Nipple licking in America

Posted in Dudes, Misogyny, Sex, Women's Bodies, Women-Blaming by Dizzy on August 14, 2007

Okay so I know it’s hot out and everything, but where the hell did guys get the idea that it’s perfectly okay to saunter around the 7-11 without a shirt on? I get the no shirt thing when you’re putting a new roof on a house or maybe installing an irrigation system, but out in public, walking down the street, in chilly air-conditioned convenience stores? What’s the deal?

Yeah okay, you have a nice chest. Your celtic tattoos make you an intimidating sexpot. Your nipple piercings make us all quiver with desire. Your well-defined pecs haunt my dreams. Whatever. Put a fucking shirt on.

Here’s the root of my problem with male shirtlessness: It’s profoundly unfair. As you probably know by now, I’m not a huge fan of patriarchical injustice, and this one just reeks of it. Not only is it unacceptable for women to walk around topless, it’s plain illegal. It’s called indecent. Immoral. In too many places it’s still illegal to breastfeed in public, and in the Bible Belt you can be arrested for not wearing a bra.

Actually, I made that last part up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.

Why? Because it is unfair to tempt straight men this way. See, it’s also illegal to go around feeling women up, and if women could go topless in public it might make it more difficult for the tempted men to not break that particular law. Can’t count on men to control themselves, or course. It’s gotta be up to women to make sure men don’t violate them. Men are not responsible for their own impure thoughts and compulsions to act on them, women are. Fancy that. Classic boys-will-be-boys, women-are-responsible scenario.

Now let’s say I got a strong desire to go lick the pierced nipples of celtic tattoo man. Which, for the record, I most certainly did not. Pretty much. Anyway, it’s fairly clear that no one’s too worried about my impure thoughts and desires, otherwise male shirtlessness would be similarly outside of conventional moral boundaries. Either this is because the world thinks that women don’t have such desires or it’s just not concerned about our inability to control ourselves.

It’s a bit of both, I suspect. Most (American) women have been taught to maintain pretty strict control over our desires and sexual compulsions ever since about the 3rd grade. Such enduring lessons include: Make them want you regardless of if you want them back, and don’t give in to your own want unless it will get you something more meaningful in return. Approach their desire with caution and in a proper ladylike fashion while maintaining your sexual attractiveness at all times. If you express or give in to your own desire, we will call you a slut. If you don’t give in at the appropriate time, when they really need it, we will call you a tease, especially if you dare tempt them with revealing clothes.

Them, them, them, them, them. Blah. What a bunch of horseshit. Too bad so many of us still abide by this stuff. This is the stuff that keeps us fighting with each other over developmentally disabled frat boys, questioning our worth and value in the world because the dude that we’re not even that into doesn’t call us back, and trying to find clothes that reveal just enough to make them wish they could touch us but not so much that they’ll actually try.

Basically, this is the stuff that patriarchies are made of. It’s a very useful tool for male domination: keep the women repressed with concern over how to get men to want them while still keeping their dignity intact, as well as how to prevent men from hitting them, raping them, leering at them, ignoring them, or just generally treating them like shit, and the men are free to walk around town with their shirts off enjoying all the perks of male privilege that are so ingrained they don’t even know they have them.

Oh calm down, I wasn’t talking about you.


21 Responses

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  1. Perkyshai said, on August 14, 2007 at 7:50 am

    “Stumbling blocks”.
    It’s as though the river temptation flows from the agents o’ evil through women to men. No deviation, no reprieve. Veritable Mississippi of guilt and privilege.

  2. wheresroxy said, on August 14, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Well doncha know, it’s all our fault… Of course it is. We’re the ones guilty of causing temptation. Sure we are. Why, no man on earth would ever stoop so low as to leer at a lady unless she was askin’ for it – and well, since those proper men are surrounded by nothin’ but pure ladies, how can they possible resist the evil temptations of a seductress walkin’ by in tight jeans?
    Too funny. And I can’t stand public shirtlessness in men. Ick. I really had no desire to see that piercing, tat, etc. And if I did have a desire, you can be sure I would find a way to see it, on my own, without you walking around shirtless.

  3. Ciccina said, on August 14, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    You seriously crack me up. That was awesome.

