Today is National Women’s Equality Day, honoring the anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution on August 26, 1920.
Earlier this week, I blogged about women, freedom and a show called “Dating Naked,” and mused on whether we women have forgotten the fight our foremothers made for equality.
Case in point? In honor of Women’s Equality Day, a group called GoTopless held an event at Venice Beach in California where women were encouraged to show up wearing a Ta Ta top.
Technically, the women were fully clothed, but figuratively? Naked.
“In this city, as in most places around the world, women still can’t lawfully go bare-chested, although their male counterparts have had that privilege for decades. It’s time to celebrate women’s topless pride in spite of all the silly and unconstitutional restrictions posed by local laws.”
She goes on to further say:
“Imagine if, 100 years ago, women had worn pants with lifelike knees painted on them. Many people in 2014 don’t know it, but women’s knees were considered too indecent to show back then. Today, no one bats an eye at the sight of an uncovered woman’s knee. Soon it will be the same for bare breasts! How silly it is to have to wear painted ones!”
She makes some interesting points. It is silly for a woman to be allowed to wear in public a bikini top designed to look like a naked breast, but not be allowed to bare a naked breast in public. What’s the difference? The Ta Ta Top looks just like a naked female breast (and that’s coming from a man I showed the photo to). Nude beaches are commonplace in other parts of the world.
And why is a naked male torso in public a less sexually charged image than a naked female torso in public? Is it just desensitization? Or are we programed to view the female body in a different light? When does the image of a bare chested woman go from nude to naked, art to indecency?
I don’t have a problem with a public display of the nude female body. I have a friend who is a nude model for art students, for example. She’s been fascinated to see the varying portrayals of her poses by each student, different interpretations of the female form. There is no exploitation, no sexual end to her modeling session. Just an exploration of anatomy and beauty and art.
Nude beaches? Have at it. I’m not interested in going, but it doesn’t mean you can’t, and enjoy it. But I think a nude beach is different than walking down the street topless. I remember in 1986, when I was in college, there was a group of women here in Rochester who went topless in a local park. It caused a huge uproar. They were arrested, there were lawsuits.
On the one hand, there’s something to be said for the desensitizing of our culture to the sexual nature of breasts – especially for women who lose their breasts due to cancer. It’s not just the disease; body image and sexuality issues that come into play. This is just one instance when we would be wise to help women understand they are whole sexual beings, apart from their individual body parts.
(Side note: I haven’t had breast cancer so I only share what some women have told me about their experience. I have had cervical cancer issues, and as a result had a partial hysterectomy decades ago. I didn’t feel any less female because I lost my uterus. In fact, I haven’t had a period in 15 years, and trust me, I’m happier for it. But I think I’d feel much differently if it was my breast that was involved.)
On the other hand, I like a bit of mystery when it comes to sexuality, the lure of the chase vs. the display of the parade. Although I was assured by a man that actually seeing breasts as opposed to just imagining them leads to the same kind of sexual arousal, so maybe the mystery is all in my head.
Besides, why do I need to go topless in public? Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Where would I stuff tissues when my allergies kick in, or my cell phone when I don’t want to carry my purse?
While Terstenjak’s comparison to the naked knee is valid, there’s something I think that that argument may be missing, at least in relation to the fight for women’s rights.
Back in the mid-1800s, Amelia Bloomer shocked the public by wearing what would later be called bloomers – basically frilly, baggy, cumbersome trousers that were worn under a knee-length dress. While little skin was shown, it was still a disgrace. Naked ankles! Oh the horror! And in the interest of solidarity and the right for a women to wear whatever the heck a woman wanted to wear, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton joined in and donned the scandalous apparel.
But after a while, they went back to their floor length skirts, sans bloomers. The reason? People were focusing so much on their bloomers that they were missing the heart of the women’s equality struggle: the right to vote, to own property, and other serious issues that kept women from participating fully in their own lives.
Think about it: so much attention on what they were (or weren’t) wearing that the heart of the message got lost.
Yes, we’ve come a long way, baby, and we’ve got a ways to go. I understand the arguments for going topless. And I see the absurdity of the law that lets a women dress in clothing that makes her look naked when she is technically fully clothed while outlawing outright nakedness.
But in the interest of fighting for a right to bare breasts in public, are we missing the opportunity to address bigger issues, like sexual harassment, sexual slavery, and even today, in some places, equal pay and job opportunities? Are people – meaning men – so busy looking at our naked boobs they are missing our naked souls? (The fact that if you google Go Topless and accidentally add .com vs .org you get porn is an indication that we naturally equate nakedness with sexuality.)
Of course, the answer may lie someplace in the middle, knowing that female empowerment comes from first understanding ourselves as complete and whole sexual beings, realizing that our feminine power comes not from our breasts, but from our entire selves.