Monday, May 23, 2011

The Tattoo Paper!

So below is the tattoo paper.  For those who are not Jane - I'm posting it here because many people who took my survey expressed interest in reading the final product.  It's really long, about 18 pages, so I've also made PDFs of it and the appendix (which contains surveys in full which I quoted) for easier reading.  PDFs can be downloaded here (paper) and here (appendix).  Enjoy?  Also, I have a Creative Commons license on this blog, so please do not take my work without crediting me?  Thank you!
“You Were So Pretty Before”:
Gender and its Implications within Modern American Tattoo Culture
Why do girls wanna pierce their nose,
And walk around in torn pantyhose, oh yeah.[1]

            About once a week I receive a text message from my best friend, who is currently living in Atlantic City, New Jersey, recounting the story of how a complete stranger has come up to her in a public place and stroked her skin or attempted to move a part of her clothing.  Christina often sounds perturbed or simply pissed off, which comes across clearly in her wording.  Every time, I am shocked.  Why do people think they have the right to touch her so intimately in public?  The reader at this point might be questioning what could be so special about her that she attracts all of this attention from strangers.  Simply put, my best friend is heavily tattooed.  She has spent eleven years, thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours covering her skin in meaningful and colorful tattoos.  Though nearly every part of her body has at least one tattoo, the most visible pieces during most months are her chest piece and her full sleeve – tattoo lingo for a piece which covers the entire arm.  When people touch her, they seek to stroke her tattoos and see more of them:
I get touched in public by strangers all the time.  If I’m wearing long sleeves they will come up to me and just pull up the sleeves to get a better look.  If I’m wearing short sleeves, they will grab my arm and twist it around to take everything in.  Most of them seem to only be interested in my tattoos personally and not the tattooing process.  Basically they want to know, “Oh, how much did that cost?” or “What made you decide to get that?”[2]

