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Monday, July 27, 2009

The Topless Double Standard

Being that it is summertime, I understand that people get exceedingly hot. I'm often walking or driving around on a particularly warm summer day and see numerous men walking or lounging around without a shirt on. I fully understand a man's right to do this, especially when it is very warm outside. But when a woman does it, it is indecent exposure.

I understand that breasts are sexual objects and sexual objects are a big no-no in society. But on a hot, sticky day, shirts can be awfully uncomfortable. Because of this, there are many days where I hate said shirt and wish I could shed it in public. While I often wish this, but I would never actually do it because it is not socially acceptable.

On a side note, there are many men who do not have shirts that have breasts, or at least what look like breasts. And I don't mean to be insensitive, but I don't always want to look at that. If men should have the pleasure of cooling off by shedding their tops, so should women...or no one should be able to. If people don't want to see women's breasts in public, then why should we have to see men's breasts?

Every time I see a guy walking around without a shirt on, I wonder to myself why it's acceptable for men while it's not acceptable for women (I know, basic answer is breasts are sexual objects and should be covered in public). I've brought this up to some people and I usually get the same answer: well, why don't you just walk around topless and demonstrate the double standard? Even if I wouldn't be arrested for doing this, in a cultural climate like this one, where women are told to feel ashamed about their bodies, I would not feel comfortable.

So it's not only laws that have to change, but culture's perception of female bodies entirely (but we all know that laws reflect cultural values). As long as women are made to feel ashamed about their bodies because they are not perfect (like anyone's is), we are not going to see any change. I have no inclination to believe that this will happen anytime soon because there is so much profit to be made, in almost every arena, on the objectification and deprecation of women's bodies, but a woman can hope, can't she?

And I'm not going to say that I'm completely comfortable with my body, because I'm not. I've struggled with my body image ever since I became aware that my body was not "perfect." As much as I try to tell myself that it doesn't matter what my body looks like, every time I go out anywhere, I see women whose bodies I envy and then feel ashamed about my own. And as much as I know that this is a product of societal values, it's hard (or impossible) to completely ignore 22 years of cultural indoctrination.

I think that it is just important for every woman to be constantly trying to love their body just a little bit more (and it is a constant struggle). Be conscious of the cultural images of women's bodies and the constant impression that your body will never be good enough. I'm not saying this is an easy thing, because it's not. And I'm not saying that just being conscious of it will make you 100% happy with your body, because it won't. I think that everyone just needs to be conscious of it and by doing that, it can be easier to fight these cultural images.

So in a post that started about men's shirtless-ness, I ended up discussing women's body image. But if men are comfortable enough with their imperfect bodies (not all men are) to walk around without shirt, why can't women? Or why can't women work towards being comfortable enough? Comparing the acceptablility of being topless for both men and women shows the double standard of men's and women's bodies. Women face more shame and criticism about their bodies than men do in the public arena.* Because of this, most women will never feel comfortable being shirtless or let alone showing a little more skin than normal on a hot day.

*Note: I do not want to say that men do not face any shame or criticism, and I cannot really speak to how much because I am not a man. I just believe that at least in the public arena, women face more criticism than men because there is the constant pressure on women (more than men, I think) to be skinny and have that "perfect" body.

Further reading:
Women should have the right to be shirtless [Daisy's Dead Air]


Jackie said...

Hmm... While I have the same body issues that many women do, (feel self-conscious in a swim suit, etc) body issues would be nearly last on my list of reasons not to walk around topless. Fear of harassment would by far be #1, followed by fear of looking different than everyone else (drawing lots of attention I usually dress to blend in), followed by fear of arrest, followed by body shame, followed by fear of sunburn.

It's always interesting to see how different people have completely different reasons for these things.

RMJ said...

Did you see Daisy's take on this?

Laura said...

RMJ - no, I hadn't seen that. It's a really interesting read.

Jackie - I definitely think that there is a fear of harassment. While that fear is very realistic, I think that harassment stems from the objectification and degradation of women's bodies and that women are felt to feel ashamed of their bodies. It's not only women who have to be conscious of the objectification of women's bodies, but men as well. This is going to take a lot of work, but everything worthwhile always does.

CaitieCat said...

I feel I should point out that there is already a major jurisdiction in North America where it is fully legal for women to be topless in any circumstance in which men can: Ontario, Canada. Thanks to the guts of Gwen Jacobs, and a huge list of her supporters, Ontario has not had a law requiring different public standards for women and men since 1994.

Strangely, our entire civilization has failed to collapse.

Laura said...

I did not know about Ontario. That's pretty awesome. But how mnay women actually take advantage of this non-discriminatory law?

CaitieCat said...

Not as many as I'd wish (not salacious, that; I just wish I'd not be so alone in doing it). But it certainly does happen, and Pride Day is particularly noticable for it.

Naturally, that means that Pride celebrations are now also a happy place for pervs with video cameras. A few years back, I was at Pride in Toronto with my partner and our foster daughter, and they both took their shirts off. I didn't because I'm English, and burn like bacon in the mildest of sunlight.

All was pretty good, until one dude, having already filmed both of them walking toward him, ran around us, set up again, and started to film a second sequence. I got nice and close before saying, very loudly, that's my partner and my daughter you're perving on, now get the fuck out of here before I ask for help getting you out of here. Several onlookers agreed, loudly, and the guy had to run off in shame.

So it isn't perfect, by any stretch. But it's not something one gets convicted for anymore, which is a step up.

Chrystal Ocean said...

As I just commented in a tweet, the argument against public exposure for women, 'breasts are sexual objects' doesn't wash. To people of certain sexual orientations, the male chest is a sexual object.

It's interesting that the judges ruling on this issue have always been male (and by their rulings, likely hetero); ergo, they've been seemingly oblivious to this simple truth.

Dawn. said...

In my state (Ohio) it's legal for women to be topless in public, as long as they aren't inside a business or public building. When I was sixteen several friends of mine (same age) went topless at summer community festivals. I never have because I was afraid of harrassment and/or someone video-taping me. I was sexually harrassed at a festival once for holding my best friend's hand (she's visibly gay and frat boys love the girl-on-girl thing, apparently) and we were fully clothed!

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