I am sorry to say that you missed the mark a little in your response to this one. All of the points you brought up were valid, however you missed one, that I think may be more important than all of the others.
First let me state that I am a male (46 years old if that matters).
But I think that biggest reason that women have to cover their breasts is because men cannot control themselves, for whatever reason that is. I personally am not a breast man, I prefer legs and rear ends. So what if I see a woman with a great pair of legs and that arouses me to some extent? Does that mean that we should force all women to cover everything down to their feet, including the ankles like some countries?
I don’t think so. If men had better control over themselves this world would be a much better place but I really do not see that happening for some time unfortunately.
Standards vary all over the world, and in most countries from place to place. In the UK it is not considered acceptable (though probably not a crime) for women (or men for that matter) to be bare breasted in a high street or a shopping mall. On the beach, however, it is, as far as I know, acceptable everywhere.
On television we have the so called watershed at 9:00pm. After this breasts, nipples and all, are okay. No penises or vaginas though until later when the kiddies are presumed to be in bed (and not recording).
Advertisers always like to push the boundaries, and they are not allowed bare female breasts at any time. I do find it odd that both male and female buttocks are allowed, both in programmes and in advertisements.
Bob++ – Very true. However going by the societal standards of the US the female breast is a no no while the male breast is ok. True female breasts are larger for the most part however I have seen some men that have large breasts due to weight or they simply lift weights. (Some weight lifters work on the pecs and that does give them a little bit that looks like a breast.)
Just for the record I think that the US is completely backwards when it comes to sexuality. Sex is a natural function and should not be seen as “dirty.” I think it was George Carlin, but I may be wrong, that said I would rather have my child watch two people making love than two people trying to kill each other."
Male, 62 years old here. I’m a lifelong resident of “Smugtown” a paradoxical place where, until recently at least, male formal fashion changes took an extra 3 years to be manifest, and yet a “Woman’s Topfree Equality” movement originated way back in '86!
You are simply wrong about “men” being unable to control themselves. (Rapists either cannot or will not.) All of human experience is that there simply is not any magical power in nipples, thighs, feet, necks, or any other female part that causes rape or sexual assault/molestation. There would not be any successful nudist resorts or free beaches if that were the case.
Beyond that, we have to look at the cultural factors behind local “exposure” taboos. The female back of neck (nape) was considered in Japan to be far more dangerous than two fully bare breasts. * Maybe this has something to do with fact that the primary biological purpose of breasts is to feed the young. (This is a fact that has somehow been lost to American minds.) Of course, Cecil argued in his column from Desmond Morris’ thesis. In the first place, I personally am far more skeptical of DM musings than I was when i first encountered them at mid-college years. Even if he is right, there is a practical reason to allow breasts to hang free at least sometimes: Once again, the nursing situation makes covering the breasts at least a bit impractical. Children tend to express displeasure at the cover-up.
It has been argued that women have two reasons for going bare-breasted (comfort on hot days is the second) while men have only one.
It is true that many years back mixed nude bathing was not limited generally to families, but was often practices in large non-related groups in Japan. This of course involved exposure of the nape, to the extent that it was not covered with hair.
However, the balancing point to this openness was that it was considered extremely rude of anyone to stare at any body or part thereof. Casual viewing was virtually unavoidable, no doubt. And presumably there was some occasional furtive ogling, especially by men, who are more visually-oriented than women. But in an atmosphere wherein the entire body was considered decent and natural, rather than shocking, there probably was relatively little need felt for ogling.
ETA: I may have been unduly harsh in my response about lack of self-control. You may not have meant that men cannot control getting physical. If you only meant that men may have a problem with controlling their eyes, there is certainly some truth for mainstream American culture, at this time. And this would no doubt lead to discomfort at least for the women who felt they were being disrespected. And the men who cared about them.
Count me among those who feel that Cecil kind of missed the mark with today’s column.
He brought forth many interesting facts, but never really got around to the “why” part of the question.
Significant to me, at least, is the fact that, at least on the beaches of the United States, exposure of male nipples was NOT the norm for at least the first couple of decades of the 20th century (as evidenced by photos and movies of contemporary swimwear). If I’m not mistaken, this was also the case with boxing attire.
It would be interesting to explore when men’s swimsuits and boxing outfits first became one-piece, or otherwise designed with no intent to cover the chest — and the factors that led to that change. For example, did the onset of this type of swimwear result in shocked outrage in certain quarters?
I don’t think this is about men having better control over themselves. If that were the case, women would probably never wear bikinis at the beach. I think this has more to do with American sexual prudishness.
In Europe, for example, they’re far more casual about nudity and sex, and I think there are a lot of places women can go topless.
Let’s get one thing straight: the correct name for a man who “cannot control himself” is “psychopath”.
