Right up front, the effects of the naturist male voice in the topfreedom conversation is a delicate subject for me.
Delicate because I personally appreciate the backing of naturists who support topfreedom for authentic reasons, (body positivity, gender equality, etc,) but I also hear a chord of inauthenticity from some who identify as male naturists.
I haven’t done the exact figuring, but I would guess that a majority percentage of my blog and Twitter followers are people identifying as male naturists. Some of these men have provided me with invaluable and practical lessons and information for furthering the cause at the legislative and public level. I thank these folks deeply. Some of these men feel a strong sense of fairness, and hold that men and women should be treated equally under the law. Again, thank you.
But I have this nagging feeling that a portion of the male naturist support of topfreedom is not so much because they value equality, but because they see topfreedom as a means to push society to eventually accept full public nudity.
In this regard, the support feels disingenuous. I say this with a pit in my stomach, because frankly the topfreedom movement needs all the support it can get. But one of the big pushbacks we get is that allowing women to go bare-chested means we will have to let men bare their penises, which scares people into disallowing topfreedom, which cements inequality.
But beyond the fear it creates, the you-get-this, we-get-that dynamic is troubling in its own right if you really sit with it.
Why troubling? Because it says that true equality is still an uncomfortable proposition even for some people supposedly supporting it. It’s like saying, well, okay, you can have topfreedom but only if men get something more too. Because the idea of men and women having exactly the same treatment under the law feels weird. It’s never happened! Gender equality has never actually happened, in all our history, in the land of the free. And as we get closer, some people feel uncomfortable about the power shift.
I’ve even had people, including several naturist men, go so far as to tell me what I should really be fighting for, the implication being that they know what should be important to me better than I do…
I’ve gone nude in several naturist areas. Once, at an east coast beach, I was one of maybe five nude women to at least a hundred men. Gawkers wandered around trying to peep us, some wearing t-shirts but no pants. I saw a couple cameras furtively recording images. Eventually a man sat near me cross-legged and began masturbating. Not one single man told him to stop. I approached him and said quietly, so only he could hear, “This is why women don’t come to nude beaches.” And he actually told me, erect penis in hand, that it wasn’t what it looked like, that he was “adjusting” himself.
At another east coast nudist area, again far more men than women, I ended up literally surrounded by men all thanking me for coming and being nice to them and telling me how nice my breasts were (apparently this would encourage me to come again?) until finally a patriarch of the group entered and pointed out the ridiculousness of the image, and asked them all to give me some space. He apologized, welcomed me, offered his help if I needed it and left me in peace. I hadn’t felt threatened, everyone was trying to be nice, it’s just that everyone felt so urgent to get women to participate that it felt pushy and forced, which has the effect of keeping women from participating.
That’s how it feels here on the blog sometimes, like I’m standing in the middle of a circle of penises.
I enjoy being naked. I really do. And I enjoy being naked in a social setting. I have no problem with nudism. But no one enjoys being coerced or forced or pressured to do something. Neither do I personally appreciate being manipulated.
This blog, and my passion, is asserting that all people should be treated equally under the law. This DOES NOT MEAN that men and women have to act the same way or become equivalents. It simply means that all people have the same freedoms and choices under the law, and that equivalent acts are treated the same way legally. Period.
Body positivity is a huge deal to me. I love the feeling of freedom I experience when bare-chested. I wish everyone could feel that same joy, but the bottom line is that everyone gets to choose how to use their freedoms and no one should feel pressured.
So, to naturist men, if you truly support the ideas of female body positivity and gender equality, please, continue to lend your support with awareness to how easy it is for a person to feel coerced or forced. And please understand that if you are raising the topfreedom flag simply because you see it as a strategic move that will win you the right to go fully nude in public, you’re actually doing topfreedom and gender equality harm.
I don’t say this lightly. We really do need the support of men. But women need to feel that the topfreedom movement is about women and women’s needs, and about correcting a social and legal imbalance. If women feel they are playing into the hands of some ulterior motive, they will never participate. Who would? If women feel they are being pressured into topfreedom, they will never participate. This is a slow, patient social movement. It has to be. When women feel comfortable and secure, they will participate. If they are not participating, it is because they don’t feel safe and secure yet.
So guys, please be aware of your energy. This is not to say that men can’t talk to women on a nude beach, or can’t approach a topfree woman (I love talking to people), but check your motives before you approach. We will sense your authenticity or lack thereof, and it will inform our decision to participate again in the future far more than whatever vocal support is spoken.
I would appreciate it if this comment thread does not become a debate over the legitimacy of social nudity. This is not the blog for that conversation and I am not expert in those topics. I defer to Young Naturists of America, Clothes Free Life and other nudist forums for those conversations. But I am more than happy to moderate a conversation on the role of naturists and authenticity in the topfreedom movement. Men are a vital part of this movement, but not the primary direction deciders. This is a woman’s issue, and it is a woman’s conversation. We have been told for centuries that our bodies are dirty and shameful. Overcoming that stigma is going to take a lot of personal and collective work. The most supportive thing for men to do is protect the space, be patient, spread the good word gently, model civility, prioritize true equality, and allow us to do the work without pressure.
After all, naturists ostensibly understand the most fundamental issue… the joy and freedom one feels without clothes. So without pressuring people, let’s celebrate that commonality, express those joys in positive, civil terms and work toward making women feel legally and socially safe.