were valued more for their achievements than their natural assets? What if women were in charge? What if women had autonomy over their own bodies? What if no meant no? What if women felt empowered to speak up? What if women could breastfeed in public? What if we got over nipples altogether? What if women weren’t felt to feel shame or unclean once per month? What if women could take rides from strangers? What if women didn’t feel that platonic friendships with men weren’t possible? What if women could feel sexy and uninhibited? What if we saw extraordinary value in femininity? What is vulnerability were a virtue? What if feminism never had to become a thing?

“What would the world be like if women were safe?” — this is the question posed by Marco Cochrane, the sculptor responsible for this and two other sculptures like it. They were displayed at Burning Man in 2010 and 2011, with the third anticipated in 2019.

These many “what-ifs” are all items discussed between me and my wife at some point in our nearly twenty years together. After our first experience at Burning Man, she shared that “has never felt so safe in her life”, this despite the festival’s reputation for attracting drugs, sex, alcohol, flame-throwing art displays, and a core principle of radical self-expression. You’ll find a menagerie of nude cyclists, kink and self-pleasure workshops, an Orgy Dome, a group shower complete with essential oils and an opportunity to dance yourself dry, and more exposed nipples and penises than you can shake a big, rubber dildo at, yet it’s a safe space due to a collective mindset around consent and respect.

What would the world be like if women were safe? The world would be a lot like Burning Man, where untoward comments or physical touch outside of the parameters of consent are simply not accepted and thus not a problem. It‘s a community that prioritizes autonomy and respect, that believes assailants, and that encourages self-expression and equality without fear of violence or shame. It’s also a community where women are valued for their talents and their authentic voice as well as their beauty, where women are empowered to speak with their authentic voice, to deny unwanted attention and to consent to long overdo compassion or intimate touch.

If our nation led with an empowering embrace of the feminine, we wouldn’t be living in a world where women marched for the right to pursue abortion, to obtain contraception, to captain their own ship while giving birth, and to be heard. Women could walk and dance freely, arching their backs as in a lover’s embrace, opening their hearts, and bettering our world.

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