Having witnessed some of these moments, I have always found it shocking how unabashedly strangers approached her and touched her.  While she has always been willing to speak to others about her tattoos – “I’m a fairly reasonable person and I have no problem discussing my tattoos or showing them off”[3] – the act of touching without permission particularly disturbs her. 
Having noticed this for years, it really hit home when I began getting my own tattoos.  Several months ago, while at a gathering at a different college, I had my first experience with personal space invasion due to tattoos.  A girl who I had just met came up behind me and poked a tattoo located on my upper back.  Though I did not particularly mind the action in the moment, I could not help but think about all of the times Christina had experienced this.  I began talking about this issue with other tattooed friends.  I slowly came to the realization that most of the time, it was only my female friends who had experienced this inappropriate touching. 
When talking about tattoo culture in the United States, it has personally become difficult for me not to think about gender and its role in the culture.  Why is it so astounding for society to witness a tattooed woman in this supposedly modern day and age?  Then there are other instances of touching without permission – for instance, pregnant women’s stomachs – which are female centered.  What is it about the female body in the public arena which presents the opportunity for the invasion of privacy and personal space?  Is this only an occurrence for women who have somehow modified their bodies, naturally or artificially?  Or is it a systematic problem, a demonstration of the way American society views women and their bodies?
I set out to explore this problem in two directions: First, I wanted to examine the history of tattooing in America and the involvement of women within that culture.  Second, I wanted to conduct a survey which would determine if this experience was common for all women, all people, or just an event that occurred sporadically within my friends group.  The first study launched an analysis of the role of the female body within modern American society while the second resulted in a very surprising outcome.
While most histories of tattooing begin in South Asian cultures, this essay will assume that most readers understand that tattooing and other forms of body modification such as piercing have been a staple of many cultures dating back to ancient times.  The modern prominence of tattooing within the United States and other western cultures seeks further explanation.  The presence of tattooing within western cultures can most notably be tied back to eighteenth-century England, where Captain James Cook reported on the practice of tattooing after his journey to Polynesia.[4]  Even before Cook’s travels, tattooed persons could be witnessed in European fairgrounds, marketed as “‘savages’ who had been captured at the edges of the world.”[5]  The recognition of tattooing in English culture allowed for its transition into western culture.  Though the Victorian era initially linked tattoos to crime and the working class[6], the close of the nineteenth-century saw a change within the medical profession which recognized “sailors, soldiers and (occasionally) criminals”[7] as those most likely to be tattooed.  This vision of tattooing would survive well into the twentieth century, largely excluding women because of their inability to enter the ranks of military institutions.  Consequently, while tattooing became more common among men, tattooed women were kept on the outskirts and labeled as rare and odd. 
In the United States, tattooing attracted prominence through the growth of professional tattooists.[8]    Women often entered the realm of tattooing through their relationships with tattoo artists.  For example, Gus Wagner tattooed his wife Maude in Los Angeles in 1906.  After he completed tattooing her entire body, the pair traveled across America “exhibiting themselves as tattooed attractions in circuses and carnivals.”[9]  Another performer, Artoria Gibbons, got her first tattoo at fourteen while on a visit to the carnival.  She soon after married the tattooist, Charles ‘Red’ Gibbons.  She toured with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus until the death of her husband.[10]  These women were often regarded with respect because of the sheer amount of tattoos they possessed.  Judy Aurre stated that Betty Broadbent, another heavily tattooed woman, had a “‘respectable act, not like those carnival floozies with one or two tattoos who would bump and grind.’”[11]  The more tattooed women in the entertainment business were, the more respect they received – they were viewed as having demonstrated a dedication to the art that exited the realm of sexuality and deviance. 
In the post-World War II era, tattooing was more than ever before associated with the military.  Soldiers and sailors returned from the war with patriotic and personal tattoos.  While some men were pressured into getting their tattoos removed, others held pride in them – “ the tattoo was ‘a form of medal (or maybe, wound), a sign that they had served their country in its time of need.’”[12]  This view of tattooing connected the act to pride, patriotism, and physical strength – realms that in the mid-twentieth century were not accessible to most women.  However, the United States army did not have a generally positive view of the practice, associating it with its so-called primitive roots in the South Pacific.  The military challenged tattoos and stigmatized them by prosecuting soldiers who had them on the grounds that the men might miss time on active duty due to infection.[13]  The post-war society of nuclear family and traditional values left tattooing to be “identified primarily with rebelliousness among adolescents and young adults.  Tattoos were considered ‘lower class’ and deviant, associated with blue-collar workers, drunks, hot rods, motorcycle clubs and street gangs.”[14]  With this switch from tattoo popularity being widespread throughout the United States because of prominence among the military to a view of tattooing as a deviant and low act, it was no longer acceptable for middle-class American to participate in the culture.  Women were at the center of this normativity – as wives and mothers who had the responsibility of representing the checkpoint for all-American values.  Tattooing was an especially egregious act for them. 
During the social revolutions of the 1960s, the public image of tattooing did not improve.[15]  However, change within the art form did come from within.  Artists entering tattooing during the 1960s came from an art school background and worked with patrons on custom works, leaving behind the pre-made ‘flash’ artwork that had been in use for decades.[16]  These younger artists, such as Ed Hardy, began to demand changes in tattoo practices that sought to “establish uniform ethical and hygienic standards” which would challenge restrictive laws placed on tattooing throughout the first half of the twentieth-century.[17]  Conventions, magazines, and books began to emerge on tattooing.[18]  In the decades to follow, tattooing would have the opportunity to rise to the level of a genuine art form within the consciousness of a great number of Americans. 
            A brief history of tattooing, however, does not seem like enough to understand the gender disparity within the culture.  Yes, tattooing was originally associated with criminals and soldiers which in large part was restricted to male participation.  This image of the masculine in tattooing sets up an image of body modification which associates itself with strong and powerful – the body that can withstand tattooing is not to be threatened.  Susan Benson associates nineteenth and twentieth-century tattooing with “a defensive and bounded masculinity.”[19]  She demonstrates that the spaces in which tattooing found its footing in western culture – the army, the working class, and prisons – were “spaces where issue of personal bodily integrity and security were most problematic.”[20]  This view brings into question whether tattooing was a way in which these masculine groups could establish power over their own bodies – bodies which were being controlled by the state or the capitalist system around them – or whether tattooing marks one’s body for a lifetime as being part of systems of control.  Benson describes tattoos as “additional protective carapace to those most buffeted by the operations of power and by marginalization.”[21]  However, with this protective covering being so closely linked to these systems of control, how could those with permanent marks of control move outside of these systems?  These competing ideologies are still a problem within modern tattoo culture, with media representations of tattooed people still profoundly relying on an aspect of criminality and control while individuals with tattoos often identify tattoos with the ability to control one’s own body and life.  What do these issues of control mean for the women who entered the culture early on and what does it mean for tattooed women today?  What does the tattoo mean to the female body?
            An exploration of the female body within tattoo culture can easily be compared the place of other body modifications within the feminine realm.  As Anne Bolin says, “The history of women’s bodies in the United States is indeed a history of beauty.”[22]  While a large part of American society still finds it strange for a woman to be heavily tattooed, it is more acceptable for a woman to have invasive surgery in order to fit a very narrow view of ideal feminine presentation.  The female body has a different value within society than the male one.  While the male is expected to be strong and powerful, the female is expected to be submissive and coy: “Culture’s ideal for the American woman incorporates two essential attributes that buttress the beauty norms: youth and femininity…Cultivating childlike qualities and images as a beauty strategy undermines women’s power and reinforces the social dominance of males.”[23]  However, these images of youth and beauty are not associated with tattooing.  When women participate in tattoo culture, they are going against the ideals of society, setting themselves aside from the ‘normal.’  This process of permanently marking oneself as different, as outside of society, creates a body which is clearly labeled as different.  But does being on the outside, being different, allow others to attempt to possess said body? 
