Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Women should have the right to be shirtless!

Photo of topless men from Legal Juice.[1]

I saw what I initially believed was a topless old woman walking a dog outside the apartment building across the way... Looking closely, I saw that the person was bald. But still, mincing along in his pajama bottoms, waiting for the dog to poop, you could clearly see that he had breasts. Like, pretty big ones. It is impossible to guess his age, but I wouldn't be surprised if he were over 80 or so.

Shouldn't he cover his boobs? Oh wait, he's a man, so he is allowed to have big old naked boobs.

So, why can't I?


I used to write for an alternative youth newspaper called Subversive Scholastic, and one of my first diatribes for said publication was all about how women are not legally allowed to go shirtless and men are. It still infuriates me, decades after I first wrote that.

It is one of the most sexist cultural conventions IN THE WORLD.

Women's breasts, originally intended to nourish babies, are greatly fetishized by men. In a patriarchal culture, this makes them sacrosanct, so they must be covered up as something dirty. Dirty = arousing to men. (Men's chests might be similarly arousing to women, but in a patriarchal culture, what is arousing to women is regarded as being of no real importance unless it suits male fantasy.)

Of course, as fetishized objects, boobs must also be made into ornaments (just like cars, also fetishized by men). So, they are primped and prodded, alternately bound and pumped up, displayed like prize ponies. Even if you don't want to. (Have you tried to buy a non-wire bra recently that didn't look like a Playtex Cross-your-heart? Good luck with that.)

When I first wrote the Subversive Scholastic essay, I got a lot of reactions from males who said, basically: You wanna take off your shirt? Hey alriiiight! Do it, babeeeeeee!

No, no and no.

If I should take off my shirt, I want you to be as lackadaisical about that as if your best male friend took off his shirt. Are you saying Hey alriiiight! to your best male friend and encouraging him to take off his shirt? Then I don't want that either. Optimally, it would be nice if you didn't even NOTICE.

Hey, says authoritative male voice, you can't expect guys not to even notice, okay?

Question: Do women act like asses when men shed their tops? You know, we might be as excited about that as you are, has that ever occurred to you? But we have learned to behave ourselves. I am utterly confident that men could learn the same, if expected to.


Now that I am older, I realize there is another reason women won't shed their tops. Not just a dislike of salaciousness, but a genuine fear of male ridicule. As I watched my old neighbor waiting good-naturedly for his dog to pee, I realized that he has never had that fear, and of course, does not have it now. He has boobs and doesn't care. By contrast, I would now be too afraid to take my shirt off, even if my boobs look better than his. Mine would be considered far more offensive that his [2] even though his are more unexpected and startling (and many would say unattractive and/or grotesque), since he is a man. I would still get arrested, and yet he is allowed to walk outside in the stifling heat, topless, without comment.

It's not fair.

But what would the world be like if the law were changed and women could go topless? Would only attractive women take advantage of this, as seems to be the case on various topless and/or nude beaches? Because if so, that will mean nothing... only when the whole group of us, every single one, takes off the shirt simultaneously, from 15 to 100 years of age, all colors, all body types, the fattest and the skinniest and the disabled and the one-breasted and former-breasted and everything in between... just like the men... only then will we be free of this SEXIST, FETISHIZING BULLSHIT, that keeps our sweaty boobies swathed in fabric as we swelter in 90 degree heat and pine for the sensation of ice-cold chlorinated pool-water on our nipples. Nobody should pay any damn attention... but of course, they do, we do, and it seems an impossible Daisy-dream, one I've had since I was a mere kid, back when I had pretty, perky boobs. Now, I am old, and mine tend to look like the dog-walking neighbor, but you know what? I feel the same. I still want it. I still want the freedom. Nothing has changed.

And I repeat, nothing has changed. We are still covering up them all-sacred titties.

I keep hearing we live in a post-feminist society, blah blah blah. And yet, one gender can shed fully half of their clothes outside, while another doesn't have that right, enshrined by LAW. All because one gender is the subject, while the second is the object; one gender makes the rules and defines the sensibility, while the other must live by those standards. [3]


[1] Ironically, Legal Juice (the blog I got this graphic from) mentions the fact that the town of Easton, Maryland, has made it illegal for any person (including men, children and babies) to go topless. This was considered weird enough to rate comment.

[2] Looking for graphics for this post, I found one guys' insulting, indignant blog post titled "Why do fat old women go topless?" Apparently, it has never once occurred to this fellow that we might do this for ourselves, and not for him or other men. God forbid! (Imagine the title "Why do fat old men go topless?")

[3] Paraphrasing Simone de Beauvoir.

[4] Nikki Craft and other radical feminists briefly took up this call in the 80s, but later abandoned it due to increasing co-optation by various unsavory profiteers. Craft was arrested in June 1986 in Rochester, NY, as one of the Rochester Topfree Seven. Interviewed later in Off Our Backs, I can still remember Craft's correction of a male reporter's coverage of the event, about "the right of women to appear topless"; Craft said she was supporting the right of women to BE topless, not to APPEAR topless, and to note the difference.

And I always have.