I’ve been having a long conversation with an Icelandic woman on YouTube objecting to my public bare-chested outings, specifically my walks and rides in city centers. She says the beach is one thing, but her feeling is that outside of beaches such behavior is not proper. During our conversation she asked me a couple times why I walk bare-chested where men aren’t bare-chested, which has had the positive effect of prompting me to finally write this blog post after a year in the making.
The simplest answer of course is that I don’t walk bare-chested where men aren’t going bare-chested. Men are going bare-chested all over the place. It’s just so normal we don’t even register it any more.
Saying simply that men do go bare-chested is not a complete or satisfactory answer though. My visceral reaction to this question goes deeper than just pointing out that men do in fact go bare-chested with ease and regularity. It is to point out that allowing women to do a thing only if men are already doing that thing is still giving men the power over women’s bodies. The only just way to address issues of freedom is to give everyone the same freedom and let each individual choose how to use it.
Another objection I hear from time to time is that women and men are inherently different, biologically, psychologically and physically. Meaning I guess that equality is impossible. There also often follows this fallacy that treating genders equally under tha law means men and women act the same way and wear the same clothes and so on. The argument also goes on that female breasts are just seen as sexual to men and that’s how it is and always will be. And then there’s this leap that says, since men won’t change, women just can’t enjoy the same freedoms as men. I reject this thinking.
People say seeing female breasts is harmful to children. This is not true. Children need breasts for nourishment and comfort. What is harmful to children is watching their parents apply disparate standards to men and women, and making girls cover up while not making boys cover up. Violence and hate harm children more than anything, but we don’t censor those.
Words like “decent,” “proper,” and “moral” strike me now as weapon words, words used by those in power to oppress and control. They are words steeped in subjectivity and prejudice. Who decides what is proper and over whom do they wield this standard? What is the penalty for violating this standard? To me it is another way of saying a person has deviated from the norm, behaved atypically, or strayed from the herd, whether it was by doing backflips through the mall or demanding racial equality and justice. There are people who are just inherently threatened by people doing their own thing.
Etc, etc, etc. I have other photographs of bare-chested men elsewhere on this blog as well. The woman with whom I am conversing on YouTube says that female bare-chestedness looks like exhibitionism to her. I agree. It does look like exhibitionism to her, because she has never known it to be anything else. But there was a time in this country when male bare-chestedness was illegal and considered indecent and exhibitionist.
Now we don’t even see it.