Free the Nipple (from Shame)

This is a follow-up to my previous post: I left my Fig Leaf in my other Gym Bag.

To recap, I have recently discovered that nudity is strongly discouraged in the women’s locker room of my local Y.  From what I’ve heard, in contrast, the men’s locker room is a let it all hang out kind of place.   Apparently some men’s locker rooms are a bit more modest than others, but I’ll bet my best brassiere none of them require men to wear a shirt.

The root of the discrepancy here is the sexualization of the female body– or perhaps even worse, the sexualization of certain arbitrary female body parts.  The ownership of breasts does not make you a sex object 24/7.  If you are really lucky, you might manage 21/6, but even so you should take some time for yourself to hit the gym.

Having to cover myself in the locker room is a minor inconvenience, but it’s a pretty annoying minor inconvenience when men are not subjected to the same standards.

Which leads me to Free the Nipple, which if you are living under a blanket is a movement declaring female nipples should not be treated any differently than male nipples and should be allowed to be displayed anywhere male nipples enjoy sunshine and fresh air.  Laws vary by state as to whether or not you can get thrown in jail for owning a free female nipple. I gotta wonder if that’s constitutional under equal protection rights, but I live in a state where I cannot hold public office, so who knows?

I admit I’ve always considered this fairly ridiculous.  I don’t really want to walk around topless in public.  What kind of attention seeker do you have to be to insist on baring your chest for all the world to see? Have you no modesty? No.  No modesty. And that’s the point.  Modesty is what…exactly?  Modesty is nothing more than the successful ploy to convince women their bodies belong to the men who control them. This is insidiously labeled as self respect, but it’s not.  It’s self shame.  Modesty is a creation of the patriarchy. That almost makes me want to walk around Walmart topless.  Almost. Forgive me for my prudish American ways.

For the record, I did go topless for about 7 minutes on the beach in Barcelona once until it occurred to me that I might run into someone I knew..  Also, do nipples sunburn?  That’s probably  the first and last time I’m ever going  topless in public since I’ve already ruined the rest of my lily white skin with sun damage, so I figured Free the Nipple needn’t really concern me.  But upon further reflection inspired by the draconian dress code at the Y, it absolutely concerns me.  It concerns all women and the people who love them.

As a feminist, I really feel like I should have unpacked this before now.  The fact that topless beaches are not my thing does not mean I don’t have a tit in this tussle. We should all take a moment to consider the consequences of sexualizing the female breast.

First, there is the public breastfeeding issue.  I do have some experience with this.  I had a whole system of nursing bras, tank tops with slits cut in them covered by camp shirts, and blankets to cover my babies’ heads, and I’m sure I still flashed a couple of people.  I was also asked to feed my babies in the bathroom several times and once to leave a restaurant.  Mostly, though, I sat alone in my car so I could feed my child without the terrible risk that someone else might feel uncomfortable witnessing a completely normal function of the female breast.  I banished myself just in case someone might think they were witnessing a sexual act in the middle of Burdines.   My boob is not a dildo, people.  The hassle of public breastfeeding leads to some women switching to bottles of formula  or avoiding the nursing experience altogether .  As a culture, we should be ashamed.

It’s not just breastfeeding that is compromised by the sexualization of the breast. Consider that even though a woman’s risk of breast cancer is as high as 1 in 8, fewer than 70% of women get the mammograms recommended by health professionals.  Plenty of women avoid breast exams and mammograms because they require revealing a “private part” to a stranger.  Some women are especially uncomfortable with a male gynecologist, and I think it’s great to have the option of visiting a female practitioner, but I’ve also heard women say they don’t want another woman touching their breasts as if this is somehow a homosexual act.  It’s not a homosexual act, of course; it’s not a sexual act at all, but women who believe their breasts serve no purpose other than providing a man with pleasure are not getting the best healthcare they deserve.  Breast cancer goes undetected. There are women in this country who die of shame.

