Sunday, October 18, 2009

Breasts want to be free!

The controversy over breastfeeding in public weirds me out a little. Of course I'm for it--do we really want to make women feed their babies in gross bathrooms, or impede women with babies from leaving the house?--but I'm also bothered by the idea that exposing breasts is only okay if they're doing something "useful." Why does my body require an excuse? Why can't "it's nice out and it's my day off" be just as much of a reason?

In fact, how about "I don't have to give you a reason, it's my body"?

To be honest I'm not entirely sure about public genital exposure, I'm for it in the long run but I don't think society's quite ready to be mature about issues like boners and bus-seat hygiene, but I am 100% for the decriminalization and destigmatization of the female chest. If you want to mark out one little patch of my body and say "this bit is naughty, it's only for sex and the rest of the time you have to act like it doesn't exist," that's a little annoying, but extending that rule to a large nongenital area that men don't have to hide is sexist and stupid.

Men get turned on by tits? Yeah, and I get turned on by pecs. I've learned not to make my arousal someone else's problem, and I think most men can do the same--the ones who can't are already harassing women anyway. More importantly, I should have the right to take my chances. If your concern is safety, I think we should make it illegal to assault a topless woman.

Women will be pressured to go topless? Women who walk around in long skirts or headscarves really don't get that much guff about how they could be in tank tops, and on European beaches plenty of women still wear swimsuit tops.

Breasts are offensive to some people? That's their problem. There's no right not to be offended--if Nazi t-shirts are legal (and I agree they should be, even though I'm infuriated by the sight), so should be titties.

What about the children? They don't have to deal with arousal or cultural baggage, they'll get used to it faster than anyone. And if you want to keep kids from getting weird ideas from porn, demystifying the female body--yeah, sometimes people are shaped like this, no big deal--goes a long way toward that goal. It'd probably do adults some good on that front too.

I suppose a bandeau,or electrical tape if I'm really playing letter-of-the-law, isn't too much hardship, but it really draws attention to the Forbidden Zones in a way that simple toplessness doesn't. It signifies my agreement with the idea that I have a nice upper half--except for the two Horrible Deformities of Horror, of course.

This isn't about public sex or exhibitionism. I don't want to flaunt my breasts or offer them up. What I want is just for my body to be free. When summer comes again, I want to go down to the beach park, lay out a towel by the lakeshore, lie down with a good book, and feel the sun on my skin.


  1. I live in NY, where it's technically legal for women to be topless in public. Unfortunately, few people take advantage of this. I desperately wanted to a few times on my bike in the rain; it would have been much more comfortable to be topless than in a soaking wet t-shirt. But because it's such an unusual sight I feared the effect that would have on traffic- urban cycling is already a bit dicey.

  2. Some semi-random commentary:

    In Spain, there is no law against public nudity, and you're not likely to be harassed for it. However, it's considered inappropriate to do so outside of one's own yard, public parks, or beaches, so you're not likely to see someone strolling down the streets of downtown Madrid au natural. Plus most businesses enforce a "no shirt, no shoes, no pants, no service" policy.

    In general, more nudity-tolerant a society is, the lower the rape statistics. Whereas in most societies where women must be covered head to toe, being in public without a male guardian is just asking to be gang-raped. These two factors are probably not directly related (it's unlikely that one causes the other) but it is something to think about.

    I've said this many times, including a few here, but it's worth repeating: Children aren't harmed by seeing nudity. What harms them is adults reacting negatively to them having seen nudity.

    In the U.S., "topfreedom" rights (the right for women to bare their chests at any time men could) have been gaining ground since at least the 1980s, but very, very slowly. This is because there are no laws against it on the federal level, and even most states don't ban it - so progress needs to work from the city or county level up. And even winning the right is meaningless if few people know about it - it rarely makes big news, and women still get harassed (and even arrested by the police) for years or even decades afterward.

    (Side note: Most city and county laws don't even ban bare breasts specifically, they just have vaguely-worded "indecent exposure" laws.)

  3. The weirdest part is that most people actually seem to adjust surprisingly fast to nekked boobies. After an hour or so at a kink event, the boob-blindness kicks in and an attractive topless woman gets exactly the same "oh, hot" reaction as an attractive woman in a bikini top, or even just a particularly sexy dress. The creeping dread some people have of topless women in the streets* falls flat almost as soon as women start actually _doing_ it.

    [* - Why the hell is it always "in the streets"? Don't like light carbines? "Assault weapons in our streets!" Does _anything_ good ever happen in the streets?]

  4. ...women still get harassed (and even arrested by the police) for years or even decades afterward.

