Legalizing Topless Sunbathing and Invisible Women

There are certain conversations that I have with people which I find extremely aggravating. The reason for this is because they always go in exactly the same way. The reactions of people I talk to in these conversations is so predictable, so certain, and at the same time so insulting, that I want to shed a tear for how prevalent this mentality is. One of these is talking to heterosexual men about whether or not topless sunbathing should be made legal. I have had this discussion four different times, with four different groups of men, and it has gone the exact same way, every time.

Topless sunbathing has been legal in Italy for a very long time. It is so normalized that I had no idea that it was not also legal in the majority of Western countries. This is the primary reason why I get dragged into these conversations, because people who want to discuss whether or not it should be legalized in their own countries are curious about the perspective of someone who already lives in such a country. Every time, the conversation goes like this:

Me: Laws against bare breasts are stupid, because it’s not about the breast, it is about the nipple. Cleavage, side boob and under boob are all legal, but female nipples are, for some reason, considered obscene, when they look exactly the same as male nipples, except they’re not hairy.

Men: Yes, but, boobs are sexy! It would be tough for men, who grew up in countries where topless sunbathing is illegal, to get used to it. I couldn’t help but look at them. I wouldn’t drool and stare, of course, but a small part of me doesn’t want to get so used to boobs that I don’t find them sexy anymore.

Me: Yea, trust me, Italian men are still perfectly capable of sexualizing boobs despite the fact that they see them in a casual beach setting. You wont lose your boob love just because some women decide to sunbathe without a top on in your vicinity.

Men: But, then, how do they avoid getting a boner at the beach? I would be afraid of looking like a perv! I would be afraid of either panicking and having to stare at the sand all day, or being chased down by an angry mob for getting a stiffy! It would make me super uncomfortable.

Me: … you realize that most women don’t look like super models, right? I mean, the majority of the women who sunbathe topless in Italy look like your Mom, or your Grandmother. There are a few young pretty women who do it, but everyone goes to the beach, not just swimsuit models.

Men: Ew! Gross! I don’t want it to be legal anymore! I don’t want to see that!

And this is the part where I seriously risk losing my shit.

Me: You realize that women don’t exist for the purpose of your viewing pleasure, do you? Personally, I would rather not see old fat men with back hair wearing speedos, but you know what I do when such a person goes to the beach? I don’t stare at them. It would never cross my mind that those men had any less of a right to be there or to wear what they want than I do.

Men: (looking sheepish) yea… well… of course I know that… I didn’t mean… I was just kidding

We usually leave it at that, but these reactions annoy me on a deeper level than the assumption that women exist to please men. It is indicative of a deeper and, in my opinion, far more insidious mentality that is never really addressed. I like to call it the Invisible Women Syndrome.

In my frequent talks with my heterosexual male peers, I noticed that Invisible Women Syndrome is responsible for many of the idiotic statements that baffle my heterosexual, female peers. Things like “I would be flattered if random women complimented me on the street!”, or “It’s so easy for you women. We have to work exceptionally hard to get laid, while all you have to do is raise your hand in a bar”, or “Statutory rape is different between boys and girls! When I was 14, I would have loved it if a 20-year old teacher had seduced me!” There are other factors at play here: like the fact that teenage girls are not considered to have sexual desires (not if they’re proper girls, anyway), but Invisible Women Syndrome is at the heart of many of these assumptions.

It comes down to the fact that, when these heterosexual men say or hear the word “women”, they think about the kinds of women they see on magazine covers, in television ads, in movies or on TV shows. Most of whom are very attractive, and most of whom they would love to sleep with. It seems to escape their notice completely, that the women who fall into this category represent a far smaller percentage of the population than TV would lead you to believe. Replace “wedding ring” with “women you don’t find attractive”, and this scene from Scrubs pretty much sums it up.

I came to realize this, because I am an Invisible Woman. I was overweight for the majority of my life, and as such I had a very hard time with men. I have never had a one night stand, not because I never wanted one, but because I have never been attractive enough for it to be so easy. When I was 14, if a 20 year old Will Smith-looking type had tried to seduce me, I would have been over the moon about it, and I would have jumped into that sexual relationship with both feet, feeling like I was the luckiest girl on the planet. (Note: please don’t take this as me condoning statutory rape. I don’t, at all. I just don’t think that the double standard between male and female victims should exist).

I have been battling with Invisible Women Syndrome ever since I started trying to get my heterosexual male peers to empathize with how women feel about catcalling, or about being rubbed up against on the bus. It was never enough to say “How would you like it if women did that to you?” I always had to say “How would you like it if a very unattractive woman who is old enough to be your grandmother who is missing a few teeth and stinks of cabbage did that to you?”. Not that all the men that catcall look like Igor, but it was necessary to frame it that way to get any response other than “I would love that!” Many of them even look shocked that an old, unattractive woman would ever dare approach them in a sexual manner, as if they should know that they are an Invisible Woman, and they should therefore remain, well, invisible.