If you’re still not convinced that Free the Nipple is a perfectly sensible step in the advancement of women, consider this: To get around censorship rules on FB, I could take a picture of myself topless and Photoshop a man’s nipples over my own.  In theory, at least.  I believe it’s been done.  How ridiculous is that?

So Free the Nipple!  I really want a T shirt that says that.  As long as it covers everything.




I Left my Fig Leaf in my Other Gym Bag

I would like to make an announcement.  I have been to the gym five times since Saturday.  I want a medal.  No.  I want a fucking parade.  And because this involved getting up at zero dark thirty, there should be streamers.  And cupcakes.  With bacon.

This is a major lifestyle change.  The surprising thing is, it’s not the exercise itself that is the biggest adjustment.  It’s the juggling of shoes and towels and hair accessories without losing anything that is the challenge.  So far, I have misplaced (and recovered) my bra, my water bottle, my phone, and a banana.

The YMCA is pretty nice.  It fits my budget and it’s on my way to work.  There is free coffee and a hot tub, and if the water pressure is a little low, at least the showers are hot.  As far as locker rooms go, it is lacking in a few amenities of some of your higher end clubs.  I especially miss the swim suit spinning thing.  There is no sauna or towel service.  But for $32 a month, I can’t complain.

My love/hate relationship with exercise is a few decades old now, and unfortunately, there has been more hate than love. Still this isn’t my first trip to the locker room, so I figured I had the etiquette down, most of which involves not sweating or dripping in other people’s personal space.  I notice this particular locker room is designed to give you lots of private places to change.  Each individual shower has a little alcove with a curtain (in addition to the shower curtain) for example, should you wish to change there.  The bathroom stalls are big enough to change in, too, and there is a portable privacy curtain you could move about if you like.  How nice, I think.  Choices.  Personally, I think the most convenient (and driest) place to change is directly in front of my locker.  And as I am not 12, I have long passed worrying about what other girls in the locker room think about my naked body.  Largely because I figured out shortly after puberty that other girls in the locker room mostly have no opinion about my naked body.

Sometimes I am a particularly astute person, and sometimes, well, sometimes particularly before 8 am, I am not.  Perhaps you might have not needed 5 whole days to notice this, but this morning as I was toweling myself off in my chosen dressing location, I suddenly realized I had not seen one naked woman in there all week.  Not one.  Oh God.  I am the only naked person in here. I suddenly was desperate to find a fig leaf or something.  No one had said anything.  Were they looking at me funny? Were they whispering about my cellulite in 8am Yoga?  I suddenly realized the very minimum of public dress here is bras, panties, and a towel.  They should really tell you this when you sign up.

Oh sure, there is a part of me that wants to fling my towel to the wind and just let everybody deal with my naked flab.  I am not ashamed.  And body positivity is something I think is pretty important.  But I am a newbie here, a guest.  I am comfortable being naked in the locker room. I am not comfortable being the only naked person in the locker room.  I’m really not sure what to do here.  Should I take a stand?  Learn to put pantyhose on standing on wet tile? Is it that important that I air dry my boobs? Should I acquiesce to the notion that the normal female body is somehow unacceptable?  What are the consequences of being nude here?  Are there actual rules somewhere?  Will I be reported to the management?  Or will I encourage others to reject this ridiculous standard of female purity?

A FB survey of my friends revealed a similar experience at another Y, as well as confirmation of my suspicion that the men’s room featured no such culture of modesty.  With graphic descriptions.  Thanks, guys.  I love my friends.

We all have to learn to choose our battles, and I don’t know that this is one I am willing to fight.  At least not until the first time I drop my underwear onto the wet floor next to the shower.  Then all bets are off.




10 Things I Learned About Being Single

I’ve been divorced for a few years now, so I think it’s time to offer up some advice to those of you who may find yourselves newly single, especially if it’s been a while.  First of all, congratulations!  Secondly, don’t panic.  I’m here for you.  You’re going to be fine.

