The Naked City (or, The Naked City of Man)

Dean Ericson writes:

Lately I see a lot of bare-chested men going about in public in New York City. Usually they’re running—through the park, down the sidewalk, sweaty and huffing as they barge by. They seem proud of their physiques and the liberty to go about half naked in public. It’s a disgusting practice and should be outlawed. Thinking about this, I realized that liberalism must demand the same right for women, to go about the city topless. That’s coming, there’s going to be topless women demanding the right to stick their boobs in the public’s eye. Sure enough, I check out the NY Post this morning and there’s an article on some liberal chick going about topless in Union Square. And she’s trying to publicize the fact that in New York since 1992 women have had the right to go topless anywhere a man can. I did not know that. But it only stands to reason, once you understand liberalism. The wonder is that you don’t see more of it on the streets. You already have half the female population, once the weather warms, scantily clad in hotpants, spandex, and flipflops, shoving their cleavage in your face. Why not just walk around naked? There’s nothing in liberalism to stop it. And there’s nothing in liberalism to stop two liberated citizens from rutting like dogs in the middle of Times Square. And you’re the problem if you think there’s a problem with it.

LA replies:

A quibble on what you say about women’s current warm-weather fashions. It’s true that in recent years there was a lot of extremely excessive cleavage being displayed, and I’ve written about that (see “A Theory of Viagra”). But what I notice this year is not cleavage or other kinds of exposure of flesh but form-fitting outfits, consisting of black tights and varying tops that go with them. The idea is for the entire female form with all its curves to be shown and outlined with maximum clarity. It’s like covered nudity. This new look is not gross like the excessive cleavage was. The female form being so beautiful, it is beautiful. Or rather you start off thinking it’s beautiful, but then you realize that it’s not, because, like the excessive cleavage, it reveals too much. Then you realize that at bottom it is just another form of contemporary female self-assertion and empowerment. It’s not about women making themselves attractive or striving for an ideal of beauty. It’s about contemporary women expressing their limitless (and extremely un-beautiful) self-regard and asserting their sexual supremacy. It is a symbol of Female-Ruled America.

Meanwhile, as before, while the women proclaim their goddess-hood, most young men continue to look like unfocused shlumps, their masculinity only displayed in their unshaven faces. I haven’t noticed the bare-chested narcissistic joggers in my neighborhood.

- end of initial entry -

CO writes:

In San Francisco, people do have the right to walk around naked. So far only the men do, but soon it will be the women, too. I know, I know—only in San Francisco, right? But it won’t stay here. It never does. San Francisco isn’t even the gayest city in America anymore. I think it’s down around number 15 on the list.

LA replies:
Men walk around with their genitals displayed?

CO replies:

Stark naked. Not a stitch on. Well, shoes, maybe a hat. Nothing in between.

Dean Ericson writes:

I’ve noticed the form-fitting outfits you mention. Have I ever. It’s the fashion, and every woman has to wear spandex to show off their bodies. Even if the body is blown up like a blimp. “Spandex sausage look” is all the rage. It used to be that society decided on a look—usually decided upon by people who had taste—and all the rest of the citizens conformed. Now every liberated man and woman is encouraged to express their individuality. And the results are, by turns, bizarre, appalling, or comical. That spherical creature piling out of her lime green lycra top, shredded jeans stretched over an enormous behind on which you could set a beer bottle—does she think she’s being sexy? I’m beginning to think the burka is not such a bad idea.

P.S. “The Naked City”—wish I’d thought of that.

LA replies:

Now that you mention it, I guess there are a lot of overweight and shapeless women wearing the form-fitting look, but I hadn’t noticed them. What I’ve seen is women with very good figures wearing that look. But my neighborhood is more white and yuppie than yours.

James P. writes:

Several years ago, I was driving with my two-year-old son, and we saw an extremely muscular, shirtless black man with shoulder-length dreadlocks walking along the sidewalk.

My son asked me, “Why isn’t that woman wearing a shirt?”

I said, “That’s a man.”

He said, “No, I think it’s a woman.”

I didn’t need John Derbyshire to tell me not to roll the window down and say to the man, “Excuse me, could you please explain to my son that you’re not a woman.”

LA replies:

You didn’t need to have Derbyshire explain it, but there probably would be some people who would.

May 26

Dan R. writes:

A commonly-seen sign in retail establishments is “no shirt, no shoes, no service.” Taking it a step further (and many years back, i.e., early 1970s), I was once in Key West, FL and heard of a man being arrested downtown for walking about bare-chested!

I used to run, and an experience from yet a few years previous (1967) has always, for me, best capsulized the phenomenon of men running bare-chested.

After high school graduation I called a local track club in search of people to run with. I was placed in contact with an older black man, twenty years my senior and the antithesis of those blacks who frequently grace the pages of VFR. A professional man with a Master’s degree from Columbia (pre-affirmative action), he spoke the equivalent of the King’s English, albeit with an American accent. He eventually became a family friend and I would also learn he was a member of the Conservative Book Club (as a young radical I was appalled!). A competitive marathon runner, in college he had run shorter distances and still possessed the muscularity of the 400-meter runner as opposed to the relatively scrawny look of a marathoner. He lived at the other end of Queens, so we ran together no more than about twice per month.

One day he came across town to my local HS track for a workout. It was a very hot summer day and we were running intervals, i.e., run a lap, or half a lap, rest, then repeat. After about fifteen minutes of this, I did something I didn’t usually do: I removed my tee shirt.

I glanced over toward him, half-expecting him to follow suit, but instead was instantly greeted me with a command, barked out in his bass-baritone voice: “Put your shirt back on, Hercules!”

Not quite what I expected, but the perfect retort to my attempted display of machismo. His comment had to do with decorum, though I couldn’t help but be conscious of the difference between my thin, though fit, distance runner’s physique and his muscular, Adonis-like build. I quietly and humbly complied.

Ever since, I’ve often fantasized of shouting his line to the exhibitionists running through the streets.

Paul K. writes:

Dan R.’s story brought up a memory of a similar incident. One of my neighbors, a college professor, used to take a daily run through the neighborhood streets, often without a shirt on. Though in his late forties, he was athletic and no doubt proud of his physique.

My daughter was then in grade school. Returning from school one day, she told me that as her bus had passed the jogging professor a boy stuck his head out the window and shouted, “Put a shirt on, Old Guy!”

Terribly deflating, but perhaps it inspired him to reflect on the way he was regarded by others.

LA replies:

I’d say the disrespect shown by a child to an adult is a greater offense than the adult jogging shirtless.

Buck writes:

Dan R.’s running experience was temporally the same as mine, but my initial setting was shirtless-appropriate. I began my serious running years in 1969 while stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. I ran with an Olympic athlete who was in training for the Third World Rowing Championship, and I got into marathon shape. We’d run a seventeen miler twice a month, casually: from the desert hills of Camp Las Pulgas camp to the Pacific Ocean and back. It was spectacular and almost totally private. I also regularly ran Fartlek’s, several versions of what Marines running in formation traditionally called Indian runs, a term that is now banned by the homosexualized, feminized, wussified, modern-liberal U.S. military.

We often ran shirtless in the perfect southern California weather. I continued to run for several decades after I returned to the East Coast, but I felt self-conscious running sans shirt in public. I knew that it was in-your-face cocky. I had build a good physique in my twenties and thirties, and I was proud of it. But, I always knew that running shirtless was screaming, “Look at me,” so I rarely did so unless I was away from the public, which was where I liked to run anyway.

Just yesterday I was showing my cousin three urban neighborhoods at three stops off of the Washington, D.C. Metro. Several times we were rushed past by modern narcissist runners who love to run in the crowds in bright shorts and ear-buds. The more people to weave through, the better. A new “runner’s high.”

As a practical matter, running shirtless in imperfect weather is uncomfortable. Managing and wiping ones sweat is much more comfortable with shirt with sleeves and tails that you can raise to wipe your brow. Most runners have to have something to wipe their face.