Before I can go any further, I must explain the survey.  It sounds very official when I speak about it now, like it needs to be underlined or bolded or italicized or all three.  The Survey.  In reality, it is probably not as big a deal as it is in my own personal world, and the occurrences I am about to describe I can recognize are being viewed through a David Foster Wallace ‘special-for-me’ lens.  I decided I wanted to create a survey for this project because, as stated above, I did not know if invasions of private space in the tattoo community were a widespread phenomenon or were only known to the few friends I have that are heavily tattooed.  Having some sort of connection to tattoo communities in other parts of the country (and the world) seemed to be most easily achieved by finding people through the internet.  I wrote the survey questions up in the early afternoon of Saturday, May 7th, 2011 and posted it on my personal blog, expecting maybe a few dozen replies.[24]  Seeking a larger sample size of heavily tattooed people than my own group of followers, I reached out to a popular blog dedicated to posting photographs of tattoos submitted by its followers.  To my amazement, the blog almost immediately posted my request and the amount of replies to my survey increased dramatically.  I did not realize how much people wanted to talk about their tattoos and experiences.  Within an hour of this particular blog posting the survey, I had over 300 responses from a wide range of people.[25]  Within three hours, there were over 1,000 replies and the website I was using had cut me off from seeing more than the first 100.  I requested that survey answers be submitted directly to my personal blog, and after that I received over 500 replies which I could easily access.  The combined number of responses I received from the survey site and on my personal blog to date is over 1800.[26]
To understand the role of tattoos in modern culture, considering Bolin’s view of women and beauty becomes very important.  Tattoos seem to reflect the human aspiration to seek out and possess beauty.  Humans build museums, spend fortunes, and fight wars to own and display what they deem beautiful.  Those who view tattoos as artwork often view their bodies as blank canvases upon which art can be displayed and often directly credit their tattooist as an artist.  Western forms of tattoos especially “literalize this vision of the body as a surface or ground onto which patterns of significance can be inscribed.”[27]  Tattoos are significant to many of the survey takers, echoing ideas of writing onto the body what the mind may forget.  Echoing the sentiments of tattoos as art and possession, AJ wrote: “I wanted to get a tattoo because it is a piece of art I will always have with me.”[28]  This physical appropriation of art and memory onto the human form reflects itself in the desire of others to possess the modified body.  An overwhelming amount of survey responders could pinpoint a time at which they had been touched by another person seeking to admire their tattoos, either with or without permission.  This act of touch maps out well over an attempt at possession and is reminiscent of what Bolin describes as the contrast between “restraint and beauty” in the female underwriting “the male privilege to ‘look.’”[29]  This binary of the female object and male observer translates into the relationship between the tattooed and the spectator.  Within the realm of tattooing, the role of the viewer often transcends the act implied in seeing and steps into the domain of physical touch.  
This possession is not a completely gendered act.  Several survey takers questioned the role gender played in terms of the gender identification of the strangers who touched them as well as their own gender presentation.  The perception of gender on both sides of the interaction was often questioned.  For example, Nicole assessed touching in terms of both her gender-presentation and the gender of those touching her: “Most of the time only women will find it ok to reach out and touch one of my tattoos. Probably because they feel comfortable because I'm a very feminine woman.”[30]  In contrast, Janine saw gender relations in tattooing in sexual terms: “I think that men don't touch women who are not tattooed because of fear of sexual harassment charges.”[31]  The idea that women were more comfortable touching other women because of sexual expectations presented when men touch women came across many times in survey answers.  This overstepping by the masculine also occurred frequently, with tattooed women feeling more uncomfortable when they were touched by men.  Anna describes how she felt when a man grabbed her by the waist in order to see her tattoo: “I felt powerless. So yes I think gender does matter, I am physically weaker than many guys and they probably think it is flirting, but I just get nervous. If I was a man, they wouldn't have been inclined to flirt and touch without my permission. I do not show off my tats anymore.”[32]  This feeling of loss of power upon being touched or grabbed occurs outside of tattoo culture.  It demonstrates attitudes about the role of the female body within society.  Nevertheless, the idea of impermissible touching of tattooed women – and the survey results did place women in the majority of those touched without permission – seems to work against the goals many women had for being tattooed in the first place.
Modern tattooed women often describe tattoos with a sense of empowerment.  Sitting for hours and enduring pain in order to place a mark permanently on one’s body becomes a kind of journey which results in greater sense of ownership over one’s body.  The act of tattooing allows one to participate in a form of personal branding which is permanent and dissociates oneself from the majority of other human bodies.  It places one on the outside of what is deemed normal within society.  For women, this act moves them outside of a set of normative values which society assigns to the female body.  Bolin says: “That women are the weaker sex is a central theme in the contemporary construction of the female body.  This is demonstrated in the curvaceous, rounded, soft forms that display a decided difference in visible muscle between women and men in popular media images.”[33]  Tattooing completely counters the vision of the weak female body with a mark that is culturally known to involve pain.  In addition, female bodies that are tattooed but still exhibit classic stereotypes of the feminine like the curvaceous bodies Bolin describes seem to be marked as unfit within society.  Tattooing, as a practice viewed as masculine due to its historical associations within western society, de-feminizes bodies that still seek to identity with the feminine: “I've had friends that have known me for decades tell me that I ruined my body, that it was so pretty before and now I'm not feminine because of my tattoos.” [34]  Another interviewee said: “Tattooing is supposed to be a "manly" thing so I think because I have a large tattoo and I’m a girl people think I’m ‘ruining my beautiful untouched body.’” [35]  The modification of the female body through artificial means appears to detract from the feminine, which is often associated with the natural and clean. 
However, this thinking about tattooing through its affects on outside perceptions of the female body excludes the reasons for which women choose to get tattooed.  Tattooing can be an empowering process, a declaration of self and dissociation from the outside, as previously stated.  Laura said: “I find being tattooed very empowering - it makes me feel confident about my body in a way I never was before, I’ve made it mine.”[36]  This sentiment is reiterated by Krystyne Kolorful, former Guinness world record holder for most tattooed woman.  Kolorful viewed tattooing “‘as a way of writing over the sense of physical violation’ she experienced as a result of childhood sexual abuse.”[37]  Kolorful sought out a way in which to take back control over a violated body, and the avenue of tattooing was a way to literally change the body which had been abused.  Kolorful also described the sense of social power found within the act of tattooing for women: “‘Heavily tattooed women really confront people with their independence,’ she insists.  ‘Even if you just get one, you’re doing something that is so contradictory to the morals of our society.  That’s why women like me took it to the level that we did: we wanted to make a really big statement that this is my body and I’m doing with it what I choose.’”[38]  Although Kolorful was speaking nearly twenty years ago and some of the social stigma around tattooed women has dissipated, the point she made about being able to choose the state of one’s body was repeated by many of the interviewees.  Susan Benson describes tattooing as an opportunity for control for both genders:
What is distinctive in contemporary tattoo practices is the linking of such assertions of permanence to ideas of the body as property and possession – “a statement of ownership over the flesh”, as one individual put it – indeed as the only possession of the self in a world characterized by accelerating commodification and unpredictability, “the one thing you get in a culture where you are what you do.”[39]

