What If Women Went Topless?

Unprecedented East Coast heat has prompted Moira Johnston to go topless in New York. Why drown in a hot, puddley bra when you can rip off your top, as so many men do when temperatures rise?

Moira also wants to raise awareness that, “It’s legal for woman to be topless anywhere a guy can be without a shirt since 1992 here in New York State.”

Jamie Peck gave it a try and found the only objectors were those worried about children, which she ponders:

Personally, I think that viewing a bare breast as inherently sexual and hence corrupting of innocence is silly; I’d much rather my hypothetical kid see women of all shapes enjoying the outdoors and being comfortable with their bodies than, say, two fully clothed people dry humping on a bench.

Plenty of men would love this, and judging from the crowd Moira attracts, many do.

But what would happen if women did go topless? All of them, in mass, for a long time?

Men would probably be disappointed as the breast fetish faded away. After all, it doesn’t exist in places where women walk around topless all the time, like tribal societies. And it withered in Europe and Australia in the 80s when breasts were bared in magazine and TV ads, and on billboards, and where women went topless on the beach.

The woman who reported this piece for Stuff appears to be Australian, and she can relate:

Why do we still treat bare breasts as such objects of scandal?

I must admit it’s always puzzled me. Growing up, as I did, in the ’80s, my template for adult womanhood was that it was perfectly natural – nay, expected – to whip ’em out in summer.

We’d turn up to the beach, three or four families or so, stake out a spot, and then the mums and aunts and friends would roll their one-pieces down and pour on the Reef. Consequently my approach to beachgoing is similarly au naturel.

So freeing. And some feminists recommend this breast baring to de-objectify them.

On the downside, women would probably still be judged, and some might feel pressured to uncover when they’d rather not — the inverse of some Arab women who feel pressured to cover when they’d rather not.

Still, women from once-topless societies aren’t expected to have such huge breasts today, saving money and potentially dangerous, unnecessary surgeries. As an ex-pat now living Portugal reveals:

My wife, who teaches at a local university, had an interesting conversation with one of her students. He’s a cosmetic surgeon, one of the very few in southern Portugal who does breast augmentations.

“I’m curious,” said my wife. “What size do most women ask for when they have an augmentation?”

“In Portugal? A B-cup,” he replied.

“A B-cup? That’s all? I’d have thought women who were paying for larger breasts would want something a little more…sizeable.”

“No, a B-cup is the average here, and in Europe. But if you go to the United States, it’s a different story.”

“What do American women ask for?”

“A D-cup,” he said. “The difference between Europe and the US is two cup sizes.”

Interesting to see the law of unintended (or intended) consequences in action.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 25, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. this is all merely for attention, the difference between a small white t-shirt and going topless is not going to keep this woman any cooler. Men and Women are different and all these attempts to make both the same are ridiculous. Women and men should be glad of their gender and the differences it affords them. Maybe if this was Africa 200 years ago this would be normal but this is 2012 in a civilized society. Civility means being humble and not forcing everyone to see your breasts. Sorry ladies you will never be able to do everything men can and vice versa. This is why you don’t see an all-female Navy Submarine or a woman carry 3 wounded soldiers out of the hot zone.
    I am all for women being allowed their rights but it is getting to the point of insanity now. And I am quite sure the majority of the reason this woman is doing this is for the fame it is quickly bringing her, and in this day of age of internet glory it only shows she is a fame whore.
    Where did acting “as a lady” go out the window? I guess it came along with tramp stamps, tongue rings and “Pink” scribblings across the rear ends of women’s bottoms in shorts and pants.
    Respect is earned not just given away, and walking around like this with no respect because of some loophole type of law only shows this is an attention stunt.
    If men and women were truly the same, women would get all their hair cut off in military boot camp, not allowed to do their push-ups using their knees, the list goes on….
    What if I were to walk around Manhattan wearing high-heels but as a hetrosexual man? I would be mocked as I should be. The only reason she isn’t being mocked is because the guys love the free show.
    It’s like this. When porn stars talk about how proud they are of themselves don’t you find it odd they do it under a stage name and not their given name? What parent do you really believe is “proud” their child is earning their money doing porn?
    Not to suggest this instance and porn have any type of relationship but where I am going with this is any parent I know who has any respect for themselves would not be pleased with this young woman’s antics. Would you really enjoy seeing your daughter being on the news for the sole fact she is walking around NYC half nude because she is “promoting a unknown law” and for women to take advantage?
    NYC isn’t that hot to have to be topless, I am sure a very thin white t-shirt compared to being topless would’t even register in any noticeable body temperature difference.
    This is not 15th century africa, you don;t have to get bones through your noses or laughable tattoos or these new huge discs placed in your ear lobes.
    I understand people have the incessant need to be different, and with the population ever so growing every new billion on the planet a certain amount of the population finds new ways of becoming different but it is at a point of just becoming INSANE.
    If you google up the story, a few years ago some town in vermont had some strange law that allowed people to walk around nude on certain days or something, and of course the few young people took advantage of it and the law was revoked.
    Men walking around NYC shirt-less IS DIFFERENT than a woman doing the same, that is not sexist, just the truth. I am sure a guy walking around NYC shirtless will have a group of women taking photos of him all day around town.