Bartholomew writes:

I agree that running shirtless on sidewalks and in non-atheletic venues is inappropriate. People on the sidewalks are walking to and from work or school, visiting socially, conducting business and doing all kinds of things other than athletics. To dress as if it were an athletic venue alone is to dress inappropriately to what it actually is—a multi-use venue.

Running shirtless on a high school track, on the other hand, is something entirely different. It seems that Dan R.’s mentor was implying that to run shirtless in public, even where all present are engaged in the same athletic activity, amounts to grandstanding. I don’t think that’s true.

If runners are no longer permitted to run “half-naked” at the track, should swimmers no longer be permitted to swim “half-naked” at the pool, or the beach? There are probably more people at the beach engaged in activities other than swimming than there are people at the track doing things other than running. Didn’t people swim half-naked in the 1960’s?

If the overall point here is that one should dress appropriately to the setting and activity, then sure, that’s true. If the overall point here is that it is never appropriate to be half-dressed in public, then I think that’s false.

Is there no public place left for raw, masculine physicality? Or do we traditionalists agree that raw, masculine virility is simply too threatening to the delicate sensibilities of physically lesser men and women?

Must men and women conform to the same standards of physical modesty even though their bodies mean different things? Women ought to conceal their beauty, because a woman’s beauty is a private thing. Is that true of men? Isn’t the man’s sphere public? Why then wouldn’t he display his strength publicly? Is it good to tell a boy or man to conceal his body like girls and women do? I think that could send a very wrong, confusing message.

Also, for what it’s worth, I have never been and am still not like Buck as he describes himself. I don’t say all of this to defend my own self-granted right to go about half-naked. I say this to defend the drive, albeit misguided, to publicly express one’s masculinity. Flaunting it down public sidewalks is, I concede, wrong. But at the local track? No, that is good and right. Dan’s mentor was wrong.

Paul T. writes:

Bartholomew writes: “Women ought to conceal their beauty, because a woman’s beauty is a private thing”. This strikes me as either a circular argument, or awfully close to one. And if it’s a rule, it’s a rule that every society not under Sharia has always ignored. From ancient Egypt to the Victorians and beyond, society has looked for ways of displaying female beauty while on the other hand following certain (variable) canons of modesty. As for shirtless men, there are countless photos of bare-chested G.I’s from WW2, and I never heard anyone say that those men were doing anything inappropriate by taking their shirts off. So yes, it’s a matter of when and where shirtlessness is inappropriate.

LA writes:

While I don’t have a definite position on the issue being debated here, I have to say that prior to Dan’s comment, it had never occurred to me that there was something objectionable in two men running laps at a high school track with their shirts off.

Bartholomew writes:

Paul T. writes:

Bartholomew writes: “Women ought to conceal their beauty, because a woman’s beauty is a private thing.” This strikes me as either a circular argument, or awfully close to one.

OK, I see where Paul is coming from. I should have grounded the argument more obviously. Traditionally, life has been divided into the public and private spheres. I am not aware of any culture that does not somehow demarcate the two. Also traditionally, men have been granted preeminence over the public sphere, and women over the private. I refer here to C.S. Lewis’s description of patriarchy in Mere Christianity.

I in no way meant to imply support for the burqa. To some extent of course women will display their beauty in public settings. I meant that public display is not the purpose of female beauty.

For the roots of our Western Christian understanding of this male/female, public/private dichotomy and what it means for the display/covering of the body, I quote I Corinthians 11:4-9 (KJV),

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.

Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

LA replies:

“[a man] is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.”

It seems to me that St. Paul is rather massively contradicting the first chapter of Genesis, which states:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Both the male and the female are created in the image and likeness of God, not the male alone.

Bartholomew writes:

In reply to Mr. Auster, isn’t Paul quoting the second chapter of Genesis rather than the first?

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him….

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

It seems to me that when Paul writes “[a man] is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man,” he is summing up Genesis 2:18-23 pretty well. I don’t think he’s positing a differing origin of woman’s and man’s image. After all, he does not say that woman is made in the image of man, which is obviously false. He’s positing differing glories which man and woman provide to their respective heads. Both are made in the image of God. One glorifies Christ; the other glorifies her husband. And doesn’t this line up well with Genesis 2? Doesn’t Genesis chapter two imply that God made man for his own sake, only later making woman for man’s, because it wasn’t good that he be physically alone? That sounds to me like woman was made for man.

