By T. L. Young
We live in a violent world hell bent on self-destruction. Just this past weekend, we hear about the sentencing of Bradley Manning for exposing war crimes, and news that the government of Syria is responsible for gassing their own people, and the U.S. may retaliate by going to war.
Unfortunately, most people aren’t even thinking about either of these news items, because our society is more obsessed with singer Miley Cyrus’s lurid performance on MTV’s Video Music Awards, and topless women organizing protests or in the case of Hawaii, a press conference and a picnic. On an interesting side note, no one I’m aware of has accused Miley’s duet with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” of promoting rape, but I get the feeling most people were too bombarded by the lewd imagery to listen to the lyrics.
So with this being the climate of our media and image obsessed culture, a group of us from the Sex and Body Positive Meetup Group and Topfree Equality.com got together at the far end of Magic Island at Ala Moana Beach Park to have a topless picnic.
The shirts didn’t come off until two hours into the event and it went without incident until we were ready to leave. I’ll get to that in a second.
Most of the day was spent discussing how breasts are overly sexualized and how covering them up in our society is simply part of a long tradition that goes back to ancient times. Not every culture sexualized the female breast, but they did find many ways to subjugate and control women’s bodies.
According to a lawyer member of Topfree Equality, Hannah Miyamoto, the burqa was originally designed to denote a virtuous woman in Babylonian times. If a common whore dared to put it on, she would have been severely punished.
And here we are in the 21st Century, and our attitude toward women’s bodies hasn’t changed much.
We get asked, “Aren’t there more serious issues to protest and speak out against?”
We believe the history of suppressing and sexualizing the female body to feed the status quo is an important issue. Perhaps not as serious as an impending war, but important nonetheless, especially after this weekend when our country seems obsessed with a former Disney child star asserting her sexuality (though poorly and in a tasteless manner) on an awards show. Whether we admit it or not, our bodies and our sexuality continue to determine what is appropriate and inappropriate, particularly in our mainstream media.
Think of the children, they all say.
Which brings us back to the Honolulu Police Officers who approached us at the end of our picnic.
The women began covering up, only one did so because she presumed she had to.
One of the cops remarked, “Isn’t it interesting that although this is legal, you start covering up as soon as we arrive.”
He must have known about the national topfree events and didn’t want any publicity. When our spokeswoman protested, he retorted, “You don’t know EVERY family or EVERY parent out here. If there is a complaint, we will have to make an arrest.”
That being said, the part of the beach park we were at is far away from the main road. There were families a few feet away, but no one gave us “stink eye” or laughed or reacted in any way.
Only about 100 feet away was the showers where for decades, parents have been bathing their children totally nude, not just infants but children up to the age of eleven.
Down by the beach, there was a professional bikini photo shoot, which our members have said was far more provocative than a bunch of normal folk with no shirts on.
The cops gave us a fair warning, not wanting to make any waves, but never let on to the fact that there likely had been no complaints. A far cry from the topfree picnic this same meetup held last year at Kapiolani Park with only one topless woman and a whole mess of squad cars closing in on the group.
So have we made our case for Hawaii? Have we changed the status quo? No, of course not. It can’t happen overnight, but with the whole country in on this, we have participated in something positive, and I feel good about that.
Admittedly, in a predominantly Asian American culture, we only had one female of partial Asian descent, although our meetup member from China joined us later. All of the other participants were primarily Caucasian, and a handful of us were born and raised in Hawaii. Many have travelled to Maui and Little Beach, but we unanimously liked living on Oahu.
Representation of the local culture was very low. Being nude or topless in public has long been forgotten by native Hawaiians. But we modern naturists and topfree advocates have come to accept that.
Here’s hoping for a bigger event next year.