Yes, there's a movement called Free the Nipple. It confronts American society's squeamishness about women's nipples and how they remain one of the last parts of the human body that we believe must be restrained at all times. The male nipple? Let it fly free. The female nipple? It must be banned from sight as soon as the girl is old enough to walk.
Going without a bra in the U.S. is an act of bravery and defiance because women's bodies are not considered acceptable as men's bodies are. There are more parts of our bodies that we can get arrested for exposing. Images of male genitalia and bare butts don't create the same reaction as the part of a woman that can feed a baby. Why? Because Americans have hyper-sexualized women's mammary glands to the point of obsession. Many cultures around the world take the female breast in stride, but in originally-Puritan-America, it makes many of us unable to think straight.
I've known women who didn't wear bras and I admired them. Some of them had small breasts so their chest freedom wasn't as noticeable. I envy any woman with small breasts and nipples. My breasts are unfortunately pendulous, especially since I became middle-aged and put on an extra 40 pounds. I've always had large nipples, but now I really have to use bra inserts to keep them from showing their outline through my tops. It's sadly, painfully obvious when I don't have a bra on.
But on weekends, at the age of 48, I'm finally developing the guts to go without a bra, not even a sports bra. I wear my fat, middle-aged, heavily-nippled mammaries covered only by a shirt. O, the shamelessness! Keep in mind: I don't have a car to hide in as I navigate the big city (Chicago, Illinois). I walk blocks to the train station or bus stop, take public transportation along with dozens of others, then get off and walk blocks to the store or wherever I'm going. This gives hundreds of people a chance to notice that my flesh is swinging free. Some men stare. Some women stare. Many don't notice at all, but enough do that I feel slightly naked. I try not to think about it, but I can't deny that I feel more vulnerable without that one key garment.
I hate that I feel vulnerable without that one key garment! It really is asinine that Americans believe that a woman's breasts, no matter the size, require a harnessing device at all times. It's equally asinine that we'll tolerate a lot of breast hanging out of a tank top or bathing suit, but not the nipple. Not the nipple -- for the love of god, hide that thing!
Behold the misogyny that fears parts of the female anatomy, that demands that those parts stay out of sight, that uses safety or modesty as an excuse to control women's bodies. I'm proud to have finally worked up the nerve to leave my home without a chest-binding-contraption (at least on weekends) because the brassiere has only been part of American fashion since the late 1800s and I intend to contribute to its American disappearance.
Here are the reasons I have finally started leaving my bras in the dresser drawer:
1. I'm a fat, middle-aged woman and don't feel as targeted (hunted) by men as I did when I was younger. I feel safer in my body at this age.
2. If women stop wearing bras, we can normalize the sight of free, unleashed breasts. That would be great.
3. Women should feel free to slip on a shirt and walk out the door, just like men do. Bras are uncomfortable and expensive and it's a crime that we pay so much money to be in some level of pain all day.
4. I want to support the message that being bra-less does not equal "asking for it."
Many women who try to make a Free the Nipple statement by leaving their bra at home don't have the chest size to really be noticeable. Others get caught in the problem of having assholes leering at them and objectifying them. This is the problem of going topless when you have young breasts. But when I let my saggy, middle-aged boobs sway before me as I swagger down the street, I do not present as titillating a spectacle. I'm simply an over-the-hill woman who's losing her looks and exercising my right to walk without physical restraints or public humiliation. I feel powerful in my lack of youth and sexiness. Does someone still want to ogle my tits? Fine, but he better look into my don't-mess-with-me expression before he opens his mouth.
I believe part of the problem with topless demonstrations is that they're mostly populated by young women. Men stare and cheer them on. It's easy to sexualize such a political act, which diffuses it. We need more middle-aged and old women leaving our bras at home. There are many of us out there already, but let's have more so we can make the point that going braless is NOT an invitation for sex. When I walk bra-less I'm proud to contribute to a new paradigm that holds that wearing or not wearing a bra is no indication of how much attention a woman is seeking. I'm helping to make fat protruding nipples so commonplace and UNsexy that people will lose their fixation on them. I'm helping to normalize the female nipple so that it can become as acceptable in public as the male nipple. Leaving my bra at home is a deliberate, political act, especially for a 48-year-old woman. Join me!