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June 16, 2006


Douglas, Friend of Osho

Run bare-chested, if you like, Hugo. Not one woman will be freed from the silly prohibition on women's public toplessness by you refraining from doing something that obviously enhances your comfort. Hair-shirtism (no pun intended) has its place in progressive politics, but this ain't one of those places.


Reiterating from before, without getting into the loaded word "privilege," yes, I think that women/girls having to wear shirts is one of the myriad of reasons I myself always have one on (including in the pool and such); another is basic, healthy modesty, as I usually wear shirt, shorts/pants, and even my socks and sneakers whether alone or with others.

But I don't understand this chafing business. I don't get chafed when I'm wearing an ordinary T-shirt. Are you wearing abrasive fabrics?

boy genteel


When you run for three or four hours, soaked in sweat, anything chafes.


Hugo, I'm a little confused about what you are implying here. The statement, "equality does not mean sameness" rings in my ears. I have a hard time agreeing with you on this one, as men and women's chests are obviously different (I know I'm preaching to the choir on that, but hear me out).

What I mean to say is that, given that a woman's exposed chest is considered porn in print and film, wouldn't it then be pornographic for us women to expose our chests in public (as in on the beach, running, etc).

I think that there is much more to the issue of exposed chests than just "freedom to." There are many more layers to this, and I think they should be addressed in futher detail - namely, if you would consider a woman running without a shirt on to be pornographic (and I can guarantee you than men onlookers would - and would have no problem with it).


I think the argument, Mermade, is that our sexualizing of women's breasts is less a function of what is natural and more a function of culture (as the abundant testimony of other cultures makes clear, it's not true that all men everywhere are aroused by women's naked chests). Thus, given that anthropology establishes that it is our society that forces women to cover up, shouldn't we be challenging a cultural restriction? Men and women do have different upper bodies, it's true -- but the meanings we attach to those different bodies are largely constructed by society, and not by biology. I say largely because women's breasts do have a different function, of course, but while lactation is universal, male sexual response to an exposed breast is not.


Three or four hours? I really must get in shape. I get winded running out to the corner mailbox.

If you're looking to do something different, I suggest leaving a change of shirt (and maybe other things) in a cooler in your car/home/wherever your home base is when you run. When the A/C is shot here, I'd sometimes put a T-shirt into the freezer, and then put it on in an attempt to keep cool during sleepytime. Not that it worked, mind you...

You can't simultaneously work to end injustice while benefiting from injustice.

Like that (in-)famous Einstein quote about supporting peace while preparing for war, the statement is patently false. Of course you can do both; the only issue is whether or not you should. If you think there is something inherently wrong with men exposing their chests, then by all means, cover yours up. But wearing a top just because women do is silly. Would you do that at the pool, too?

Mermade is right; if the ladies around me want to run around with their tops off, I won't be the one to lodge a complaint, but I can't say I would enjoy the scenery an order of magnitude more than they would if I were the one going topless. Nor, I might add, would that be a good thing.


While I understand and respect your response, Hugo, I still find it hard to agree that men's delight in women's breasts is largely based on culture and not in biology. I believe that it is partly culture, yes, but more so in biology. I think that if you had breasts and delt with the male oogling of them, you might have a different feeling about this. Nonetheless, I am obviously uncomfortable with the idea of women running barechested for a few reasons other than the issue of porn. I think you know where I'm heading on this...

What is Christianity's response to this issue? We've just been talking politics here. But I keep repeating the verse in Song of Solomon in my mind:

Song of Solomon 4:5:
Your breasts are like twin fawns of a gazelle, feeding among the lilies.

Disclaimer: I do not mean to get fire-and-brimstone on this, Hugo. Really, I don't. I'm just kind of irritated, because I have breasts that have been foddled without my consent several times, and that memory still hurts very much. So please forgive me. You know that you are one of my Christian role models, and I respect your faith and convictions immensely. But I just have to bring up Christianity, because as your fellow sister in Christ, that is where I am having the most difficulty in agreeing with you on this.

