Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Equal Opportunity Public Toplessness

I found Lori's post on feministing about public shirtlessness very thought-provoking. I didn't really take the issue that seriously at first, but then I started thinking about women breast-feeding. Breast feeding isn't obscene, but the sexualization of this pretty utilitarian part of us is what makes it so mothers can't post pictures of themselves nursing their infants on Facebook.

What are your thoughts on the issue? Should feminists take seriously the equal opportunity public toplessness issue since "it's small things like these where big gains can be made"? Or is it just a little too small of an issue to be worthy of our attention?


Anonymous said...

Well, then why can't males flop a dick out?

Breasts are a secondary sex characteristic. So are testicles.

Male chests are not a sex characteristic.

Follow? So no, you don't get to whip out your boobs, as display of sex characteristics is considered indecent.

If you don't want to see men walking around swinging their scrotums in the breeze, then don't demand the right to expose your boobs.

Amelia said...

If posession of a penis and testicles (or at least appearing as if one possessed them) did not confer great deals of privilege in this society, I might make something of your argument.

The idea that accepting bare breasts in public is a means of taking back some of the harmful sexualization of female body parts is important because women are at a disadvantage in this society.

Men and women and their different parts are not treated equally.

Saranga said...

oh look a troll strikes again.

it's because our breasts are so sexualised that we can't get them out. or even weara low cut top without getting looks, comments or grabs.

i'm not sure i can get far away from the idea that boobs are sexual to argue that women shouldn't go topless, but that's my failing, not a trait inherent in the breasts themselves.

Amelia said...

To me, it's incredibly interesting how thoroughly we have come to believe that breasts are sexual (and how that plays into sexism in women's everyday lives).

How do we escape it? Is public toplessness for women something that would help?

I don't know the answers.

Victoria said...

Just to add to Amelia's response:

The idea that breasts are always sexual objects to be put away is assuming that women only ever show their breasts for the ogling of others. Sometimes we just want to feed our babies or be comfortable.

Michael said...

While not being able to breastfeed in public is without a doubt A Bad Thing, I can't help but fear that pushing on this issue might hurt efforts to remove the "childbearing mothering stay-at-home-mom" element of our society's view of women.

the above is very poorly phrased, I know, but I'm hoping someone will know what I'm talking about.

Victoria said...


Is this your concern?: framing breasts just around child care assumes that that is their primary use and that child care is a woman's primary concern in regard to her breasts.

I agree that breasts are not just for nursing children, they are the body parts in posession of the women who own them.

However, men don't breast feed, women do and the taboo around breast feeding effects women more than men. Also, women overwhelmingly are the heads of households and childcare is a burden usually dealt with by them.

So no, we shouldn't pretend that the only issue about discriminating who can show their bare chests in public is child care considering not all women have children or choose to breast feed. However, we shouldn't pretend that the taboo around female breasts is not particularly annoying for nursing mothers.

Does this address your concern, Michael?

Amelia said...

Just a note to Anon: As chief comment moderator, I hold the right (as do all authors of individual posts) to reject comments for whatever reason we find reasonable. Your tone in your last comments was not friendly. Instead of coming at us as people who don't want to hear from those who disagree and honestly engaging in conversation without those underhanded comments snuck in every once in a while, you would get through.

Victoria said...

Also, Anonymous, breasts are not necessary for reproduction. Yes, you can get sexual pleasure from them, but you can from licking someone's ear too.

Amelia said...

From Anonymous, whose rest of this comment was undeniably trollish:

"Human women evolved to have enlarged breasts year round, not just when pregnant/lactating. THAT is what makes them a sexual characteristic. Not patriarchy, evil menz, society, porn, or anything else.

Biology, plain and simple.

Mother nature sexualized your boobs, not Father Hefner.

Tiberius said...


Victoria said...

Anonymous- I feel uncomfortable giving your comment enough credit to respond, but I just can't help it.

There are many cultures that do not sexualize women's breasts, so obviously it is possible not to look at them and think "sex."

Also, we used to sexualize the ankle in the Victorian period which I think you will agree was a social construct. What we sexualize has to do with what we cover up. When we cover up ankles, they are sexualized. When we cover up female breasts, they are sexualized.