Theres a news video from New Zealand going round the world at the moment. It was taken by a casual attendee at the Rhythm & Vines Festival in Gisborne for the New Year. Two women, one of them topless, are walking through a casual crowd; a man watches them pass, then sneaks up behind the topless woman, gropes her, and runs away. Both women turn around, walk over to the man, and hit him. The women are Madeline Anello-Kitzmiller and her friend Kiri-Ann Hatfield. The man who assaulted Anello-Kitzmiller hasnt been named.
Why am I just telling you what happens in this video, instead of showing you? Because I wanted to show you Anello-Kitzmillers statement on the incident instead. Ive never previously seen the ethical core of naturism and body-positive feminism stated so comprehensively and so succinctly.
...I would like to point out that I had that body art done at the festival. There was actually a stall selling the glitter tits get-up, and I paid to have it done, as well as many other girls I saw walking around with it. In addition to that, the waterslide at R&V was handing out $50 to the first man and woman to go down the slide naked, and another $50 to the next man and woman. I saw plenty of naked men that day getting absolutely no harassment for revealing themselves. There were naked men in the mosh; my best friends got naked and ran through the crowds; I saw plenty of guys walking around with no shirt on and a handful of girls as well.
So I want to ask you, what is the difference? Both men and women have nipples, although mens nipples are seemingly useless and my breasts are there to feed children, should I ever choose to have them some day. The difference is that women have been over-sexualized for way too long and it needs to stop. I wanted to share my body because I think its an important step to normalizing the naked body and desexualizing [it]. The more often people see nudity, the more they realize... that its nothing to gape over. Nudity at festivals helps erase pornstar ideals of what our bodies should look like. My breasts are not sex toys. They are not an invitation. My body is beautiful, and no matter who says otherwise, it cannot and will not demean my own self-worth. Nor should it for anybody else.
Ive been accused of trying to turn New Zealand into America in a few comments. This is a narrow-minded accusation. Besides, the similarities are there regardless. The amount of naked people running around at Splore in New Zealand would be severely overwhelming for those of you who couldnt handle a few bouncy glitter tits at R&V. I will say that the majority of New Zealand has seemed to be more conservative than Portland, Oregon, but sexual harassment happens everywhere, all over the world. I have never experienced so much hostility at a festival before, but I dont doubt that there are festivals in the States where the crowd is also less free-spirited than others.
I have been accused of asking for it too many times to count. Its disappointing that people really believe that what youre wearing has any connection to what you actually want. Comments stating that I was asking for it or that I had it coming are promoting rape culture. When you say something like that, you are justifying that mans actions when he violated my rights to my own body, and you are telling other like-minded people that, should they ever want to sexually assault or rape another human being, its OK. It is never OK and we are never asking for it.
...The cool thing about being able to get naked at festivals and like-minded events is that you dont have to get naked if you dont want to. Do what youre comfortable with and only do what makes you happy. I personally love being naked because it made me realize that I am indomitable. Nothing anybody says about me or my body could ever wound me. At Rhythm & Vines both men and women came up to me and told me that I was disgusting, that I should cover up, that I [should be] ashamed, that I was a slut, but I kept my top off all night and I danced until 6am and I had the best time of my life regardless.
On trying to turn New Zealand into America, Im surprised that such an accusation was ever made, because I was under the impression that it was more the other way around. Its American censoriousness in particular that nudists tend to blame for the restrictive nudity rules on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The recent movement to banish breastfeeding from public spaces a bizarre bit of prudery unheard-of even in Victorian times is as far as I can tell very largely American, and doesnt seem to have taken hold here. I think the truth is that the United States contains both the most and the least nudity-friendly places in the English-speaking world; Portland, Oregon, is evidently among the former.
[EDIT: A Tumblr mutual informs me that the last part of that sentence is sadly not true. However, the United States does contain San Francisco, where public nudity was temporarily legal, and Brattleboro, Vermont, where it still is. Also, Im ashamed to report that my attention has been drawn to a recent incident in Auckland where a woman was evicted from a bus after a fellow passenger took offence at her breastfeeding. I still think this is far from the norm in New Zealand, but I cant in all honesty maintain that it hasnt taken hold.]
