Fear of the breast
Published February 6, 2005

I’d like to start with a public service announcement for all the women who read my column: if you’ve ever had the urge to take off your top at the beach, watch out! In California, you might find yourself listed as a sex offender under Megan’s Law. You’ll be on the list on the internet for everyone to see, with all the other child molesters.

This little tidbit is from the Los Angeles Times, and the chances that you would actually end up on the sex offender list are very slim. Though topless sunbathing is technically illegal in California, about the worst thing that’s likely to happen is a warning from a ranger to cover up. Still, there are some out there, including Randy Thomasson of the Campaign for Children and Families who see nothing wrong with punishing women for doing what men have been doing for many years.

Why is it, exactly, that we are so terrified of breasts? It would be more accurate, of course, to say that we are afraid of sex in general. The answer, of course, is obvious. It is the forces of “morality” in our society, who are so afraid that someone might enjoy sex that they are willing to commit any idiocy to make sure that it is expunged from our cultural dialogue. The irony is that by trying to marginalize sex, they’ve made it a much more powerful force.

I don’t mean to say that our children should be exposed to pornography—nor anyone else who doesn’t want to, for that matter—but I think we’ve gone overboard. Surely, if we were living in a society where the FCC chairman didn’t measure cleavage with a set of calipers ala Ian Holm in Scorcese’s “The Aviator,” maybe we would have seen Janet Jackson’s bare breast and shrugged and moved on as a nation rather than indulged in months of finger-pointing and bloviating.

Don’t we have something better to do? The real irony to me is that we are far more concerned with sex than violence in our culture. Sure, we speak out about such super-violent carnage-fests as the “Grand Theft Auto” series of video games, and we give movies an “R” rating when they exceed the standard body count. But let’s be serious. Which do you think would earn a film an NC-17 rating? A bloody massacre of dozens of gun-toting bad guys, killed in brutal slow-motion, gore splattering the screen; or a semi-explicit sex scene showing complete nudity? From many films past, we already know the answer.

It seems that we as a nation have some very unhealthy attitudes about sex, and it shows. Our children our so ill-informed about sex that they are endangering themselves through their own ignorance. Abstinence-only advocates think they are protecting our youth, but instead they are perpetuating a lack of information that leads teenage girls to douche with soda to prevent pregnancy, just to take one example. Sure, it’d be great if our kids didn’t have sex until age 20, or maybe age 30, or maybe never at all, but reality is knocking at the door.

Perhaps most telling of all, the FCC is legally required to investigate complaints relating to obscene or indecent content—i.e. sex and dirty words—but has no mandate to do anything about violence. Now, my point here is that we are too obsessed about sex, not too little obsessed with violence, but during the same hours when a network might be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for showing a breast—even in a non-sexual situation—or for using a single f-word, anyone can tune in to CSI or one of its many offspring and be treated to the sight of mutilated corpses and horrible crimes.

So, the next time you see a breast on television, lighten up a little and shrug your shoulders. If your children are in the room, and old enough to ask about it, they’re probably old enough to handle the truth. It’ll be healthier for everyone involved.