My youngest daughter is a bit of a nudist.
And now that she’s no longer a toddler, she’s a little (okay, a lot) pissed off at the idea that she has to wear a shirt places that her male counterparts don’t.
After all, she’s just a kid. She doesn’t have breasts any more than her similarly aged male counterparts do.
Because her mother (me) is a historian and cultural anthropologist, she also knows all about the many, many, many cultures around the world and throughout time where children got to run around naked until they reached puberty, at which time they became adults and began wearing clothing. She further knows about the many, many, many cultures where both women and men are expected to cover up – or both women and men are allowed to be bare-chested.
And she is calling bull-pucky on this whole Western “Civilization” – where women’s breasts are supposed to be covered up at all times, unless they are being used to sell things like cars, alcohol, sunglasses… You know, things you need breasts for.
Even breastfeeding in public is controversial. (I know it’s been controversial for a decades now, that just links to the most recent newsworthy response.)
So my daughter has the message that as a child she has to cover up her breasts because – “sexy private parts” – but then, once she becomes an adult she needs to show them off to get things and stuff and so boys will like/want her (But if she does this, she’ll be a slut because she is using her sexy private parts to get things and stuff and boys.), and then if she has a kid and wants to feed it she needs to cover up because feeding babies is gross.
Meanwhile, boys and men get to run around with their shirts off whenever they want. No one will call them a slut or a tease for doing so. No one will tell them that they are asking to be felt, fondled, molested, assaulted or raped because they are running around with their shirts off. When a male nipple has a wardrobe malfunction, it doesn’t make the news. (For that matter, tabloid journalists are also not running around trying to get “up short” shots of male celebrities, but that is a whole other post.)
No one will buy a car because a man’s chest told them to.
And so here we get to what I think is really the most interesting point.
See, a woman’s breasts serve multiple functions – aside from titillating men and enticing them to buy expensive cars, cologne, sunglasses and booze.
Breasts have also been known to deliver pleasurable sensations to the female owner of the breasts.
AND to nourish and feed infants and toddlers.
Women’s breasts are more than ornamental show pieces. They are more than sexy-time fun bags.
They are one of a woman’s super-powers – and not as a source of flashy bling – but because they can be used to SUSTAIN LIFE!!
Men’s breasts on the other hand…
As a sexual health educator, one of the most common questions we get asked – at least once per session – is “Why do men have nipples?”
We can go into evolution and science, but that’s not really what they’re asking. They’re asking, “What are these things for? What do they DO?”
Well, the truth is – they feel good. They are an erogenous zone.
Men’s nipples are ONLY for sexy fun times.
And yet in America they get to flash them around willy-nilly whenever the urge to strip down takes them. Not as an invitation to women, or as a way of signaling their sexual availability – but just because they’re feeling hot and want to cool down, or because the tag on their shirt is rubbing them wrong, or just because they like the feel of sun/rain/wind on their chest.
Meanwhile little girls, breast-feeding women, and other women who don’t want their breasts felt up by men are expected to cover them up.
And suddenly, I get it.
Somewhere along the way, someone decided that women’s breasts did not belong to them. They belonged instead to men.
Little girls and breast-feeding women are not advertising their sexual availability. They are having breasts without sexual intention – and that must be hidden. That is shameful and gross and… wrong! How dare those females have non-sexual breasts!?!
And women with sexually available breasts who don’t want to be fondled – how dare they!?! If they’re not on the open market, they shouldn’t be out like that.
Because that’s the only “logical” argument I can see for making a little girl cover herself, or making a breast-feeding woman feel ashamed to nourish her child, or telling a woman living in a world filled with boobvertising to conceal her own breasts.
These women are using their bodies, their breasts, in ways that do not directly benefit heterosexual males. And that’s just wrong!
I’m sure this sounds like male bashing – and I know a lot of you are fine with little girls being kids and with women feeding their children and I’ve heard lots of you say that you’d LOVE it if more non-lactating women would *please* run around topless.
Which brings me to a conversation two male DJs were having on the radio back in Oregon. They were talking about how it was legal for women to be topless in Eugene, OR and they were both wishing and hoping and praying that women all over Eugene would start flinging their shirts off left and right. And then they got to the part where the law was actually about allowing women to nurse in public and both DJs switched gears, got completely squicked out and started mommy-bashing. “Seriously, time and place ladies, I mean, nursing your child – in a restaurant – Please, I’m trying to eat here.”
Ef OFF!!! (I cannot cyber shout that loud enough. Picture me standing on my chair, fist raised, eyes blazing, smoke coming out my ears and you get close to how this makes me feel.)
That child is ALSO trying to eat.
Not to mention 30 seconds ago these guys were asking women to take off their shirts at the park while they had a picnic, so they could clearly eat around naked tits. Both of these men had also done food reviews for the local nudie bars, so again, boobs were not the problem, a woman using them for a purpose other than pleasing these men was the problem.
So yes, the conclusion I have come to is that the problem (some) men have with women’s breasts is that they are WOMEN’S. And these men “let us” get away with having them only as long as we either cover them up, or dedicate them to male pleasure.
And yet, men, whose breasts are ONLY for sexual enjoyment don’t share the same double-edged sword. They are allowed to flash them, flaunt them and display them – without it being considered showing off or taunting us with their blatant sexuality. They’re just taking their shirts off because THEY LIKE TO. It’s not about us. It’s their body and they are allowed to use it as THEY please.
Can we PLEASE, PLEASE work on getting over this? Seriously, can we all please remember this the next time we see a woman having breasts in public? Can we just take a moment to remember all the many, many times that men have similarly been allowed to possess nipples without being shamed or groped for it? And then can we please let the woman go about her business unharassed. Please?
My seven-year old should still be safely running around naked and free as a bird. It’s not sexual, SHE’S not sexual. For that matter, I should still be allowed to run around with my top off without it being seen as a sexual invitation. And women should certainly be allowed to feed their infants/children, wherever, whenever – and however – they want to.
One last ROAR for the road – Dudes, if you can’t handle the site of a woman breast-feeding – you shouldn’t be having sex with women in the first place. That kind of sex has been known to lead to pregnancy, which often leads to babies (In fact, some states are working hard to legally mandate that outcome!) and babies, well, they need to eat… A lot. So, get over it – or keep your penis to yourself.