What a bare-breasted romp through Central Park can teach us about evolving social attitudes.
When I read this lovely article from 2011 by Jamie Peck about actually exercising her legal freedom to go topless in public, I was reminded of our own Ozy Frantz’s recent post about why this freedom should be not only legal, but socially condoned. (Warning: both links may contain boobs.)
That difference, between legal and condoned, is sharply illustrated in Ms. Peck’s piece:
About an hour into my walk, one of New York’s finest pulled up alongside me in one of those little ticketmobiles they drive.
“Hey!” he yelled.
“I know the law says you’re allowed to do this or whatever, but there are kids around.”
The word “law” was dripping with contempt. He clearly hated this “law,” and wished he could ticket me.
“Is there a part of the park where kids aren’t allowed?”
“Just use your brain. This isn’t appropriate. I don’t know what you think you’re doing–”
“Hanging out in the park?”
Compare this to Ozy’s take on the subject:
My latest project has been asking people to explain why women can’t take their shirts off in public. Barring circular answers (“it’s obscene!” “it’s just not appropriate”) and irrelevancies (“hubba hubba”), the answers have mostly been in two groups:
1) “Men aren’t attractive the same way women are.”
2) “There are some men who will, you know, take that as an invitation…”
It’s intriguing that the criticism Ms. Peck faced never even made it past the circular answers Ozy describes; folks who have a problem with boobs in public seem, in practice, to get as far as “Obscenity… children… STUFF!” and no farther.
Most encouraging, though, is how little of Ms. Peck’s bare-breasted wandering of Central Park actually did draw criticism. Most people were perfectly okay with it. This may be a sign that acceptance of female toplessness is reaching a tipping point, where women’s bodies are considered more equivalent to those of men, rather than being a frighteningly Othered category. I think most of us will be able to live with that, don’t you?
Photo—No show from Shutterstock