Breasts are in the news again.
This time, it’s a photograph that’s the problem. A photograph of a young woman with no top on.
She sent her photo to the man she was dating. He then shared it with colleagues at the school where they both taught.
I say worked, because one of them was fired. The other was not even disciplined. This, despite the basis of the firing being that the teacher had “caused, allowed or otherwise made it possible” for the photo to be shared, and failed to take adequate precautionary measures to prevent the photo being shared. This apparently made it impossible for the teacher to be a role model to the students.
Which of the two teachers do you think was fired? The woman, who shared her photo with her boyfriend? Or the man, who shared his girlfriend’s photo with others? Which one do you think faced no consequences?
It shouldn’t be a hard question to answer.
Time and time again in situations like this, people take some bizarre journey of logic and morals to arrive at destination wrong answer. In this case, the young woman was fired. Because her boyfriend shared a picture of her breasts meant only for his eyes.
But breasts (and skin) keep appearing in the news – with a frequency and fervour that is out of all proportion to their size and style of covering.
If it’s not breasts being used in public for their natural purpose (you know, to funnel nutrition into hungry babies), no matter how discreetly, it is a young woman not wearing a bra and the silhouette of nipples against her modest top being held responsible for boys behaving like apes on heat. If it’s not a private photo of bare breasts shared in trust, and passed on by a sleazy boyfriend, it’s a young woman being blamed for rape because, undies. If it’s not a young woman being told she is too busty to wear a top that touches her breasts, it’s women having their hijabs ripped of their heads by violent, hatred-filled men.
There’s this about a little girl in kindergarten whose attire had offended some over-sensitive soul’s eyes and morals. Her sartorial crime? To wear a summer dress with spaghetti straps that revealed her shoulders. Her shoulders. The problem was not a practical one, that she might get sun-burnt. No, this five year old was told she had to keep her shoulders ‘private’. Because, you know… skin?
And this from 2015. In another kindergarten, in another town, another 5 year old was punished for the temerity of showing her shoulders.
Now, okay, I know shoulders aren’t breasts, and five year olds don’t have breasts anyway, but they’re pretty close by geographically. This kind of morality-monitoring on 5 year olds is only the beginning of what girls and women experience lifelong from self-appointed clothing-police.
Like this. Not even shoulders this time, but underwear. In Ireland, a man was acquitted of rape in part because of the defence arguing that the 17 year-old victim had been wearing a lacy thong.
And this, from 2017, when a teenager was told the outfit she was wearing was a violation of the school’s dress code because… well, it leaves me baffled why, but the teacher’s objection was that the girl was too “busty” to wear a long-sleeved, loose-bodied gypsy-style top. Correct me if I’m wrong, but when a body has parts that protrude even a little, anything said body is draped in is going to cling to said protrusions. Is the poor girl supposed to put some kind of metal frame inside her clothes to make sure the fabric never touches her? Or wear something so voluminous it looks like she is wearing robes, Gilead style? Like burkahs that so many westerners like to scream about Muslim women wearing?
And just today, I saw this about a school that thinks it’s a good idea to share classic art with children after having taken a black marker pen to all the naked bits apparently children should not know exist. Imagine the Mona Lisa with a thick black stripe swiped across that daring couple of inches between throat and dress neckline.
Everyone has Nipples
Last year, this about a student who had received a dressing-down from her school principal due to a dress code violation when she had dressed down for school. The violation? Not wearing a bra. A bunch of teenage boys giggling over not being able to see a bra strap through layers of clothing, then craning to cop a glimpse of a hint of nipple beneath her long, baggy shirt was considered her fault.
You know, everybody has nipples. Men too. They are for feeding babies (not men’s). They are sensitised little pleasure zones and uncalibrated temperature gauges that react to friction against fabric (bras don’t stop or even hide that) or to the cold. Men’s too. I’ve seen plenty of male nipples embossed against men’s shirts and sweaters, but I’m yet to hear men harangued for not wearing a bra.
I’d expected to at least find that the girl’s dress code violation was a specific and reasonable rule she had broken. But no. The school management reprimanded her under a coverall clause that states students clothing must not distract other students from their learning. So just like the teacher being fired for her sleazy boyfriend’s shitty actions, the shitty actions of sleazy teenage boys was made the girl’s crime.
Policing What Women Wear
Meanwhile, many people in many countries call for burkahs to be banned. Women get attacked for wearing the hijab. In Austria, Belgium, Cameroon, Chad, France, Italy, Netherlands, Niger, Republic of Congo, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey and the UK, and Belgium, woman are banned from wearing clothes that covers skin. By people who get incensed about countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia who ban women from wearing clothes that dares to reveal skin.
Those bans are on the full burqa, under the guise of being concerns for security or for women’s freedom to choose what they wear. Oh, the irony.
Policing what women wear, or don’t wear, is the kind of behaviour that creates people who think men either don’t have to or can’t take responsibility for how they behave towards women – women, incidentally, are often dismissed as over-emotional and hormonal. Ironic. I can’t think of anything more over-emotional and hormonal than men who can’t control their sexual desires within the bounds of respect and consent and permission.
Policing women’s clothing is the kind of behaviour that creates men who think they can touch who they want, how they want and when they want.
It is the kind of behaviour that creates people who blame rape on clothing choices rather than rapists.
And I am sick of it. I’m sick of the army of the morally outraged, flinging weapons of blame and repulsion at the female body and anyone who has the temerity to live in one without shame or clothe it the way they see fit. It is patently obvious that unwelcome sexual behaviours towards women have nothing to do with the clothes we wear (If you remain unconvinced, have a look at this exhibition from Belgium of the outfits worn by rape victims).
None of these behaviours are solved by forcing women into wearing a bra, or covering up shoulders, or eschewing lacy g-strings. All it does is foster beliefs that women are the problem, women’s bodies are the problem, and men just can’t control themselves.
I’ve got news for you. Men can control themselves just fine when they choose. And if they can’t, or won’t, then blame them, hold them to account, punish them for their own actions. Stop blaming the women.
It’s time to burn our bras (unless, of course, you want to wear them) and bury nipple-nobbling, breast-bashing, skin-shaming dress codes in the smouldering ashes.