I was raised that a woman's breasts were a part of her sexual anatomy and that they should be covered in order to protect her modesty, just as the rest of her sexual anatomy should be. As time has gone by and I've been able to formulate my own opinions through my own observations and experiences, I've come disagree with this idea. That does not mean I plan to run bare-chested through town or go topless bathing, as my ideas do not change the views of the society in which I live, which has sexualized breasts, and which would a. ogle me b. view me as irresponsible or sluttish and c. likely arrest me were I to take off my top. Nor do I feel any great need to run around shirtless even if I could. (Besides its winter, it's too freaking cold to go anywhere without two shirts, a sweater, and a coat.)
But I ended up bringing up these thoughts to my mother when we were on vacation together in November. Now, my mother and I are very close, and though we don't agree on everything, I respect her, and I respect the principals that guide most of her decisions; and when we disagree, we still have listened to each other, and fully understood the other party's views and reasons for their opinions. However, her reaction to my statement was so utterly close-minded, so clearly motivated by prudishness, and was directed to so few of my actual points, that it was obvious that she had not even listened to them, let alone respected or understood them.
I said that if a woman's breasts were not meant to be seen, then neither were man's, and that if the fat on my chest so offended or excited society at large, than any man with an ounce of "jiggle factor" should be equally as expected to put on a shirt as I. My argument in summation was:
- A. there is nothing inherently sexual about breasts.
- B. The only difference between a man's breasts and a woman's is the amount of fat, and the milk-producing organs, which are not for sex, but for the nourishment of a child.
- C. That they were able to be sexualized and fetishized as much as any other body part (i.e. ankles, feet, lips, the nape of the neck etc.) but that did not make them inherently sexual.
- D. even if none of the above dispelled the "sexual" status of breasts, or allowed them to be displayed in public, than they should at least prove that any enforcement of breast-covering be aimed at both women and men.
Seeing her difficulty adjusting to this idea, I used roughly the same line of logic with an even more innocent part of the anatomy, and discussed legs. I said they look very much the same in childhood as they do in adulthood, that there is nothing at all sexual about them or about their uses, and that just because some societies have fetishized (women's) legs to point where they are considered sexual, that doesn't make them so. Then I added, again, that even if all this is wrong, and they are sexual, that there is no difference in a woman's legs and a man's, and as such, if a woman's legs are sexual and need to be covered than so do a man's.
My mother's response? Regarding legs, that legs WERE sexual, because (and I quote) "A woman wraps her long legs around a man when they have sex", and thus they should not be seen. (I can only assume that at some point a man may also wrap his legs around a woman's body during sex, but that wasn't mentioned.) The point about legs being as sexual on a man as on a woman, and thus, if that if one gender needs to hide them, than so does the other, was completely ignored. (According to this standard, considering the amount of times hands and mouths are used in sex versus legs, than no one should be allowed out of the house without mittens AND a disposable face mask on, at the very least.)
And regarding breasts, she also stated that these were inherently sexual, and her reasons why? Because breastfeeding was sexual, since you had to have sex in order to have a kid, and as such they should be covered.
Never mind that you can breast feed a child that you did not give birth to, and hormonally, you don't even have to have a child in order to lactate in the presence of one. And never mind that if we were to follow this line of reasoning, then it would be assumed that pregnancy itself is also sexual, and that infants produced via these pregnancies must be as well. The result of this thought-line would be no talking about babies or pregnancy ever (or at least not in public), that pregnant women must be swathed in padding to hide their "overtly sexual" condition, and by the same standard the kids themselves must also be hidden from view and covered up at all times until they reach an age where we can all forget that once upon a time their parents had to have engaged in some kind of hanky-panky in order for them to exist. AND once again the bottom line of my entire statement, that in order for identical body parts to be sexual in one gender, they must also be sexual in the other? Once again, completely ignored.
The absolute lack of understanding, respect, or logic in any of her responses made me angry enough that I just gave up the conversation entirely. Every argument I've listed above was on the tip of my tongue that night, but I kept silent, because it was totally clear she had no interest in even sparing me enough thought or attention to comprehend what I was saying, and so there would be no point.
This is a reaction I'm used to getting from most the people in my life on a range of topics, whether important or trivial. It is not, however, one I expected from my mother, who is usually intelligent and respectful enough to at least listen to my opinions and arguments, even if she disagrees. This complete shutting-out, and childish, prudish behavior coming from someone usually so mature about these things has deeply disturbed me. It has also made me mad as fuck. Even two months down the line, I'm still so mad that if a baby were to plop into my lap right now, I would-- without hesitation-- be breast-feeding that kid in public, and might not even bother with a blanket to cover up.
So congratulations, Mama. Nothing in my life, not even my own wanderings through the world, could have motivated me as much to show off my naked tata's to the universe as your frightened, insipid, intellectually-blind behavior. I hope you're happy.