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Women and Their Illegal Breasts

I have figured out that the reason women cannot *wear* their breasts, is so corporations can have the monopoly on breasts and can *sell* them back to us. And although pushing for a woman’s right to not wear a top in public like men, as gender equality, is logical, it is still not functional in real life in America yet. Even in towns where we changed laws so women have a right to wear their own breasts, such as in Santa Cruz, Ca., the plan has failed in many practical ways. Men still strut around topless, allowed ownership of their bodies, while women’s breasts remain a corporate and male commodity that women, themselves, had better not interfere with. “Alternative? events that proclaim to respect women and their bodies still harbor lecherous men when we take our tops off. So far, the *only* safe environments I have found to be topless in are *women-only* spaces.
Women and Their Illegal Breasts
By Kirsten Anderberg (

I have figured out that the reason women cannot *wear* their breasts, is so corporations can have the monopoly on breasts and can *sell* them back to us. And although pushing for a woman’s right to not wear a top in public like men, as gender equality, is logical, it is still not functional in real life in America yet. Even in towns where we changed laws so women have a right to wear their own breasts, such as in Santa Cruz, Ca., the plan has failed in many practical ways. Men still strut around topless, allowed ownership of their bodies, while women’s breasts remain a corporate and male commodity that women, themselves, had better not interfere with. “Alternative? events that proclaim to respect women and their bodies still harbor lecherous men when we take our tops off. So far, the *only* safe environments I have found to be topless in are *women-only* spaces.

This topic came to a head for me around 1991. Playboy put out a Women in Comedy issue, and as a woman comedian, I was interested, even though I think Playboy is misogynist crap. So I made my first and only Playboy purchase this lifetime, and then stood on a busy street in Seattle waiting for a bus home. I got bored, I wanted to read my new magazine, but realized I had never seen *anyone ever* reading a Playboy in public! So, I decided to try it! I whipped out the Playboy, held it up, open, and began reading. Pandemonium then ensued. People freaked out! Cars slowed down; some cursed me in anger, some laughed, some cheered and honked. People walking by me sneered and made negative comments. Try it. Take a Playboy, you know, that mainstream magazine full of top notch journalism, in public, and just start reading it openly. It is quite the social experiment.

That experience really made me think. The majority of people defend Playboy as legitimate journalism. I, personally, am not willing to overlook the lack of anything even nearly comparable that men must endure, such as a well-respected journalistic magazine with men naked in unnatural and subjugated positions, with unnatural beauty standards including airbrushed photos and artificially enhanced sexual body parts, in between said articles, to “entertain? the reader. Additionally, since most places outlaw women *wearing* their own breasts in public, I find it appalling that magazines of topless women are sold at every corner 7-11 store and even worse, archived in every major library. You can sell breasts, you just can’t wear breasts. Capitalist corporations make a lot of money off of this media and public control of *where and when* women can go topless. Women’s breasts are big business. Women’s breasts are property fought over. And *all* women’s breasts are in the crossfire.

I grew up in Los Angeles and Mexico for part of my teens. It was hot and I lived with all sisters. Both our home in L.A., and trailer in Mexico, were very isolated, so I never wore a top unless outsiders were around. My sisters also did not wear tops very often and it was never weird. My stepmom and sister had spent a lot of time in Europe and so the toplessness was considered normal, and the American obsession with women’s tops was seen as stupid in my home. I did not wear a top often because it was hot, just like men who do not wear shirts in the heat. My dad installed a hose with a bell in it across our driveway, that rang like at a gas station when you drove over it, to warn us when people were coming up our driveway, as often we had several topless female teens outside somewhere. You could hear the bell and then go to your room for a shirt. It sounds bizarre now describing it, but it seemed normal then. As a teen, that bell was great for knowing when parents were about to drive up as well. Then we all got into this thing where the teens moved the hose to drive home late, and my parents moved the hose to sneak up and catch us doing things…but the hose originally was to let us know when people were coming as we never wore tops.

