Editor's note: This article is intended to spark debate. Please email comments to the author, Jan Braswell, at email@example.com.
Some AANR clubs, as a matter of policy, limit the single men they allow as members or visitors in proportion to the number of single women. For the most part, we use this policy of gender balancing because we anticipate that "too many" single men might change the character of family clubs or be overwhelming to the "too few" single women who join. Such policies attempt to be fair, gender-neutral and effective. But the result is not. Too many men are being tipped off the scales unjustly. Too many women are still reluctant to join.
Gender balancing, though well-intended, is a sign of gender prejudice to the detriment of men, and not truly to the benefit of the women it strives to protect from sexual harassment. It is true that most acts of sexual aggression are perpetrated by men, but it is not true that most men are aggressors. Yet because some of us have been victims of the minority who are, we have incorporated a presumption of guilt into our club policies. This does great damage to innocent men and no great service to anxious women.
Victimized women and men, and those who love them, will certainly react emotionally to sexual aggression. But we must temper emotion with reason, balance traumatic reaction with considered response. It is necessary to our own healing to rid ourselves of unfounded fears. And we must not perpetuate a vicious circle, as we may do with policies that make trust and acceptance seem unnatural.
Men have done well to listen with care to the fears and concerns of women. They work on the street as police officers, in the courts as lawyers, as legislators, therapists, writers, and so forth, in support of women's issues. But communication has been unbalanced. Let us learn from their good example and listen, with equal care, to their dismay over being treated unfairly. As AANR members, we pride ourselves on being especially sociable, communicative, and thoughtful. But we fall short if we remain clothed in unexamined assumptions, such as those underlying gender balancing.
All of us have heard about or encountered problems caused by the occasional disruptive visitor. These incidents are memorable but not so frequent or unmanageable as to require more than normal caution and screening. Such isolated events are not enough to justify exclusion of men in general, especially since some of these disruptive visitors are women. Our primary justification concerns the skewed male-female ratio of willing newcomers.
Mainstream single women are hesitant about our lifestyle, whereas mainstream single men are not. Why? Because: (1) both link nudity with sex since, for them, they usually occur together; and (2) males and females of all species have different biologically-based sexual imperatives. Balancing by the numbers prevents the "assertive" male from having a particular advantage over the "reticent" female. For this reason, preserving a tolerable ratio seems desirable, while we encourage more single women to join our clubs.
But consider these four points against gender balancing:
Furthermore, gender balancing has only one purported direct beneficiary, single women. A pro-male stance can accommodate all of the members we are blessed with now, those we stand to lose, and potential members on the outside looking in.
Think of our established club members, especially couples, who are eager to uphold and contribute to a rewarding and progressive lifestyle. Consider that the predators, in whose honor we erect protective and exclusionary fortresses, might win in absentia: If we continue to let that pesky, perverted minority stay in the limelight, we simply reinforce antagonism between the sexes. This antagonism is more regressive than progressive. It is certainly not rewarding.
Think also of the brothers and sons who grow up with us, but leave when they become adult singles and are no longer welcome. Our family clubs have abandoned them, along with their divorced or widowed fathers, uncles and grandfathers. If we don't trust them, they and their female companions will find each other elsewhere. If we don't change our policies, we can hope they come back after they are "safely" married. But we can't really blame them if they don't.
And then think of the interested, mainstream singles who will indeed associate nudity with sexuality because of their mainstream experiences. We know they will only really understand otherwise after they have a different kind of experience with us. We also know they are interested in building supportive relationships with each other. AANR clubs are uniquely qualified to share the message that our sexual roles are complementary. This is a message mainstream single men and women are ready for. We should be sharing this message widely. We can, if we simply reach out to do so.
Women need better reasons to join than those we now publicize. We tell men and women that nudity is neutral as regards sexuality. But a neutral message has insufficient appeal. We need more positive messages, and fewer negative ones, about our relationships.
What may well appeal to most single women is the hope of finding exactly the kind of single man they most want to meet. If there were plenty of single men at AANR clubs, they may give up their health club memberships and come knocking on our gates. If we let the balance tip in the men's favor, and publicize how special they are, the women might be more likely to come.
We still need to keep our eyes on the scale until we find a better way. But it might well be time to loosen our hold on that scale a bit. If we can develop appropriate methods to overcome discrimination and exclusion, we may actually make some real progress toward a more equitable solution to the problem that gender balancing solves quite imperfectly.
A method worth contemplating is to encourage a significant number of the larger clubs to conduct orientation workshops to "initiate" all of their newcomers, families and couples as well as singles. Some clubs, such as Lupin and Kaniksu, have developed such workshops. AANR should actively support and assist these and similar efforts.
A vital message to be conveyed in these workshops is that neither men nor women need be defensive. Both heterosexual and homosexual couples will no doubt be pleased with the relationship focus. Children can certainly benefit when they learn how to communicate with non-nudist friends. Perhaps established members would enjoy participating with prospective members as the program matures.
All clubs should be more than willing to welcome traveling or relocated "leading-edge" AANR workshop graduates, regardless of gender or couple status. Some clubs are perhaps too small to host their own workshops. But if their owners and managers attend workshops at other clubs, they will be better prepared to help their members make a transition. Once they see the possibilities for themselves, more deserving, creative and hard-working men will be able to make the contributions they are so willing and able to provide. More women, also enlightened as to the possibilities, will be joining and contributing as well.
We can publicize these workshops in mainstream women's groups, both professional and therapeutic -- with health professionals and in crisis clinics, for instance. Are we missing an opportunity to meet a mainstream need that serves our own as well?
While keeping our eyes locked so rigidly on the gender balancing scale, we have lost sight of other weighty issues, such as misconceptions about men, and the suspicion, discrimination and exclusion these misconceptions breed. The alternative is to refocus on the naturally balanced and complementary views of both genders, to everyone's benefit.
Jan Braswell and her husband Chuck are members of Sandpipers Holiday Park in Texas. Jan gave her reasons for writing this article:
This was written in response to, and with admiration for, the many single nudist men who retain their self-respect and respect for women despite being outcast. My hat's off to them, along with the rest of my clothes.
Copyright 1996 by Janet K. Braswell