    I have a similar problem with the way frattish guys sit in public – in restaurants, for example. I mean, people will be eating, and these guys are leaning back, legs splayed, airing their balls underneath their roomy many-pocketed cargo shorts. I was at a cheap tex-mex place the other night and saw at least three guys sitting that way. I then tried out the pose myself to see how it felt but it was so obviously inappropriate that I had to stop – I felt uncomfortable. I can’t imagine a teenage girl sitting like that at home or in school without getting chastised. I don’t know what irritates me more – the gender asymmetry, or the grossness.

  4. Holly said, on August 15, 2007 at 6:07 am

    omigod, this rivals twisty faster in its hilarity/accuracy. You’re absolutely right, but I laughed really hard.

    One of the worst places I ever saw this imbalance between accepted displays of male near-nudity and as close a total ban on female flesh as you could come without making women wear burkas was at the Mormon missionary training center in Provo, Utah. (I know, I know, what do you expect?) All the guys had gym classes throughout the day, and walked there without shirts. Women had a mandatory 6 a.m. gym class and had to wear either sweatpants or shorts with tights under them so that any stray guy who might happen to be outside at that ungodly hour wouldn’t be overcome by lust at the sight of a woman’s bare thigh.

  5. liz said, on August 16, 2007 at 11:22 am

    Writing to you from the province of Ontario, where in the mid-90s women fought for and achieved the legal right to walk around topless in public. It started with one woman’s battle actually, and I’m really really sorry I’ve forgotten her name, ’cause what a cool chick.

    Alas, I wish I had better news for you, Ornamenting Away, from this so-called progressive place, where public toplessness has become equalized in the name of the law, but the scene is pretty much the same as you describe. I should point out that this provincial legislation came through when our province was governed by an actual HORSE’S ASS—a highshool drop-out wanker, who rose to power on such hot tickets as getting rid of photo-radar (which amounted to about four police vans along Highway 401), and lifting rules on wearing bicycle helmets. This same premiere GUTTED social spending and VERY SERIOUSLY eroded the Teachers’ and Nurses’ Unions, the effects of which this province is still recovering.

    I have better news from the beaches in France, where female toplessness is quite casually accepted and you can immediately discern the Brit and American tourists because they’re the ONLY ones going, “Oh my god, tits!” This doesn’t let French dudes off the mysoginist hook by any means, nor are the same French sunbathers out doing topless shopping. But I had a running theory that the beach scenes indicate boys and girls over there have AT LEAST grown up seeing toplessness in a way that is not immediately and totally sexualized. That’s interesting if nothing else.

    It’s a stinkin’ hot day here in Toronto, so what stops me or any other female citizen here from wandering out to run errands topless—free and comfortable? As you clearly point out it’s about decency and moral codes, which are GENDERED through and through. All this to say, equality in a legal system that supports and is supported by male power and fantasy falls DESPERATELY short of the kind of equality you, your readers, and I really want. It cannot really function when women are sexualized in every space and place and context (excepting example above, which, there’s something in that, non?).That doesn’t mean we stop engaging in legal lobbying; it means we relentlessly question the shit we see everyday. Like your blog. Nicely done.

    I was going to say something about nice buff chests versus sunburnt manfat and hairy saggy man-titties and who wants to look at that and why don’t we legislate that men MUST put on shirts but I’ve gone on way too long already. Thanks for taking the time, Ornamenting Away. You’re rockin’.

  6. TP said, on August 21, 2007 at 8:46 am

    I wish men weren’t taught from birth that women are sexual targets. It’s the constant stimulation of regarding women as sexual objects to be lusted after that causes this profound disconnect. Men, every one of them, will all die before giving up their slavery to constant arousal. Ask any man and he’ll tell you the same thing, even the ‘feminists.’

  7. CLD said, on August 21, 2007 at 8:50 am

    I can remember when in 4th grade, the mothers of my male friends came around one summer to complain to my mother about the fact that I was still running around with no shirt. As if my flat-chested, bony-ass bod was tempting their little honey-munchkins. I looked no different than the boys, other than I had long, stringy and very tangled hair. WTF?

    I still can’t understand the fascination American men have with boobs. They’re glands, for shit’s sake and they’re there for a function other than as a play-dough fun factory for their grimy hands.

    If I can’t go around topless and free in the breeze, neither should any other HUMAN person.


  8. Carol said, on August 21, 2007 at 10:39 am

    What Liz said. And I would like to mention that when I was in Italy last spring, I was in a mall and there was an ad for some kind of cream (probably boob enlarger) with a picture of..gasp..a naked boob. In the MALL. Right next to the children’s play area. And nobody blinked. Although the fact that it was for (likely) boob enhancers is another story…

  9. Jim said, on September 21, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    I totally laughed my ass off at the title you used. For the record, I refuse to leave the house without a shirt on because I agree it’d be unfair.

