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"Mama, why can men go with no shirts but mama's always have to wear shirts?"

post #1 of 36
Thread Starter 

So my daughter asked me this and the conversation didn't really go anywhere because we were in the middle of something and she was distracted, etc. but it's going to come back, I know it!

This article: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1215607--breast-cancer-survivor-wins-right-to-swim-topless-in-seattle ...reminded me of the conversation this morning and made me want to think more about how I explain something which I do not really understand, myself!

 

Now, for the sake of context, I will say that my personal preference is to dress modestly...but that is something that has just grown to be comfortable over the years as my style has evolved. I like nice long tunics, comfortable fitting pants...I love skirts at knee-length, etc. Around the house we are very casual about nudity, the kids see me naked very very frequently and their father less so, but still, very casual. We're cool with bodies!

 

 

So, my questions:

 

1. Is it fair that men are allowed to go topless and women are not? Why are men's breasts more acceptable for public viewing than women's?

I don't feel that it IS fair! Given that sentiment....

 

2. How do I explain this to a very smart four year old? She is particularly socially gifted and is fascinated by things like this...inequality, sexism, etc...she doesn't know these terms, but she's bumped into the concepts and she wants to understand.

3. How do you make a little girl understand that this world we live in sometimes asks women to behave/feel differently or follow different rules than boys/men? How might she internalize that at this age?

 

Thanks in advance. This is such an interesting topic to me.

post #2 of 36

LOL - i have no advice for you  - but i wanted to say i am soon going to be 43 years old and i still very vividly recall my grandmother telling me i couldnt take my shirt off when i was about 4 (i was playing with all boys and it was hot outside!)  i wanted to take my shirt off like they did and saw NO reason why i shouldnt - my grandmother told me it 'wasnt nice'  

that really wasnt very helpfull! 

Its a tough one, when i have bumped up against sexism/ classism/ racism with my kids i do tend to brush it off - 'oh, most women dont like to take their shirts off"  or something along those lines...i dont think thats the BEST way to handle it....just what i managed to come up with when put on the spot! 

hope you'll have better luck - let us know how turns out!

post #3 of 36
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by motherhendoula View Post

LOL - i have no advice for you  - but i wanted to say i am soon going to be 43 years old and i still very vividly recall my grandmother telling me i couldnt take my shirt off when i was about 4 (i was playing with all boys and it was hot outside!)  i wanted to take my shirt off like they did and saw NO reason why i shouldnt - my grandmother told me it 'wasnt nice'  

that really wasnt very helpfull! 

Its a tough one, when i have bumped up against sexism/ classism/ racism with my kids i do tend to brush it off - 'oh, most women dont like to take their shirts off"  or something along those lines...i dont think thats the BEST way to handle it....just what i managed to come up with when put on the spot! 

hope you'll have better luck - let us know how turns out!


Yeah "it's not nice" - ahhhhhhhhhh!! Facepalm!

It's so frustrating to have such a bright young lady who is, like her mama, totally fascinated by society, human behavior and the "whys" of the "rules" we are told to live by....because she asks questions about things that she is not entirely ready to hear the truth about...but she KNOWS when she is not getting the full truth! Hahaha.

 

Like when she asked me "Do cops always arrest only bad people? Why did they pull Dada over on the road if he is not a bad person?" - and I tried to brush it off because we're Libertarians with (typically libertarian) "complex" views when it comes to law enforcement. Well, she knew I wasn't giving her the straight dope..so she pushed and I broke down, thinking "she's smart, maybe she will get this" - yeah. HAhahahahah.

 

My daughter now knows and uses the word "entrapment" and will not hesitate to announce to everyone around her "watch out, it's the COPS! They'll get you if you are breaking a law, even if you haven't done a real CRIME!" - Yeah. She wasn't ready for the "our philosophical views on modern day law enforcement" talk. Now people look at us like we're crazy. There was a police officer in the store a while back...as we were leaving the store and walked by him she said to the people in the check out lines "WATCH OUT! There he is!! Keep a eye on him!! He will get you with entrapment! It's NOT OKAY!" The cop was just looking at me, almost laughing, like "are you freakin' joking me?" - it's hilarious because she's four...so she's all righteous and has this little, innocent voice...but her verbal skills are WAY advanced and she says things that just sound crazy coming out of her little mouth!

So, yeah. Parenting fail. :/ Don't want it to happen again with this issue...who knows WHAT she would start shouting out in the grocery store!

post #4 of 36

"WATCH OUT! There he is!! Keep a eye on him!! He will get you with entrapment! It's NOT OKAY!"   - OMG  that is tooooo funny!    i know where you are coming from with the super smart and verbal little girl though - my own DD (now 17)  used to ask us so many questions we once 'declared a moratorium on questions'    - you know you have a smart 3 yr old on your hands when she knew the meaning of 'moratorium' ! 

I guess being shy around strangers was a very good thing for us!! 
 

post #5 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by BroodyWoodsgal View Post

3. How do you make a little girl understand that this world we live in sometimes asks women to behave/feel differently or follow different rules than boys/men? How might she internalize that at this age?

for a little smart girl - it is really useful for them to see sometimes this is the way life just is. like a counter argument. do  you see men wearing dresses? that is why the sky is blue and not green.

 

when you try to explain the bigger concepts use simple words. short sentences and then let her ask questions. its those questions that will guide you to what SHE wants to know - not what you think she should know - kwim. these questions will come right throughout her childhood. as she grows older they will get deeper. but at 4 keep it simple. and also share ur point of view. that yeah u dont agree when she is ready for it. but beware. if u do share u dont agree you will be called out when you are a hypocrite (i am speaking through experience). 

 

but i always got my dd with this future plan. if i have to have a double mastectomy in future, i will tattoo (dd suggested body paint) my chest and walk around shirtless. she got interested in the plan what tattoo what bodypaint and that distracted her from the subject matter.

 

one day i would LOVE to do this. 

 

 budweiser-frog-girls.jpg

post #6 of 36
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by motherhendoula View Post

"WATCH OUT! There he is!! Keep a eye on him!! He will get you with entrapment! It's NOT OKAY!"   - OMG  that is tooooo funny!    i know where you are coming from with the super smart and verbal little girl though - my own DD (now 17)  used to ask us so many questions we once 'declared a moratorium on questions'    - you know you have a smart 3 yr old on your hands when she knew the meaning of 'moratorium' ! 

I guess being shy around strangers was a very good thing for us!! 
 


Yeah, she's a very smart girl. Her vocab is insane for her age. Counting...yeah, whatever, she couldn't care less about numbers right now or counting or any of that. But reading, writing, words, human behavior, science and the human body...OBSESSED. Good thing we homeschool because I think this girl would drive a teacher nuts (in the best possible way, but still!).

post #7 of 36
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by meemee View Post

for a little smart girl - it is really useful for them to see sometimes this is the way life just is. like a counter argument. do  you see men wearing dresses? that is why the sky is blue and not green.

 

when you try to explain the bigger concepts use simple words. short sentences and then let her ask questions. its those questions that will guide you to what SHE wants to know - not what you think she should know - kwim. these questions will come right throughout her childhood. as she grows older they will get deeper. but at 4 keep it simple. and also share ur point of view. that yeah u dont agree when she is ready for it. but beware. if u do share u dont agree you will be called out when you are a hypocrite (i am speaking through experience). 

<snip>



Thank you so much for these words...this is what I'm trying to figure out, I think.

Where is the line between "my opinion" and "our values"? I don't want her to ask a simple question and get a whole crazy monologue about MY personal opinions..on the other hand, we have the values we have and it's important to me that she understands that I personally DON"T think women should be prohibited from walking around shirtless, you know? 

 

So I think that at this age, you're right....the appropriate thing to do is let her ask questions and answer them in short form...let her lead me to the heart of what SHE thinks the issue is.

As far as "well you dont see men wearing dresses, do you?" - that's a part of my problem with this whole thing. Typically, you don't see men wearing dresses...but dresses aren't ONLY for girls. If a boy or man wants to wear a dress they shouldn't be prohibited from doing so, you know? It's up to them to decide what they want to wear. THAT part makes sense to my four year old. But after that, comes the question "Why does anyone else care, why does anyone want to stop a boy from wearing a dress" - and she's not asking this in a "cutesy" little girl way. This incredilby intelligent human is asking me to explain what compels one human to try and prohibit another through law, force or just mockery/nastiness, from doing something they want to do, which hurts no one else.

I can philosophize on these issues all. day. long. I love it. But I want to be careful with her. She's so small..philosophy and super abstract though aren't really "there" yet for her (at least I don't think?) and she takes things so literally, things are so sharp and black and white.

So I don't want to color her views. I will let her lead me and point me toward what she really wants to know...but I worry that if I say too much about some things, I'll give her a weird view from an early age.

 

I was just not given a lot of "this is what to think" beyond very basic things...fundamentals like "be kind, ask questions, don't let anyone try and stop you from doing what you want so long as you're not hurting anyone" - stuff like that. With that basic framework I built my own set of convictions and I have a strong sense of my own beliefs. But my mother also did a fair amount of brushing off and "well, just because" - and I don't want to do that to a kid who is asking great questions.

I'll figure it out, I'm sure...it's just so cool that I'm even worrying about this. I'm gonna have so much fun with this girl, I can tell.

post #8 of 36

I live in Ontario, Canada, and here it is perfectly legal for women to walk around shirtless (the same rules for men and women apply to businesses - no shirt, no service).

 

This law has been in effect for several years now, and I think I've only ever seen 1 topless woman in public, and that was in a beach/party town.

post #9 of 36
Thread Starter 

You know I actually was just reminded by a friend on FB (where I also posted this link) that we recently made it legal in my state for women to be topless as well!

Well. Huh. Sweet!
 

post #10 of 36
Thread Starter 

Girl: Mama, why can't mamas go without a shirt like men can?

 

Me: Baby, they can if they want to...but most ladies like to keep something over their breasts because they are sensitive.

 

That sounds like it just about cuts the mustard and I betcha it will suffice until she's older and can grasp such concepts as "a lot of women would be embarrassed" or "people would think they were weird and try to shame them" or whatever.

post #11 of 36

I don't think it is fair but it is a reality.  I told my dd that it is a societal expectation and that I didn't fully understand the reasoning behind it.  When it came up we had already talked about a few things being a social norm so she accepted this as an explanation.  We have always talked about sexism and prejudice in context, we participate in ralies, and she is quick to tell others when they are making a sexist statement so I don't think it had any ill effects.  There are some things that just are expected by society and there are no good explanations as to why.

post #12 of 36
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by One_Girl View Post

I don't think it is fair but it is a reality.  I told my dd that it is a societal expectation and that I didn't fully understand the reasoning behind it.  When it came up we had already talked about a few things being a social norm so she accepted this as an explanation.  We have always talked about sexism and prejudice in context, we participate in ralies, and she is quick to tell others when they are making a sexist statement so I don't think it had any ill effects.  There are some things that just are expected by society and there are no good explanations as to why.




Well no good reasons, I agree, but there are definitely reasons! But to explain those reasons you have to bust into the history of a people...religion, the intersection of religion with politics and so on...and those things are too deep and too wicked to try and put into a four year olds head. I look forward to exploring things with her when she is old enough, though.

How old is your daughter and how old was she when you first started talking "societal norm"??

post #13 of 36

broody i like your explanation.

 

i explain to my children what "double standard" means. this particular subject hasn't come up with children too young to understand as we've just not happened to be in a situation where it needed to be questioned. it definately is not fair. during my last pregnancy i almost broke down in tears over the fact that i was burning up and could not take my shirt off. i wanted badly to cool off my chest lol the idea that thin girls can dress in certain clothes that overweight girls "shouldn't" really makes me angrier.

post #14 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by BroodyWoodsgal View Post

 

I can philosophize on these issues all. day. long. I love it. But I want to be careful with her. She's so small..philosophy and super abstract though aren't really "there" yet for her (at least I don't think?) and she takes things so literally, things are so sharp and black and white.

So I don't want to color her views. I will let her lead me and point me toward what she really wants to know...but I worry that if I say too much about some things, I'll give her a weird view from an early age.

This is what worked for me. First i had to work on myself. 

 

i discovered with myself that i get defensive. i start giving all sorts of reasons. many times the answer is 'i dont know'. i didnt realise how hard that was for me to admit. but that's what they want to hear.

 

simple and honest. remember super abstract is just that. simple english words. who was it who said something like  If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. i think it was either einstein or hawkings. i mean that is what buddhism is all about isnt it. or at least zen. 

 

another thing that helped me - was to not look at dd's 'knowledge' age but look at her real age. she was ready for a lot of knowledge but she didnt have the emotional understanding to handle certain things. 

 

however it also meant - for us - giving her info that was way mature for her at that age but yet would be hard to talk about at an older age coz she wouldnt be able to handle it emotionally. we did guns and death v. early. coz she asked. guns kill, but they also maim. way more people's lives have been affected by injury than death. we talked about what kinda party i wanted and how i wanted my body 'taken care of' after death at 4. it was a way of helping her process - that death is natural and its not really a big deal, yet it IS a big deal. by 7 we couldnt even talk about me dying. and now she says sometimes looking straight into my eyes 'mama dont you die on me. i can die but YOU cant die.' lol it is funny and sad at the same time. 

 

 coming from a coparenting home, a misfit in society - it has REALLY helped dd to see two things. 1. that it is what it is. you can be happy or sad, but it doesnt change anything. 2. duality. there is 'good' and 'bad' with everything. two sides to a coin. 

 

has she gotten those concepts. to some degree yes. the key is she 'KNOWS' the concepts. hopefully when life gets her down in future she still remembers.

post #15 of 36
She is nine and a half now and she was probably around three when I started using societal norms as a phrase. I went with a child appropriate explanation for sexism and its history. A few sentences were sufficient for dd when she was younger and as her interest grew I explained it more. I don't see this as something too hard for a four year old, it certainly wasn't for my dd at that age.
post #16 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by BroodyWoodsgal View Post

Girl: Mama, why can't mamas go without a shirt like men can?

 

Me: Baby, they can if they want to...but most ladies like to keep something over their breasts because they are sensitive.

 

That sounds like it just about cuts the mustard and I betcha it will suffice until she's older and can grasp such concepts as "a lot of women would be embarrassed" or "people would think they were weird and try to shame them" or whatever.


I think this answer works great, as long as you are willing to follow through and allow her to go topless if she wants to.  We did until about age 6, in the backyard, with friends at the beach, etc.  But around that age, the other kids started to comment on the sexual aspect of nudity.  "Oooooooh!  I can see your boobies!" or "OMG, you're naked!!!"  And at that point, rather than explain the sexuality of female breasts, I opted for a shirt-on policy.  Just yesterday, my daughter remarked, "Wouldn't it be great if you could be born a boy and a girl at the same time?"  She's always been fairly gender-normal, so this surprised me.  When I followed up with some questions, she said, "Well, then I could take my shirt off when I'm hot like a boy can." 

 

Like you, I felt a desire to leap into philosophizing.  I cut myself short, and said, "Well, in that case, I guess it WOULD be cool to be born as both a boy and a girl at the same time!  Hey, why don't we put on swimsuits and turn on the sprinkler."  Because I realized that as much as she was saying, "No fair, world!" she was also just saying, "I'm hot!"

post #17 of 36

I don't try to make sense of it for my girls.  If my girls asked that particular question, I would probably say that in some cultures, women do go bare breasted.  Then I would say that women in our culture mostly prefer to cover up.  If they asked further we might talk about laws and fairness, but again, I don't think I would try to describe it in a way that would make logical sense, because it just doesn't.  "I don't know how that got started, it doesn't seem fair, does it?"  

 

Most women in our culture would not uncover because a law allows them to, so it is more than just the laws that dictate this cultural norm.  Granted, one reason I cover up in public is feeling self-concious and laws are just an extension of the same attitude.  Whatever it is, it is deeply ingrained here.

 

Again, I try my best to explain, but some things are just impossible to make perfect sense of and I don't try.  

post #18 of 36

I wouldn't necesarily say this to a small child, but, in my opinion, the fact that so much more of the female body than the male body is viewed as sexual and "indecent" when exposed in public, and also the fact that meemee mentioned about women wearing dresses and men not wearing them (to which I would add that it seems to be much more socially acceptable for a girl or woman to wear traditionally male attire than it is for a boy or man to do the reverse)...

 

Well, I think both of these facts are based in subconscious misogyny or hatred of women and the female body. Many people are quite offended by public exposure of the female mammary gland, even when used for feeding infants, and many seem to also think it's quite odd for any man to wear what society sees as women's clothing, simply because they subconsciously see women as inferior.

 

The view that so much more of our bodies is seen as sexual may also be rooted in the idea that we were made for men's sexual pleasure, which, of course, is also rooted in the idea that women are inferior and our whole existence is based on our role in meeting men's needs.

 

I would feel kind of weird, though, if one of my daughters started talking about this in the grocery store, LOL. I generally try to fashion my responses to suit my girls' readiness and attention spans, but, of course, my 7yo often hears my conversations with my 12yo.

 

I also like what Sweetsilver said about learning about other cultures. One of my daughters used to say that she'd love to be a Yequana Indian because the children can go naked and aren't expected to cover their genitals until puberty. But she's recently said that she wouldn't like to go to the Amazon because of all the snakes, big spiders, and so on. :)

post #19 of 36

I would say something along the lines of "Because in our culture, women's breasts are considered taboo, something that can't be completely shown in public. Other cultures aren't like that.  But you're a little girl and if you want to take off your shirt, you can."

 

As a child, my parents let me go topless in the summer when I wanted. I think I stopped when I was about 9.

post #20 of 36

I have had a little bit of discussion about this with my son and significantly more discussion about why males "aren't supposed to" wear skirts, pink, long hair, glitter butterflies, etc.  The latter topic comes up more because those are restrictions he feels acutely at times.

 

My basic explanation is that rules like these are sort of arbitrary and may be quite silly.  However, it's helpful to understand what the rules are so that you can make an informed decision about whether you feel like pushing the envelope and dealing with possible disapproval from the people you meet, or you'd rather play it safe by wearing something a little less expressive of your personal preferences.  So at times when my son wants the purple sparkly shoes or the rainbow unicorn lunchbox, we talk about where he'll use those things, who will see, what they might say, and how he would feel about that.  We have been to places like science fiction conventions where men in skirts, etc., are more common and talked about the effects of context.

 

On the issue of going topless, I've also explained that some people feel embarrassed about seeing breasts.  The sexual aspect is hard to explain because my kid seems quite oblivious to sexuality (his dad and I both remember being very interested, at his age, in the physical details of sex and the role of sexuality in adult interaction--but our kid just seems to have a different personality) and does not comprehend the idea of sexual attraction.  But he understands that women's breasts are considered a private part, maybe not so private as genitals but usually kept covered, so it's "not polite" to uncover them in most contexts.  He told me he was understanding this better after we watched an episode of "Dancing with the Stars" and he felt most of the women's costumes showed too much of their buttocks: "It's like they think only the hole in your bottom is private!  But I think it's rude to have the roundy part hanging out!  Well, I guess it is like some people think women should not have other roundy parts showing."

 

I've also told him that I think one reason male chests, and to some extend little girls' chests, are considered less private is that nothing comes out of them.  All the body parts that stuff comes out of are considered more private.  (Mouths aren't because we need to use them for talking--but if drool or vomit comes out of your mouth, it's polite to hide that and excuse yourself to people who saw it.)  So maybe that's why breasts that could have milk come out of them (even on a woman who is not lactating at this time) are considered more private than flat, obviously milkless nipples.  Nursing babies is a good, healthy thing that's okay to do in public, but it also feels a little bit private, so most mothers would prefer you not stare at them while they're nursing.

 

Good luck with this issue!  I understand your concern about getting too much into the nuances of an issue with a child who might go overboard in talking about it in public--mine got in trouble for discussing industrial meat processing at the preschool lunch table. eyesroll.gif

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