If tattooing is then considered to be the ultimate ability for an individual to assert power over the physical body, then women like Krystyne Kolorful have the ability to assert power in a patriarchal system which seeks to own and dominate the female body.  Kolorful was able to write over the violation she experienced in her childhood through tattooing, and she received international fame for the act. 
If women are getting tattooed in order to assert control over their own bodies, what effect does the impermissible touch have on this intent?  Having established the loss of power that some women feel when they are touched without being asked first, I was interested in whether the survey takers understood how gender played into the act of touching.  While many responders did not consider gender to be an issue, several followed up these statements with something along these lines: “I'm sure if I had been a big, scary tough guy, they wouldn't have been so open to approaching me.”[40]  Reading this sentiment time and time again created a clear distinction between the female and male bodies in the public sphere.  The male body is rugged and unapproachable while the female body is not only on display but also is read as inviting the touch.  “A female who is inked up is MUCH more likely to be touched in public in a ‘semisafe’ way to be asked about her tattoos than a man is. It's very rare to find someone who will randomly touch a male stranger with tattoos in public, to ask him about it. The approach I've seen is generally verbal towards males and physical towards females.”[41]  The juxtaposition of verbal with the male and physical with the female harkens back to Anne Bolin’s ideas of the male’s privilege to look: Now it is the male who has the privilege of being looked at without his physical self being encroached upon.  Some interviewees looked further into this phenomenon, noting that women are interpreted as being far more approachable in public space.  “I think for a lot of people, women are somehow more approachable than men whether they're more tattooed or not.”[42]  The female body time and time again was interpreted as accessible to the general populous on demand, bringing up issues of body autonomy which reach beyond tattoo culture.
            On the opposite side of this approachability is the experience of the women.  “I think if you look like a ‘real’ girl they will think it's normal to touch you, because a woman is open, a woman is defenseless.  People don't think it will hurt you, they just don't really take care about how you will feel.”[43]  The lack of consideration for the person being touched is the ultimate act of dehumanization.  The person is being treated like an object, and often their modification is viewed as a commodity.  Although the tattooing is a service exchanged between an artist and a patron, many heavily tattooed individuals do not feel comfortable with questions about the price of their tattoos because of the intimacy of the exchange and result.  Blogger Kaelah Bee writes: “It is not okay to ask someone how much they paid for their work…I just find it to be such a personal question. You certainly wouldn't ask a stranger how much their mortgage or credit card payment was each month, would you? To me, my tattoos are sacred and personal.”[44]  This view of the commodity process within tattoo culture moves away from the act of purchasing an object – it would certainly be acceptable to ask how much a pair of shoes or a chair cost – and becomes a much more personal experience.  Tattoos are a visible and clearly artificial modification to the body, unlike some forms of plastic surgery, but are still internalized by their owner: they become a part of the skin and a part of being: “It’s something that literally becomes a part of you.”[45]
            In the act of touching the viewer objectifies the human within the body.  Since tattoos are so internalized by so many of those who possess them, there is a lack of recognition that something might be odd enough to illicit such behavior from strangers.  The female body, which is already at the center of society because of its constantly sexualized status, becomes an even greater attraction when it is modified.  Male bodies, even tattooed bodies, are not open to the public view because of the stigmas surrounding criminality and violence: “This could be due to the lingering stigma of criminality which clings to the art form for men-- there are very few female tattooed gang members, for example, so the cultural significance of tattoos for us lacks that element.”[46]  The female body has been established as approachable and open to objectification.  How does this affect the lives of actual heavily tattooed women?
            Although many of the responses I received did not identify gender as a factor in the phenomenon of touching without permission, those that did identify it help strong views.  Some compared it to other types of objectification among women: “It’s like getting your ass grabbed in a crowded club, or whistled at from a car while walking down the street.  People expect women to just take it.”[47]  This public image of women was echoed through ideas about the right of others to judge the female body: “I am a female and therefore, too many people feel like they can call out comments about my body and the way I look, including tattoos. I can't stand the fact that some men find it acceptable to treat me as an object of lust just because I'm a woman. It's detestable. “[48]  The sexuality constantly connected to the female body came up time and time again when interviewees attempted to analyze the reasoning behind gender discrepancy in tattoo culture.  Women's bodies are already treated as communal property. They're analyzed, scrutinized, demeaned and devalued from birth.”[49]  Sometimes, I just want to scream, ‘My body is not an object. It's not a spectacle for you to examine and touch at your will without my consent.’”[50] 
These responses allowed me to recognize that this occurrence was not exclusive to a small group of people I personally knew, but that it was a scene which occurred time and time again in the western world, if not beyond.  Women recognized the ways in which their bodies were being viewed by the public, and even modification could not change this perception.  In fact, extreme body modification seemed to amplify the interpretation of the female body as public and open for physical observation.  Furthermore, it was not only women who recognized this gender inequality within tattoo culture: 
I’m sure if I were perceived as female-gendered, people would be more likely to touch me, because in our current society, women are perceived as objects to be taken control of and owned. Because I am a male with tattoos, people often think of me as more “bad-ass” or more aggressive than I am, and thus I think they tend to refrain from physical contact. Women, however, are perceived in society as being objects made for men’s pleasure, which is disgusting and unfortunate.[51]

