Monday, July 27, 2009

150th Anniversary of Women's Topfreedom

July 26 marked the 150th anniversary of "the first major triumph of the nationwide struggle for female liberation" when women earned the right to cover their breasts. This monumental event happened in the Indian state of Kerala after a half-century of violent struggle.
It was in 1858 that violence once again reared its head. “Nair men, with machetes tied at the end of long poles, used to stand far way from lower caste women and tear their jackets,’’ according to Dargees, an 83-year-old former headmaster of the Neyyattinkara Amaravila LMS High School, who had heard of the incident from his father. Dargees is quoted in Joy Vlathangara’s book.

Samuel Mateer’s ‘Land of Charity’ describes how an official dealt with two ‘covered’ Nadar ladies who were walking to the Neyyattinkara market. “He tore their jackets, tied them with a rope and hung them from a tree in full public view.’’ The Nadar response was more severe.
Today in America we have the opposite situation - the male of the species has become so obsessed with culturally sexualized female breasts, that the uncovering of the mammary glands in public, even for breastfeeding, is unacceptable. Thankfully now most states have passed laws making public breastfeeding legal, but still many people consider this natural and nurturing act to be shamful and immoral.

Yet men think nothing of walking shirtless virtually anywhere they please, right down the main streets of any town, in front of schools, churches and government buildings. A woman doing the same is at risk of arrest, being charged with lewd behavior, and threatened with sex offender status.

Topfreedom is NOT about getting women to expose their breasts in public. It is about the right of a woman to go topfree in the same places as men without fear of criminal charges and harrassment.

Today the idea that 150 years ago in India women were forced to walk about bare-breasted is patently absurd. Let's hope that the time frame is far shorter when we accept the fact that women should not be forced to cover-up for the sake of male egos and hang-ups.

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