The Bible obviously treats men and women's breasts differently, with women's breasts getting much praise and honor throughout parts of the Bible. God, I believe, wired men to be attracted to women and their breasts. And that is why I am adding yet another layer - Christianity - to this argument. I am just curious as to how you feel about that.


Mermade, but here's the problem from another angle (one we've looked at before): by that token, we must also accept that many women are strongly attracted to men's bare chests. Should we then ask men to also cover up on the running trail to avoid "causing a sister to stumble" (literally or figuratively?) Because what we end up doing, by your argument, is concealing women largely because of a belief about male sexuality -- holding women responsible for male responses.

And for goodness's sakes, don't worry about disagreeing with me! We can be on the same page for many things and still have cheerful disagreements elsewhere. And I won't hold it against you as I grade your final!

BTW, folks, visit Mermade's blog (listed on my sidebar)


should I refrain from using a urinal in the men's room because only toilets are available in the ladies' loo?

Actually, women's urinals do exist (in a slightly different design), and are uncommon only because there isn't that great a demand for them. They're not illegal, and nobody's trying to keep them from us. Not a great comparison.

(as the abundant testimony of other cultures makes clear, it's not true that all men everywhere are aroused by women's naked chests).

More to the point, heterosexual women are aroused by men's naked chests, but those of us who have been properly socialized don't use our interest as an excuse to harass or grope topless men. Men are perfectly capable of behaving themselves in the same way.

Mermade, of course lots of men are aroused by breasts. But nonconsensual fondling is highly offensive (and illegal) and gender-discriminatory topless exposure laws only encourage that kind of behavior. It's not being aroused that makes men assault us; it's antisocial impulses and lack of respect.

Tom Head

Whenever folks recommend modesty as a sexual assault avoidance strategy, it always remind me of the old joke about how you don't have to outrun the bear--you just have to outrun your buddy. It's dangerous to make a connection between fondling and skin exposure, because somebody is going to be the person with the most bare skin in the room, and that person does not deserve to be fondled.

If we don't recognize that the problem lies with men's behavior, and not with women's clothing choices, then we set up a line of reasoning that could only logically conclude with burqas and restrictions on socialization with male non-relatives.

That said: Outside of a pool, doctor's office, etc., you'll never see me shirtless. And that's basically the way I've always been. No particular moral or ethical reasons; I just don't think I look all that great without a shirt on. But I don't think there's anything at all wrong with men running shirtless, or straight couples getting married, or the rich buying nicer cars than the poor. We fight injustice, but we also need to recognize that it's a part of life.



Douglas, Friend of Osho

Good point, Tom. Noam Chomsky buys new cars. Trades his old one in at the lot, too, from what I've been given to understand. Alexander Cockburn collects classic cars, although he disputes the effect humans have on global warming. I don't find either case a big deal. And I haven't owned a car in 25 years.


It is because of an analogous line of reasoning that I as a white person refuse to ride in any taxi that will stop for me. I know my black brothers appreciate my sacrifice.


unmerited privilege

i don't know whether to laugh out loud or cry in frustration.


Hugo - I understand what you're saying about all this. I get how this fits into the myth of male weakness. But I think your thinking is too ideal. Yes, we women are attracted to a man's nice chest, but I don't think that girls struggle nearly to the same extent as guys with staring at a man's chest, grabbing it and making crude jokes about it.

What bothers me the most about the statement, "Men can expose their chests in public, so women should be able to, too" is more or less about the undertones of it all. Basically, that would mean that a woman's breasts are no more special or valuable than a man's chest. It kind of means that they don't hold any uniqueness. (I know that's not what you mean, but that's how I feel). And I just don't buy into that. I think a woman's breasts are a part of the body that is very, very, very special. They already go under enough scrutiny when covered up. So I don't know... I just can't see eye-to-eye with you on this.

I will try not to put disclaimers above my disagreements with you in the future. My father has basially trained me to do so.