Recognition from those who have not experienced the same amount of invasive touching solidifies the idea that there is a gendered factor to the act within not only tattoo culture, but American culture in general.
Here I must pause to consider the opposite side of the experience.  I received many responses where women agreed that their gender made them more likely to be touched in society but had no problems with it and did not perceive themselves as objects.  I felt amazing. I thought it was wonderful that my tattoo actually made someone actually stopped what they were doing to admire me.”[52]  Many of my survey responders enjoyed the attention they received from strangers because of their tattoos.  Others recognized the desire to touch as a more general phenomenon: “I think people's interest in art transcends gender.”[53]  Still others found that being tattooed involved the sacrifice of some sort of privacy: “Yes tattoos are very personal but when they are displayed for the public expect your personal space to diminish very quickly.”[54]  These views support an important contradiction to my original theory which regrettably cannot be discussed in detail.  However, it is important to understand that the process of tattooing is an individual one which exposes a variety of reactions and experiences.  Hundreds of different views were expressed in the survey answers. 
In the larger scheme of this research project, one begins to question why any of this matters.  Yes, I have determined invasive touch of tattooed women occurs in many different parts of the country, if not the world.  I have been able to link this event to gender and have found that many women feel as though they are being objectified and owned when they are touched.  Still, why is it important to consider the problems of personal space violations upon the bodies of tattooed women?  Many of the reasons given for the invasive touch by the interviewees dealt with the open access, the approachability, of the female body within the public space.  This exploration has aimed to take this one step further, to argue that there is a lingering feeling within society that a woman’s body can be owned and therefore examined without her permission.  Moving away from the modified body, this is still true.  From the touching of pregnant women’s bodies – which have been naturally and non-permanently modified – to insistence on physical admiration of commonplace traits such as hair, women are being treated as though they are constantly on display.  Consequently, with trends in advertising which move to portray women as objects which can be acquired through consumption, women are left as open for the general populous to touch and take.  Jean Kilbourne identifies this commodification of the female form with possession.  She finds a correlation between objectified presentations of women in advertising and media with a rise in violence towards women and self-harm amongst women in America.[55]  Therefore, patterns of invasive touch leech out of tattoo culture and onto society at large, illustrating the way female bodies are viewed and the women who possess them are devalued.   