And this comes back to the original reason I quoted I Corinthians 11: man’s place is public before God, and he should display his strengths and dress accordingly; woman’s place is private before man, and she should display her beauty and dress accordingly.

LA replies:

Of course Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 present two very different accounts of the creation of man. The first account, in Genesis 1, is from the divine and spiritual point of view, in which the male and the female are both made directly in the image and likeness of God. The second account, in Genesis 2, is from a more human and material point of view, in which man is made out of the dust of the ground and the female is created to serve the needs of the male. There is truth in the second account, and there is truth in St. Paul’s gloss on the second account in which he delineates distinct functions for man and woman. But the truth of the second account is not the highest truth. Further, if the second, more material account is taken as denying the higher and truer first account (I’m not saying that St. Paul or Bartholomew are doing that), then the second account becomes positively false.

Buck writes:

If you’re the only one undressed or dressed and it makes you feel conspicuous, then it’s probably inappropriate. None of us would show up for a dinner party without a shirt on. And, we’d all look twice at someone fully dressed in business casual laying on the beach or doing a swan dive off the diving board.

Taking your shirt off on the track in normal. You rarely see shirtless men playing team sports, but boxers and swimmers are necessarily as naked as possible. If you’re undressed because you’re keen for attention rather than that you need to be undressed, then you’re seeking the inappropriate. If you’re the only one without clothes on, get dressed.

Karl N. writes:

C.S. Lewis (in Mere Christianity, I think) urges us not to confuse modesty with chastity. I think he is right. If the more covered person were always the more virtuous person, then Islamic societies would be the summit of human excellence. At the present day, on a downtown sidewalk, a bare chest is probably de trop, but in my residential neighborhood, where there is plenty of room on the sidewalk, I don’t think a shirtless jogger gives offense. I’m just glad to see a neighbor out enjoying the day instead of sitting indoors updating Facebook.

As for changes in standards portending social decay, it’s complicated. “In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, now heaven knows, anything goes.” Actually, no. Within the past couple of decades, the walking shorts and swimming trunks worn by American men have become much longer. At a picnic or a swimming pool these days, the younger men usually wear a garment that covers their knees. Their respect for chastity has not necessarily grown in proportion with their inseam.

Bartholomew writes:

Mr. Auster wrote,

“But the truth of the second account is not the highest truth. Further, if the second, more material account is taken as denying the higher and truer first account (I’m not saying that St. Paul or Bartholomew are doing that), then the second account becomes positively false.”

That’s a profound point. Maybe we could add another scriptural passage to the comparison and put the relationship between them in this way:

Galatians 3:28 is to I Corinthians 11:4-9
as Genesis 1:27 is to Genesis 2:18-23
i.e. as higher truth is to lower truth (about the same phenomenon)

May 27

Dan R. writes:

If we agree that modesty is a virtue, it seems clear that there is no modesty involved in shirtless running, whether on the track or in the streets. Off in the uninhabited wilds is a different matter.

As a practical matter, Buck points out that runners need something to wipe their sweat off, and a shirt serves that purpose, but additionally, in hot weather a shirt absorbs some of the sweat, in contrast to having the sweat remain on your skin and ultimately transform into a cold sweat, regardless of the temperature. In other words, the absence of a shirt serves no useful function. Unlike swimming, which is impeded by the wearing of a shirt, there is no advantage to running shirtless. It is simply immodest and cocky, as Buck mentions, and I might as well throw in pretentious. On a scale of morality it doesn’t rank as one of the great issues of the day, but I think my friend (or “mentor”) summed up the action quite well with his quip, “Put your shirt back on, Hercules!” If running shirtless is a way we aggressively display masculinity, then perhaps men are in worse shape than I thought, as it strikes me as more a sign of insecure masculinity or benignly boorish, immodest behavior.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 25, 2012 09:44 AM | Send

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