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Opinion: Blowing the Top Off

September 16, 2015

Spoiler alert:

Tig Notaro takes her top off in her latest special, Boyish Girl Interrupted, on HBO.


If you know anything about Tig, you know how comfortably she shares her personal life and trials. Life has been rough on Tig the last few years, having been hit with a series of personal tragedies. First, she battled a bout of C-diff, suffered the death of her mother, and was then diagnosed with breast cancer, which resulted in a double mastectomy. Now all of this plays very importantly into the removal of her shirt mid-set.


One, Tig is notoriously open about these incidents beginning with her now famous stand-up set at Largo in 2012, which became the album Live in 2013. Two, her nonchalance makes the baring of her chest, now nippless, on stage an oddly comfortable act of defiance. The casual way in which she disrobes and continues her set is at once provocative and normal. The usual blurring or black bar that would accompany most televised female nudity is not only unused but unnecessary and not just because it’s HBO. See, without nipples there is nothing to offend the prudish patriarchy.


There is a quote running around the internet and though its roots may be a little dubious, its meaning is not.


“[I]t is illegal for women to go topless in most cities, yet you can buy a magazine of a woman without her top on at any 7-11 store. So, you can sell breasts, but you cannot wear breasts, in America.”

-- Violet Rose, in Three Steps to Better Sex


That meaning being that women are not allowed to take possession of their own bodies. Society at large has commodified the nipple outside the female realm of ownership. In response to this, a hilarious campaign began on Instagram to cover female nipples with the less offensive male model. For some reason, despite their uncanny similarities, male nipples are free to roam unencumbered by cloth anywhere from the beach, to working around the house, to BBQs, and even *gasp* the holiest of holies, family gatherings.


The male-female double standard is perfectly summed up in this one point. Women aren’t allowed the same casual assurance that their bodies do not offend and provoke. A quality men take for granted when they rip off their shirts mid-gym session or while mowing their own front yard. Men are not harassed for their beer bellies or made to feel any shame at exposing their torsos in this way. Instead they are embraced as the “dad bod” or at the very least tolerated even in an almost exclusively female yoga class sans the bare chested dude. Women’s bodies have been so eroticized to the point of censure just for existing, just by the mere fact that they are female. We don’t even have to do much to provoke the kind of ire produced during a protest at a Muslim conference where men violently stomped on a woman simply for standing up for her body and autonomy. Two women took to the stage during the conference shirtless just as Muslim clerics were reportedly discussing “whether wives should be beaten or not”. For women, taking your top off is a form of radical protest.


If you read that last line and thought, “Well, that’s ridiculous.” You’re right! It is! Congrats! You see how stupid all of this is. That women don’t have autonomy over their own bodies is stupid, that the right to choice is still up for debate is infuriatingly stupid, that people are offended by breast feeding is stupid (Most of us profited heavily from our own mothers doing so for us.), that by the age of 12 it’s easier for most girls to just “give in than to keep running” is not just stupid, but really fucking sad.

All of this contributes to the over arching rape culture that patriarchal societies not only support but resort to as a refuge. A cultural balance beam of the virgin/whore dichotomy that women have to navigate daily. To smile and be friendly but not so much that it makes you deserve unwanted attention or harm. Not so much that anyone would say, “she was asking for it,” though they will say it anyway. Not only are most societies and religions secure in making this kind of casual discrimination against half the population the norm, they create ways to keep it in place and even co-opt our image to do so in an effort to pit women against each other.


Each facet of this suppression so brilliantly wrought in its vileness, so detailed and all encompassing that it is blinding. The only thing left for women to do is take our shirts off, take back what’s ours, and #freethenipple. To keep doing so until it is as normal and natural as Tig Notaro makes it look baring her scars on HBO.


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