    • I agree that men and women aren’t exactly the same. There are some sex differences: Chromosomes, hormones, primary and secondary sex characteristics.

      At the same time, cultures create gender differences where they don’t exist in nature. No reason, really, why women can’t go topless – as they do in some places.

      But I find that many men are intent on sustaining gender differences that aren’t necessary. I suspect this is often motivated to sustain a sense of male superiority/dominance. As men and women seem more alike, you have greater equality.

      With sex difference there’s no reason to see one as superior or inferior. Yes, men are taller and have more muscles while women are shorter and have more fat reserves. The latter gives women superiority in surviving. The former gives men more strength — but that doesn’t lead to male dominance – some cultures have equality, anyway, and the most dominant men in our society — Presidents, CEO’s etc. — don’t have the most muscles. See this post:

      Is Sexism Men’s Fault?

      • where do women walk around topless in civilized societies in the modern world? Maybe in Sweden or Finland where summer is 2 months long but nowhere in civilized society does this really exist.
        The point has nothing to do with male superiority, I love the fact you even brought it up as it is the usual weapon of choice women use in the war of equality.
        It is simply a point of having some reservations and not walking around half nude. top less and a thin white t shirt are only separated by a women who says “we should be able to” and that is all, I am completely sure she wouldn’t be any hotter with the tiny t shirt. A little decorum and self respect, then the next argument is why men can’t have their genitals out, and the overwhelming majority of people consider female breasts to be sexual organs fit to be covered up

      • You may not have been advocating for male superiority in insisting upon sex “difference,” but many who focus on sustaining “difference” do. But in fact, “cultural feminists” also believe women and men are different — but also equal in worth and deserving of equal opportunity.

        “Civilization” doesn’t seem meaningful here. It’s not like we’re superior or have any more self respect. And as I note in the post, I can see both negatives and positives in women going topless.

  2. One of the things that immediately struck me about this photo is that none of the men in it were topless; all were fully dressed with shirts and long pants. In this instance, it creates a scenario where the woman is more vulnerable because she has more of herself exposed to the world.

    Similarly, an unequal situation is created with business attire, where men wear suits, but women are expected to wear short skirts (or any skirt that bares her legs, for that matter), baring more of herself to scrutiny. This along with the silly, tottering heels women are expected to wear as opposed to the comfortable flat shoes men wear, all serve to make a woman appear more vulnerable.

    I have often wished to be able to go topless to mow my own lawn — where a man is also typically likely to be topless. I think in situations where men are often topless: doing yard work, at the beach, and the like, are probably the best places to do likewise, as the level of skin bared is roughly equal.

    Oh, men love this, all right — as long as the woman is young and built like the woman in this photo. They aren’t so keen for women in their 50s, who are fat with saggy breasts like me to bare it all, however, any more than we women want to see men with beer bellies topless. I agree we have as much right to do so as any man, but whether or not it’s a good idea is quite another thing. Sometimes, being liberated is NOT having to let it all hang out.

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