I walk bare-chested because I enjoy the feeling of freedom I experience while doing so. Secondarily, I am working to normalize female bare-chestedness so others have the opportunity to feel the same if they so choose.
Normalizing something doesn’t take much time. About two weeks, psychologists tell us, if the new stimulus is constant. That’s about how long it takes us to begin moving on after a house fire or the loss of a job or a break up. That’s also about how long it takes us to lose the fluttery puppy dog feelings of new love. Normalization, after all, works in all directions.
Some normalization of course takes much less time, seconds or minutes, and some takes much longer.
But my strong opinion is that normalization will always take much longer if the thing we are trying to normalize scares people. Fear is a survival mechanism, seated in the brain stem, and doesn’t listen to constitutional arguments about equality. Fear gets us through lion attacks. The other stuff is pointless if the lion kills us.
The definition of confrontation is, “a hostile or argumentative meeting or situation between opposing parties.”
So if I am confronted by someone I can assume that I’ve scared that person in some way (hostility = anger = fear) and that person sees us as opposing parties.
It’s like the fire tetrahedron, the formula for putting out a fire by eliminating one of the four essential elements fire needs to survive; heat, oxygen, fuel and a chemical reaction. Remove any one of those elements, the fire goes out.
It’s the same with confrontation, right? A confrontation requires 1) hostility (fear) and 2) opposing parties. If a person is not afraid of me, and I am not afraid of that person, we have no reason to confront one another. Similarly, when that person stops perceiving us as opposing parties, the confrontation dies.
Fear can certainly be an effective tool for temporary change, but the change is not lasting. If a mugger walks up to me and I pull a gun out, the mugger is afraid and leaves. So I survived that, but has the interaction created a change in the mugger that would prevent a future mugging? Doubtful.
Fearful people only change to survive, and when the fearful stimulus disappears, their behavior reverts. So carrying signs, yelling, protesting, all of that is designed to scare people into the appearance of change. As long as the protesters are yelling, they will behave in the way the protesters are pressuring them to behave. Remove the protesters and those original opinions return, possibly stronger, bolstered now by the aftertaste of fear. Protest is a tool. If used correctly it can be very effective. If used incorrectly it can do damage.
I obviously feel passionate about body pride, human compassion, civility and equality. The thing is, I feel passionate enough to be effective. It’s one thing to ask for change. It’s another to make it happen.
Gandhi taught that violent people are betraying their fear. He urged his followers to eliminate their fears so they would not be violent themselves, which had the reciprocal effect of reducing the fear in their opposition. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. both unapologetically considered nonviolence to be a weapon.
So I have spent a lot of time considering potential sources of fear in my observers, in an effort to reduce or eliminate those fears before they ever see me. Primarily, this means I get right with myself so I project calm and peace. Yelling just doesn’t work. Shouting slogans through bullhorns is not conventional behavior. Playing Frisbee in a park is. Walking a dog is.
And if after all that preplanning someone still confronts me, I stand my ground with as neutral an energy as I can manifest, to communicate I am not afraid of you and you need not be afraid of me.
Hate is fear. Anger is fear. Violence is self-protective, survival behavior borne of fear. The most violent among us are the most afraid.
I have walked and ridden bare-chested all around the eastern United States, in crowded places. I have never been arrested and have had very few negative interactions. When I do have a negative interaction, I check my fears, calm myself, and project that calm into the person confronting me.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel strongly about all this. It’s not always easy to neutralize someone’s anger or to control my own, but it’s important enough to me to be successful and make real change.
The vast majority of my interactions are neutral or positive, but I have on one occasion been called garbage and a harlot, and on another a mother of three called me a whore in front of her daughters. It was more important to me that her daughters see me stay calm in the face of their mother’s fear, than to vent my anger (which would have been, after all, nothing but my own fear reacting to hers.) I listened until she spoke herself into silence. What else could I do? Yelling would only have made it worse, and proven her right.
T’ai Chi Ch’uan, the “soft” Chinese martial art, teaches us to dissipate the energy in an attack by guiding a punch to its farthest point, at which point the punch is no longer dangerous. T’ai Chi Ch’uan also teaches us that the first type of warrior overcomes an oppontent with force, the next level of warrior overcomes an opponent without hurting the opponent, and the highest level of warrior never gets in the fight at all.
Non-confrontation does not mean submission. It means communicating that you are neither threatened, nor a threat.
And it works.