I have witnessed partial nudity on Troy University’s quad more than once. In broad daylight, minding my own business, nipples have crept into my unsuspecting gaze. However, the breasts belonged to men, so the sight was acceptable.
If a guy gets too hot while playing kickball, he can toss his shirt to the ground without anyone batting an eye. Meanwhile, females are told to keep our bodies a secret. If we dress in a way that embraces the feminine body, we are called immoral. We are used as examples of women with no self-respect.
Kelsey Burgans, assistant campus minister for Mother Teresa Catholic Newman Ministry, agrees that society holds stricter expectations of modesty to women. Rather than loosening those restrictions of women, Burgans believes that we should instead hold men to the same standard that we hold women.
“We need to have a greater appreciation and value for our bodies, for our sexuality, because I do consider it a gift from God, ” Burgans said. “I think that it’s important for us to not be prudish, but I think it’s also important for us also to not be overexposed. There’s a happy middle.”
Brittany Barfield, a senior graphic design major from Seale, however, believes female toplessness should be accepted in situations when male top nudity is accepted.
“These are normal body parts that society at some point deemed to be sexual, but only in females,” Barfield said. “People need to stop sexualizing an organ that isn’t sexual. That’s not fair to women because it puts a limit on us that isn’t on men.”
When asked about the fairness of the standards of modesty we hold to women, Jeremiah Bakey, a senior political science major from Dauphin Island, said, “It is not fair at all. The only difference between men’s nipples and women’s nipples is that women’s serve a purpose (nursing), and that should be celebrated if anything, not ridiculed. Women, if they are comfortable, should absolutely be able to go topless in the same places as men.”
I began to wonder, if a woman were to remove her shirt on the quad, just as male students sometimes do, what would happen?
According to Derrick Brewster, assistant dean of student services, a “conversation” would take place.
While Troy has no specific policy regarding top nudity, the 2016/ 2017 Oracle Standards of Conduct states, “All students enrolling in Troy University assume an obligation to conduct themselves at all times (both on and off campus) as responsible members of the campus community and in accordance with standards of common decency and decorum, with recognition and respect for the personal and property rights of others and the educational mission of the university.”
Who determines what is classified as “standards of common decency and decorum”? We do. The issue of feminine body oppression lies in our own judgment as a society.
According to Priya Menon, associate professor of English, “When we examine the Western philosophical stream of thought, beginning, maybe, with Hegel, we see that the body and mind are always categorized in a binary relationship, where there is a preoccupation for men to be identified with the human mind and the female to be represented as the body.
“While men were free to pursue activities related to the mind/ spirit, women were to be primarily confined to reproducing and tending to their children (activities of the body). Obviously, such binary identifications caused (or continue to cause) a great deal of victimization for women and their bodies.”
How can we undo this learned behavior of female objectification? First, we must acknowledge the fact that the issue exists. It is only after we have come to terms with this injustice to the female community that we can begin to unlearn this judgmental tendency.
Khayla Jones, a junior exercise science major from Birmingham, agrees with Burgans that while the modesty standards against women are unequal, they should not be loosened. Rather, men should dress modestly at all times and we should all respect those with a “weakness to sin.”
“The more I see girls not wearing clothes, the more I see guy friends looking at them as objects,” Jones said.
Jones believes that women should encourage one another to not overexpose their bodies, while also encouraging men to accept them as more than an object.
“She is a young lady,” Jones said. “You need to look at her as a human being. She has a dignity just like you do. She’s not a piece of meat. She’s not an object.”
Brittany Barfield believes that while we cannot change society’s mind right now, we can work on advancing female acceptance for future generations, starting in our own homes.
“We need to teach the future generation that the female body isn’t a sexual object,” Barfield said. “We need better sex education at home and in schools. We need television censorship to be equal or not at all.”
I say let us join hands and beat the social system that tries to hide our wonderful, naturally inoffensive bodies. Ladies, if you are more comfortable without a bra, I say toss it. If you want to work out in a sports bra or go topless at beaches, I believe you that you have every right to do so without criticism.
Women, let us not tear one another down and try to cover one another’s bodies. Instead, let us encourage one another to feel comfortable enough to live in our own skin without feeling the need to hide it.
Men, you must show your fellow human beings that they are just that — human beings, not objects of desire. Together, we can create a society in which seeing a woman’s nipple in public is not newsworthy.