Having grown up topless among others, I had no issues with toplessness as some of my friends do. In approximately 1979, I went to a Rainbow Gathering in Usk, Wa. I was not much beyond 18 years old. People were naked amidst the clothed there, and I thought that was fine. Some women I did not know asked me if I wanted to go to a women-only sweat. I went with them to the river, where men were tending a fire with hot stones, and a hut made of branches and wool army blankets sat waiting for us. I had never been to a sweat before, and it was a very moving experience honestly. The women got naked, piling our clothes by the door, and we also removed all of our jewelry, hanging rings, earrings, necklaces, etc. on a deer antler upright in the dirt by the door. Men protected the hut from the outside, as about 10 women went inside. Elder women threw water and sage on the hot stones and as it sizzled, the sweet smell of sage took over the hut. We passed a feather around like a talking stick, each sharing fears, powers, wisdom, secrets, mythology…

We emerged from the dark back into the light, bathed in the river, then we exchanged our jewelry with one another, leaving with different jewelry than we came with. About 5 of us put on our skirts, gathered up our things, and began to walk towards camp, feeling refreshed and anew, full of sisterhood. Then about 3 minutes outside of the sweat area, we heard this man our father’s age say to another man, while looking at us, “I love these gatherings with all these titties.? I looked at the other women, they looked at me, and without saying a thing, we all reached for our tops and put them on. It was clear we had left the safe zone. With one sentence, our breasts went from beautiful liberation to entrapped objectification again.

In Santa Cruz, women got sick of this, and protested the criminalization of naked breasts based on gender, and won. It is legal for a woman to walk in public topless in Santa Cruz “as long as she is not soliciting sex.? So here we had fought for these topless rights, and won, yet still, the only time you saw women using this new right was on an occasional group march for said rights. I decided the only way to push this forward was for women to *stop* wearing tops. So I tried it for a day. It was so gross, it rendered the law constructively unusable. I was stalked, men began jacking off in every bush near me, it was like being topless was a magnet for every asshole around. It sickened me.

Once I was street performing on the Santa Cruz Mall and an angry man started yelling at me that men and women are equal, in response to my feminist satire. This man weighed about 250 pounds, and stood in front of me topless, in shorts. He pissed me off, and before I knew it, I had my top off saying, “No, NOW we are equal, buddy!? He called the cops. I continued to perform scathing feminist satire, topless, gathering quite a crowd, outside the Biergarten on the Mall. The angry man yelled at the cop to arrest me. The cops explained that it was legal for women to not wear tops in Santa Cruz. Disgusted, the man finally left, the crowd cheered, and I put my top back on.

My friend Beth also tried to push the topless envelope in Santa Cruz. One day I burst out laughing when she showed up on the Mall wearing one of those German bar maid outfits with the white blouse under it, with the breasts pushing out from under the dress…but she had on no blouse. Her breasts were highlighted in a way that was sheer mockery of the breast objectification thing. She had a shaved head with a dragon tattoo on it, and was wearing army boots, with this bizarre German bar maid get up, topless, and I loved her for it. Also around this time Ann Simonton was endlessly hassling the Miss Santa Cruz and Miss California pageants over everything from weight slavery, to unnatural beauty standards, to racism, to the selling of women as meat. Yet even in a liberal town full of activists, we never achieved the social integration of both genders’ breasts. Even after the legal hurdles were cleared, the social hurdles remained effective.

Once at a music festival, some women friends and I were swimming in a river topless, when men began to heckle us and jack off in bushes on shore. Instead of us absorbing that, we ran at them screaming in a frightening manner, like Banshees screeching, as we put our arms high in the air, running, hard and furious AT them. The men looked terrified and *ran* away as we laughed at them. That was really empowering. I began to realize we needed to confront men in unexpected ways like that to dislodge men’s power over this issue of who owns women’s breasts. Andrea Dworkin says in American patriarchy, any woman/women who are not viewed as *belonging to a man* then become “everyman’s.? This is a profound statement. It applies to our breasts as well. The way women’s breasts are protected from other men when one man seems to have claimed their “ownership? reflects how our rape laws are written, as well. They are written to protect one man’s property, a woman’s body, from another man using it. Those laws are not written from the standpoint of women having a right to their own bodies. This issue of ownership of our own damned breasts in American society is a *real* issue.