  10. Natalie Bennett said, on September 26, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    Oddly enough I’m in Nice, France, now, and there are (or at least there were a couple of days ago when it was warmer), topless women all over th beach (and topless men too), and no one was being attacked in uncontrolled lust. Maybe it just has something to do with social acceptance that not everything about the body relates to sex all of the time? 🙂

  11. Jessica O said, on October 1, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Mmm, pierced, bare male nipples on smelly, bare males. The urge to start licking in near uncontrollable.

    As usual, you make well thought out and accurate points in a funny and cutting way. I just have one little nit-picky item to point out.

    In my particular section of “the Bible Belt,” it is perfectly legal for people of either sex to work, walk around, or relax topless, or to remove certain parts of the top in use and expose certain body parts at any moment they damn well please. And I know this because where I live, they frequently do. You can not be arrested for a lack of bra.

    (Exceptions include rules imposed in public pools, office buildings, etc)

    Now, I am definitely not disputing the double standards and the underlying psychology at work here, I’m just pointing out that the rules that enforce them are social, not necessarily legal. That doesn’t make it right, or fair, or any less of an issue.

    However, I’ve been fighting stereotypes all my life, both gender related and otherwise. I love your blog because you so brilliantly dispute evil little generalizations and lies about women. True, because I’m a woman I’m not dumber/weaker/a less valuable human being than men. Please don’t assume that I’m backwards/patriarchal/stupid because I’m from the South.

  12. Dizzy said, on October 1, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    Point taken, Jessica. Let me just clarify that my little joke there was really about the religion-infused political and social institutions of the Bible Belt states rather than the people of the South. I really wasn’t trying to imply that all Southerners are a bunch of dumb hillbillies! I know better than that.

  13. Zora said, on October 4, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Very nice post.

    And good point, Jessica. I’m in Austin, TX where it is perfectly legal for women (or any human) to walk around topless. They never do though, as I frequently point out to my friends. And I think we all know why. At the very least there would be a lot of oogling, but I think most of us fear the worst.

    This is how the patriarchy operates: with the constant threat of violence.

  14. Sara said, on December 7, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    I’m surprised that they were not kicked out of the convenience store – since they serve food, and topless = health department violation. Hence the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” sign that was undoubtedly on the door. Hey, at least we are all equal in the eyes of the health department!

    That said, I totally agree – I can understand a man being shirtless in his backyard or while up on a roof – but as soon as he is going to set foot IN PUBLIC, the shirt should go on. It’s only civilized. Too bad so many men are not taught any manners.

  15. T.O. said, on December 28, 2007 at 4:12 am

    Hi, I just rediscovered your blog today, appreciate it quite a lot, and am still planning to subscribe– but why must you unthinkingly insult the developmentally disabled? I think you’ll find that the principles behind the disability rights/autism rights/pro-neurodiversity movement(s) are exactly the same ones that motivate feminism. I understand that these other movements are not the focus of your blog, but could you please just try to be a little more careful with words?

  16. Jason said, on July 16, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    It’s worth mentioning that, in a time much more chauvinist era (ie, pre-1960s), men WEREN’T allowed to go around without shirts on. It was considered indecent for any respectable man to show his skin unless he was a dock worker or farmer, and then only on the job. I think this kind of shoots down your theory about “patriarchy”.

    But I admit that I do agree with these laws as they stand. Like it or not, believe it or not, accept it or not, every culture must have gender-specific taboos. It’s necessary. And these are ours. If you don’t like it, ask yourself if you’d like to see hairy dudes walking around in school girl outfits. If that image doesn’t make you reconsider your view that “women should be able to do anything men can do,” well, I suppose you’re just beyond help 😉

  17. Dizzy said, on July 17, 2008 at 11:22 am

    If you define help as instruction on how to shutup and appreciate the perks of misogyny, then yes, I am indeed beyond it.

