In 1991 I was an outspoken preteen feminist, and it was an exciting time to be a feminist in Canada, because this woman, Gwen Jacob
was working on winning the right for all of us Canadian women to go topless. Yessss! As a ten year old who didn’t understand all the issues, like equal work for equal pay, or violence against women, or… nevermind…anyway, I could tell that this issue was an obvious one.
This was and is Legal:
As a ten year old girl, I wouldn’t like to look at that man with his big hairy useless nipples, but there he is, he has his rights.
And this is Legal:
Insert photo of a woman’s body, all but ‘legally’ undressed, sexually displayed and unnaturally posed, culturally broadcast far and wide in Calvin Klein’s context, Cosmo Magazine’s Context, A phone sex line’s context, but never her own natural context. I won’t reprint one. We’ve all seen plenty.
As a ten year old girl I had seen enough of those images, and they made me feel uncomfortable, and I see the same discomfort on the faces of little children who see them today, when they are displayed more, and more graphically. But I digress.
1991. I did like swimming in the bare, and I did like playing kick the can on hot summer nights, and I did like running around in the dust with my brothers, who never though to cover the same flat little nipples that I had at that time. But my flat nipples were becoming something else- Not yet biologically. Socially. They were becoming something not wholly my own, something fused other people’s reactions to them- with the male sexual gaze and with social condemnation if they were worn freely- and fused with the feeling of shame.
1991. This is illegal:
Law Struck down, 1991. Go Canada. Ten-year-old Hilde has a private topless feminist party in her room, plays her Paula Abdul tape loud.
Okay. Here we are, 2012. Women going around topless? No, we aren’t. It is still very uncomfortable to do so, and I am aware of this because I currently enjoy functioning breasts. When I see this image:
I am heart-happy like the rest of us. Nothing could be more peaceful, more natural. Also, I am envious. Noticed how the whole torso is exposed so baby can switch breasts easily. Notice how very relaxed, how un-self-conscious Mamma and baby are. Many blogs on the internet are devoted to sharing beautiful photographs of women breastfeeding, but few of these pictures are of North American women. That’s because women breastfeeding publicly in north america don’t look at-peace. We are fidgety, awkward, often more concerned with covering up or with fighting an internal battle against social discomfort than with enjoying the opportunity for nourishing love that each feeding can be. Lest we get to caught up in romanticizing the breast feeding of another culture, I’ll repost my own favourite public breastfeeding photo.
Public BreastFeeding in Canada, 2012, a best case scenario:
In this picture I am in the Abbotsford Tim Hortons (what could be more downtown Canada?), and I am doing my best to enjoy feeding my baby, despite the fact that there are stares and whispers. I am not doing enough to cover up. I feel the burden of other people’s reactions. I feel as though I am a needless exhibitionist. It was a hot day. Tugging on shirts while feeding a baby in an unfamiliar environment is a pain. I would have loved to have been completely topless in this photo. But that other breast, the extraneous breast, there is no excuse for it- it bears the burden of shame.
Why don’t women in Canada excercise the 1992 ammendment to obscenity laws?
Because shame is a feeling that burns.
Because culturally, a breast still belongs more to the male sexual eye than to its woman.
Let’s have a look at breastfeeding in North America, a worst-case scenario:
This woman (does she look like she’s ever been pregnant?) is advertising something called a Nursing Cover. It is ugly, it is awkward, it is bulky, worst of all it prevents the woman from seeing her baby and thereby adjusting her latch, or assessing the comfort and mood of the baby. The baby is stuffed into a ridiculous tent, with the breast-of-shame. As nursing covers become more common, I feel pressure to wear one. In the state of Massachusetts, home of Harvard University, the nursing cover is the recently won compromise to obscenity laws which prevent public breastfeeding! The irrepressible Ben West suggests that women in the United States mount a campaign to rebrand this contraption the ‘Nursing Burqa.’ Culturally insensitive as this is, there’s a point to it.
Some women are shy. I get it. But for the most part, we women have overcome the shame of wearing pants and bearing our ankles. So is the culture evolving gradually to allow women to expose whatever amount of breasts they like without bearing an overwhelming burden of shame? It is not. The breast remains a line in the sand because it remains such a potent source of advertising revenue, pornography revenue, and shame, and opression. The breast is a physical location where every woman becomes other, becomes object. The only remedy is….
Breasts Breasts Breasts! Summer of 2012, Bare Your Breasts! Bare them for us all! Bare them on the beach, bare them in the street, Bare them at the park, bare them at the dinner party! Breastfeeders, bare them proud, you are the reason we are called mammals. Women, i hereby challenge you to go topless at least once in the last days of summer 2012.
A proposal: There is a little-known but new and growing holliday called Go Topless Day. This needs to blow up. Celebrated last year on August 28th, it would be perfectly timed for the August Critical Mass bike ride, which is usually the ‘wedding themed ride’- badly in need of reclamation as the Topless Ride, I’d say. Topless Bikeriding feels great, by the way. The air around your breasts is scientifically designed to be ‘breathable.’
One more proposal before I turn your breasts loose on the world: what are we going to do with the waste problem created by these nursing covers?
Let’s use them to help us deal with the really obscene visual blight in the world: the hunters of endangered animals who fill the villainous pages of Sports Afield magazine, Sworn Enemy of this blog. Don’t you forget it, Sports Afield! This woman and her breasts are out to get you.
Thanks to Lisa Corcoran and her breasts for these appropriate nursing cover images.