Going Tits Up.

I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with my breasts.  Always rather liked them, they’ve never caused me too much hassle, always given me a decent cleavage when I wanted one, not too big, not too small.  There, bouncing happily along with me in life.  The recent furore over the ‘Free the Nipple’ campaign has got me thinking about the fact that sometimes though, I have been frustrated that my boobs are seen as an extra bit of me – a sexual bit of me when the rest of me might just be doing the shopping, and I must be ‘covered up’ or that I can’t just release them into the wild whenever I want.

Just like men can pee in public, they can also take their tops off and get a full tan in public. In parks, playing football, on the beach, by the swimming pool.  In most places however, women can’t.  Now I love the sun, and am known to rush outside with my laptop whenever the sun glitters free from the clouds to get a good bronzing, even for ten minutes. But as a consequence that my breasts are somehow different to men’s breasts (and I can tell you, on holiday recently I saw some man-boobs that would put mine to shame) I’ve had tans so two-tone that when I got naked at night, I didn’t need a bedside light as the two bright white lamps shining off my chest were illumination enough.

So recently Irish musician Corina Fitzpatrick took her top off at a liberally minded music festival and got arrested, yet the plenty of men dancing and prancing their man chest hairs around the place didn’t. (In fact she was evicted and 2 women were arrested.) Yet there IS NO LAW TO SAY THAT WOMEN CAN’T TAKE THEIR TOPS OFF.  The law refers to indecency only, which by implication seems to mean that a woman’s body is indecent but a man’s is not?   I’ve seen many a man’s body and would hasten to disagree. It harks back to a whole slew of times and cultures where women are hidden because men can’t be distracted by them.  Men are not deemed able to control themselves when confronted with a woman’s body part, and so women must be controlled.

Yet, in other cultures and other parts of the world, breasts are as every day common as elbows and knees, and as far as I know, men aren’t rampaging in uncontrollable lust.

Breasts do have a life of their own.  Any woman running for the bus in the wrong bra can attest to that. They give life, and they can take life. They give pleasure, and they can give pain. They can be a nuisance, and they can be a trophy.  But mostly, they are just a part of our bodies. Sometimes they can be a weapon of mass seduction, and sometimes they can be a pillow for a sleeping child and sometimes, they just hang there, minding their own business, being a part of the rest of you.

My girls will all develop breasts over the next few years and their size and shape will play a significant part on how they view themselves.  One wants big ones, one wants small ones and one doesn’t care as long as she doesn’t get called Booby Ruby.  They see mine all the time, and usually make a disparaging comment, and I try to normalise them as much as I can. They’re just boobs at the end of the day.  Yet for many, there is still a really sad titillation when it comes to tits.   A hundred years ago it was ankles. Then modern sensibility won out when it was realised that men would not go on a sexual rampage when they saw a naked one. Then it was legs. Then it was mid-riffs. Bikinis???? Women have been burnt at the stake for less. And now the final frontier – the breast.   I want my girls to be proud of their bodies. A man takes his shirt off and he’s a stud (or at least, allowed). A woman takes her top off and she’s a radical slut.   I don’t want my girls to go around with their tops off, but I do want them to have total and absolute control over their own bodies. And never, ever be shamed by them.

I wrote an article recently for the Irish Times about sex ed at school and how for many in my daughter’s class they still giggled at the word breast.  They were practically hysterical at the word vagina. Really?  Are we still there? Now, I get that breasts have that split personality. I get that a lot of the time breasts are seen as a sexual. Goodness knows I have used mine to good effect when needs be. My mum spent my teenage years (and 20’s and 30’s) pulling up whatever top I was wearing as a matter of course.  Didn’t matter if I was wearing a polo neck, she had to cover my ‘modesty’.   Not because she was ashamed of my boobs, but because she didn’t want people to ‘get the wrong idea’.

I used to get the odd sexist remarks when I was younger – “get your baps out for the boys” and the like. You know, mature stuff.  To be honest I’m not sure I’m insulted or relieved I no longer get asked such a thing.   Get your baps out for the boys. Well I say no.  My breasts are for me, thank you very much.   I’ll be getting my baps out for the girls actually – to prove that my tits are not solely for the titillation of men – that they are just a part of me.   When I had my first baby I breastfed her for the first few months. On the whole this was fine, and I went out and about as I normally would. But one day I was in a popular middle of the road restaurant chain and I began to breastfeed my baby.  Now, before I tell you what happened, let me explain that not only was I doing an extremely natural thing, but at no point did I stand up bare-breasted, jiggle my jugs and do the Macarena.  I simply released one boob from the special boob-releasing top I was wearing, covering my ‘modesty’ with a cotton cloth and fed my beautiful baby.  And the man at the table next to me tutted loudly, shook his head and deliberately moved his seat so he had his back to me. He then said loudly to his (female) companion, “Disgraceful.”

I replied just as loudly, “yes, you are.”  But it shocked me and it shamed me. I left quickly.  But I’ve reached the stage in life now where I will not be shamed by the narrow mindedness of someone else. That’s the really great thing about reaching mid-age. I’m done being young and scared. Now I’m young-ish and strong. I’m not about to go prancing down Grafton street exposing my knockers in a pair of knickers. But I am going to defend my breasts in whatever way I can, and my right to show them, hide them or just plain have them without the judgement of anyone else.

Just like me at this stage of my life, my breasts just want to be free to be themselves. Free from censor, free from judgement, free from assault, free from unwanted or uninvited attention, free from narrow minded sexism that dictates that MY breasts are offensive and less acceptable than a man’s. 

Right, I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest.

robin

About Grin & Tonic by Alana Kirk

Bouncing into middle age armed with courage, ambition and a pair of tweezers (chin hairs for anyone over the age of 45 reading this) I am a writer with a mission: to redefine this midway point in my life when the last thing I want to do is hang up my high heels and become invisible. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. A single mum to 3 fabulous girls, an author, and a fundraising consultant, both ends of my candle are on fire. As I enter this new stage of my life, I want to explore what it means for 'mid-aged' women today, who were promised they could have it all, ended up doing it all, and just do not identify with the traditional image of middle age.
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