Topless in Farmington

On a sunny cool Maine day, I had the task this afternoon of picking up my seven year old son and the daughters of some friends (aged 7 and 11), grabbing dinner at Amato’s and then bringing them home to play for the evening.   En route to get them I noticed a woman walking around campus with a long skirt but no top.   On the way back I mentioned what I had seen, and of course the kids wanted me to drive by so they could see.   As I did my son asked why she wasn’t wearing a shirt, “girls are supposed to wear shirts.”

The 11 year old filled him in on the story.   A student here at UMF, Andrea Simoneau, is planning an April 30th topless parade here in Farmington.   Conveniently, it will be right alongside the building in which I work.  She organized a similar parade in Portland not too long ago.  The reason is simple: freedom and equal rights.   Men can go shirtless, why not women?   After picking up our pizza we were driving home when we saw her again; another topless woman had joined her.  Interestingly, people seemed non pulsed — this is New England, after all.

But just as Mainers can have a stoic let people do as they please attitude, you also have New England prudes.   They have been complaining, asking the legislature to pass a law banning being topless in public.   As the law stands now, every woman in the state could decide to go without their shirts and bras tomorrow, and no one would be in trouble.

Some say that the reason men can go shirtless is that women’s breasts are sexual.    But having seen the reaction of female friends when a muscular guy takes off his shirt (alas, not when I take mine off), I find it hard to accept the idea that there is anything truly less sexual about topless men.    Moreover, are thighs, legs, and the parts of the body you can see on any beach, or on the lawn tanning on any sunny day really that much less sexual?   What about lips, fingers and eyes?

The difference is not sexuality, but culture.   We’ve learned too see female breasts as an especially sexual feature, forbidden to see or fondle unless invited.   As someone who finds legs much more attractive than breasts, I must say I never found that cultural norm convincing.   But it’s there.  Back in 2001 I was with students in Italy, and they pointed at me and started laughing.  I looked behind me and there was nothing but a man running a newsstand.   They kept pointing, raising their eyebrows, smiling and gesturing me to look.   I thought they were just trying to play a mind game with me and asked them what was going on.   “Look,” they said, laughing and pointing.   “WHAT?!” I demanded, running out of patience.

They were pointing at the newsstand, and a large poster with a topless woman.   Those are so normal in Europe I don’t even notice them.   But to Americans steeped in this culture of “breasts as forbidden” it stood out and got their attention.   Having been at topless beaches many times, I can say with certainty that it is not a sexual experience to have women without shirts.   One gets used to it quickly, and it becomes normal.    For those never experiencing the American breast-prudery, it is hardly noticed.

So I agree with these women, there is no reason that women should have to live by the double standard of having to cover their chests.   It’s not as serious, but this double standard is based on the same logic that has Muslim women in Saudi Arabia covered head to toe.    To be sure, most women (as well as men) would likely choose to cover their chest most of the time.    I hope legislators resist the temptation to try to create a new dress code for Maine.   Women can walk around bear chested and life goes on.

These women are noticed, but yet as they were walking down town and on campus, they were generally walking alone, handing out fliers for the upcoming parade, and not treated as some kind of freak show.    I admire their courage and principle.   It’s a calm, non-violent protest of a double standard so entrenched that most people consider having the double standard to be natural.

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  1. #1 by Lee on April 16, 2010 - 10:27 am

    Oh how did i not know about this w/ my mom living in Maine? Amatos is our fave pizza place too whenever we camp in Maine or go to see her.

  2. #2 by Jeff Lees on April 16, 2010 - 12:18 pm

    I was actually surprised that most of my friends don’t support the protest. I would expect a little more support from a college campus, but like you said, most of the protesters so far have been alone or with one or two other individuals. I had a long discussion about this with two of my good friends at lunch yesterday, and I found myself defending the protest against their objections.

    Either way, I think this country has a long way to go before we have the openness that Europe does.

  3. #3 by Mike Lovell on April 16, 2010 - 2:56 pm

    My thoughts on this subject are that they may dress as they please in public. Granted mine arent for the reasons of equality, or open-mindedness of europeans…clearly they are completely selfish and in a not so medical way. Of course I support licenses for the activity, depending on the people’s appearances, the same way I do with spandex shorts, fat guys walking around with all their man belly hanging out….

    And yes, how convenient it goes by your building. I suspect you’ll make sure the wife is far away when this goes down?? LOL

  4. #4 by patrice on April 16, 2010 - 7:02 pm

    Funny. And it’s not even just breasts, but women’s nipples specifically that are for some reason the culprit. String bikinis are fine, but just don’t show that nipple. When newspapers print pictures of the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction”, they only put a little star over her nipple, not the whole breast. When racy pictures get a black “bar” over them in newspapers, the bar is plenty thin so that the full shape of the breast is perfectly visible. It’s ridiculous.

    And don’t even get me started about Facebook banning pictures of breastfeeding (or any of the other crazy breastfeeding stories – women getting kicked off planes, etc…).

  5. #5 by Nancy B on April 17, 2010 - 9:12 pm

    Oddly enough, I don’t really support the protest. Mainly because it’s not a big deal. There are no laws in Maine against women going topless.
    I’m not going to pretend that it is as easy for a women to walk out of her house topless as a man, but to me it just seems like a silly topic to take issue with. I think the main reason people are engaged in it is that it’s one of the more exciting and drastic forms of feminist protest. But women are still paid less than men on average, teenage girls who dress tomboyish (and teenage boys who dress feminine, for that matter) are still taunted mercilessly in school and a woman running for president is still painted as a shrill harpy by the media. These things aren’t as liberating to get involved in, but to me, they’re more important.
    It is an example of an extreme display of protest against something that is less important to the lives of most women but are easier/more exciting to get involved in. Although I’m not necessarily opposed to this protest, it just sort of makes me roll my eyes, as it’s not super productive in the end. It has the capacity to draw the attention away from important issues and categorize feminism as extreme. If individuals hostile to woman’s rights have the opportunity to paint the whole movement as crazy, bra-burning feminism, as opposed to actual human beings who want equal pay for equal work, etc., then they certainly will.

    • #6 by classicliberal2 on April 18, 2010 - 8:09 pm

      “and a woman running for president is still painted as a shrill harpy by the media.”

      Well, to be fair on that one, the woman who was running for president WAS a shrill harpy. Contrary to complaints like this, though (which I saw and see pretty regularly), virtually no one in the corporate press actually portrayed her that way.

  6. #7 by classicliberal2 on April 18, 2010 - 8:16 pm

    GRAMMAR POLICE ALERT, SCOTT!!!

    “Women can walk around bear chested and life goes on.”

    That will never become an epidemic, because only things like rare glandular disorders make for “bear chested” women.

    • #8 by Mike Lovell on April 19, 2010 - 4:16 pm

      LMAO….I can’t believe I missed that one and harped on him about it already!

      Nice catch, CL2

      • #9 by Scott Erb on April 19, 2010 - 8:23 pm

        Yeah, Mike, usually you catch those! Well, I’m tempted now to just leave it in as is…though I do think it may have described some of the East German swimmers of yesteryear.

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