    On further thought, there may actually be a _great_ comparison here between guns and open firearms carry. Most arguments against open carry boil down to "some people will be offended or scared", and even where it's legal lots of cops play sidewalk-prosecutor.

  5. You know, I've been sort of up in the air about this issue, but I now have an opinion. You're absolutely right that women should be able to go topless anywhere a man could.

    The reason I've been on the fence for so long is that a woman near where I live was asked to cover up while breastfeeding in an Applebee's. She refused and there was a big stink that I honestly stopped following after the initial report. First off, good on her for breastfeeding because it's the perfect nutrition for the baby. Secondly, I agree that it's a stupid societal stigma that some people can't "handle" a woman breastfeeding in a restaurant. HOWEVER, I still don't think that the manager was necessarily wrong to have asked her to cover up if it was making other guests uncomfortable. Again, I understand that in the real world, you're going to face things that make you uncomfortable everyday and something like breastfeeding shouldn't even be on that list. But, if it really isn't that big of a deal, then why did she feel the need to start a fight about it and not cover her breast with the towel that the manager offered her?

    Again, it's not my intention to start any kind of a fight here--I'm all for equal breast rights, I'm just trying to illustrate why I've waffled on this in the past.

    Also (since I've already droned on and on), in regard to the open-carry thing: a friend of mine recently started open carrying with a leg holster (it's legal here). He claimed that no one even noticed, so elmo may be onto something with the bare breasts/firearms comparison.

  6. Sarah - Yeah, sadly "legal" isn't always synonymous with "okay."

    Not Me - I'd be okay with a Spain level of nudity; there's some hygiene issues with people being nakey in most businesses anyway.

    Elmo_iscariot - Agreed on both counts. Spend more than an hour in the company of nudists, and you'll be more interested in their conversation than in what they aren't wearing.

    And yeah, as Sarah pointed out, just because it's in the books doesn't mean it's socially accepted--I want both.

    Brock - An Applebee's is private property, and it's a foodservice place besides, so I don't think saying "no shirt, no service" there is as unreasonable as extending that to the entire public sphere. There's a lot of things you can do in a park or "on the street"--light up a barbecue, play Frisbee, have a water-balloon fight--that you can't do at Applebee's.

  7. Amen.

    And it'd be nice to be able to change into a more comfy or less sweaty shirt without having to find the nearest public restroom. Like guys do all the time.

  8. Cereus sphinx - I've done that (with bra underneath) a few times. Unless you're all "hey lookit me" about it, no one really notices.

  9. Regarding private businesses' rights to ban breastfeeding: the reason this is unethical and different from playing Frisbee is because (a) infants need to eat, and some will not if covered- my kids wouldn't; and (b) it discriminates against women. NY's law is that women can breastfeed uncovered anywhere that they are legally allowed to be. I'm a bit of a libertarian, so don't know how I feel about that, but I do think that any other stance is unethical.

  10. Massachusetts law is similar. The hippie baby store people gave me a nice card to put in my wallet with the relevant statute on it under a big-letter header "LICENSE TO BREASTFEED".

  11. Well, there I go opening my big mouth. I did some searching and our state laws are just like those that Sarah and Dw3t-Hthr mentioned (i.e.: a woman can breastfeed anywhere she can legally be). In short, the comfort of other customers is irrelevant, she was within her rights.

    I think such laws could go a long way towards eliminating the discomfort some folks might feel. Perhaps the trouble is really that public breastfeeding isn't commonplace enough.

  12. I have to disagree about breastfeeding on private property, and I'll bring it back to guns again (the carry of which is even protected by the Constitution, unlike breastfeeding). If a property owner wants to have a "no guns" policy, stupid and childish as that is, I have to leave my hypothetical gun in my car. It's a fairly serious inconvenience (unholstering a gun in a public place where people can see where you're putting it can a serious invitation for theft), does nobody any good, and prevents me from doing something I have a fundamental right to do while I'm in public.

    Why should breastfeeding be any different? Prohibiting it is stupid and childish, and it inconveniences the mother to go do it outside, but isn't it the property owner's right to set his own standards for conduct (even stupid, childish standards), and the mother's right to take her business elsewhere if she doesn't like them?

    There's a movie theater around here that has a strict "crying children allowed" policy, which alienates the hell out of me but caters to the theater's target audience of families with loud children who otherwise don't get to see many movies. Shouldn't an Applebees manager have the right to cater to his own target audience of "people who're childishly squicked by public breastfeeding", even if it alienates a woman who wants to breastfeed?

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