Works Cited
Benson, Susan. “Inscriptions of the Self: Reflections on Tattooing and Piercing in Contemporary Euro-America.” In Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History. Edited by Jane Caplan., 234-254. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Blink-182. Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, by Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and Travis Barker. MCA Records. Youtube. CD. Accessed May 9, 2011. 2001.

Bolin, Anne. “Vandalized Vanity: Feminine Physiques Betrayed and Portrayed.” In Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment. Edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees and Patricia Sharpe., 79-99. New York: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Bradley, James. “Body Commodification?  Class and Tattoos in Victorian Britain.” In Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History, edited by Jane Caplan, 136-155. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Governar, Alan. “The Changing Image of Tattooing in American Culture, 1846-1966.” In Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History. Edited by Jane Caplan., 212-233. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Jones, C.P. “Stigma and Tattoo.” In Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History. Edited by Jane Caplan., 1-16. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Kilbourne, Jean, host. Killing Us Softly 4. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2010. Media Education Foundation. Accessed May 8, 2011.

Little Chief Honeybee (blog).

Mascia-Lees, Frances E., and Patricia Sharpe. “The Marked and the Un(re)Marked: Tattoo and Gender in Theory and Narrative.” In Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment. Edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees and Patricia Sharpe., 145-169. New York: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Oettermann, Stephan. “On Display: Tattooed Entertainers in America and Germany.” In Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History. Edited by Jane Caplan., 193-211. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Putzi, Jennifer. “Tattooed Ladies.” Afterword to Identifying Marks: Race, Gender, and the Marked Body in Nineteenth-Century America, 154-162. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2006.

[1] Blink-182, “Give Me One Good Reason,” on Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, by Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and Travis Barker, MCA Records, Youtube, CD, accessed May 9, 2011, 2001,
[2] Christina, 28, Female, New Jersey, USA, Survey conducted by author, May 7, 2011. 
[3] Ibid.
[4] C.P. Jones, "Stigma and Tattoo," in Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History, ed. Jane Caplan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 1. 
[5] Stephan Oettermann, "On Display: Tattooed Entertainers in America and Germany," in Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History, ed. Jane Caplan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 193. 
[6] James Bradley, "Body Commodification? Class and Tattoos in Victorian Britain," in Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History, ed. Jane Caplan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 138. 
[7] Ibid., 140. 
[8] Alan Governar, "The Changing Image of Tattooing in American Culture, 1846-1966," in Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History, ed. Jane Caplan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 214. 
[9] Ibid., 217.
[10] Ibid., 223-225. 
[11] Ibid., 223.
[12] Ibid., 229. 
[13] Ibid. 
[14] Ibid., 230. 
[15] Ibid., 233.
[16] Susan Benson, "Inscriptions of the Self: Reflections on Tattooing and Piercing in Contemporary Euro-America," in Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History, ed. Jane Caplan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 240.
[17] Alan Governar, “The Changing Image of Tattooing,” 233.
[18] Susan Benson, “Inscriptions of the Self,” 240.
[19] Ibid., 238.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid., 239. 
[22] Anne Bolin, "Vandalized Vanity: Feminine Physiques Betrayed and Portrayed," in Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment, ed. Frances E. Mascia-Lees and Patricia Sharpe (New York: State University of New York Press, 1992), 81. 
[23] Ibid., 82. 
[24] The full survey can be found in Appendix 1.  The original blog post can be found here:
[26] Simply said, I did not expect such an outpouring of assistance  Not only were nearly 2,000 members of the internet community willing to fill out the survey, but many of the responses went into depth about personal experiences.  These were not yes or no questions.  Various survey responders expressed regret in not being able to give more thorough answers because of their own limited experiences, wished me luck in the paper writing process, and requested to see a finished version of this project upon its completion.  Many talked in depth about the meaning of tattooing in their own lives, its views in society, and considered the implications of gender within tattoo culture.  The popularity of the survey and peoples’ willingness to discuss body modification was astounding.  At one point, it was tempting to completely switch the topic of my paper to analyze why people would be so willing to take time out of their day to talk about tattooing.  Though this is not the point of my paper, I would like to question what it is about tattoo culture that makes most people extremely willing to discuss and display their modifications.  Or does this immense response have something to do with internet culture in general – having a forum where someone is interested enough in you to follow your blog and care about what you have to say over the other six billion people in the world?  The survey itself felt like a Wallace ‘special-for-me’ experience.  People answered it as if they were speaking directly to me, and many left their e-mail addresses offering a way to contact them for more information if necessary.  In the end, with only a little over a week to complete this paper, I was not able to read every single response.  While the answers were ‘special-for-me’, their reception to date has not been.  In the future, I would be interested in analyzing a large portion of these replies, but it was not possible for the exploration of this paper.  The answers I will be quoting for the most part come from question number six: “Do you think your gender presentation affected the stranger’s decision to touch you?  Do you think they would have acted differently if your gender presentation was different?”  This question really seemed to get to the heart of the problem I am attempting to analyze, and the answers to this particular question allowed me to sort the responses in the most efficient way.  The magnitude of response, however, has made me think about the degree of importance in my research and whether this survey will be useful for future projects within my academic career. 
For the purposes of this paper, quotes from the survey will be cited in the following format: Name, Age, Gender-presentation, place of origin, and current location (if different from origin).  All ‘interviews’ were conducted between May 7th and May 11th of 2011.  Any interview quoted in part will be available in full in the appendix of this project (with names excluded if the interviewee requested to not be named in full).  Some spelling corrections have been made to keep in line with the academic purposes of this paper, but the surveys in the appendix are available in their original and unedited state.  Though some responses are coming from people living outside of the United States, I interpreted them through the lens of a general westernized culture that has become more prominent in the recent decades due to globalization and the popularity, scope, and exchange of ideas available on the internet. 
[27] Frances E. Mascia-Lees and Patricia Sharpe, "The Marked and the Un(re)Marked: Tattoo and Gender in Theory and Narrative," in Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment, ed. Frances E. Mascia-Lees and Patricia Sharpe (New York: State University of New York Press, 1992), 147.
[28] AJ, 19, Female, California, USA.
[29] Anne Bolin, “Vandalized Vanity,” 86.
[30] Nicole, 20, Female, Manhattan, NY; Boston, MA.
[31] Janine W, 21, Female, Michigan, US.
[32] Anna, 21 Female, Florida, US.
[33] Anne Bolin, “Vandalized Vanity, “81. 
[34] Amynda, 31, Female, New York, US; Minnesota, US.
[35] Sarah, 18, Female, United States.
[36] Laura, 22, Female, England.
[37] Jennifer Putzi, "Tattooed Ladies," afterword to Identifying Marks: Race, Gender, and the Marked Body in Nineteenth-Century America (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2006), 157.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Susan Benson, “Inscriptions of the Self,” 251. 
[40] Kate, 18, Female, Wisconsin, US.
[41] Joey Weast, 18, Male, South Carolina, US.
[42] Siena, 21, Female, New Zealand.
[43] Mara Laplace, 18, Female, France.
[44] Kaelah Bee, "Tattoo Etiquette: The Guide to Not Being a Douche," Little Chief Honeybee (blog), April 8, 2011, accessed May 14, 2011, tattoo-etiquette-guide-to-not-being.html.  Emphasis in the original. 
[45] Stephanie Mercedes, 21, Dominican Republic; New York, US. 
[46] Kelling, 20, Female, California, US; Massachusetts, US.
[47] Katie McShady, 24, Female, Virginia, US.
[48] Hillary, 21, Female, Ohio, US; Austin, Texas, US.
[49] ithinkyourewonderful, 27, Female, Canada; Canada and US.
[50] Meg, 23, Queer Femme, Pennsylvania, US.
[51] Joey, 20, Genderqueer Male, New York, US.
[52] Anonymous, 19, Female, Tennessee, US.
[53] Ashley Pridgen, 25, Female, Florida, US.
[54] Tiffany, 30, Female with male tendencies, Northeastern US.
[55] Jean Kilbourne, host., Killing Us Softly 4 (Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2010), Media Education Foundation, accessed May 8, 2011,