I am also aware that, in this highly lefty forum, the number of men who are afflicted with Invisible Women Syndrome will be fewer than the number I meet in my day-to-day life. However, I also want to note that Invisible Women Syndrome is not something that only afflicts overtly sexist, self-important men. It is often a subconscious assumption, but one that can shrivel up and die if a light is shone on it. That is the main reason why I wrote this post, because I want as many people as possible to ask themselves if they do this too. Ask yourself:

  1. When I say “picture a woman”. What image of a woman pops into your mind?
  2. Does this automatic image of what a woman looks like influence your thinking when you enter into discussions about sexual encounters and the “differences” between the sexes?


  1. sonofrojblake says

    When I say “picture a woman”. What image of a woman pops into your mind?

    My wife. But then she’s a bad example: when we met I found her intimidatingly attractive and while we got on well it never occurred to me that I’d have a chance of taking it further.

    Does this automatic image of what a woman looks like influence your thinking when you enter into discussions about sexual encounters and the “differences” between the sexes?

    Probably. Hard to say, because as you accurately point out, it’s subconscious.

    I have never had a one night stand, not because I never wanted one, but because I have never been attractive enough for it to be so easy to get someone I considered attractive enough, i.e. a “Will Smith-looking type”.

    Fixed it for you.

    Anyone who wants a one night stand, and especially any woman who wants a one-night stand, can have one, tonight. The catch is, you can’t be fussy. You overlooked all the Invisible Men – the ones who don’t conform to your standard of attractiveness (Will Smith – fair enough) who would have been more than happy to oblige. And in the same breath you’re complaining about other people doing what you did.

    You seem to be trying to manufacture a double standard where women are being treated worse than men. The double standard exists, sure – but this is one of those tiny minority of examples where it is demonstrably way worse for men. The only advantage we have is money. A man can compensate for any level of age and unattractiveness by the simple expedient of being rich. Obviously that sucks for those of us on average incomes, but hey, whose fault is it? By contrast, a woman’s attractiveness to men is entirely unconnected to wealth.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      YOu’re making a few assumptions there about me, and putting words in my mouth doesn’t make them true. As an invisible woman, I never would have approached a Will Smith looking type in a million years. The Will Smith type example was about how I would have jumped into a relationship with an older man as a teenager, the way that men say they think that those teenage boys who are seduced by “hot” teachers are “lucky”.
      When it comes to one night stands, I would have never even attempted to attract the attentions of someone who was very attractive, because I know what its like to get an insulted glare, like how dare you think I’d ever deign to give you a second glance? That’s not to say that I didn’t have any standards, but generally those standards were confined to the guy has to be within a few years of my age. I was 18 at the time, and there is another factor women have to cosider that men overlook: the safety factor. I might have been able to go home with a creepy leering 50 year old guy, sure, but I wouldn’t have felt safe, I wouldnt have known what waited for me at his place. I was in college and pretty much any college-aged guy would have done no problem.
      I also hate the wealth argument. There might be some women who try to assess a man’s wealth when they go out, but I’ve never met any myself. I was in college and I wanted sex, I could have given a flying fuck if the guy had a nice car. If anything, a wealthy guy would have been far more intimidating than a dirt poor college student like myself. I’ve never understood why anyone who wants a one night stand would care how much money a guy makes, the point of a one night stand is that its ONE TIME, why would wealth play into it in any way? As far as Im concerned, the hotness vs wealth comparison is a false one.

      • sonofrojblake says

        As an invisible woman, I never would have approached a Will Smith looking type in a million years

        Well… yeah. And Invisible Men (i.e. most men) cannot approach a Scarlett Johannson type either, for exactly the same reason. That insulted glare? That’s what most men expect, and get, most of the times they approach women – and we’re culturally expected to do the approaching, and accept the near-inevitable rejection with good grace.

        And of course you had standards. My point was – it’s those standards that place you in the “never had a one-night stand” group. It’s nothing to do with how attractive you are or are not, nothing to do with your supposed “Invisible” status. I have female friends who used to complain about never getting chatted up – friends who, to my eyes, were (indeed, are) objectively “hot”. What they actually mean is – they never get chatted up by that one guy. The one man they find attractive out of all the ones in the bar. They don’t give a monkey’s about never getting chatted up by the rest. Indeed, they selectively forget that just last week three guys approached them in a single night, and were all given the brush-off or even simply ignored.

        And as for age – I have bad news. The 18 year old is at least as dangerous as the leering 50 year old. Probably more so.

        As far as Im concerned, the hotness vs wealth comparison is a false one

        I disagree with you, but that’s irrelevant. Objective reality disagrees with you. The only way you can say wealth doesn’t give a man an advantage when picking up women is by closing your eyes and sticking your fingers in your ears and going lalalala.

        the point of a one night stand is that its ONE TIME, why would wealth play into it in any way?

        You really can’t work this one out for yourself? Try a thought experiment. Imagine yourself a more-than-averagely attractive woman. You’re presented with a choice of two possible one-night stands, both of them, crucially, with a man you consider slightly less attractive than yourself. Option 1 is wearing tatty jeans, a Casio digital watch and a t-shirt with holes in it. He offers the possibility of a kebab you pay for yourself, a bus-ride to a room in a house he shares, and some fun on the single bed he hasn’t changed. Option 2 is smartly dressed, wearing a Rolex and a tailored shirt. He offers the possibility of late sushi at a private club of which he’s a member, followed by his driver picking you up or a lift in his Porsche to his penthouse where the bed is larger than your kitchen.

