« Note on tone | Main | One hour into grading... »

June 16, 2006



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.

That's a nice theory, and it seems to fit really well. Except it's just not true. Men's chests are not part of the 'sexual anatomy' - if they were, they'd be covered up like their genitals are. If it's out-and-out discrimination, why force men to cover down below, but not up top?


A bit late to the game on this one. Thanks for replying to my comment, Hugo.

I'm not sure I'd say I'm after a call for solidarity here - I agree with Douglas' first comment for the most part. It just isn't going to generate much or any impact, really. Certainly not in the way that straight people's rejection of marriage does. It's more about recognising that if you choose to do it, there are likely to be people who you offend (and why). In this case someone told you about it. It really depends on your running location and how many people you see, but my guess is that for that one comment you've probably offended other people.

When I see shirtless men running in town or the 'burbs, it annoys me and I'm hacked off that I have to see it. Society dictates which are the "naked" zones and which aren't, and some countries are far more liberal than others. I go topless at our (one!) topless beach here but not at the other beaches. In some places in Europe, topless is the norm. I expect bare chests at the beach, but not on the street. Actually, there's a funny ad here where a guy's wearing a speedo at the beach, and they track him into town. As he casually walks along, the narrator says "togs" (swimsuit) "togs" "togs" etc. until he's out of sight of the beach. It changes to "underwear" "underwear" "underwear" (said in an increasingly horrified voice) and people start hiding their children's eyes in horror and glaring at him. It's very funny, and they then show him standing in a variety of places, like the supermarket, and insist that here it's "underwear." This is what I'm meaning. It might not be illegal for a guy to go shirtless in town but it's not exactly socially acceptable either.

You've actually got me curious now about this "shirtism" thing. You mentioned women running in those bra tops. Well, where I live I don't see that many women running in those but they're common at my gym. However, I've never seen a shirtless guy at the gym. I doubt that bare-chested runners are solely doing it because they're hot; otherwise they'd do it at the gym too. So maybe it's the issue of feeling free in the open air. That might be part of what I'm reacting to, because I'm not allowed the same freedom. For example, I really enjoy driving topless (don't ask) but always do it in the early hours of the a.m. because I'll get arrested if I did it in daylight.

Anyway, I think there are two issues here: what's legal and what's socially acceptable. I'm not looking to change the legality, because that won't happen while women's bodies are fetishised the way they are. I am interested in the social acceptability side of things.

Men's chests are not part of the 'sexual anatomy' - if they were, they'd be covered up like their genitals are. If it's out-and-out discrimination, why force men to cover down below, but not up top?

What kind of crappy sex are you having perplexed? But snark aside, nice circular logic you have going there: sexual anatomy is what we have covered up, and what's covered up is sexual anatomy. Perplexed, trust me: a man's chest is sexual. Hell, in my semi-experienced oppinion, everything has the potential to be sexual, including eyes, and everything has the potential to be non-sexual (take it from someone who has done the visit to the gyno: they may be playing with a "Sexual organ" but there isn't ANYTHING sexual about it). It's the envirnment, not the body, that's sexual.


As he casually walks along, the narrator says "togs" (swimsuit) "togs" "togs" etc. until he's out of sight of the beach. It changes to "underwear" "underwear" "underwear" (said in an increasingly horrified voice) and people start hiding their children's eyes in horror and glaring at him. It's very funny, and they then show him standing in a variety of places, like the supermarket, and insist that here it's "underwear." This is what I'm meaning. It might not be illegal for a guy to go shirtless in town but it's not exactly socially acceptable either.

LOL - I'd love to see that ad. So true as well - the perception of what is acceptable or not is just that - a perception. Those togs become underwear in the wrong context or when you just can't tell because they're too far away to discern, yet objectively it's the same thing - a guy wearing speedos. I guess a man is seen as 'dangerous' walking around a supermarket in speedos ('danger to children' - a sexist attitude many men sadly face).

I remember watching a documentary on a naked rambler - he walked with his girlfriend from Lands End to John O'Groats (the entire length of the UK) - both of them completely naked. It was interesting how people reacted to them. A lot of people accepted and championed their cause. They got arrested inevitably, but most of the public weren't bothered. A few people turfed them out of shops/pubs. The worst reaction (and most common in the 'worst reaction' category) was that people saw a naked man as 'dangerous'. He couldn't work that one out - how vulnerable can you get, being naked? You can't even conceal a weapon, let alone leaving your balls open to attack. Anyway, he spent over 3 months in prison from one arrest alone (not his girlfriend mind you). He eventually made it to John O'Groats.

What kind of crappy sex are you having perplexed?

LOL antigone - thanks for asking - it's good but from your tone, I guess you don't want to believe that. I don't see what it has to do with my comment either. I guess if men's chests are as sexually fetishised as women's breasts are (which seems to be the consensus here), then aren't men just as objectified as women? Or are you saying only men can objectify women, but women healthily lust after men in a non-objectifying way? Next time I'm down the local pool, I'm going to check women's reactions to all those wonderful male chests on display.


I've never understood why people are so upset about seeing naked chests or breasts. Where I live (Ontario) women are allowed to go topless. Very few take advantage of it, although I have on special occaisions (like the Pride parade).
Men and women go publicly naked at the Pride Parade, and it doesn't seem to be an issue for anyone. I guess I find the whole argument about the need to be covered for "decency" or "modesty" a little prudish?

Anthony Nieto

Hugo! For a multitude of reasons you could have been harassed by a random individual. Insecurity can drive people to do and say things they would otherwise not. As a result, the comment could be taken as a compliment rather than a poke at you.


I think as far as running goes, men going topless is a totally different thing from women going topless. Unlike Gonzette, I *am* "flat chested to the point of pity" and I still want support. I've run Bay to Breakers a couple times, which gets a lot of naked runners... the handful of women who do it almost always run naked-except-for-a-sports bra. I never get nipple-chafing, which alone is reason enough to run topless.

Mind-numbingly practical, I know. If you're talking about lolling about on the beach then I think we have an equal right to go about topless.

perplexed, you seem to be saying that women's breasts must be covered because they are sexually fetishized? Your argument is not about their, er, utility as an erogenous zone (because if it's about that, then men have to cover up too, and one of my exes would be obligated to cover his earlobes). On the other hand, others are saying that breasts are fetishized *because* they're covered up, which makes them all special and exotic. I'm inclined to believe the latter, but I think without some empirical data on this we're just going to be arguing in circles of cause and effect.


On the other hand, others are saying that breasts are fetishized *because* they're covered up, which makes them all special and exotic.

metamanda, I actually do agree with this. Yes, You soon tire of breasts on a beach (so to speak). I actually think clothing and in particular women's fashion helps fetishise the female form. Thing is, we can agree with that, but what you have to realise is that female breasts are still a part of the social normative "sexual anatomy", hence they are covered up - like male and female genitals are. This norm could be changed over time though and female breasts may be seen as....well, less eye-poppingly sexual by having them out in the open more.

I am arguing against the "it's sexism" line - it's actually just prudishness, coupled with the plain fact that men and women have different bodies (women have that extra part that's considered sexual enough to be covered up).

I'm also very unsure that women and men both view parts of the opposite anatomy with equal levels of lust and desire. I mean - where are the penis catalogues of porn fetishes (lol)? Vaginas - well, categories and sub-categories of fetishes to suit all men's desires there in the porn industry. And - with both of these are covered in daily life - why the discrepancy? Occam's razor - men and women are different, with different levels of desire for particular parts of the opposite sex's anatomy.


I think what matters is the proximity to other people, when you're shirtless. If you're out on a trail and nobody's around, or if the other people are safe in their cars, it is not as much an intrusion on them. But at the gym, where if little droplets of sweat are going to fly off you and hit other people while you run, that is gross gross gross. Wearing a shirt helps to keep the sweat under control. Sometimes I wonder if these guys like sweating on other people, like marking their territory, because why else would someone be so inconsiderate? I think chafing is the price that must be paid to avoid sweating on other people.


Z, please be assured I don't workout indoors shirtless. I spray sweat enough as it is, especially when I'm boxing... wearing a "doo-rag" helps a bit, but not much.


Hugo, this post reminds me of your revelling-in-male-privilege post about name changing. (Yes, I am working on my spiritually problematic grudge-holding tendencies.) Clearly, you are aware of the difficult issues surrounding renouncing vs. benefiting from unmerited privilege.

And yet the name change post (for which you have not apologized) read much like this one would have, if you'd said:

"I love running bare-chested! It is comfortable and liberating, and allows me to feel God's own sunshine on my unencumbered chest and back! I am so pleased to live in a world where I can run bare-chested!"

See how benefiting from male privilege is one thing, but gloating about it is another?

Tom Head

Personally, I think the whole topic was just an excuse to post a beefcake photo of himself in hopes that this would distract people from the Pete thread. ;o)



Tom Head

(And tongue was firmly planted in cheek there--for all I know, he posted the photo a week ago. It is a rather nice photo--if I wore that in that pose, I'd look suspiciously similar to King Herod from Jesus Christ Superstar. Presumably marathon running does a body good!)


No worries, Tom -- the photo is from the LA marathon three months ago. If only running made me tanner, and less (rather than more) at risk of skin cancer!


Okay, how about we make a rule:

The only people who can run/play sports with their nipples showing are those with almost no adipose tissue underneath said nipples--that is, whatever subcutaneous fat you have, it doesn't bounce. This rule pretty much legislates that only men with fit chests and truly flat-chested--not "I'm a A (or even AA), I'm flat-chested, right?"--women can run topless. Yes, this means that you'll see more men than women running topless, but at least we won't see floppy man-boobs.