"I think a woman's breasts are a part of the body that is very, very, very special."

I agree. They are also a part of the body that is very very *useful.* Special does not necessarily equal sexual, but by mandating that breasts be covered in public we are effectively making breasts only sexual by limiting their utility. A woman can't feed a baby with her shirt completely on. So when we mandate that a woman's shirt must always be on, we are effectively forbidding her to use her breasts for their *most important* purpose, and thereby diminishing the breast to a sexual plaything.

I don't want to parade around topless all the time. Heck I don't even want to swim topless. I also don't want to have my options be feeding a baby in a bathroom stall, or staying at home 24/7. Unless women can feel comfortable exposing their chests in public places then they will risk being judged, oogled, thrown out or at worst, arrested just for putting their breasts to their very special God given use.


D. A. Clarke's classic essay, "Political Exposure: The Breast", examines this subject beautifully.


The Gonzman

It's very unusual to be reading this.

Just got back from my workout with my kids and my son-in-law, and I asked the Gonzette, "Yo! T! Feel oppressed because you can't jog without a shirt on?"

Oh - heck - I'll pass the keyboard...

Hi, Hugo. While Mother Nature was reasonably kind to me, I don't consider myself overgenerously endowed. Perhaps a little more than average. I am my father's daughter, though, and I am tall, so I am proportionally larger. I would only jog topless if I was ever seized with a fit of masochism. Sprinting from my shower to the phone while topless just the other day caused uncomfortable bouncing, and to contemplate doing it for five miles gives me an ache just thinking about it. Give me a sports bra every time, and any woman who says differently is obviously speaking from ignorance, or is flat chested to the point of pity. Even when I was twelve, it was uncomfortable engaging in physical activity without some support or restraint. Jog shirtless to your heart's content, and do so with my absolution to your male guilt. Back to Dad, now.

Heh. Her first response is "Well, I guess we know Hugo doesn't have man-boobs, or he'd know better." But no, she won't type that. Chicken.

Anyway - just another perspective from an active wee lass.

Oh - as for your detractors on your response to Pete - jeez, here I am giving advice to the House Opposite - two words spring to mind: "Offense Mongering." Okay, a third word: "Scrupulousness." (In the religious sense.)

Try this: "Rather than jump down his throat, and risk contributing towards the creating of another Gonz, I decided to give him credit for a movement towards a philosophy which matches my own, though he yet falls short. Some people only come by baby steps, and better, I think, to let them arrive at their clear destination in due course rather than demand they spring forth fully formed and ready for battle, like Athena from Zeus' skull." (That whole classical imagery, plus the female warrior metaphor, ought to score points.)

Go ahead and use me for the Devil, mate, I can even Photoshop a picture with some cloven hooves if you think it would help.


Erm...chafing? When I ran cross country in high school and did at least six miles a day for ROTC in college I used to...well...use a bit on electrical tape here and there. Cheaper than Band-Aids in the long run and gets the job done.

I tend to keep my shirt on in most circumstances, as well as slathering on gobs of 30+ sunblock, mostly becuase I have been quite sunburned in the past and wish to prevent any future incidence of skin cancer. I'm paler than death and like it that way. The last time I went shirtless outside was at a Widespread Panic show in Raleigh. It was well after dark and raining, so I needed to take the shirt off just to stay warm.

I wont deny that since I spend a lot of time in the gym, I do tend to get favorable looks and compliments from women when I wear tight-fitting shirts. I feel a bit strange, though, on the receiving end. I guess it's nothing compared to what women must feel from the "male gaze", but it was a tad odd. Particularly to get compliments from women who really weren't interested, but wanted or felt the need to drop a compliment anyway.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Give me a sports bra every time, and any woman who says differently is obviously speaking from ignorance, or is flat chested to the point of pity.

Being flat chested to the point of pity, I guess (or at least, almost certainly way more flat chested than the Gonzette), I find sports bras OK, but really wear any bra only for decency's sake. If I were going by my own comfort, I'd run around without ever wearing a bra at all. In fact, I'll wear a light camisole instead of a bra, even if I'm going to be physically active, if I think there's any chance I can get away with it. Bouncing is comfortable enough when you don't have all that much to bounce.

On the other hand, if I were considering only my own comfort, and never mind decency, I still think I'd wear a shirt, if only because shirts seem like an easier way to avoid sunburned breasts than constantly applying sunscreen to them.

And, if it's not TMI, a word to any guys who have occasion to be at places where it's OK for women to go topless: nipples will get erect from cold. You can not assume it's always a sign of arousal. (Bad memory from my college days.)

And, definitely, I'm with StarFoxy on the stupidity of objecting to nursing in public.

Tom Head

FWIW, Mississippi recently (unanimously, with signature by right-wing Republican governor) passed a bill making an exception in the indecent exposure statutes allowing women to breastfeed in public.




I'm in agreement with Mermade here. Men's chests and women's breasts are obviously different, with a stronger sexualisation of women's breasts than men's chests - the reasons for which belong to another thread. Nevertheless, this is a fact. Correct me if I'm wrong, but are their any strip bars where you see SINGLE women (as in, walking in on their own) ogling men's chests? The only male strip bars I see are where you get "hen parties" (like a big group of women) who treat it all as a big laugh watching some guy strip. And I just see them laughing and enjoying themselves, not really ogling men's chests in silence. Also, what about porn for women? Again, can we really compare the amount of porn aimed at women's breasts (for men) with men's chests (for women)?

My point is that sexual parts of the body are covered for decency. That's why both men and women must cover their genitals. If it was a patriarchal conspiracy, men could walk around completely naked.


who treat it all as a big laugh watching some guy strip. And I just see them laughing and enjoying themselves, not really ogling men's chests in silence.

Perplexed, women are not obligated to mimic every aspect of the miserable, grim, and humorless construction of male sexuality in order for our own sexuality to be real. Homosocial bonding is not the same thing as private desire and fantasy. Strip bars do not define lust. Women do not have to act like strip bar-going men in public for our desires to be taken seriously. Men's bodies are sexually attractive. Deal with it.

Do you know why women don't pay to see men's naked chests in strip clubs very often? Because we don't have to. You can see men's naked chests on daytime television, in mainstream magazines, at the gym, and outside on summer days. That's the whole point. Women's chests are hidden and covered, so if you want to see a stranger's breasts, you have to go to a special venue, you have to pay, and you have to make a big production of it. Men's chests are on display everywhere, and we can look at them whenever we want. And we do. We get away with it because some men are so amazingly oblivious to women's desires that they pretend it can't be happening.


I think it's great that Missisippi is finally passing some decent legislation. I don't care who signs it into law.

I have a really long post on that, but since I don't want to take up a lot of bandwidth, I have a post on my blog.http://goddesscassandra.blogspot.com/2006/06/decency.html


i'm really glad starfoxy brought up the point about women breastfeeding in public. as far as i'm concerned, that's the real issue that results from our culture's sexualization of women's breasts, not whether women can go jogging topless (most don't want to due to discomfort).

but as a brand-new mother of an 8 week old, i've definitely noticed a change in my attitude about my breasts, and a resentment at the cultural mandate to keep them covered in public. it's not that i am in danger of being arrested -- also i live in a very crunchy liberal university town so socially it's certainly quite acceptable for me to nurse my baby in public. but the "modesty" (another word for shame) that has been socially ingrained in me from pre-pubescence on is not something that can be switched off like a light switch. i'm very aware of it any time i go to nurse in public. and it is something that is, at best, inconvenient for me to have to deal with when all i am trying to do is FEED MY BABY!

it's a real issue, and it sucks, quite frankly. and is entirely a social construct which, unfortunately, is not likely to go away soon. considering that our society considers the source of my baby's food to be obscene and pornographic.

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