Let Women Go Topless in Public?

UnknownI recently wrote (disparagingly) about Muslim craziness with covering up women. Shortly after, I heard a radio discussion about public breast-feeding and, more generally, laws against “indecent exposure.” Some callers (all female) decried the “sexualizing” of women’s breasts, and argued that if men can go topless in public, so should women.

I consider myself a feminist. But some feminists seem to say women are not only equal to men, but the same as men. Thus they pilloried Harvard’s Lawrence Summers in 2005 for suggesting women’s under-representation in science and engineering might be partly due to innate brain differences. (Yet feminists celebrated a 1986 book, Women’s Ways of Knowing, that did argue women’s brains work differently. I guess it’s feminist when women say it but anti-feminist when men do.)

imagesSo now some women say their nipples are no different from men’s. Well, of course they are different. I’ve never been able to get milk from mine (and believe me, I’ve tried).

But seriously: is “sexualizing” women’s breasts wrong? True, their headline function is feeding babies. But because breasts are thusly associated with female fecundity, evolution has made men sexually attracted to them. It’s a handy visual cue. This is why breasts are positioned front and center. Men whose genetic makeup attracts them to mate with persons having noticeable breasts would tend to leave more (and healthier) offspring than men indifferent to breasts (who might mate with the wrong thing altogether). Hence genes favoring breast attraction have spread.*

images-1Because this is biologically wired in, men can’t just be told to stop “sexualizing” breasts – any more than women can be dissuaded from attraction to cute guys (see illustration above); or gays from attraction to the same gender. People are sexually attracted to what they are attracted to. It’s what we call a “fact of life.”

Furthermore, in addition to their child-feeding role, during a small part of a woman’s life, breasts do have a sexual function too, for a much longer time – breasts are highly erogenous – for women themselves. (I speak from happy experience on this.)

Unknown-1Those female radio callers saying (in effect), “Stop being attracted to my breasts!” – what were they thinking? Most of us (and this is again programmed by nature) want to be attractive to potential sex partners, however we can. Women whose breasts attract men should be glad. Next we’ll hear men shouldn’t be attracted to their butts, their legs, their hair, their eyes, their lips. Maybe we should only be attracted to their personalities. When pigs fly.

Yet these same women are the ones saying they should be allowed to go topless in public. Hey – if you object to men “sexualizing” your breasts, maybe going topless is the last thing you’d want to do.

images-2But actually, as a libertarian, I’m all for permitting bare breasts. Nothing should be outlawed absent real harm to others. Many Muslims see harm if any female skin or hair is visible because men supposedly can’t handle it. That’s insulting to men and obviously nonsense. Nearly naked women on beaches (commonly topless in Europe) don’t unhinge men. Exposing a little more flesh won’t bring down civilization. It might even make us clean our glasses better.

*But humans are complicated; acculturation is a factor too; and bigger is not always better.

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15 Responses to “Let Women Go Topless in Public?”

  1. mik1999 Says:

    Excellent post — While women’s breasts are, and will remain, sexualized, that should not be a reason to prohibit their right to expose them. There are countless forms of sexual expression that are perfectly legal.

  2. mik1999 Says:

    Reblogged this on A Walk in the Snow and commented:
    an interesting post

  3. amiechadwick Says:

    Excellent posts and perspectives–I think the reason breasts are sexualized is the fact they are covered and such a fuss is made about having them partially or fully uncovered. Go to a nude beach-after a few moments nudity becomes natural, without perversions. I have no problem with nudity–obviously–but I believe the people who do suffer from their own insecurities, not the revelation of what’s underneath…

  4. rationaloptimist Says:

    It may be true that breasts normally being concealed makes seeing them more titillating for men, and the sight might be less exciting were it more routine. And maybe where Muslim women are always totally covered, any exposure does become that much more sexual. Yet I must say that cumulative repeated sightings of breasts during my life does not seem to diminish my sexual response to them.

