Going braless: the consumption of women’s bodies

Recently, I made the decision to do the unfathomable: to occasionally wear an outfit without a bra. Now, what spurred me to make this decision wasn’t necessarily some bold political statement, though that is a perfectly valid reason to go braless too. Rather, what motivated me to free my chest from the clasps of the patriarchy was simply that bras can be pretty fucking uncomfortable. An especially annoying piece of clothing, as I’m sure many of my readers may understand, is the heinous strapless bra. Personally, I like not having to pull my bra up from underneath me every five seconds. After one occasion at a party where my bra literally slipped all the way down to my waist while I was dancing, I had to stop and think, “Do I really have to do this?” The clear answer in my head was, “No! Of course not! I’m an empowered female student at an unapologetically progressive liberal arts college. Who needs bras? Fuck the patriarchy!” From then on, I have gone braless in lieu of strapless bras.

My first time not wearing a bra felt pretty freeing, though perhaps a bit awkward. However, at the end of the day, I knew I definitely wanted to try going braless again. I told myself I’d get used to it. While this point was true to some extent, a breaking point for me was on a day I decided to wear a thin off-white dress—no bra. Being in a class taught by a male professor, sitting across from two straight guys was… excruciatingly awkward. I kept thinking about the distraction I might have been posing and the discomfort I might well have been giving my professor. I tried to battle these thoughts with, “So what? They’re just nipples, and if they’re looking that’s inappropriate, that’s not my fault.” However, I attended an all-girls school for seven years, during which we were lectured countless times to be ladies and always close our legs when in our school uniforms, the reason most often being that some of us had male teachers. Why? I couldn’t say. Perhaps it was to avoid presenting the temptation of under-aged girls to these apparently morally weak-willed men. Maybe it was to preserve the precious gift of our bodies from any form of male gaze. Why were our male teachers looking anyway? Was I always being watched by males who just couldn’t help themselves? Who knows.

What is clear, however, is that this frame of mind is hard to unlearn in the span of a few months. Experiencing those uncomfortable moments in my class had me feeling watched, exposed, and self-conscious. Was I being paranoid? Quite possibly, but perhaps justifiably so. As you can see by the example of my school, more often than not, female-bodied persons are made to feel as if they are always being watched, evaluated, and preyed upon. What usually comes to mind when one speaks of the objectification of women is cat-calling, and with good reason. I remember being around 16 years old and terrified to exit my mother’s car due to the fact that a group of men sat outside. I assumed that they were lying in wait to reach deep inside of me with callous words and take a part of whatever childhood innocence I was forced to leave behind after growing breasts.

However, creepy boogey men on the side of the road are not the only people who make women feel as if their bodies are constantly on display for male consumption. The words that more frequently have me feeling subhuman come out of the mouths of men whom I know personally, some of whom even consider themselves progressive. Many micro-aggressions occur in our daily lives that men may not even consider as “objectification.” I think of the times guys have been congratulated for “scoring” with me or with other women. I think back to my high school boyfriend and his friend comparing me and my friends to cars—I was supposed to take it as a compliment when I was referred to as a “Mercedes Benz” rather than an actual person. “That’s just how guys talk,” he would assure me. “You wouldn’t understand.” It all comes back to the good old excuse of “boys being boys” and that’s right, “locker room talk.” Men talk about women like conquests, rating them on scales of one to ten, voting on which hot girl they’d rather conquer—inserting a metaphorical white flag of victory into her skin once the deed is done. In the wake of the comments made by Donald Trump, men, even those who consider themselves to be “the good guys” need to evaluate their speech, within which sexism has been so deeply entrenched. Revelations like the Trump video confirm the fear that many women have: that men are always watching them, evaluating them, and preying upon them; that nowhere is safe, not even their own bodies. The way men converse with each other in private, stems from systemic sexism and misogyny. Men have been taught that women exist solely for them to lust after, to have sex with, to conquer and pillage and come out with a sense of victory. No, it’s not “just locker room talk,” it’s not “just how guys talk.” It’s just how women are objectified, and it needs to stop.

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