Art that challenges

March 14, 2007 | By | 5 Replies More

Here’s a good question:  why can’t a woman go topless wherever a man can? 

Sorry . . . I’m not buying answers like “Because that is the way it has always been” or “Because they are women.” 

Talk about equal rights!  The prevalent dress code inequity is motivated by the same mindset that leads some people to kick breastfeeding women off of airplanes.  Or am I missing something?  Here’s a relevant article on cross-cultural attitudes toward nudity.

I didn’t realize that New York state is one of the very few places in the US where women can legally be top free anywhere that a man can be top free.  Photographer Jordan Matter used New York City as the backdrop to a collection of photos he has named “Uncovered.”  Here’s how he explains the collection on “The Thinking Blog.” 

Challenging this inequity between the sexes is the purpose of my work. There has been a recent shift in America towards a socially conservative philosophy, so right after Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed at the Super Bowl, I started asking women to appear topless in New York City. [Uncovered: Busting Out in the Big Apple] is a collection of photographs featuring bare-breasted women in public around NYC, often presented with interviews exploring the issues of body image and sexuality in America today. The informal and humorous nature of these images celebrates women without sexualizing or objectifying them, while creating the illusion of a tolerant world in which shirtless women go casually about their lives. Uncovered represents just one aspect of what America could look like if we were free of shame and liberated from moral judgment.

“The Thinking Blog” contains various links to “Uncovered.”  Here’s Matter’s official site. [Warning to those who are offended or mortified by images of human breasts, including all of you who pummeled the FCC with emails complaining about Janet Jackson: “Uncovered” contains non-sexualized images of human breasts. If you’re looking for sexual images, you’ll be disappointed and you’ll have to surf on over to one of the tens of millions of Internet sites that offer those sorts of images].

I’m sharing this information because I found the Matter’s photos to be both humorous and intellectually challenging.

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Category: American Culture, Humor, photography, Sex, Web Site

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Jason Rayl says:

    The West fetishizes female breasts and thus makes them sexual to a degree they might not ordinarily be. That is not to say they aren't sexual stimulants. Two things:

    Sexuality in the West is a perverse sort of apprehension of "sex as attribute/possession"–namely, sexuality is something women "have" that men want. Men who possess it are rarer and put in special categories, but I'm talking about the run-of-the-mill ordinary folks now, not superstars whose images are sexually charge. Therefore, men can pretty well flaunt their physical attributes because they are not sexually stimulating, while women may not because their attributes are. (Actually, this is similar to the Middle Eastern, Arabaian attitude, though men rarely flash their goods there under any circumstances.)

    Two, most of us rarely stop to think much past an idealized sexuality when we consider this subject, which is to say we imagine someone like Cindy Crawford or Aneglina Jolie walking down the street topless instead of our next door neighbor. In the case of men, we think of George Clooney or Brad Pitt in the same way, not bothering to realize until it is literally right in front of our face that, really, we'd rather not publicly see the naked torsos of most males or females because they're generally not that pleasant. (Standards of beauty rarely attach to men–yes, this is a double standard, but it's true–so restrictions seem to go one way only. The bias, to my mind, ought to go both ways–men ought to do something about their appearance in direct proportion to that which we expect women to. Years ago, my first revelation in this came sitting downtown waiting for a friend when a group of women went by clearly having just emerged from a gym. They looked great, in general. But I began paying attention after that and noticed about 70 to 80% of the professional women working downtown were in relatively good condition physically–and attractive as resuilt–while 70 to 80% of the men sported guts hidden by expensive suits. I found this an unacceptable state of affairs. If the women were busting their buns to look good, didn't the men have a reciplrocal obligation? Aha! Refer to my first point.)

    The problem, from the simplest to the most complex issue, is finding a way to apply the same standards to men and women. It is extraordinarily difficult to get people to see this.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    Beautiful. I laughed out load at some of the pictures.

    "When your boobs are as big as mine, they're like an extra pair of arms"

    (from a picture taken at Starbucks)

    Some shots seemed natural enough; just equal opportunity exposure. But the topless snow angel?!

    The topless plate-camera photographer is one of my faves: A whimsical view of serious art.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    I had the same reaction as Dan: some of the photos seemed natural enough, but how many make snow angels without a shirt on? Or go topless through a snowstorm, or through Grand Central station, or to a fancy cocktail party? Equality is one thing; weirdness and tastelessness are another. I suppose New York's permissive law is there because the theater industry is there, and because New York's rich and powerful theater-goers (who can influence their lawmakers) enjoy seeing nudity on the stage.

    America's bizarre, repressive attitudes toward nudity and sexuality are a direct result of centuries-old Puritan ascetism, yet astonishingly few Americans question this ancient narrowmindedness. They become exercised over Janet Jackson's breast being momentarily exposed at the Superbowl — hardly a cause for alarm — yet they simultaneously ignore the fact that many Superbowl (and other) advertisements routinely contain grotesque objectifications of women. Any rational consideration of this topic would suggest that the latter is far more damaging both to women's status in the society and to the moral character of the nation, yet the former is where public outrage is directed. Just one of America's many hypocrisies.

    And by "America's" I don't mean just American men. Hypocrisy goes both ways. I know an American woman who had (elective) breast augmentation surgery, yet would become outraged whenever she though a man had stared at her breasts. Go figure.

    Legalizing toplessness for women nationwide would seem to be a good way to reduce America's prurient and hypocritical attitudes. The more topless women there were, the less attention American men would pay to a woman's body and the more attention they would pay to her mind. Or maybe not: male sexual behavior is not merely the consequence of a few centuries of religious repression, but also the result of millions of years of evolution….unless, of course, one believes the creation story in Genesis, in which case nudity should be seen as a positive step closer to the godly state of human dress in the Garden of Eden. But, somehow, I doubt America's Protestants (or Catholics for that matter) would buy that argument.

  4. Vicki says:

    A naked run through the first rain of the season is a tradition at the UC-Santa Cruz campus.

    Topless women in downtown SC are an occasional sight – the police try to discourage it but it is not illegal. But a few years ago a woman was asked to leave a downtown store for breastfeeding "indiscreetly". I think people are especially freaked out if it's an older child nursing – and of course they're more likely to pop off the nipple unexpectedly to have a look around if something catches their interest.

  5. gatomjp says:

    "we’d rather not publicly see the naked torsos of most males or females because they’re generally not that pleasant." Anyone who has visited a gym locker room can attest to that!

    I don't think that public female toplessness would be a good thing, no matter how attractive the person. I LIKE that female breasts are fetishized and hidden! Nudity is exciting just because it is forbidden. No apologies to my feminist friends because that's not to say that I wish to reduce women to a mere fetish object. I am attracted to women who are strong and smart and self-confident. But I also know that the sexually stimulating effect of nudity would wear off if I were to see it all day every day.

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