Letters to DOMAI
Dear DOMAISome years ago, in the small city of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, history was made. A university student named Gwen Jacob walked a down a street topless on a hot summer day. Someone complained to police and she was arrested and charged with indecent exposure. That incident began a new kind of civil rights struggle, the legal battle over the topless issue in Canada. Gwen was convicted at first, but after considerable protest, her conviction was overturned and a new legal precedent was set. From that day forward it was legal for women in Ontario to be topless in public. There were many public celebrations and demonstrations that day held throughout the province. I remember attending one of these grand events.
It was a warm and sunlit day, and a crowd of university students was gathered in front of a public monument. Many female students had gathered there to celebrate the victory. Of course there were many male students as well, including me. We wanted to witness this extraordinary occasion. Six girls stood atop the pedestal and as the small crowd cheered, they lifted their shirts over their heads and set their breasts free. With their hands held high and smiles on their faces, they showed the world that they could be themselves without shame.
My friends Danielle and Marta stood beside me, still wearing their t-shirts but happy to be part of the event. Danielle said that she hoped that this would mark the beginning of the end of men's obsession with breasts. I asked her what she meant by this.
She said "Women can only be free to be topless if men stop being turned on by breasts. They have to realize that breasts are completely non-sexual. We're going to have to completely change men's attitudes."
This didn't sound quite right to me. I voiced my objection. "Is it really all the fault of men? Don't both sexes share similar attitudes? Aren't lesbian women in our culture turned on by breasts? Remember that is was a woman who called the police to have Gwen Jacob arrested. Many of the movements protesting against public toplessness are being led by women."
Marta added some support, "Yes, remember how there used to be lots of women who didn't think that women should vote?"
"I know that women share those beliefs too," said Danielle, "but it's our culture that's all wrong. In other cultures, people aren't aroused or excited by the sight of breasts at all."
I still felt there was something inappropriate about her position. I said, "Is it really wrong for us to consider breasts sexy? Even if there are cultures that don't think that way, who says that they are right and we are wrong? Do we have to completely de-sexualize breasts in order for there to be equality between sexes? I think men and women can be different, yet still equal under the law. Do we have to punish ourselves for feeling any enjoyment at the sight of breasts?"
"Look it's just science, "said Danielle as she pulled off her shirt. Her bare breasts wobbled into view. I felt an unavoidable sense of delight, which seemed to only confirm the thoughts I was articulating. The breasts were of medium proportions, curved in a gentle slope so that the nipples pointed slightly upward. She pointed to the rounded underside and said, "these are just swollen glands."
"And this," she touched her finger to the delicate nipple, "is just a feeding mechanism for the young. These are not sex organs and should never be considered sexual."
Marta removed her own shirt and I was once again unable to prevent myself from feeling a sudden jolt of happiness of her small, yet wonderfully round breasts. She spoke thoughtfully, "but you know that women and gay men are turned on by seeing men's chests. Lots of body parts are sexy: eyes, hair, legs. We don't make people cover up those things. People should feel free to be sexy without shame."
Danielle was persistent, "We have to get people to stop going crazy over breasts, or we'll never be equal. With the proper change in attitude our culture can free itself from this obsession."
At this moment another participant joined our debate. Isabella was a charming woman of Brazilian origin. She spoke to Danielle. "Darling it's impossible to make people feel completely neutral about breasts." To punctuate her point, she removed her blouse. Large breasts were held in place by a big and powerful bra. "Just watch his reaction," she said as she released the bra's clasps and nodded in my direction.
Her bountiful brown breasts were released from the tight restraint so that they were able to swing playfully before us. I tried my hardest to have absolutely no reaction. I really wanted my face to be expressionless, but there must have been something that my eyes did. Some sign of awe must have been present on my face, because all three girls laughed at my response.
"See," said Isabella, "men are always gonna have a strong response. That doesn't mean we're doing something dirty."
"These" she said, cupping her heavy breasts in her hands, "are powerful forces in our culture, but we don't have to outlaw them."
"Yes," I said, "That's it. Breasts should be considered sexy, but not obscene, exciting but not criminal. Men and women can be physically different but still equal under the law. Both sexes should be able to be topless in public, but that doesn't mean we have to suppress our emotions. "
I think I had formulated the best possible philosophy of breasts, and I was happy to debate the issue with many other topless philosophers that day.