  1. This is fantastic!

  2. Fantastic, and so true, so well put together.
    I'm one of the heavily tattooed girl freaking out being touched all the time.

    I put your text on tumblr, with all the credits, cause it had to be shared !

  3. Interesting paper, I really enjoyed reading it.

  4. I kind of have a hard time imagining that happening to someone. I'm not trying to blame the victims or anything. But, the study said women are more likely to get touched. But, it didn't say what kind of tattoos they had and how the dressed.

    If they have tramp stamps (which are essentially a statement about your sexuality) and are going into really seedy bars and/or nightclubs dressed like sluts, I can maybe see that happening. But not among any of the social circles I normally associate with.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Wow, victim blaming much, parallelday? No matter what a woman is wearing, or what kind of tattoos she has, or where she is, she does not deserved to get grabbed or touched in ways that make her uncomfortable. Period.

    Tramp stamps are also not a statement about your "sexuality", it's a statement that you like lower back tattoos. Period. It does not mean that you like sex, that it's okay for men to grope you, or that you're "asking for it".

    Obviously you need to get out of your normal social circles, because your ignorance is showing.

  7. Wow, trying to mess with my HTML did not work out for me tonight. I deleted a comment in reply to parallelday, but am now reposting it. Also, completely agree with decimateddreams, thank you.

    I didn't go into this in the paper, but even labeling tattoos like tramp stamps and applying the term specifically to women objectifies the placement of a tattoo and therefore the body in general. Also, no one should get touched without their permission, no matter how they dress or where they are. Questioning the placement of tattoos and dress is victim blaming/slut shaming:

  8. Oh my gosh, I couldn't even tell you how relevant this paper is to my life lately. I've made some new decisions as to what is acceptable and what isn't after having become fairly heavily tattooed. It's crazy what people think they can do to tattooed ladies. For real.

  9. Thank you for posting the paper. I really enjoyed reading it.

    I unfortunately missed out on the survey, but I agree (as a modified woman) that people are even more willing to ignore personal space in order to touch ANY mod. When I first got my lip ring (it's in the center) almost everyone around me tried to touch it, even while it was still healing! Thankfully for me, most of my tattoos are not visible most times.

    The world in general is still very focused on women's bodies as objects. I live in Tokyo, and am white. You would not believe how many Japanese (both men and women) will touch me (inappropriately or otherwise) without my permission. It is very unnerving.

    Sorry my comment was off-topic. Well-written paper. Thank you for taking the time to survey real people for it.

  10. Amazing. I loved reading every single word. I was one of the women who didn't like being touched and you captured everything I feel when it happens. Thank you for posting the final paper!

  11. I really enjoyed reading this!

    This made me start to think about piercings too. I'm a 20 year old female and I have 2 piercings on my face. People comment them in the same way as tattoos "You've ruined yourself" "You used to be beautiful" "Did that hurt?" etc.

