I came across an Irish Times article on my Facebook feed about this lady who went topless at a festival in Ireland and was thrown out by the Gardaí. Some people protested. Some women were arrested for taking off their tops and some of the topless men were asking why the Gardaí didn’t arrest them for being topless. We seem to have a problem with women showing their breasts in public, while at the same time men can bounce around half-naked as they please. I ended up reading the comments on Facebook and as someone who grew up in a culture where seeing people naked is considered normal, I found the comments interesting. To give you a bit of background for where I come from, let me tell you a story.
On the beach, wearing a bikini – how much is there left for imagination anyway?
Back in the day when I was in my late teens/early twenties, at least once every summer we would gather a group of friends together and go to someone’s summer house for a couple of days. There we would, as most youngsters do, have a barbeque and drink some wine/beer/cider. At some point, we would also heat up the sauna and once it was hot enough everyone would get naked and go to the sauna together. Men and female, stark naked as nature made us. There was no gawking, groping or giggling. We would sit there, talk rubbish, get washed and go back to the cottage to drink and chat some more. Now, this was a good 10 to 15 years ago so who knows what the youngsters in Finland do these days, but this was normal to us back in the day. It wasn’t something strange or extreme you’d be talking about later. If you walk into a public sauna in Finland completely naked, no one bats an eyelid. Go there with your swimming togs on and you will certainly raise a few eyebrows. My experience in the Irish changing rooms is quite the opposite. I see women trying to get changed under a towel, trying to hide every single body part while getting their clothes on. In a women only changing room. While I do understand that some people might be conscious of their bodies, I do wonder where it all comes from. What if we were more used to seeing normal human bodies with all their imperfections (rather than the photoshopped bodies media throw at us all the time), maybe we wouldn’t feel so strange about getting undressed (or dressed in this case) in front of strangers.
So, back to the article in the Irish Times and the comments I read this morning. Some people argued that they wouldn’t like to see boobs flopping around in the shops or restaurants. I don’t think anyone is intending to go topless everywhere and all the time. But if men are allowed to sit half-naked in a public park, why are women not? Giving women the same right to go topless in these situations doesn’t mean all the women would be doing it all the time and everywhere. Just like all the men aren’t topless all the time and everywhere either. And when did we become so sensitive that everything we don’t like to see should be banned? If you don’t like what you see, look elsewhere. Some people can’t bear to see pregnant ladies perhaps due to their own difficulties in conceiving, but surely we shouldn’t be asking for pregnant ladies to stay indoors so someone else doesn’t get upset? What is it about female breasts anyway that makes us so uncomfortable? Why do you feel embarrassed if Mary next door is sitting topless in her front garden? Or if someone is breastfeeding next to you in a coffee shop?
Many people also argued that the female breasts are sexual and exclusive to women (eh, men have boobs too?!). If we’re talking about biology, as nature intended, the function of the female breasts is to feed babies. But yes, they do also play a part in attracting another person in a sexual manner. Whether that is because of the sexualisation of the female breasts in our culture over the years, as some commenters claimed, or if it’s also what nature intended to ensure we’re attracted to each other, is a different conversation. People are different and have different preferences. Some like blond, some like red. Some like hairy male chests and some like blue eyes. Even if I find the deep, bright blue eyes extremely sexy, it doesn’t mean I get out-of-control horny every time I see a pair. It’s about the context too. People should be able to put boobs into context. A man (or a woman) seeing a pair of bare breasts in a park is hardly going to get so aroused by it that they can’t control themselves, as one commenter implied. If they did, the issue is most certainly somewhere else than the bare breasts! It’s a completely different context seeing a girl sitting topless in a park chatting to her friends than seeing that same girl, topless in her bed giving you the suggestive eyes. Surely we as adults should be able to make the separation?
And with all that said, some people seem to miss the point that at the end of the day it’s not really about being able to show your breasts. It’s about the fact that these kinds of rules over how, why, and when they should be covered only feed the culture of victim blaming when it comes to sexual crimes. It’s about the fact that we still have different rules for men and women. How do you explain your daughter why she can’t wear only shorts like her brother? All these seemingly small things feed into the bigger picture: gender equality.