While New Zealand sadly doesnt attain Brattleboro standards of body acceptance, our nudity taboo is far from absolute. My town hosts a nude rugby match most years, though theyre not doing it this year; the Kawarau Gorge bungy-jumping station used to let people jump naked for free until they found they were losing too much money; and the whole country had a National Nude Day (mostly pubs offering specials to naked customers) for a few years about a decade ago. I used to belong to a group that went walking nude in the bush around Dunedin, and most people we met responded positively. And, as Anello-Kitzmiller points out, nudity is at least tolerated at many New Zealand summer festivals a tradition going back to Nambassa in the 1970s and was specifically encouraged at Rhythm & Vines. Which means that everyone whos commented to say her toplessness was inappropriate is simply wrong.
That is, however, a minor error compared to the premise that, if her nudity had been inappropriate, then it would have been OK for the man who harassed her to do what he did. Of course, personally I think that nudity ought to be acceptable everywhere its physically safe. But even given that we cant snap our fingers and wish for society to outgrow all its repressive norms overnight, there is no way sexual harassment is an allowable means of enforcing those norms. If female toplessness had been banned at Rhythm & Vines, then the proper response would have been for a security team member to bring her a towel or spare shirt and explain their standards. The assailant would still be no more justified in his actions than a truck driver is justified in killing cyclists who stray into the wrong lane.
The other argument is of course that old chestnut Hes a man, he couldnt help himself. There were half a dozen other men in that video and they somehow managed to help themselves (although they didnt help Anello-Kitzmiller by doing anything like intervening). And it wasnt as if he took one look at her breasts and zoned out or something; he waited until she had gone past and then made his move. The assault was a deliberate choice on his part. If he had genuinely been unable to help himself, then he should have been under restraint or at the very least in the care of a minder. Since he was able to help himself, deterrent action such as Anello-Kitzmiller and Hatfield took was the appropriate response.
Frankly, I think He couldnt help himself and Her nudity was inappropriate are both smoke-screens for our societys ugly underlying attitude. Both are nonsensical on the face of it, but both make sense if you make one abhorrent ethical assumption: Men may act on any sexual impulse they feel towards women. Then everything falls into place. Skimpy clothing becomes inappropriate anywhere sexual activity is inappropriate. The assailant couldnt help how he felt about Anello-Kitzmillers breasts.
And no, you cant take gender out of it by restating that as People may act on any sexual impulse they feel towards anybody. Our society does not condone women acting sexually, nor men acting sexually towards men. Accordingly, men are granted much broader freedom with our bodies in casual contexts like music festivals. The festival I go to at New Years doesnt encourage nudity, yet there were plenty of men going shirtless in the heat this year. If I, a bisexual man, had sneaked up behind one of them and groped him, and hed (rightly) hit me, how many people do you think would have defended my actions on the basis that he was asking for it?
(In case youre wondering why I, a nudist, go to a New Years festival that doesnt allow nudity, its partly a shortage of options down this end of the country but mainly about the music. I love traditional folk music and I have bigger autistic sensory issues with loud thumpy contemporary music than I do with clothing even in the summer heat. And I wear a kilt, which helps. And for the hottest days theres a small swimming-hole upstream of the main one where hardly anyone goes.)
The same assumption again must be behind the frequent rejoinder: Men are turned on by breasts. How do you intend to change that? Theres no need to change mens feelings. What needs to change is how men consider themselves entitled to act on their feelings. Suppose youre hungry in the supermarket Ive used this analogy before and you walk past a big bulk bin full of chocolate chips or something. Do you dig your hand in and grab? Not if youre over the age of about four. Do you stand there staring and drooling? Not if you have any self-control at all. And chocolate doesnt even have human rights. The problem is not that men think breasts are nice; the problem is that men think breasts are permission.
Which gives us good grounds for hope that men can change. Men do seem to have evolved to like the look of breasts Im afraid theres not much evidence for the idea that this response is created by society or culture. But society and culture do determine what constitutes an acceptable or an unacceptable way to behave. Our culture needs to change, and it can change if we put in the work. I salute Madeline Anello-Kitzmiller for her contribution to that work, both by displaying her body and by penalizing that man for disrespecting it. Whether you join her in the former effort can only be your own personal choice; but we all need to contribute to the latter. Lets build a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment at every level of society we can influence, starting now.