Archive for July 2015
We have the freedom to believe whatever we think freedom should be even if we think other people’s definition of freedom interferes in our right to have freedom.
Men have had the right to be topless for about 80 years. Men can’t be topless everywhere, of course. “No shirt …” is standard in private establishments, especially around food. Outside in public places, walking down the sidewalk, at the beach, in a park: men have the right to be free and not wear a shirt.
With very few exceptions, women do not have the right to be topless in the United States. We have freedom unless you’re a woman on a hot day who wants to feel cool air on her upper torso.
The upper torso isn’t the issue. Backs, stomachs, collarbones: just fine to be on display in public. The problem, as it were, is breasts.
Actually these days, breasts are not the issue. You can see the majesty of the female breasts through cleavage. The underside of the female breasts is also pretty rare, but not technically illegal.
What is illegal to display in the vast majority of the United States … is the nipple.
Female nipples are very powerful: they are the source of life for babies. But their strongest force, apparently, is to freak people out.
People are scared and nervous about the idea of female nipples being seen in public. But if we think back to the idea of freedom, let’s see where the freedom of women choosing to expose their nipples interferes in the freedom of others.
“Will somebody think of the children?” — Helen Lovejoy, The Simpsons. Let’s think of the children. Children 5 and under likely get to see their mother’s nipples quite often, either through breastfeeding or the practical element of intimacy between mother and child. Young children can be scared at an early age but chances are nipples won’t be their greatest fear.
We have a society that strongly encourages women to keep their baby under a blanket when being breastfed in public. Associating a blanket over a head while getting nutrition would scare a child more than the exposure of the source of that nutrition.
Children 6-11 would be intrigued by female nipples. Girls would be curious to see what will eventually happen to them. Girls are more likely to wonder why at that age, they have to keep their nipples covered but their boy counterparts get to run around without a shirt.
Boys at a similar age who, if they aren’t paying attention to girls, are still likely to notice women who don’t have on a shirt. “Why does that woman not have a shirt on?” a boy might ask. A simple “adults are allowed in certain situations to be allowed to go without a shirt” will suffice. Children are curious but if breasts are out in the open, they are less likely to think of them as being a big deal.
Children who eventually will become teenagers won’t think too much of a woman on a beach without a shirt or a bikini top. Teenagers who are already teenagers will have an adjustment period.
Girls who are in this age group might be shy to join in adult women who choose the topless option. Other girls may not care and will be some of the first adopters. They will learn quickly that freedom can apply across gender lines, setting a positive example for young females.
Teenage boys tend to get swept up in hormones, so even a bra or a hint of a bra can be enough to set them off. If you take a poll of teenage boys who are straight, you will get very few votes against women going topless.
So far, we have groups that will need adjustment. But none of them have the slightest inclination of being offended by female nipples.
Clearly we have found our source of concern: adults. Most men aren’t offended by female nipples; they would welcome female nipples in the landscape.
Adult women have the most to gain. If enough women on a beach go this route, there isn’t just one direction to take notice.
We have to be realistic. Some adult men and women find female nipples to be offensive. To be fair, this is the same group that objected when male nipples were exposed. They object to nipples, mostly female but not always.
Religion, oddly enough, is an issue with some of them. Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden until they eat the apple. According to the logic of the story, things were ideal when they were naked. Shame only came when they disobeyed God.
These people feel shame today for seeing bodies exposed. They are as likely to be upset by cleavage as nipples.
One of the arguments for same-gender marriage is that their marriages don’t threaten “traditional marriages.” The freedom to marry doesn’t interfere with people who are already married or those who choose not to get married to anyone.
If a woman chooses to be topless in a park or on a beach, she doesn’t interfere in someone else’s preference to not go topless. Many men choose to not go topless even when they have the opportunity. Others do so every chance they can get to be topless.
A woman seeing another woman who is topless might be encouraged to join her but is under no obligation to do so. For all the “talk” about gays “recruiting” others, there also isn’t any agenda for those for topless freedom to force anyone to join in who is not comfortable.
Same-gender marriage and topless freedom both are about the freedom to do something that doesn’t threaten other people.
Pride Weekend is always a grand celebration, but especially this year. Chances are in attending a Pride Parade that you will see a woman wearing bandages or stickers over her nipples, but otherwise have their breasts exposed.
The women who do this are beautiful for taking the bold step, even if the stickers and bandages seem a bit silly. When you see a woman’s breasts, the whole breast except for the nipple, you truly realize how immature we are for being obsessed with keeping the nipple covered.
We aren’t trying to compare the two movements, but just that they come together on Pride Weekend and they are both about freedom. They are asking for rights already being given to other people; they aren’t asking for something that doesn’t already exist.
People can be offended if a man takes off his shirt, either because they are concerned about all men who are topless or a particular male chest. Yet men are allowed to be topless.
Movements such as Free The Nipple have done a lot to expose people to this cause. Teenagers taking selfies and sexting has opened up a generation that isn’t as afraid to show nipples.
When a young woman from Iceland was cyberbullied after posting a topless picture, a number of Icelandic women went to Twitter and posted pictures showing a nipple or two in solidarity. One of those Icelandic participants was a female politician.
With all those nipples floating around the Internet, the world didn’t suddenly freeze. People who chose to look did so. Those that didn’t chose to look were not harmed by having pictures of nipples all around the Internet.
Freedom and tolerance requires us to respect the feelings and views of those who think topless females do harm to society. That has to be weighed against the harm to society that comes from not allowing women that option. Bad body images, low self-esteem, feeling not equal for reasons that feel trivial: being denied total equal freedom comes at a price. The question is whether that price is costlier and whether we want to keep paying that price for a lack of total equal freedom.