Otherwise, everyone should take care to cover their nipples while in public. The beach is another issue altogether.


Maureen, I was thinking the same thing. Yesterday I saw a guy with VERY floppy man-boobs running, and it really and truly was obscene in a way that boobless men running shirtless are not.

Also, I do think that as far as swimwear is concerned here in America, men's shirtless privelege is more or less cancelled out by their not being allowed to wear speedos for anything other than competitive swimming. There's a definite social pressure to wear something more modest (trunks) at public beaches, where no such pressure exists for women. Yes, we have to cover the boobs, but men have to cover the butt-cheeks and we don't. (Not entirely anyway. Here in Minnesota nobody wears a thong on the beach, thank goodness. But bikini bottoms don't cover everything, which is what I mean.) So maybe it's less objectification than a general prudishness about anything that sticks out? Just playing the devil's advocate here, but....


I think the key thing missing in this discussion is modesty and the sense of it - modesty is usually called upon when the presentation or exposure of a person's humanity (and I mean everything from personal opinion to intimate places of a person's body) could be seen by an onlooker as provocative (sexually or otherwise), and the presenter becomes concious of this and makes the concious choice to keep his or her human attributes (through some means) unprovocative (yes, yes, yes, I know this word can be debated but I think that some level of difference between a woman with her nipples exposed and a woman with a bra and a polo shirt on can be agreed upon...). This choice shows a conciousness and an empathy for other people that is the lynchpin to this conversation: whether or not the socially accepted double standard that men are able to take their shirts off in public but women aren't, isn't so much the point, I think, but that some men (from what my own experience as a woman and what my guy friends tell me, and, I would almost venture to say MOST men) are very attracted to and turned on by the sight of a woman's naked breasts (whether or not she intends them to be), and that by women choosing to keep her breasts somewhat covered in public (tank tops, etc. are fine, too, they cover), they are helping some people keep their focus, and some people from uncontrollable desires, and herself from uncomfortable situations; it might sound hopelessly old-fashioned, but I think it is true. Breasts are attractive (both men and women's), so keeping them somewhat covered in public shows empathy, dignity, practicality, and conciousness! It seems to me that this debate seems to only be a vehicle for some people complaining that one group of people can't legally do what another group can, which seems awfully petty when everyone seems to (in general) agree about what most of the reasoning behind it is, even if they can't agee on the premise themselves! Just accept it already, or go to nude beaches, or a colony, etc!!! Everyone is going to have their different preferences!


There is a lot of silliness in this discussion. Depending on context, there is nothing wrong with a man running shirtless. Running shirtless is a matter of comfort, not exhibitionism. If it's the middle of the summer, miserably hot and humid, it's the only comfortable way to go if your torso is reasonably presentable. I run shirtless on training runs even early in the morning in the summer, with no apologies. However, I start out from home in a shirt to avoid the possibility of offending sensibilities of overly sensitive elderly neighbors, and generally carry a shirt with me in case I need to duck into a store to get some Gatorade or otherwise enter an environment where going shirtless seems inappropriate. I have not chosen to go shirtless in a road race simply because most guys wear some sort of shirt for races around here and I have no desire to be conspicuous.

Steve Delaney

Sure, it is unfair that men can be shirtless in public and women cannot. But do women ever think of it from a male point of view? At the beach a male MUST be shirtless. A man going into the water wearing a t-shirt or a muscle shirt would be very conspicuous because that is not the male standard. A teen boy worried about his underdeveloped body, or a young man with a skinny chest is not allowed to go into the water wearing anything on his upper half; he would be thought to be odd and other males would ask what his is afraid of. He would be subject to ridicule.

Women seem to forget that in some matters what seems like a possibility for men but not for women is actually a requirement for men. For instance, a woman can go out into the workforce and earn her own living, or she could marry a man and be dependent on his income or some combination of the two. A man MUST go into the workforce and earn his own living and possibly support others too. A man's chances of marrying a woman who will support him throughout their married lives is virtually nonexistent. Sure, some men become househusbands and raise the children, even for quite a stretch of years. But they do not start out with that as a goal. A college man saying he wants to marry and stay home will have no opportunities for dating. We are all glad that women now have freedom of choice. Why don't we extend that choice to men?

What a silly issue, really. I'll believe that women have a right to complain about such a small matter when they are legally required to sign up for Selective Service and when they may be drafted and possibly required to give their lives for their country.


I'm pretty set in ways, as far as running sans shirt goes, but I do acknowledge that there are poseurs about who can give folks the wrong impression about the great majority of us shirtless runners. I sometimes see someone plodding along with chest puffed-up in a way that has nothing to do with good running posture, adopting an exaggerated stride - and it can be a tad off-putting.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Regular reads

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 01/2004