10 Things I Learned  About Being Single

Make your space your own. You’re probably on a budget, but that’s ok.  If you want to put up a Blade Runner poster in your dining room, no one can stop you.  Yes, I really do have a Blade Runner poster in my dining room. And also the one with the UFO that says,” I want to believe.”  Buy the bright purple sheets and the dishes that don’t match if they make you happy.  You may have no one to welcome you home but your teddy bear, so give him a place of honor so he can greet you properly.

Men expect to pay on dates.  Last time I was dating was college, and everyone was poor, so dates usually involved splitting the check. Since that time, I graduated (several times), took time off to raise children, and currently make a good deal less than most men do. So I’m not going to complain about a man picking up the check.  If you really want to pay your way, be prepared to offend your date.  He will take it as a sign you do not want to pursue the relationship.  But you should make bad dates pay, too, so at least you get dinner.  You can always reject them through text later. There may be some regional variation here.  Please let us know if everyone goes dutch where you live.

It’s ok to do things by yourself.  If you’ve never been to a movie or a decent restaurant by yourself, it’s time to indulge.  It won’t be as awkward as you think it will be.  Everyone else will be minding their own business, and you won’t have to share the popcorn.

While you’re at it, take a trip by yourself.  Even if it’s just a mini vacation.  Take the opportunity to speak to strangers on motorcycles with frightening tattoos  and sleep in the very middle of the hotel’s King Size bed (or the biker’s bed; I won’t judge). Wear something slinky to the hotel bar and your pajamas to breakfast the next morning.

Men are not condom savvy. What is up with that, guys?  It would be nice if men took care of this little detail on their own so they got the brand and size they like, but don’t count on it.  Prepare to pack your own and to speak up and ask him to wear one. Practice in front of the mirror.  “Sheath it or shove it.”

Do you remember when you first left home and you got to eat oreos and cheese out of the can for dinner and no one would know?  You can still do that! Only now it’s better because you can also have tequila.

Go out on dates with men who don’t seem right for you.  Last time you chose for yourself, you sucked, didn’t you? So give the guy who is too young or too old or too short or drives a Gremlin a shot at showing you a good time.  Unless you want to stay home with Mr. Fluffernutter.  You can always stay home with Mr. Fluffernutter.

There are things you loved that you gave up  when you were partnered. This is the nature of compromise, but you don’t have to compromise anymore, so take some time to remember what those things were and reincorporate them into your life.  For me it was the color green, loud synthpop, and rotel.  You can (and should) put rotel in everything.  It even goes with oreos and cheez whiz. And tequila.

Meeting men is really hard.  You probably don’t want to hang out where single men hang out (I still don’t know where that is), so concentrate on making friends who you like and let them set you up.  Also, try online dating.  See A Year of Online Dating PinkDogDem Style. 

Parking is way better than when you were 16.  And seriously, what is the cop going to do if you get caught, call your Dad? He’s not going to ground you from Florida.

In Honor of Harambe: Don’t Be an Ass

Those of you who know me may know I have a particular affinity for gorillas. They are beautiful, and they are fascinating, and their relationship with humans is fascinating. I believe studying the great apes teaches us more about ourselves, our origins, and what it means to be human.

So, yes, I am grieving about the death of Harambe, the 17 year old silverback from the Cincinnati Zoo who was shot and killed over the weekend when a small child got into his enclosure.  What I am not doing is joining the lynch mob that is blaming the zoo.  What I am not doing is joining the even bigger lynch mob who is blaming the child’s mother.

Human brains do not like to grapple with accidents.  We like things to have reasons.  When tragedy strikes, we like for it to be someone’s fault because as long as someone somewhere was doing the wrong thing, an accident like that could not happen to us or our children as long as we do the right thing.

I’ve read quite a bit of misinformation out there about Harambe and what happened, and I’d like to weigh in.  Both because I am appalled at the human behavior that has spouted such vitriol about the other humans involved, and also because the gorillas cannot speak for themselves.


