A couple of days ago, I saw this tweet by Emma Austin:
Joe Duncan?s response was ?let?s start a movement? and it got me wondering: how could a man contribute to such a movement? It is obvious what a woman would do. But a man?
How can a man support a woman?s choice to go out unsupported?
Let?s get it out of the way:
Most of the times, it is easy to tell if a woman is not wearing a bra.
It?s not the poking nipples. Sometimes braless nipples don?t poke and sometimes they poke despite the bra.
It?s the way the breasts sway.
It?s physics: a bra turns two independent to each other bodies into a compound system. They move together to every direction, keeping a steady distance between them.
Without a bra, the breasts move independently from one another. As they move from left to right, within the walking cycle, they have phases where they are closer or away from each other. (This effect may differ if there are implants involved.)
Of course, not everybody analyses breast physics. Still, many people can tell when a woman is braless.
Noticing what people wear?or don?t?can be a neutral wardrobe observation. In our societies, it usually isn?t.
Within the confines of patriarchy, the primary role of women?s breasts is what the male gaze has bestowed upon them: they are sexual objects.
Even when their bearers don?t want them to be.
There are occasions we are welcome to see other people?s bodies as sexual objects?such as when having sex. Sex, by definition, involves using our and other people?s bodies as sexual instruments.
Complications arise when men see women?s bodies (and women altogether) as sexual objects?anytime, anyplace, regardless of the women?s moods or agendas.
Actions like cat-calling show there is simply no such thing as ?a woman walking, minding her own business.? A woman is always seen as scheming to distract others by using her ?assets.?
Men justify cat-calling as a reaction. They define its triggering action as ?the woman walking.? Men see only themselves as ?minding their own business.? (Their business must be pretty slow, if they have so much time to observe unsuspected pedestrians, don?t you think?) As victims: ?There I was, minding my own business and then this chick appeared to tempt me into committing rape.?
That?s no joke. I?ve heard men several times whisper under their breath, ?And then, they say it?s the rapist?s fault,? as a woman walks by, who happens to show more skin than they can take. The remark?s casualness is scary.
So, in a world full of men unable to control their urges, who justify their sexual aggression as a natural reaction to women?s existence, women?s hesitation to ditch the bra is understandable.
Women, too, have succumbed to the male gaze. They do flips and twists to be acceptable. They conform. They confine themselves in tight beauty and societal standards.
All that makes them a tad self-conscious.
In such a world, a bra is valuable protection against the male gaze.
There are 2 things men do when they see a woman walking braless in public: they ogle and they judge her.
Heck, men do that to a woman regardless of her attire. Still, going braless exposes her to such behaviour even more. She has fewer layers of protection ? so she gets ogled more easily ? and the particular wardrobe choice is routinely perceived as provocative ? justifying even stricter judgement to befall upon her. ?How dare she?? Right?
Can we stop judging braless women?
When a braless woman is the target of judgement, it is usually about 2 things: her body shape and her decision to go braless. One of the most common critiques goes like this: ?Why aren?t you wearing a bra, when your boobs are so saggy?? Another is: ?Why do you want to provoke people??
Judgement of women?s breast form
We judge men?s bodies, too, but the judgement passed on women for their bodies is always more vicious and ruthless. As a sexual object, a woman owes the world her perfection ? and God forbid if she can?t attain it!
Regardless whether the judges give negative or positive comments, it is the process of putting women?s bodies under scrutiny and evaluation that objectifies them.
Men judge a woman?s body. Women judge a woman?s body.
Braless women in particular give the impression they provoke attention and judgement. They go asking for it.
(Now, where have I heard this before? Oh, yes: rape.)
Since they provoke it, judgement will befall upon them with great vengeance and furious anger. Since they are going braless, them titties better be perfection! Only perky ones can roam free. No saggy jugs allowed. Put them behind bars!? er? bras I mean.
Breast surgery is one way to go about it. Another way is to hide in a dungeon, tormented by shame and body image issues, leaving more space for the perfect rest of the people to live their lives in sunshine.
Another way is celebrating self-acceptance. Thank God for women like Chidera Eggerue! She started the hashtag #saggyboobsmatter and inspired women all over the world to embrace their body shape.
That?s the way to go. A way for the brave, but perhaps the only true way. Squeezing one?s foot to fit Cinderella?s shoe only perpetuates the pain. The key to healing is accepting oneself.
Women who go braless celebrate their identity and self-acceptance. They are also possibly healing.
For all that, they deserve praise. Not judgement.
