[I wrote this piece back in the early 90s when Gwen Jacobs did her thing (yay, Gwen!), but apparently it all still needs to be said. A couple years ago, I was ‘spoken to’ by a neighbour for taking my shirt off on a hot summer day when I was out kayaking. Most amusingly, I was ‘spoken to’ again when I did the same thing just last year, post-bilateral-mastectomy. Which brings to mind Twisty’s hilarious “Cover ’em up if you have ’em and even if you don’t” comment.]
In response to the moral outrage about women going shirtless in public, I offer the following.
1. It’s immoral. Why? What is it about a woman’s breasts that make it immoral for them to be uncovered?
a. They’re sexual.
i. If this refers to their role as fast food outlets, well, not every woman’s breasts are – and to legislate against all because of some (and actually a very small percentage at that, at any given time) is unreasonable.
Further, a McDonalds in Ethiopia is surely more immoral than such a breast in the park.
ii. If ‘sexual’ is intended to mean ‘sexually attractive’, well, no they’re not. At least, not to me. Nor to any homosexual man I know. Gee. D’ya think this is a law made by and for heterosexual men?
And actually, by and for only some heterosexual men – I understand that some are ‘tits and ass men’ while others are ‘leg men’. And since it’s not illegal for us to uncover our legs – in fact, baring our legs, wearing dresses and skirts, is encouraged (were the ‘leg men’ in on that?) – the law is inconsistent, at the very least.
Doubly inconsistent, at the very least, because I find men’s chests sexually attractive, and yet there is no law insisting they cover up. (Well, some men’s chests. As is the case, I expect, even with those ‘tits and ass men’ – surely they don’t find all women’s breasts sexually attractive. And if not, then again, the law prohibits all because of a few.)
But let’s back up a step. Who determines whether a body part is sexual at any given time or place – the owner of the body part or the other? When I am shirtless on a hot day out on the lake, I’m not considering my breasts to be sexual. When I’m with someone in private and in desire, I do consider my breasts to be sexual. It’s my call.
And anyway, what if they are sexually attractive? Well, you may answer, men are sexually aggressive; really, it’s for your own protection. Well, I say back, if a man has so little control that I must fear assault whenever shirtless, then I say do something about the man, not my breasts. (Surely the provocation defence is pretty much dead and buried by now.)
And in any case, that wasn’t the point; the point was it’s immoral for women to go shirtless because their breasts are sexual. But I have yet to hear why sexual is immoral.
b. The Bible says
i. – that it’s immoral for women to bare their breasts. Okay, so Jewish and Christian women shouldn’t go shirtless. They don’t have to – I’m not arguing for a law that insists women go shirtless; I’m arguing to eliminate the law that prohibits it. So you’ll still be able to follow your religion; you’ll still get to heaven, don’t worry about it. I, however, don’t share your religion. So why should I have to follow it?
ii. – that it’s immoral for men to see women’s breasts. Well, this would make it more difficult for you to follow your religion then, wouldn’t it – if women at large were to be shirtless. I guess you’d have to spend a lot of time indoors. But again, I don’t share your religious beliefs. On what basis do you limit my freedom so you can follow your religion?
2. It’s disgusting.
a. Not according to me. Why should your aesthetic rather than mine be legally supported? (And while we’re invoking personal aesthetics, what I find disgusting – much to my shame, so I’m working on this – is men’s guts that look nine months pregnant; so to be consistent, there ought to be a law insisting they cover that up.)
b. Hm. If women’s breasts are disgusting, why is Playboy thriving? (The articles, ah yes, I forgot.) Let’s pursue this for a moment. I’ll bet that the same man who ogles Candy Cane’s breasts in the centrefold would get all upset if Candy Cane did a Gwen Jacobs. Do men have some psychological problem such that they can’t handle the real thing? And is it as boring as the need to control, the need to be the centre of the universe? The real thing is okay in a strip bar, it’s okay if a woman does it for a man, but if she does it merely for herself, well, we can’t have that.
3. It’s just custom, that’s all.
‘That’s all’ is right – appeal to tradition is not sufficient for anything, let alone a law. (We’ve always bashed our babies’ brains out, so let’s have a law saying we must continue to do so. It’s just our way.)
4. It will lead to topless beaches, then nude beaches, then pretty soon everybody will be walking around buck naked.
Well, I sincerely doubt it, but – your point? (See 1, 2, and 3 above if all you’re saying is that naked bodies are immoral, disgusting, or contrary to custom.) (Otherwise, check out the slippery slope fallacy: X need not lead to Y.)
Let’s admit that men have breasts too: women’s are more developed and have the potential to produce milk, but both sexes have two areas of tissue density on the chest, each centered by a nipple.
Given then that the distinction seems to be based on a difference in development, pre-pubescent girls should be shirtless, by custom, as freely as boys. The custom is, however, that girls as young as two years of age are dressed in two-piece bathing suits – what’s the point of the top piece? Could it be the insane need to differentiate on the basis of sex? Pink and blue, girls and boys, Ms. and Mr. – secretaries and presidents.