Why Can't I Take My Shirt Off?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I have taken my shirt off in public exactly three times, all of them this summer.

Once, I was playing kickball with a group of friends and my shirt was soaked with sweat. Another time, I was at a Sounds show and there was so much crazy energy and I was burning up again so I whipped off my shirt. The third time I was watching Eagles of Death Metal play at the Creepy Crawl in St. Louis and it was sweltering hot, plus the shirt was falling off anyway because I had cut the collar too wide.

Don't get the wrong idea. Every time I was wearing a bra that covered everything. But I noticed that every time I took off my shirt girls around me gave me looks. Well, not so much looks as glares. Whispers to their boyfriends and other girls. Visible anger for the simple reason that I had removed my shirt, mostly for good reason.

Never mind that any given time around Cape Girardeau during the summer, one can view a man (either rail-thin or portly, there is no in-between) strutting around town without his shirt. Outdoor shows are filled with guys showing off their horrible tribal chest tats.

It seems as natural for some guys to take their shirts off as to breathe -- it's as if the brain reports, "Temperature has reached above 70 degrees. Remove shirt now."

However, when I, an unassuming female, remove my shirt in a non-sexual way (still wearing covering over anything naughty, I might add), I am suddenly the Whore of Babylon. I must want attention from men to remove my shirt, yet I can somehow drive past groupings of bare-chested, front-lawn fratboys without swerving into a ditch in a lustful frenzy.

This is nothing new. There has always been the argument of the glorification of the promiscuous man vs. the vilification of the like-minded woman. A woman open with her sexuality is considered a slut, etc. We've heard it in the classroom and on daytime talk shows.

And it is not just the opinion of men that is factored into this -- women seem to have the most resonant opinion on what exactly a girl does to be labeled a "loose" woman. Look at the most judgmental of those around me when my shirt came off those three times -- women. A lesser person may call them jealous, but I know it goes beyond that. More than any single article could discuss.

I will relate another analogy that may tie in to what I have been trying to explain. About a month ago I was eating at Buffalo Wild Wings with some friends. We were sitting in a booth across from a table of loud guys drinking (if there is a group of people that annoys me terribly it has to be LGDs). On the big-screen someone was interviewing a female athlete. She was probably in her mid-to-late-20s, with a very short haircut, and very normal-looking. As soon as her image was on the screen, I heard this conversation from the LGDs:

LGD 1: SHE'S UGLY!

LGD 2: YEAH SHE PROBABLY DOESN'T SHAVE HER ARMPITS!

ALL: (Various comments about how she must be gay, more comments about her ugliness, etc.)

I think what infuriates me the most about this overheard idiocy is not the fact that to some guys, short hair=lesbian, or the fact that I'm sure this woman is stronger than any of their beer-swilling selves. What angered me was the fact that to these guys and I'm sure to many more, any woman who presents herself in public is asking to be rated by how hot she is.

I understand when a woman posts bikini shots of herself on Myspace, she may want attention. She may be asking for a critique or two. But is it too much to ask to be on my way to work in the morning without it registering in some witnessing guy's head HOT or NOT HOT? And isn't it my right not to have to hear about it?

I think this connects to my original shirt removal problem in that when people have the mentality that all women exist to be judged by their looks, they believe that all women must care about their looks to the point that every action is a carefully planned ploy to look sexy and get a man's attention. As we can see from the Buffalo Wild Wings example, if a woman doesn't appear to take the time to care about her appearance, she is a lesbian. So my shirtlessness is seen as a ploy to try to attract male attention, and that's why a negative response is produced.

The truth is, I'm hot. As in completely sweaty and disgusting. That is why my shirt has come off in public. Hopefully there will come a day when a woman can strut about town in just her bra during hot summers and not be treated as if she did it just for you, fellas. I'll be the first to sign up.

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