In 1983, I began performing feminist comedy at the Oregon Country Fair (OCF), which is considered an “alternative? venue, but it is predominantly white patriarchal yuppie/hippie culture. OCF allowed for nudity and toplessness amidst its public inside the fair. This one category of “fairy goddess? women, predominantly thin, young, very feminine, and catering to men often, with breasts that did not sag, ran around in little fairy skirts, with their faces and bodies, including topless breasts, painted. To this day, I still do not get the function of these “fairies.? A male performer friend once said to me, “Oh, those are supposed to be fairies? I thought they were mosquitoes,? which made me burst out laughing.

I performed on stages at OCF for decades and never felt compelled to take my top off and prance around the aisles in a “fairy? skirt with a wand. If I was going into the aisles, it was to busk, doing radical feminist comedy, not to be a “fairy.? Fairies are too benign for my character. I would rather pound out cutting edge political comedy in the aisles than throw fairy dust on men taking pictures of my breasts. Also, almost all graphics and art of fairies shows them as skinny, and the fat fairies are satirized (just like porn), so I never related to fairies. I relate more to Valkyries.

But as fate would have it, I ended up effectively seduced and in a relationship with one of these fairy goddess types in the late 1990’s. As she ran into the fair with her thin, young, pre-motherhood friends, I sat the runs out. I could not figure out what the purpose of the fairy run thing was, but I also knew I did not fit in. It seems being a topless “fairy? at OCF is about one female body type getting sexual attention, perks, and energy, from mostly men, and I just don’t really get the “liberating? part of it at all.

I get the concept of wanting to go topless to normalize it. But is prancing around with painted breasts, twirling for men, with wand in hand, really “normalizing? breasts? The fact that thin, young, childless women who go topless are encouraged, applauded, and exalted, while breastfeeding moms and fatter women are told to cover their breasts, and that our sagging mother breasts are gross, makes me question the “liberation? aspects herein. My fairy lover could not understand my sadness at her going into the fair to give men pictures of her breasts to jack off to. She argued men do not do that. I do not fully believe her feigned ignorance here, though, as I know she understands *who* is giving her all the energy for her topless fairy act. She said that she was sick of gross hippie guys flocking around her and wasting her time, and wanted intelligent women to come up to her and talk to her about grad school, like I had happening. Hmm, my performing hard line feminist comedy brought intelligent women and respectful men to talk to me. Her dancing topless in the aisles brought lecherous hippie men, en mass, to her. Go figure.

Since my fairy goddess lover seemed to be seriously fighting off the reality that only one body type engaged in this “fairy? activity on the whole, I agreed to do a fairy run with her and her thin young friends to show her, by example, the difference in treatment women receive based on looks. Her very anorexic girlfriend came up to me and said, “I still go topless on fairy runs, and I am fat.? I explained to her that I was sorry she had body image issues, but her *imagining* she is fat, does not elicit the same public response as a woman who actually *is* fat does! As this little fairy coven entered the crowded aisles of the fair, the paths split wide and with only smiles for the first three thin young fairies…but then somehow the sea closed, and I was left behind. The women returned and this time we held hands, so we would all get through and I would not be cut off. Then they began to hear the mean comments about the fat fairy and her gross sagging mother tits. The fairy women began to get sorrow in their eyes, they started to *get it*…we returned to camp and talked about this long and hard. These women had insulated with only their body type previously and had no idea what women who were older, who were mothers, women who were fat, were going through. These women and I went to the women only shower/sauna time at OCF together. Previously I had always gone to the co-ed shower time, and I was usually one of a small few of naked fat woman present, in the group showers. But at the women only shower, it was FULL of fat women, women with sagging breasts, adolescent girls who never felt safe in the co-ed space, and I felt surrounded by a diversity of bodies and it felt good. It was not like the exclusionary topless fairy thing. It was a sisterhood thing. The fairy thing only divided us. At the women only showers, I was equally respected and included, not like on fairy runs.

My fairy lover began to try to drag my topless body into pictures men would try to take of her topless body, to ward them off, or to test their patience or sincerity…to see if they wanted the “other? breasts too. And if not, *then* she would suspect them. I asked why she was giving these men her pictures *at all* and said I did not have time for such nonsense. I stood in the fair as my fairy lover counted all the thin young topless women present, and then the fatter or older topless women, and yes, the differing numbers was marked. In an interesting after note, I never saw these women go topless at the OCF again after the year I am speaking of, when I ran with them. Up to that point, they had been going topless yearly for over a decade.

Is it really feminist liberation if only thin, young femme women get to participate? Another classic incident revolves around the OCF’s Midnight Show, presented after hours. Every year they film the whole show, and every year lots of thin young women go on stage topless and they always film and archive it. So one year I was sick of only thin women naked up there, so I went out naked to perform, at over 200 pounds, doing feminist comedy about body esteem. But I cannot see the archive footage. Because the cameramen turned off the visual (but kept the sound taping) for the one naked fat woman performance in the whole history of the OCF Midnight Show.

A huge indicator of sexism’s presence is if some women are treated differently than others based on media-defined and narrow standards of beauty. For that indicates an objectification of a woman’s body that surpasses our actual selves, as people. Being good *at* beauty begins to replace actual achievements in life. It places a value upon looks over substance, which is the antithesis of feminism. It also pits women against women which is not progressive. The *only* places that I have felt equality, inclusion and respect while topless has been in women-only spaces. As soon as men are introduced, some women begin to cater to the men, some men become lecherous pigs claiming ownership of our breasts against our wills, and it all degrades…fast.

I certainly know as many decent men as women. The women are as guilty of playing into all this as the men are. Women get power off of the sexual attention, there is no denying it. And we all know that women are not morally superior to men. I am not letting men off that easy. It is not men or women, but perhaps the interplay between the two, that is causing the problem. The interplay around women’s breasts in America is not healthy. Studies show girls and women do better in science and math classes with no boys or men in the classroom. Perhaps this is the same type of thing.

I have no problem with nudity or toplessness in groups. I grew up in a clothing optional environment, and I have pretty healthy body esteem, believing all body types are beautiful, so I am not hesitant to go topless, or even naked, due to the bodily exposure. I am negative to doing so due to the adverse reactions to my doing what my thin, young sisters are praised for, and encouraged to do as “liberation.? Apparently only thin young women’s breasts need liberating, although an understanding of the situation would show the opposite is probably true. In an interesting side note here, Nikki Craft once did an experiment in nudist camps to see if men who were around naked bodies all the time preferred porn with women just naked and enjoying themselves or still wanted women subjugated in porn. She found overwhelmingly that porn was not about the nakedness, as these men chose the subjugating pictures over the other erotica repeatedly. She surmised from this that porn is about subjugation and power over women, not about sex or nudity, and I agree with her on that.

I ran a woman’s body esteem workshop at Breitenbush Hot Springs once. Pretty much all thin, blonde, young women registered, except for one mom of a class participant. She was in her 50’s probably. At one point, we were in a circle of all women inside a yurt, topless, talking about why we feel uncomfortable being topless near others. One woman said she is afraid people will interpret her toplessness as a form of vanity, when she just wanted comfort. That is a legitimate fear over toplessness. I do not go topless for many reasons, but most of those reasons disappear in women-only settings.

Breitenbush is a co-ed environment where people are both naked and clothed in the hot spring pools and on the grounds. I asked if my class wanted to go sit in an outside pool to finish the class. The older woman present said she did not want to go out to the pools topless because she did not want people “to have to look at? her “gross old sagging breasts.? I explained that my breasts are bigger and saggier than hers, and I was fatter than her too, and I was willing to do it. But her and I were the only non-young breasts in this group of women. We all did go to the hot spring pools and she did go topless and she said it was quite liberating. And her daughter was overjoyed to share the experience with her. We were all alone in the pool, bonding, then men came, and we all left, with our breasts in hand, is how it felt, because several women no longer felt comfortable.

I do not like any of this. I am tired of women running away from men with our breasts in hand. I am tired of women only feeling safe topless or naked in women-only spaces. I am tired of only thin, young women, with smaller, perkier breasts being encouraged to experience the “liberation? of toplessness at these “alternative? events. I am tired of women settling for attention gotten through body objectification rather than intelligence, creativity, strength, individuality, and real life accomplishments. I am tired of wearing tops when it is hot out. I am tired of hiding my breasts for men. When I am topless with women only, we do not obsess on breasts. We barely even notice we are topless. We begin to notice we are topless when men are introduced into the equation. Whose responsibility is this? I can get turned on by a guy’s nipple if I am attracted to him, but he can still go topless near me without me losing all control! Who is supposed to right this? Men? Women? And *how* do we fix this? I have tried. I am not sure where to go from here.


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Re: Women and Their Illegal Breasts

Another good article about women's breast s and the power of women publicly showing their breasts as they lament war and destruction is in the article
My Mother, The Virgin and Me which is posted on this link. Scroll down.

Re: Women and Their Illegal Breasts

Excellent article and so timely in light of Santa Cruz's pole dancing controversy. (For one sided coverage, see ). I have thought about this issue many times before. I like the idea of baring your breasts for peace (in My Mother, The Virgin and Me) -- although I would bet that someone would eventually try to put it out as pseudo-porn as was the case with the peace bodies pictures taken a couple of years ago. I appreciate your saying that women and men are both to blame in this problem. At this point, I've resolved to support breast feeding/breast feeding mothers by making it as easy and comfortable for them to nurse in public and to liberate myself by enjoying toplessness in envirnoments where I'm not likely to encounter lechers.

Re: Women and Their Illegal Breasts

The requirement for women in the US to cover their breasts is a kinder gentler Burqua.

Men decreed that breasts are obscene and Ashcroft actually had drapes installed over a stature of Lady Justice!

If it wasnt for womens breasts, none of us would be here—including the men who deem breasts obsene enough to be covered (except in the male dominated porn industry).

What is mens childish problem with womens bodies? Women must cover their breasts in the US and their entire bodies in burquas in some mid-east nations because men WILL not (not CAN not) control themselves.

So the blame is on women if men rape them.
If men "cant" control themselves, it goes against the (male written) Bible in which "god" gave them free will.

So, "loss of control" is voluntary and there is no excuse for men to kill and rape women.

It would be great if women gathered at the town clock and bared their breasts against war and environmental destruction, but they would probably be jeered and hooted at by hairy knuckle-draggers.

Gangs of men are even raping women and girl victims of the tsunami! What scum!!

Re: Women and Their Illegal Breasts

I like breasts and I like peace.

I'm sorry that Kirsten and others have had some bad experiences.

Sexual nudity and non-sexual nudity both have their proper times and places. Unfortunately many men in this society don't know that and think the line to sexuality is immediately crossed when they see breasts. Ignorance of proper nudist etiquette in regards to non-sexual nudity may often play a roll in bringing on described behaviors that are disrespectful to women.

And then some men are also just pigs.

Respect for women as human beings, whether they are physically attractive or not, is an important key to resolving some of the questions discussed. Corporate entertainment does much damage on this score by endlessly promoting damaging stereotypes, such as the two young attractive blond sisters, Paris and Nicky Hilton, that are put in all kinds of work situations as a supposed reality show, but are directed behind the scenes to screw everything up and appear completely incompetent at everything.

When women are so often presented as having no value beyond their looks, this damages many male perceptions of women.

Re: Women and Their Illegal Breasts

To Steven Argue's above comment
— well said!


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