I hear tell of the myth of summer—a time when the world gets especially hot, forcing people to strip down and wear fewer clothes.
I’m not entirely familiar with the concept of sun, beaches, swimming, or going outside. (As a writer, I spend my days in a glorified cave.) But I am familiar with the strange controversy around the concept of wearing fewer clothes. This controversy exists every day of the year for women who “insist” on breastfeeding their baby. (As though that’s what boobs are meant for or something.) But it gets more and more prevalent during the hotter months of the year.
One of the main reasons I’m aware of this controversy, from my cavern-like basement, is through the “Free the Nipple” campaign.
Founded in 2012, after a few incidences where women in the United States were charged with “indecent exposure” and “public indecency” for appearing topless in public (including in states like New York, where such things are supposed to be legal), the “Free the Nipple” campaign arose. It describes itself as centering around the idea of gender equality. Perhaps most notably, the equality they take special interest in is a woman’s right to take her shirt off and walk around with her tatas out.
I mean, sure. Why not? Summer gets hot, and ever since the 1930s men have had their right to walk around showing way too much torso. So why can’t women have the same right? In fact, it might even make more sense for women to be publicly topless, because (as briefly touched on before), women with babies often need to breastfeed and this involves exposing a boob or two.
What else are we going to do with those breastfeeding mothers? Make tired, stressed-out women who already pushed a human out of their vagina hide away in the “Bathroom of Shame” while all their (lucky childless) friends go on with their lives?
What sort of sense does that make?
So, yeah. Let’s make this legal. Let’s fight for the police to recognize our right to bare our boobs!
Except…this is already legal in many places in North America.
Despite the campaign’s beginnings, you’d be surprised by the amount of places where it’s technically legal for women to walk around topless. In the United States, individual states have the right to dictate their legalities around female toplessness, and though these laws change frequently, in many states exposed boobs are actually legal.
Then we have my country, Canada, where it’s actually legal for women to walk around topless almost everywhere—including, and almost especially, in my own province, Ontario.
Look, I know I just said I don’t really get out much, but if this was the case you’d think I would have seen at least one public boob. But I haven’t. It’s not that I’m disappointed or anything, I’m just surprised. If I didn’t know that female toplessness was legal where I live, I wouldn’t have even guessed it.
I still see women covering up their boobs all throughout the hot summers. I still hear about mothers who shock and gasp at a woman breastfeeding in public because “Think of the children! What if my little Timmy sees a boob! A boob!!!!”
And in fact, although I’ve never actually seen this mythological creature known as “the publicly topless women,” I’ve heard people make snide comments about them when they see pictures. Comments like, “that’s disgraceful,” and “that’s so weird,” and “why doesn’t she respect herself and put some clothes on?” Even, at their most dangerous, “she’s just asking for something to happen.”
If, legally and technically speaking, female toplessness is the same as male toplessness, why isn’t it treated the same?
It’s because, societally speaking, female toplessness isn’t the same as male toplessness. The way we think about women’s bodies is different. Women’s bodies are often viewed as sexual objects in a way that men’s aren’t.
Technically speaking, breasts are just another part of the body. About as sexual as hands are. But hands occur on every body, whereas breasts grow most commonly on people who were assigned female at birth. Therefore, as a female body part, they are viewed as inherently sexual.
It doesn’t matter that they function as food for babies, or that they’re essentially odd bags of fat clinging to a chest. They’re “female body parts,” which makes them sexual, which makes them bad, which means us have to cover them up.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it!
When a man appears shirtless in public, it can be for a lot of reasons. Maybe he’s hot (temperature-wise, I mean), or maybe he got his shirt dirty, or maybe he doesn’t own a shirt. Who knows, really?
When a woman appears shirtless in public, people automatically assume that it’s for only one reason: sex. She is “inviting attention.” She is “opening herself up” to being leered at, to being flirted with, to being assaulted. If any of those things do happen to her, she may not even be viewed as the victim, but rather, as the cause. She has a female body that she isn’t ashamed of, which immediately means she’s promiscuous, that she’s a “whore,” that she has no self-respect. (By the way, why would being promiscuous mean that we have no self-respect anyway?)
They’re just boobs. They’re not inherently sexual. They’re body parts and little else, saying nothing about us and meaning nothing.
If you want proof that boobs are sexualized to a ridiculous extent in our society, then look at some of the responses to the “Free the Nipple” campaign, which include certain men claiming that boobs “belong in pornography,” and that if a woman earns the right to walk around with her tits out, he should have the right to walk around with his dick out.
In our society, a woman’s nipples are so intensely sexualized that some men do not even see them as being the same as the nipples on their own chests. Rather, they equate them to being the exact same thing as genitals. In our society, female nipples are deemed less of a body part, and more of a tool used in pornography to get men off.
If “Free the Nipple” proves anything, it’s that this association needs to change.
That’s the beautiful thing about all this being societal too—this can change. Right now, it isn’t common or even safe for women to walk around topless. But that might not always be the case. With campaigns like “Free the Nipple,” we can keep talking about this, keep supporting women who want to go shirtless, keep pointing out how ridiculous it sounds to claim that female nipples belong in pornography and male nipples belong at the beach.
The more we do, the more people will begin to change their minds and the more society will change as a result.
Even if you aren’t comfortable baring your breasts this summer (and trust me, I get it if you aren’t), don’t forget about the women who are, and the women who are trying to be.
Support those women, and talk about those women.
Make those women normal, because someday, they might just be.
Author: Ciara Hall
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman