I got involved in this march to have the experience of walking topless in a group of women. I also wanted to study what would happen when women decided to take back the public sphere and expose their breasts. The reaction was even more aggressive than I had anticipated.

The men — and women — taking pictures of us were very quick to stand at all angles and just snap photos. Although they had every right to do so, as we were in public, I felt awed that 99 percent of them never even spoke to me.

Even people that are my friends stood awkwardly in front of me, cell phones out, just snapping pictures without saying a word. That felt so bizarre to me, like they were ashamed or embarrassed at how they were acting, yet powerless to stop themselves.

By the time march organizers Ty and Cecile got to One Longfellow, most of the women had disrobed. Ty was grabbed left and right by the media (channel 6 & 13) so her initial reactions were just shock. The media ran with that story, framing the march from that point on as a bunch of topless chicks who could not imagine why men would want to look.

I also heard Ty talking about the patriarchy and the bias of gender roles, but those statements of course are conveniently nowhere to be found. When I started to hear the inaccuracies being repeated throughout the local news and then being picked up nationally (Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Bill O’Rilley, not to mention countless radio stations and CNN) I knew that it was very important to let the public know that was not the case.

The fact that about 300 men showed up to watch and photograph really brought attention to the fact that the fetishization of women’s bodies is, as always, an issue. The breast fetish in our country is perpetuated by media and advertising. Do I think that it’s going to go away tomorrow? Absolutely not. Do I believe that going topless more often in more areas will start to challenge this? Absolutely.

When I reached Longfellow Square I encountered my first openly hostile person. A woman well into her 60s started yelling at me that I should be in jail. I reminded her that it was legal and that she was not obligated to look.

She informed me that I was not the kind of girl she would want her grandson to date. The idea that my worth to her was in terms of what I could give to her patriarchal family tree really struck me as funny. What does this reaction say about our country?

The only violent reaction I received was when I was fully alone and in my car at the bottom of Mellen Street. A twenty-something man came up to my car and said “You dirty f—ing pig, put some f—ing clothes on,” to which I replied, “You f—ing Nazi go back to Germany and get the f—k away from my car.” He yelled after my car until I could not hear him anymore.

In that moment I was shocked and very scared. I had forgotten that my difference, my choice to break the “rules” of gender, could put me in physical danger. When I discussed this with my friend John afterwards, he pointed out that people who act like that are looking for a woman to abuse; this violent reaction showed potential signs of a much deeper pathos of violence towards women.

Channel 6 news asked in a poll if female toplessness should be made illegal. The reaction to this question elicited hundreds of comments on their Facebook page and on their website.

Most people who disagreed with toplessness did so on a binary: the first reason was that it was just morally wrong, and didn’t women know they have breasts so they must cover them? The other side was that unless women were going to please the phallic sexual need by being whatever their fantasy of a semi-nude woman is, then they should keep their clothes on. Again I witnessed the theme of women’s bodies being viewed only as something here to please the male.

A few people went so far as to compare taking your shirt off with leaving your car unlocked. If you leave your car unlocked you deserve to be robbed. If you take your top off as a woman you deserve to be raped.

Comments of this kind disturbed me the most because they were from women, and they absolved rapists of a crime. It clearly stated to me that more education about rape, sexual violence, and domestic violence is needed in our community.

I was accused of objectifying women by men who clearly stated they would have loved to have taken pictures. To answer this claim I would say this: women did NOT objectify themselves AT ALL the day of the march. Quite the opposite. We came together as a collective and removed our tops for our own pleasure in the public.

This act took us from being the objects of other peoples desires to being the subjects, in public, of our own lives. If women were objectified by anyone it was the onlookers. We did not objectify ourselves.

I would also like to mention that many of the people who marched did so because they knew it was unfair that women have been treated differently for thousands of years. I noticed though that they could not talk about what they were doing in terms like object/subject and gender construction/natural order of the Christian world etc.

The lack of language was similar to Betty Friedan’s of the “the problem with no name” — oppressed housewives-in the 1960s. I would say that as we trudge into the future, we need to be able to keep naming our problems. The moment I made that connection, it was clear to me that the Women and Gender Studies program we offer here at USM is so very crucial to Maine — not just for the women who don’t have all the academic words, but for the men who call themselves sympathizers or feminists, yet are unable to come to terms with their own male privileges.

Audre Lorde said that we cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle his own house — WGS programs everywhere provide the tools to dismantle the patriarchy. I feel like a movement has been started here, and I hope the momentum keeps going.

Sarah T. Moon is a junior Women and Gender Studies major.

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