        There are different experiences on offer here. I appreciate it might not be what you, personally, would do, but the very existence of the common phrase “trophy wife” shows that there are plenty of women whose choices are different than yours – choices based on experiencing what it’s like to be rich.

        • thoughtsofcrys says

          Look, you’ve obviously decided that I’ve got entitlement issues and that surely I had too high standards and all that because you are convinced it’s truly easy for any woman to get laid whenever she wants, and I really don’t care about convincing you otherwise. This post was not about men vs. women who has it harder when it comes to getting laid, I appreciate that it’s hard for everyone, I was just trying to shine a light on a subconscious prejudice that I have found to be prevalent in many people’s minds. You can agree or disagree, or even not believe a word of what I said about my personal experience, you are entitled to it and it makes very little difference to me.
          And about the trophy wife thing, I said I know there are some women who do that, I am aware of the Anna Nicole Smiths in the world, all I’m saying is that it’s not nearly as common (at least in my experience and where I have lived) as many men like to complain it is. Also, you’re thought experiment is making me think we have two different definitions of what a one night stand is. You’re desribing a date, which generally means there being a possibility of it turning into a relationship. A one night stand, as I was describing, is “hey we’re both in a bar and a little tipsy lets fuck great my place or yours great that was fun goodbye guy whose name I don’t even really know”. No sushi, no kebab, no stress. I don’t think that there is a single woman I know who would be looking for signs of wealth in that situation. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but as I said, they are not nearly as common as some men think.
          Not to mention the fact that I find rolex watches, tailored shirts and fancy sports cars to be pretentious, boring and as an early indicator that this guy thinks way too highly of himself so get out now before you have to hear abot how he has a trust fund, but hey, that’s just me. As I said, we don’t have to agree, nor do you have to believe me if you don’t want to, that is just my opinion on the subject.

          • sonofrojblake says

            ’ve obviously decided that I’ve got entitlement issues

            Not at all. I think you’ve decided men have entitlement issues, though. I absolutely don’t think you set your standards too high – your standards are your own affair, and in any case why is a one-night-stand held up as something to be aspired to?

            I was just trying to shine a light on a subconscious prejudice that I have found to be prevalent in many MEN’s minds

            Fixed it for you. My point, such as it is, is that the same prejudice is present in women’s minds, even and especially your “Invisible Women”, who, I contend, are only “Invisible” to the men they choose to see.

            As for you not going for Rolexes, thanks for clarifying, but that was really rather the point of me asking you to imagine yourself as someone else different from you.

            I don’t think we disagree that much, to be honest – I just believe based on experience that the toxic mindset you’re bemoaning is very much not exclusive to men.

          • thoughtsofcrys says

            You know, you really need to stop “fixing” my words “for me”. Mansplaining my own thoughts back to me is incredibly condescending, something I never respond well to

  2. Lofty says

    “Picture a woman”. As a middle aged happily married man I hang out with a mixed group of laid back older cyclists so my pictured woman is a mature, rounded, sun wrinkled person who enjoys life to the full. I have no desire to bonk a devastatingly beautiful but otherwise boring woman, the pillow talk would bore me to tears. I might ogle one for a moment but I prefer the company of real women, no matter what their shape or size is. Life is more than a 3 minute coupling.

  3. lorn says

    IMHO this is about men complaining that women are not doing enough to make them comfortable. A woman covers up and the men want to see more of her body. She goes topless and the want to see less. It isn’t womans job to fawn and cater to men to make sure they are entirely as comfortable as she is capable of making them.

    The men complaining need to grow up and realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Sometimes adults are going to be a little uncomfortable. If the sun rises in the wrong spot you are expected to deal with it, put on a pair of sunglasses. If a woman shows up topless and it bothers you, turn around, leave … or do what adults do … get over it.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    men complaining that women are not doing enough to make them comfortable

    Women can’t win here, though, as you point out. Ultimately, what the men who are complaining are complaining about is not that the women’s breasts are “distracting”. What they really mean is “I can see boobies but I’m not allowed to touch them – not fair!” What’s making them “uncomfortable” is the cognitive dissonance going on due to their own urges. They know they’re supposed to be civilised and grown up, but their hormones AND their culture are telling them that a woman with her breasts out who is not feeding a child with them is performing a display for their sexual benefit, is trying to attract them and wants their attention. They KNOW intellectually that that is not the case, and that if they act on the impulse to stare or go further they’ll be heavily penalised for it… but the intellect is not in charge here.

  5. Kreator says

    @sonofrojblake: You went full MRA, man. Never go full MRA.

    Seriously though, what you said is a load of pseudo-scientific MRA bullshit that doesn’t reflect the experiences of a large majority of men out there; you’re just projecting your own failings and perversions upon others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *