For today’s Women on Wednesdays post, I share a copy of a letter I submitted to the Office of the Attorney General in Maryland regarding the legality of female bare chests.
As some might already know, Gingerbread has been engaging in peaceful work to establish the legality of female bare chests for several years. You can catch up on all of her work by visiting her blog Breasts Are Healthy.
Earlier this fall, Gingerbread reached out to some of us in her circle of colleagues / friends, myself included, to invite us to participate in efforts concerning the matter in Maryland. As part of those efforts, I submitted the following letter to the Office of the Attorney General to inform the opinion on the matter.
Dear Chief Counsel Snyder,
I write with regards to the legality of female bare-chestedness in Maryland. This correspondence is part of the initiatives led by [Gingerbread] with whom you have been working, a great woman who is also a dear friend to me.
When [Gingerbread] initially invited colleagues to participate in this effort, I wrestled with finding the words. Although I personally enjoy the freedom to walk bare-chested (it is legal for women here in Washington, DC), the question that plagued me was, “Why should anyone else care? Why does this matter?”
Beyond my personal desires, there is a very important reason for legalizing female bare-chestedness: respect and personal accountability.
When I look out beyond myself and observe young girls and women, I can’t help but wonder at what age do we as a society tell them that they, their bodies, are the cause and the reason for injustice and violence? When do we say that the mere sight of their chests will invite behavior that others condone just because a certain part of their natural biology and humanity was assigned the singular and exclusive meaning of “sexual” by others?
The problem with illegal female bare-chestedness is that at the very heart of it we give people a reason to direct their anger, frustration, disrespect and pain upon girls and women. We imply that people no longer have to be responsible for their own thoughts, feelings and behavior. We convey that they don’t have to observe themselves, question their motives or frameworks or biases, and get to the root of their own personal issues.
I find it challenging to look at young girls in the second and third grade, who are just about to experience a huge physical change, and accept that soon they, for no reason, will be the reason for mindless injustice and violence. How could I possibly say that to an eight-year-old? I’ve heard women and men say, “Oh no! But think of the children!” and that would be my point exactly. Think of the message we are giving children by saying that at any arbitrary point they will become the inspiration and reason for disrespect, inequality and violence, that at some age we will stop asking people why they do what they do to others and simply blame young girls and women for simply existing.
I have been raped. I have had people make inappropriate gestures towards me and infringe upon my person just because of the way I look. People often defend that behavior, men and women alike, which is unacceptable; the justification is usually that the girl or woman must have been wearing (or not wearing) something to invite or provoke the behavior. Truthfully, though, there is no defense for such violence.
So when I look at this issue in this broader context, it’s about respect and accountability. We need to respect all bodies equally as just bodies. Honestly, the naked body is neutral. We choose to assign meaning, but chests are truly just chests. Bodies are just bodies. And as one of my best friends often says, inside every human body is a human being, a person who deserves respect.
Personal accountability is something we need to promote. So often many different frameworks, whether religious, social or other, provide us with an excuse of sorts to put the blame elsewhere instead of turning within and asking ourselves why we think and do what we do towards others. I want people to become more accountable for their own thoughts and behaviors. I don’t want a world where young girls and women are allowed by law to be the scapegoat for disrespect, violence, inequality and injustice.
This is not unlike other issues of equality in history where the rights of others were restricted based on how they looked. Once those groups challenged society to ask why people think the way they do and put the accountability back on those perpetuating discrimination, they recognized the derangement in believing that the tint of skin and “unconventional” shape of other bodies made others less than human and, therefore, a reason for violence and injustice. Similarly here, let’s step away from giving a reason for violence, inequality, disrespect and injustice based on a person’s chest. Let’s get accountable for our perceptions, assumptions and beliefs, and cultivate respect for all.
Thank you sincerely for your time and consideration regarding this issue.
Best to you and all,