    How about you explain to me why it’s necessary that every culture have gender-specific taboos and I’ll ask myself whether not wanting to see hairy dudes in school girl outfits means that I should give up on this whole notion of “patriarchy” and “equality”

  18. Jason said, on July 17, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    We need gender-specific taboos because having men and women do the same things and look the same way is boring and not conducive to any kind of lively society that anyone wants to live in. Now, for the record I think it’s rude for anyone to walk around in public half-naked (and I refrain from doing so for that reason) but the fact that women can’t go topless is hardly misogyny. Women don’t show their breasts or let their body hair grow to visible lengths, and men don’t wear dresses or short shorts. Fair trade, if you ask me. Besides, a sport bra or bikini top serves the same purpose as topless and isn’t frowned upon.

    There are things that men aren’t allowed to do that women are, and things men are allowed to do that women aren’t. This is not hatred of women. I agree with most of everything else on this and other feminist blogs, but the notion that men and women are not just equal but the same has always struck me as odd.

  19. Dominique said, on August 13, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    This is interesting. Here’s my personal experience:

    The following is unfuckingbelievable:
    “Is asking him for the time or for directions a crime?… No.”

    Asking for the time is NOT the same as staring at someone’s tits, you stupid morons!!!

    You need brain transplants – or you are just being assholes for trying to sneak this under the radar. Your disingenuousness is a little too obvious.

    This reminds me of when I was being sabotaged at work after a sexual harassment complaint: I couldn’t figure out if my colleagues were just plain incompetent or deliberately malicious.

    In meantime, on the subject of what we wear – or, in my case, don’t – here’s a post I made this summer:

    It’s been 12 years since women won the right to go topless in Ontario, thanks to the Gwen Jacob decision of 1996. You’d never know it even happened.

    It was hot out the other day, so I took my shirt off at the Beaches: not exactly a black tie dinner at the Imperial Tea Room. The worst harassment I endured came from other women, though men joined in also.

    My tits scared the hell out of the whole neighbourhood.

    First, three teenage girls followed me for fifteen minutes yelling: “Put a shirt on!” Finally, I turned around and snapped: “Gwen Jacob. 1996. Supreme Court of Ontario. Look it up.” Another girl said: “You look like you’ve lost your shirt.” On Queen Street, an old man informed me there was “a sale on shirts across the road.” In both cases, I repeated my earlier mantra. After that, a trio of young boys muttered loudly at me to put a shirt on. I was getting protest fatigue. I ignored them.

    One man offered moral support, opining that the hostile women were “jealous”. I’m 42, with grey hair, and weigh 170 pounds. The girls harassing me were young, slim and conventionally pretty. His argument echoed the stereotype that women are constantly poised to gouge each other’s eyes out competing for men’s attention.

    I’m afraid the likelier explanation for the female hostility is something called “internalized imperialism”. The young women in question reacted as if they were men. They are conditioned to believe, just like their male counterparts, that only beautiful women must be allowed to disrobe – and then only for the enjoyment of men, not for their own comfort and wishes. It’s as if we have to go back in the Barbie box, where nobody wants to play with us anymore, should we live for anything other than male approval. Meanwhile, men can do whatever they want.

    A recent survey says 56 per cent of American women are concerned about diet and weight, while only 23 per cent express the same degree of concern about cancer.

    The vast majority (84 per cent) of women surveyed say they feel they are overweight, with four in 10 women reporting that they are more than 20 pounds too heavy. Now: while it’s true we have an obesity epidemic going on, it isn’t up to 84 per cent of the population. The math is wrong. Only half to two-thirds of the population is really overweight, and men more so than women. This means a good 20 percent or more of women are worried for nothing.

    This isn’t to say we should never wish to be beautiful. It’s about beauty as a choice and a pleasure, rather than a constant obligation. I doubt Ariel Sharon ever worried much about his beer belly or double chin while negociating prisoner exchanges. Yet we have to wring our hands over our pantsuits.

    I never applied for the job of being pretty. That isn’t what I was going for when catching a breeze. It isn’t what I do and I don’t care. I have zero interest in shouting out to the world that “my booty is spectacular,” as Unilever would have me do. I can’t picture Ariel Sharon, or even Stéphane Dion, doing this in a crowded theatre. Why should I?

    You would think that if every old fat ugly guy has the right to walk around topless without anyone yelling at him to put a shirt on, so do I.

    However right I feel I am, each time someone got hostile toward me and I responded in kind, my knees would feel like gelatin. I was shaking. It scared me to stand my ground. I did it anyway. It doesn’t happen often.


    One feminist magazine has responded to my rant. The editor points out that freedom of expression means people are free to tell me what they think.

    This raises a crucial issue: what, exactly, constitutes freedom, and what constitutes a limit upon it?

