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Public Decency

There’s an interesting article in one of Sweden’s on-line newspapers about a couple of women fighting for the right to bear breasts. The story goes that they were swimming in a pool topless, none of the other people raising objections, before a lifeguard ordered them to cover up or leave. They left. I agree with their assessment of the situation - why are women treated differently by being required to cover up, when men are not? Public decency, of course, is the reason given - but what does that actually mean?

The trouble with public decency is that any issue on those grounds is in the eye of the beholder. Frankly, I do not understand how seeing a woman topless can be considered offensive. Doesn’t an offensiveness require malevolent intent on the part of the offender? Otherwise, aren’t they just someone doing their thing? Isn’t it more the case that the offended party is projecting their own feelings, insecurities, or morals onto someone or something that otherwise ‘just is’? Public decency offences to me mean behaving in a way which is engineered to offend. If there is no intent to offend then the act can’t be offensive - merely unusual or out of the scope of normal behaviour. But being unusual shouldn’t be a crime. I think in the case of the girls in the article the problem is more an illustration of bad ‘policing’ than anything else.

I suppose the next issue someone might bring up is a religious one - how well would bare-breasted 20-something’s gel if there were practising Muslims in the pool? Well, I’m going to take the same line - the issue isn’t with the topless girls, it’s with the people being offended - regardless of whether that’s because of some arbitrary set of morals learned from parents or whether it’s some arbitrary set of morals instilled from religion. Nor do I think it would be the girls duty to ‘respect the religious views of others’ by covering up. It’s up to society to respect the intent of individuals - not of individuals to second-guess the reactions of society and adjust accordingly. That only changes when the individual has intent to be offensive - and it’s only then that society has a cause to react.

Then, I suppose, there’s the “think of the children” argument for treating topless ladies different from topless men. But that’s another argument that just doesn’t wash - for exactly the same reasons. The intent, of course, is to ‘protect the innocence of the children’. But it’s a misguided intent based on a misconception of innocence. Because a parent has decided topless girls are offensive means that’s what the kids learn. It’s just behaviour modelling. If parents thought and responded the same to bare-chested men as they did to bare-chested women and visa-versa - then the kids would react to topless men but not topless women! Fact is, topless is topless, and there’s nothing more to it - there is nothing inherently offensive about breasts. Ignore it and your kid won’t even register that anything is unusual. React and suddenly there are potential problems. React calmly and your kid may end up with a respectful attitude and a bit of education - which surely is better than instilling a sense of ‘oh those are rude bits’ which they can use in child-like fashion to annoy other people with.

Innocence is a concept, not a tangible thing. It’s also a false concept when regarded in a simplistic ‘innocence is good, keep it as long as possible’ way. Innocence is actually ignorance from things we feel are undesirable - be that behaviour (keep your kids innocent from swearing), false belief (santa brings you presents when you are good), or just body parts (oh, naked people). But they are all arbitrary choices, not scientific absolutes.

By making a big deal about nudity being ‘indecent’ or ‘offensive’ all you do is perpetuate affront where in fact the reality is a valueless action or situation. The woman is naked. End of story. How that effects the observer is down to the observer - or in the case of children, how their role-model reacts (they will copy it).

So, in my opinion, it’s unjust to expect women to cover up because other people might be offended. That’s making the weird attitude and mental problems of others the responsibility of someone else, and that is wrong. If only people were more responsible for their own thoughts, actions, and emotion, instead of projecting it onto external things, life would be a lot better.

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