  5. Wolfgang Kurth Says:

    Having visited Europe a number of times and seen what a more “normal” society is like with regard to the physical body, I fully agree that once women’s breasts are more often exposed, the “vision” will become more “routine” (over time) as you say and I doubt it will lead to more sexual desire, possibly less than we see currently. I label Europe as more “normal” because there seems to be less religious extremism than exists here. where going “bra-less” in the 60’s became almost passe’ after a year or two, while today we are back to the 40’s and 50’s in our attitudes. Just look at the ridiculous length of men’s “shorts” today. When I wear shorts that even approach what I used to wear in the 60’s and 70’s I am chided for exposing too much! Why even wear shorts if they are going to flop around loosely below your knees with a pair of apparent toothpicks sticking out the bottom?

  6. rationaloptimist Says:

    Sexual desire per se is not a bad thing and reducing it should not be a societal objective.

  7. ebay313 Says:

    Men actually can lactate, fyi. Actually a side effect of some psychiatric medications. When you say you’ve tried, do you mean you have flooded your body with hormones found in pregnant and postpartum women, including prolactin? I mean, I’m a woman and I’ve never produced milk from my breasts either. Because I’ve never been pregnant.

    Similarly you mention that women’s breasts/nipples are highly erogenous for some women, though again, this is true for many men as well. And yet, men’s nipples are not required to be covered due to their sexual nature.

    Saying that laws that ban women from walking around topless are sexualizing breasts means that it is reducing breasts to inherently and purely sexual parts, which they are not. They play a role in sexual attraction and can play a role in sexual acts, but they also feed babies, and are just another part of our bodies. You yourself compare them in sexual attraction to legs, hair, eyes, and lips- all of which are not treated as purely sexual, and women in the US are able to bare in public. People may find my legs, hair, eyes, and lips sexually attractive, and those body parts may play an active role in my private sex live, and yet it’s not argued (commonly here at least) that they are purely sexual and thus must be covered up because me exposing them is inherently a sexual act. Me baring my legs in public is not inherently sexual and neither is baring ones breasts in public inherently sexual.

  8. Richard Follette Says:

    Well done.

    You might like these points of view:




    The pendulum seems to be swinging more in line with sanity, as a generational construct; the old guard of ‘feminism’ has run its course, and it seems that the common woman *in my experience) is moderating somewhat.

  9. rationaloptimist Says:

    To ebay313: so toplessness should not be barred because that reduces breasts to “purely sexual parts?” I think this is confused. “Purely” is beside the point. You seem to recognize yourself that they are PARTLY sexual. And it’s that part of their role that actuates the strictures on showing them in public. You say baring breasts is no more inherently sexual than baring legs; our society judges that differently, and I don’t think that’s a totally irrational judgment. (I like legs well enough, but breasts are in a different league!) And if your breasts are “just another part of your body,” why wouldn’t that apply to your vagina? So, again, I don’t think these arguments about “sexualizing” breasts make any sense. Nevertheless, as I said in my last paragraph, I’m all for bare breasts.

  10. erobinson100 Says:

    I think it’s important to mention that some Muslim women want to cover themselves — it’s a personal decision and they feel more comfortable when they’re covered.

  11. rationaloptimist Says:

    True — but they only feel that way because of the culture they are in, and the fact that it approves of such costume. To western women the idea of feeling more comfortable being covered like that is completely alien. No (normal) western woman feels exposed or uncomfortable wearing normal western dress.

  12. Pam ( wildcat fan) Says:


    Just another notion created by men. Heck yeah, breasts are sexual. Just as much as testicles are. But do you all see men being gullible and stupid like women and showing their testicles??

    Women are so stupid.

    Women with good sense will not show their breasts. Why in the world, what is the purpose!!!

  13. rationaloptimist Says:

    The purpose is to attract mating partners. Which is the number one thing that evolution has programmed humans to do. If breasts did not attract men, there’d be nothing to talk about here. But they do attract men, for logical evolutionary reasons I explained. If showing testicles attracted women in an equivalent way, men would show them. But they don’t; so they don’t.
    You are simply arguing against reality.

  14. Michael Says:

    Eh fuck it, if you want your tits to flop out, thats fine. Just dont get bitchy at me when I stare.

  15. Don Bronkema Says:

    Plato, Paul, Origen & Augustine made the body evil. El camino retro sera longa y duro, propelling up to 63 years on the couch. Can Doudna rewire the Oedipal brain?

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