    Social conservatives will argue that the only constraint on freedom which ought to be recognized as a concern is state oppression and injustice. Those more to the left of the spectrum will argue that non-state action can also be an important constraint; and that state failure to act can constitute a violation of rights, especially where there is unequal protection. Here’s an example: if a particular state does not prosecute the so-called “honour killing” of women with nearly the same vigour as other types of murder. This is discrimination and a violation of human rights – even if the killings are carried out by non-state actors.

    A classic extreme example of this argument, ironically, is when men complain they “can’t say anything anymore” because of “those feminists.” And what do “those feminists” do to, apparently, take away the men in question’s freedom of speech? Why, they disagree with the men! They talk back! They even frown at them! I guess this is a job for Amnesty International. It’s like the men in question are expecting women to say something like: “I’m so sorry for oppressing you by not applauding enthusiastically enough at the way you kick me in the teeth.” And no one is calling them on it.

    So: yes, freedom is, to a certain extent, a product of personal power. To what degree it may be hampered lies somewhere between receiving a frown, and the other extreme of state execution and torture.

  20. Dominique said, on August 13, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    ooooops… Part of my comment was actually from another post.

    Please disregard this part:
    “The following is unfuckingbelievable… (up to 🙂 I couldn’t figure out if my colleagues were just plain incompetent or deliberately malicious.”

  21. Shirtless Robbie said, on July 8, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    I actually write a blog encouraging men to go shirtless, not so much at convenience stores, etc as for working and sporting events, particularly outdoors. Some (including the Running Shirtless blog) encourage women to use a sports bra as an equivalent to male shirtlessness. I certainly encourage women to do this as I’m sure it offers a great deal of the comfort that I experience when going shirtless. On the other hand, I know that some feminists rather than pushing for men to wear shirts, advocate women’s equal rights to go topless in public. I fully support this, not because I want to stare at breasts, but because I think that women should have the same freedom as men and that our society as a whole needs to quit looking at female breasts as some kind of sex toy (they are actually for feeding babies, for those who might be confused on that point). At the same time, I realize the practical difficulties of effecting such a large cultural change. So, without any disrespect intended toward women, I do advocate men feeling free to go shirtless. I blog about this particular topic and not about related issues pertaining to women not because I wish to discrimate against women, but simply because as a man, I feel more qualified to speak to my own gender. At the same time, I do support women who want to run or participate in sports, etc, in a sports bra, as well as women who seek equal topless rights.

    I find it interesting that our society seems to have restrictions on both genders in some (different) ways. For instance, a man in a sleeveless shirt cannot be considered dressed up and a sleeveless shirt on a man is considered inappropriate in most work places, while a woman can be considered classy and well dressed in a sleeveless blouse or dress. Women can often get by with wearing midriff tops or sports bras indoors when men are not allowed to go shirtless, and a midriff top is fairly taboo on a man in general. To some extent, I imagine that much of this is more of an accident of our cultural evolution, a sort of “cultural drift”. However, I have noted one trend with regard to men that is rather disturbing. While we are constantly assaulted by topless men in media and advertising, it has actually become less acceptable for men to actually be seen shirtless. At one time, it was common for boys in PE classes to go shirtless. Now it is fairly taboo, and even runners training outdoors in the heat may be required to wear a shirt. The standard uniform for wrestlers in high school and college was once shirtless, wearing simply trunks or tights. Gyms will advertise with billboards of well-built shirtless men, but won’t allow a man to be seen without his shirt in their actual facility. Abercrombie, while famous for its advertising laden with shirtless, muscular young men, and actually employing shirtless models in the store, evicted shirtless customers and refused to sell them anything (even, ironically, a shirt). I think that male shirtlessness is becoming sexualized in the media and is beginning to be seen as dirty or inappropriate. I don’t mean by this to belittle women’s issues, only to share some observations from a male perspective.

    Ultimately, I would like to see both men and women more free about themselves and their bodies, and to see all people treated with dignity and respect. Futhermore, each of us needs to take responsibility for our own actions.

    Fortunately, breastfeeding in public is now a protected right in most of the USA, often even if the full breast is exposed in the process. I believe this is very important, not only for the mother’s personal freedom, but for the health of both mother and child. I am very much in favor of enacting stronger laws protecting breastfeeding. Some states already protect the mother’s right to breastfeed in public, even if the breast is exposed, in any place that she and the child would ordinarily have a right to be. It should be this way everywhere.

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