  • Gorillas are gentle giants.

False.  Gorillas are dangerous wild animals.  Harambe was 450 pounds of gorilla muscle which is not, by the way, like human muscle, but 10 times stronger.  Zoos classify gorillas in the category of the most dangerous animals.  Zookeepers, as a matter of protocol, do not enter into enclosures with gorillas and hand them bananas and discuss Donald Trump.  Not ever.  While it is true that gorillas are not hunters, they are perfectly capable of killing each other and other animals in the wild.

  • The Zoo should have tranquilized Harambe instead of shooting him.

I disagree.  A tranq dart on a 450 pound gorilla on an adrenaline rush does not work immediately the way a rifle shot does.  I’ve read it can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes to kick in. Meanwhile, you have just shot an already agitated gorilla in the ass, and he will probably not react by calmly asking the child to remove the dart.  Even 5 minutes would have been plenty of time for Harambe to injure or kill this child.  Zoo officials had been trained especially for this very situation, and they made the right call.

  • The child fell into the enclosure

False.  The child climbed into the enclosure.  Now at 4 years old, children do not always make the best decisions.  My point in bringing this up is not to lay blame on the child, who wanted very much to swim with the gorillas.  Me, too, kid.  But it’s an important distinction because the enclosure was specifically designed to prevent falls from happening, and it did its job.  This tragedy was not caused by a momentary lack of balance or clumsiness or leaning too far forward to get a better look at the animals.

  • The Zoo is responsible for not building a better enclosure

Well maybe.  Not only should an enclosure be designed to prevent an accidental fall, but it should be designed to prevent an intentional breach by a 4 year old as well.  In the latter endeavor, the zoo clearly failed.  This accident automatically triggered an investigation by the American Zoological Association which accredited the Cincinnati Zoo.  This is only appropriate after a breach, but I seriously doubt the zoo will be found negligent.  Just because one particularly bright and inquisitive child breached the enclosure, that does not mean that the Zoo is criminally negligent.  The law requires that an outcome should have been anticipated for that charge to stick, and I don’t think that’s the case here, although an investigation into the matter is appropriate.

  • It is the mother’s fault for not watching her kid.

I disagree.  Witnesses and the mother herself agree that she was momentarily distracted when her child slipped through the bushes and tumbled into the moat. I don’t know if those animal lovers who are screaming for the Mom’s eternal punishment have never met children or what, but this type of distraction, which was described as lasting less than a minute, happens to every parent, every day. If you are a parent, and you are sure this would never happen to you, you have a stupid child who just sits there and waits for your full attention to return. Children wander.  They climb.  They want to pet the gorilla. This woman was not on the other side of the city sipping margaritas; she was standing right there.  You might want to believe you are a better parent, and this would never happen to you, but that does not make it so.  And hounding this poor woman, who is now being investigated by authorities, and saying she should have been shot instead of the gorilla does not in any way prove you are a better parent.  It rather demonstrates you are a shitty human, actually.

  • Zoos are horrible places and all animals should be free and Zoos should be shut down.

I disagree. But only barely.  I think it’s a valid argument that this tragedy is an inevitable outcome of having zoos.  And there are some especially shitty zoos out there that should absolutely be shut down, but accredited zoos are held to pretty high standards.  It is amazing to me the improvements in animal habitats that have happened in my lifetime.  And this is especially true for ape habitats. I feel personally enriched because I have been privileged to see gorillas up close.  It encouraged me to study primatology in college, and it sparked my interest in conservation.  I also have to point out that zoos have a uniquely important role to play in captive breeding programs that may be the best chance for lowland gorilla survival.

I am in mourning for Harambe.  In his honor, I choose to blame no one for the horrific accident that led to his death.  Instead of publicly blaming strangers I have not met facing decisions I do not have to make, I am going to adopt a gorilla through the World Wildlife Foundation.  I hope you will consider doing the same.