Judgement of her decision
Women can choose not to wear a bra (at home or in public) for various reasons. Comfort. The heat. Ideology. Sexiness. Breastfeeding ease.
Or the choice can be unconscious, as with Emma who, according to her tweet, left her house without realising she hadn?t worn one.
None of the above reasons is more or less valid than any other.
In fact, no woman owes anyone an explanation about why she does or doesn?t wear a bra.
?Is she making a statement, by not wearing one?? Perhaps. Or perhaps she simply lives without the intention of becoming a walking manifesto. She has the right to do either.
How about wearing one? Is there some statement behind that? I?ve written before about my paternal grandmother?s disapproval of teenage girls? wearing bras: ?They wear brassieres even before their breasts start to grow.? My grandma thought that ? for a teenager ? wearing a bra showed a tendency towards promiscuity.
The same culture that developed brassieres also developed my grandma?s austere mentality. Patriarchy seems to be chasing its own tail.
It actually isn?t. Patriarchy knows what it?s doing.
Imposing bra regulations, however contradictory, is part of the bigger concept that girls and women are to be controlled.
If we want to move on and away from patriarchy, we must respect any woman?s wardrobe choices?regardless of the reasons behind them.
Can we stop ogling braless women?
The other thing we do is stare.
Staring is harassment, but of a relatively mild form.
The problem with staring is that most men don?t see it as harassment at all.
They don?t even know they need to stop doing it.
Staring happens regardless of the woman?s wardrobe choices. Still, just as with judgement?see above?men often think a braless woman is ?asking for it:?
?If she didn?t want us to stare, she would have worn a bra.?
Here?s something that many of us need to digest:
Going braless in public is not an open invitation for harassment.
I am not holier than thou on the matter. Quite the opposite. Back in the days when my sex addiction had control over me, I ogled. And I mostly ogled breasts. Especially breasts that were daring in one way or another?braless or clothed in a low cut blouse.
In one of my first stories, Men Are Crazy About Women?s Breasts, I elaborate on the physical and emotional reactions that I had?and still do!?whenever I saw a braless woman or a generous cleavage.
Men Are Crazy About Women?s Breasts
This is what my mother told me, when I was a kid
I now know better.
There is the reaction and there is the choice. I may never get to control the reaction. How I respond, though, will always be my choice.
Can we respect braless women?
Nobody said we should pluck our eyes out. Looking at people in the street is perfectly normal. Neither should we hypnotise ourselves to be ?nipple-blind.? It is okay to acknowledge?to ourselves?whether a woman is wearing a bra or not.
It is also important to acknowledge our reaction. If we?re impressed, we?re impressed. If we?re stunned, we?re stunned. That?s a reaction. Denying it only makes things worse.
We must not deny the reaction. We must stop it from leading us to the same choices of judgement or harassment.
How can we do that?
Let?s pair our gaze with some humanity.
To do this, we need to remind ourselves of a few simple facts:
The woman we?re looking at is a human being and not a trophy in our personal safari or a love interest in our personal movie.
She is walking by because she has her own agenda and a busy day. She?s not cat-walking and her agenda is not to titillate us.
She doesn?t need to justify her choice of wardrobe.
She doesn?t need to justify her body shape.
These thoughts may sound obvious. Still, this is where men get everything wrong. They make everything about themselves ? the woman?s agenda is to seduce them. She dresses up because she wants them to notice.
These simple reminders can help us get unstuck from such ideas. Remembering to see every woman as having her own backstory and being on her own journey helps us see her as a person and not as an object of sexual desire. It also weakens our tendencies to judge her.
It is actually liberating. Not only for her?which is the obvious. For us, bystanders, too.
Any woman is captain of her own ship. Not wearing a bra ? like any other wardrobe choice ? reflects her own personal journey. This journey is not up to me to understand, but it is enough for me to respect her.
There is one more technique that I apply, every time I see a woman that stuns me. This technique may or may not help you. I practice it, because it helps me honour my choice of respect over both judgement and objectification. It?s simple and fun.
I give a mental bow. As they do in Japan.
I don?t physically bow?that would actually be harassment. I may let my eyelids drop for a second, while I bow in my mind.
This thought of bowing to a woman allows me to both acknowledge my reaction and respect her self-determination.
During and after the bow, I allow my heart to fill with gratitude.
I silently thank that woman for providing me an opportunity to choose respect and heal my gaze.
I thank her for the beauty and joy she has to offer ? not by being a beautiful object, but by being a human on her own healing journey.
This is what makes the world beautiful: people respecting each other. Not good looks or wardrobe choices.
If this piece spoke to you, you can also try: