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It’s not an invitation.
Topless freedom is not an invitation to be "that guy".
Last week I wrote about recent news in Germany. Some municipal swimming pools are allowing topless swimming from all genders and this is a welcome and encouraging development in the fight for gender equality.
Remember that changing the rules to allow all people to be topless in public is trying to level the playing field for those who wish to. It is not compulsory for everyone to be topless if they don’t wish to be, it just decriminalises those who choose to.
Having said that, there will still be people who might wish to go topless but will be uncomfortable baring their chests because of the sexist and inappropriate comments they will no doubt attract from others.
Germany, it seems, has a tolerant and largely respectful attitude to public nudity, but I imagine should the same rules at swimming pools be implemented in many other countries, that the wolf whistles and catcalls from a predominantly male contingent will put many off. Some societies are still quite immature when it comes to nudity.
My partner Emma recently showed me a response from a discussion forum on the topic, where someone said that women can’t have it both ways. They can’t bleat about body freedom on the one hand and then complain about sexual harassment on the other. This particular contributor to the conversation maintained that breasts will never be seen as anything other than sex toys and that women shouldn’t get hissy if a bloke looks at them in a way that they are uncomfortable with. I assume the contributor was a man.
It saddens me that there are people out there with attitudes like this.
Emma’s response was simple:
Sexual harassment and body freedom are different things. If a woman’s breasts are not covered it doesn’t make sexual harassment ok.
I fear that despite positive moves by the German authorities it may be some time before councils and municipal organisations in other countries follow suit and change the rules to facilitate improvements in gender equality. Germany (and Ontario, as one reader pointed out to me) might have a mature attitude to nudity and the distinction between nudity and sex, but many other countries and regions are still sniggering behind the bike sheds and have some growing up to do.
Some years ago, there was a case here in New Zealand, of a young woman wearing glitter art on her topless chest at a music festival near Gisborne, who was groped as she walked along.
The incident made headlines here in NZ at the time and there was video footage of what can really only be described as an unprovoked assault and the response of the young woman and her friend. While I am not one to condone violence of any kind, her response is understandable.
The video shows appalling behaviour from a man who displays complete disregard for the personal space, feelings and dignity of the young woman.
I fear that in many communities, the behaviour of the guy in the video may be typical and that just because the law might say that all people can go topless, many will refrain from doing so because of the risks of abuse or assault.
It is not just men that are guilty of harassment and inappropriate comments. Many women can also be critical and will call out behaviour or dress choices that they may personally disagree with.
I recently read an article by Dr Victoria Bateman, feminist, economist and academic, in which she describes the group who hates her naked protests the most are oddly enough, feminists.
In fact, it is not my protesting, but these puritanical feminists that are holding women back. Their support of what I term the “cult of female modesty” – the belief that a woman’s value somehow rests on her bodily “purity” – is Victorian repression and not modern-day progression. By shunning, devaluing and punishing the women it judges to be “wh*res”, the cult of female modesty fuels practices and policies that hurt every woman.
Dr Bateman has become well known for her protests supporting women’s rights and objections against Brexit. Dr Bateman once appeared at a Cambridge University Faculty of Economics meeting naked, with the words “Brexit leaves Britain naked” written across her torso, and also delivered an hour-long lecture against Brexit while naked.
I believe passionately in freedom for women, and whilst many battles have been won in the past century, there is still a long way for society to move until women enjoy the levels of freedom that they should be able to. I am not afraid to use my body as well as my brain to deliver important messages.
Many things in our society contribute to gender inequality, and allowing all people to swim topless in public pools does not make all people equal. It is a step in the right direction but is only one step of many before we can claim true gender equality.
Gender equality isn’t a women’s issue — it’s a human one.
Thank you for reading, have a comfortable day.