Remember in elementary school, when you and your friends figured out how to type “BOOBIES” on the calculator? Because I do. I remember my friend passing me their calculator to show me the number 5,318,008, and then telling me to flip it over. Ah, the laughs we had. I remember finding humor in breasts, because they were a secret thing that I wasn’t allowed to talk about. I remember playing with Barbies with my childhood best friend, who was a boy, and we could not get over their “boobies”. They were funny. But then my mom caught us giggling about a naked Barbie, and we weren’t allowed to talk about “boobies” anymore.
Growing up, I always thought of my breasts as a sort of taboo. In the fifth grade, I remember reaching up to grab a Mike & Ike candy while changing into costume in our theater’s changing room (yeah, I was 100% a drama geek), when an eighth grader saw me without a shirt on. “Put some clothes on!” she chastised. I was so embarrassed.
When I first started wearing a real bra in the seventh grade, I was embarrassed. But when I was told by my male teacher that he could see my bra-strap and that I needed to hide it, I was mortified, but not for the right reasons. I was embarrassed for myself because I made my male teacher uncomfortable with the sight of my bra strap, when I should have been embarrassed for my male teacher, who was sexualizing a twelve-year old’s clothing.
What I didn’t realize until much later in life is that I was one of the lucky ones. One of my best friends started developing her breasts when she was 8 or 9 years old. I didn’t realize any of the weird language at the time, but now that I hear people (read: men) talking about feeling uncomfortable when we’d play soccer in the summer with our short shorts and our shirts tied up (covering our not-quite boobs, but not much else), I cringe. We were 9.
I remember gossiping with friends as an eighth grader about a younger girl in the drama department who didn’t wear a bra when we thought she should have. (Me @ me: what the f*ck). Even as a victim, I still took part in the toxic, other side. But I grew up, and I feel remorse; I don’t think my seventh grade social studies teacher could say the same.
The oversexualization of women’s bodies is a YUGE topic, but my main point here is about breasts. When I hear men (even my own family members) talk about how seeing too much of a child’s body makes them uncomfortable, I want to yell. Telling a someone to cover their breasts to make a man more comfortable is telling a someone that a catering to a man’s sexual arousal is more important than their bodily autonomy. When that person is actually a ten year old child, they grow up believing that men have a right to stare and react to their body without consent. Which leads to the assumption that men can do other things to their bodies without consent.
From a physiological standpoint, there is nothing inherently sexual about breasts. Breasts are anatomically designed to feed offspring. The entire debate about breastfeeding in public, in my opinion, is stupid. Would you like to eat your lunch in a bathroom stall every day? No? Then don’t tell someone else to go to the bathroom to feed their child. “But Katie,” you might argue, “if women can freely expose their breasts in public, why can’t I whip my dick out whenever I want?” Well, that’s because there is a big difference between penises and breasts. Penis (and vaginas), are primary sexual organs, or genitals, whereas breasts are secondary sexual organs. If you argue that I should cover up my secondary sexual organs, that means you should also cover up your adam’s apple and your beard. “But Katie,” you might continue to argue, “your boobs turn me on. You don’t get turned on by my beard.” To which I might reply, “False, I think your beard is incredibly sexy, despite your blatant misogyny, but I’d still never ask you to shave.”
Also, as soon as you step outside the box of heternormativity, none of this makes any sense. As a woman who thinks boobs are hot, I’m not ever going to ask a woman to cover up. As a woman who thinks men are sexy (read: sexy if they don’t equate public breastfeeding to whipping out their dick at the mall), I’m not going to ask a dude to change just because I can see a bulge in his jeans. A gay dude isn’t going to do that, either (for more on that, read this Facebook thread). And what about trans people? If someone was assigned female at birth, then comes out as a transgender at the age of 25, can they suddenly go topless uninhibited? Does he have to get top surgery first? (Sidenote: not all trans people transition. If someone doesn’t “look” like the gender they say they are, then they are still the gender they say they are.) Or, what about that heavier guy over their whose fatty boob tissue is larger than a preteen’s eleven-year-old-girl breasts? Who gets to run around topless in that situation?
My main point is that, even if I never have a child, the primary function of both of my breasts is still to supply breast milk. (Actually, that’s only what my left boob is for. My right one can predict the weather). They don’t exist to be sexy. Sure, nipple-play can be awesome, but people get turned on from a lot of different things. If someone likes to have their neck kissed, they aren’t going to wear a turtle neck every time they leave the house. People with foot fetishes don’t except everyone to wear socks/shoes to keep their boners in check. My body is my body, and anybody’s unsolicited sexual arousal is a personal problem.