11 year old Challenges our Cultural Standards of Nudity

“Why can’t girls walk around without their shirts on?” asks my indignant 11 yr old (Lolie) today on our way back from school.

I get it: the culture I was brought up in – one of shame in regards to nakedness – taught me that it’s normal for boys to go shirtless, and wrong for girls to do the same. It’s hard for me not to see it that way, because I grew up with it as a cold and hard truth about men and women.

But now that Jessica and I have chosen a different approach for our own children, one where we are teaching them that boys and girls are equal in worth and rights, and one where the human body is beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of, I have to face Lolie’s simple logic: it’s simply not fair for girls not to have the same shirtless rights as boys.

I am aware that there are a couple of States that allow it and that there are one or two women a year that make the news by shocking our sensibilities as they live out that right. I’m not asking anyone to start a shirtless revolution. Even though I would love to be in a culture that lives out their equality of the sexes even as it comes down to clothing, I recognize that I would be way more comfortable with a law that requires everyone to wear a shirt than the alternative. This for two reasons: I am not comfortable going around shirtless, and I am conditioned to see breasts as sexual and so would have to adjust my thinking – my very neural wiring. Both of which are adjustable, in my opinion, by the way.

But my 11 yr old doesn’t have these hang ups. She would like to be able to go around shirtless when it gets hot outside, and is struggling against the reality that our culture has a double standard for women and men when it comes to not wearing a shirt in public.

And I have to agree with her logic.

And if I’m honest, if I truly want equality between the sexes and for my children to be free of the shame associated with nakedness, then I guess I too want for women to have the same comforts as men and be able to go around topless without shame, or fear of being reported for indecent exposure.  I even believe that I could change myself in the process.  Maybe I won’t ever be comfortable going topless in public, but I am sure that I could learn to stop thinking about sex every time I see a naked breast, and by the same token stop thinking that women were taking their shirts off for my personal enjoyment.

“Why can’t girls walk around without their shirts on?”

If we’re willing to go beyond the easy, stock answers parents have used since the first parents had children, or at least since parents started using words with their children instead of conking their heads as an answer, stock answers like “because that’s just the way it is” – if we’re daring enough to give a thoughtful answer to a thoughtful or curious question, we may learn a few things from our children about the world, and even about ourselves.

What do you think?  Shirts for everyone, equal topless rights, or keep the double-standard?  And why?

~ Jeremy

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