    And sometimes my piercings are touched without asking for permission. I don't mind if children touch them, they are just curious. But men, usually middle aged, are really rude. They might ask "What is that" in a rude tone but usually they just poke my piercings with their finger (if I'm not quick enough to move away from them). When I tell them that I don't want to be touched they find me rude and still try to touch my piercings.

    Then there's my brother who has 4 piercings and he has never been touched. He has had some comments but they're usually positive.

    I'm ranting, sorry! :D Thank you for sharing your paper with us!

  12. I completely agree with decimatedreams. No matter what a woman wears, what tattoo she has, or where she goes it's never ok to touch her without asking. "She asked for it." No woman asks to be violated.

    I'm a heavily tattooed young woman and I get this constantly. It's nice to see someone finally take notice of it. I don't agree with people who say that we have to deal with people asking us questions about our tattoos (not that I mind getting asked about them, I'm happy to share their stories) or that we have to deal with being touched by strangers simply because we chose to get tattoos. Would you feel up a woman who's had her breasts worked on without asking? Hell no you wouldn't. So don't touch us without asking.

    This paper is wonderfully written and I hope it opens the eyes of people.

  13. I've noticed a trend toward women getting tattoos of words and phrases lately rather than pictures..kind of makes me wonder if this is somehow connected to the tattoo being more personal...

  14. THANK YOU for writing this article !! As a woman with a full sleeve, a large back piece and multiple other pieces spread out on my body, I have also experienced the touching and grabbing by strangers. I cannot believe the gaul of them and I let them know its not ok! Simply ask me and I will be happy to show you and tell you about them, but don't think for a second its ok to grab me without my permission. So, once again, THANK YOU for writing this , hopefully some people outside of the "Tattoo Nation" will read it and understand !!!!

  15. This turned out to be an amazing paper. I'm definitely adding some Anne Bolin to my reading queue. Thank you for taking on this subject, and thanks for using one of my responses!

  16. i adore your paper. you were truly inspired. and have inspired me as well. thank you

  17. Excellent work, this was so insightful!

  18. Excellent paper! I enjoyed reading it. I thought I was the only one with this problem! I've started to dread summer because that's when my arms and back are more visible.

    People touch me and comment on my tattoos frequently. It's extremely annoying. I had no idea invasion of personal space would come with the territory.

    Equally rude are the questions about how much it cost to get done and whether it hurt. I got my tattoos for personal reasons. I'm glad I'm not alone but wish no one had to deal with this.

    Thanks for bringing this to people's attention.

  19. This was an exceptional read. I had never really thought about it before, there is definitely a difference is the touching of a pregnant stomach - it always seems very maternal and bonding for women. Yet with the touching of tattoos seems more aggressive. I had a few tattoos, one on my thigh is especially large and I admit I never show it now, I never expected the sheer sexual reaction from men when I got it done. I have never been grabbed but the staring is too much to bear. I don't mind being asked about them but it is never ok to touch a total stranger! Most people are just genuinely interested, usually when they would like a tattoo themselves.

  20. @parallelday

    I find your comment very ignorant. People do not have lower back tattoos to label themselves 'sluts'! I had one over ten years ago when the term 'tramp stamp' had never been heard of, also how ridiculous to presume a woman no matter what she wears would encourage 'grabbing'.

  21. An excellent piece. I had no idea that this grabbing/touching even went on (I'm in Australia, not sure if the culture is different), tho I have heard plenty of times about pregnant women being touched without permission. I could never even imagine doing something so rude and invasive to someone else's body, hopefully people who feel uncomfortable being touched can try to stand up to the toucher and say "that is not acceptable". I don't have any tattoos, but I do plan on being pregnant some day, I hope I will be able to stand my ground too.

  22. Funny that I'm a guy, and people try to touch my piercings all the time. And my male friends with ink and piercings complain about the same thing. Uninvited touching is in no way limited to women!

  23. Interesting paper. Just wanted to say that you should be using "populace" (the noun) instead of "populous" (the adjective).

  24. What an incredible paper. I personally have never witnessed a tattoo being touched by a stranger. I have, though, often witnessed (and am guilty of) inquiring around price. Now that that I know better, I can stop.

  25. Amazing paper. I have only a few small tattoos but the plan is in the works for expanding the one on my back. This in no way makes me change my mind but it does make me reconsider showing it off when I am finished.

  26. Hey, this is an awesome paper.

    I'm currently writing a similar paper (women and tattoos and social implications) and a friend of mine directed me here. I was wondering if I could cite this in my own paper.

    Thank you very much.


  27. @ACE

    You can totally cite me! What an honor! Just make sure to link to here, I do have a creative commons license on this blog.

  28. Nice paper! I would have liked a little more info about your sampling/survey methods (but that's just the Statistics student in me talking). Makes me think a little bit more about the placement of my tattoos that I plan to get soon.

  29. I really appreciated with your content and completely agree with you, here also I was visit a company website which is like you Tatoo for tatoo lettering and others.

    Visit : Best tattoo in Chennai


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