Laying that aside, there are further complications. Recent research involving EEGs and other—ahem!—interesting electronic apparatus has indicated that there is a fundamental difference between men (gay or straight) and women (gay or straight) where nudity is concerned, although it does not apply to everyone. In general, straight men are turned on by female skin, and gay men are turned on by male skin, but women, gay or straight, are not particularly aroused by mere skin at all. Most women want instead to see a display of “sexiness”, whatever that may mean to them, which may or may not involve nudity, and it doesn’t much matter which side. When it comes to strip shows, in particular, apparently men fantasize about possessing the stripper, but women can fantasize equally about possessing the stripper or being the stripper, and many straight women prefer to watch female strippers, either because they find male strippers intimidating or because they vaguely feel that stripping is “women’s work” and that any male stripper must consequently be effeminate.
All this was reported on in the New York Times several years ago.
So, while it may be that one particular society demands that men cover up and another one doesn’t mind when women don’t, the net result is still that any society, taken as a whole, will regard the female breast are more interesting and (the word seems unavoidable, though unfortunate) more potent than the male.
It doesn’t matter in the least whether men as a whole can or can’t control themselves. What matters is whether some can’t and therefore other men assume that as a default value.
And they clearly do. The clothing requirements/nudity prohibitions in many cultures can only be explained by this. The religious component is obvious - orthodox Jewish; Amish; fundamentalist Muslim; some Protestant sects - but not sufficient. The excuses by generations of rapists in a similarly wide variety of cultures that the woman was asking for it because of tight/skimpy/revealing clothing is proof that many men cannot control themselves. Why are women blamed for this? You have a variety of reasons ranging from men having a privileged position of not needing to endure the consequences of their acts to the valuation of virginity because of the importance placed on inheritance by legitimate heirs.
So, why the difference between male and female nipples? Some of it is rational (but odious and based on irrational axioms); some is purely irrational. That anyone can insist that public breastfeeding is in the same category as sexual enticement is double distilled insanity.
Indeed, the Rochester Topfree Seven are largely responsible for the court ruling that even today allows women in New York State to go topless in public venues. Though not all of the police officers in the state have gotten the memo, even more than 20 years on.
I believe Ontario, as well as at least a handful of other states and provinces, also follows gender-neutral rules for indecent exposure.
The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that it’s unconstitutional to have a law which applies unevenly to one gender over another. And I understand Oregon is not the only state in which this is so; New York is another I’ve read about. The basic argument is that if it’s legal for a man to go around without a shirt, it should be legal for a woman to do the exact same thing, AND THE STATE SUPREME COURT HAS AGREED.
There is no state law banning nudity in Oregon, but there are some local laws and ordinances which do. But when those laws define “nudity”, they are prohibited by the state constitution from having a different set of rules for men vs. women. All they can do is set limits on when and where you can display your genitals (whatever set of genitals you happen to have). Hypothetically, a person whose has no genitalia at all could walk around completely clothes-free in Oregon.
In both OR and NY and some other states too, women can bare their breasts at any time and place where men are allowed to do the same.
I can’t help but wonder if this column might have been more informative (if a bit more research intensive) if it focused on the historical reasons behind the European/American female toplessness taboo. It is, after all, not universal among human societies—decades of National Geographic will tell you that—nor has it or the other nudity taboos been unchanging through the eras.
I wonder how closely you could track down the evolution and migration of the taboo—like you would a language, or an art style. And if you could summarize it tidily enough to fit in a newspaper column.
Uh, no. Every other mammals manages to feed their young quite adequately without breasts. So clearly the primary purpose of breasts is not to feed the young.
As far as I know every anthropologist and evolutionary biologist in the world agrees that breasts are secondary sexual characteristic, totally unrelated to feeding the young. There is also nearly universal agreement is that their primary purpose is to advertise sexual health and reproductive potential.
IOW the primary purposes of breast is to arouse sexual interest in men. There’s almost certainly a degree of intimidating rival women as well, but the *primary *purpose is to arouse men.
The thing about female breasts is that they’re a secondary sexual characteristic, and the thing about America is that, collectively, we’re really, really bad with the concept of “secondary”. Take a look at how we judge, classify, and compartmentalize things, and the great majority of the time it really is absolute black and white. (How long did it take the MPAA to come up with a rating between PG and R?) Moreover, if your intent is to criminalize exposure of said secondaries, you pretty don’t have any choice but to draw inflexible, clearly-defined demarcations and stand by them. As Cecil already mentioned, prohibiting the entire breast simply isn’t feasible in our sex-sells society. Hence areola bad, everything else fine.
I think that the possibility of accidental exposure may have actually worsened this misconception. We all know that seeing something you’re not supposed to, even if it should be nothing special, instantly elevates it (remember the thermonuclear crapstorm over that “wardrobe malfunction”?). This isn’t a concern for anything below the waist…no matter how short or loose her skirt is, her panties aren’t going to fall off. But if the top of her dress is barely a millimeter above the Forbidden Zones, with nothing else as insurance, all it takes is one tiny mishap…literally no more than a misstep…and the boards are hooting and hollering over the latest “nip slip”.
Pretty sad, if you ask me, but that’s what we got.