I should begin by warning you that the following article may be not safe for work . . . and that’s the entire problem.

Jezebel is reporting that the new issue of Dossier, a fashion and art magazine, is wrapped in opaque plastic on the stands at Barnes & Noble due to a cover image that has been deemed offensive: a topless man.

This isn’t just any man, though: it’s Andrej Pejic, a model known for his androgynous beauty. He’s often made up in traditional women’s cosmetics and hair styling, and has even walked runways for women’s collections.

Because he is styled in a feminine way on the cover, with his hair in big blonde Marilyn Monroe curls, the baring of his chest has been declared as obscene by flagging bookstore chain Barnes & Noble. The chain offered Dossier the choice between destroying all copies of the magazine that were meant to be put on B&N’s shelves or wrap them in opaque plastic to avoid offending consumers. Dossier chose the latter.

The Jezebel article is informative but manages to completely miss the point in a way that made my jaw drop:

But Pejic is a man. And pictures of shirtless men, in Western culture, are not considered “obscene.” So why is Pejic’s cover getting the same treatment as a porno mag? What message are the big bookstore chains sending — that the male torso is only appropriate all-ages viewing when the man in question is ripped? Does the Barnes & Noble newsstand have a minimum biceps standard, no skinny dudes need apply?

The article implies that the real story here is that skinny men don’t get equal treatment to muscular men. This makes little sense – rarely have skinny men enjoyed so much attention from the fashion world, thanks to the skinny hipster ideal that popular brands like H&M and Urban Outfitters cater to. Skinny men appear in popular magazines without shirts on – probably not in the same numbers as muscular men, but they’re never censored and it’s not considered illicit to display them in a public place. Pejic isn’t being censored because he’s skinny. He’s being censored because he is styled like a woman, and women’s torsos are sexualized to the point that we consider them obscene while men’s are not. This is the same problem that leads to pointless whining over women who breastfeed in public.

Jezebel mentions this issue in a parenthetical aside that suggests that this isn’t the perfect time to talk about it:

(Why it is exactly that women’s toplessness is considered inappropriate for magazine covers in this country is a question for another day, but this debacle does call into question the general ridiculousness of these standards.)

Why wait for another day? Let’s talk about it now, and every day until we’re allowed to possess breasts that we don’t have to hide for fear of – what? – damaging children? Driving men into sexual rage? You know, all those terrible consequences that we prevent with padded bras, and that other cultures prevent with burqas.

There is nothing damaging about seeing a breast, and there is no reason to expect that men are more likely to attack and rape a woman if they catch sight of one. Those who feel that the amount of skin a woman shows determines her likelihood of being raped are more than welcome to show me the rape-a-thon that must go on at nudist colonies, but until then I remain firmly convinced that men rape because they want to rape. @nalarsen pointed out to me on Twitter that at least Barnes and Noble are going out business. The problem is that the culture that practically demanded their action will persist indefinitely.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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72 Comments

  1. Avatar of Draconius
    May 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm —

    Hi there!

    This is something that I’ve never understood. In my head, I understand that there’s nothing inherently sexual about a woman’s breasts, and that there’s aesthetically very very little difference between a woman’s breasts and a man’s breasts. When I first looked at that cover, my brain went: W00B00BS!! until it read the article and said: “Oh never mind, it’s guy. FALSE ALARM hormones!! False Alarm!!”. It’s just different in my mind, because my brain parses !manboobs as different from !womanboobs.

    Despite (or perhaps because of) all this, I don’t understand why !manboobs are okay, but !womanboobs are not. I feel guilty about taking my shirt off on a hot summery day because I know that women don’t have that luxury. (also because my chest is hairy and icky) I like to pretend that I don’t mind seeing a breastfeeding woman because YAY NATURE! YAY PERFECTLY NATURAL METHOD OF CHILDREARING! YAY MATURITY!, but I know deep down that the reason I’m totally okay with breaastfeeding is OMGB00BS!!

    I guess the REAL reason that I have this reaction to OMGB00BS is that I’ve always grown up in a culture where OMGB00BS were not only always sexualized, but also seen as something dirty and forbidden. That’s why I see them as something desirable, something sexual, something different from a bare-chested male person. If we could, as a culture, just somehow remove this stigma from the female breast, maybe the next generation of boys won’t grow up to filthy perverts like me! :(

    – Craig

    PS: On a side note, however, androgyny is just really HAWT in its own right. :D

  2. Avatar of BigHeathenMike
    May 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm —

    Soooo muscular men with bulging pecs are cool, but skinny dudes are not only because Churchy McFuckstick *just might* mistake them for wimmenfolk without their clothes (clutch the pearls….)

    Could a female bodybuilder with bulging pecs go topless on the cover of Dossier and get away without the opaque cover at B&N? C’mon, they’re PECS!

    Sometimes I weep for humanity.

  3. Avatar of Bjornar
    May 16, 2011 at 1:20 pm —

    I don’t think that cover should be covered no matter the sex of the subject.

  4. Avatar of sexycelticlady
    May 16, 2011 at 1:42 pm —

    It seems that the over-reactions to women’s bodies and the societal pressure for chaste feminity is getting so bad that it is now extending into males bodies some men may mistake for a female one! WTH is happening? Are we as a society now so scared of the human body and any form of sexuality that we must be protected from any slight (real or imagined) exposure? Any human body is beautiful in the naked form, regardless of gender (cis/trans) and should be celebrated, not covered up. Sad indication that ancient sexual sterotypes continuing and speading even today.

    • Avatar of
      October 19, 2011 at 3:51 pm —

      I think blaming “men” for this, as opposed to “people,” is misplaced. There is no evidence that women in general would hold a different opinion. I’m sure Barnes & Noble employs many women in every department, and that this decision was not made exclusively by men.

  5. Avatar of mrmisconception
    May 16, 2011 at 1:49 pm —

    I agree that someone at Barnes & Nobel screwed up on this, but there are some assumptions being made that I am not sure are warranted.
    .
    Assumption #1.The problem is that the culture that practically demanded their action will persist indefinitely.
    Is there any proof that this action was demanded? I agree that there is a culture that could be offended by this (and they should be told that they are wrong at every turn), but is there any evidence that points to this being the case and not just some people (or a person) at B&N acting to head off a potential problem. To be fair you used the word practically here, but I still think the blame lies with B&N’s decision.
    .
    Assumption #2. Pejic isn’t being censored because he’s skinny. He’s being censored because he is styled like a woman, and Because he is styled in a feminine way on the cover, with his hair in big blonde Marilyn Monroe curls, the baring of his chest has been declared as obscene by flagging bookstore chain Barnes & Noble.
    Do you know this or is it speculation? I agree that it could be (and is a likely) reason for the “cover up”; but so could the skinny/muscular reason Jezebel cited, or a queer/straight confusion issue (an unfounded one), or some other reason that we aren’t thinking of. Again, you are probably right but it is possible there is another explanation.
    .
    Assumption #3. I should begin by warning you that the following article may be not safe for work. . . and that’s the entire problem.
    Really? Because by pointing out that this is NSFW you are giving undue credence to B&N’s position. Either this is a picture that should offend no one or it isn’t. Same with a picture of a breastfeeding mother, or a diagram of a breast that shows how to self-check, or a medical diagram.
    .
    Now I want to point out that I do not disagree with you at all, I simply feel that we skeptics need to be reminded when we are being less than fully skeptical ourselves.

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
      May 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm —

      1: I think you misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that people literally demanded this . . . I’m pointing out that this kind of thinking is so pervasive in our society that B&N’s actions are hardly surprising, and in fact are the obvious result.

      2: Yes, I know this with a high degree of certainty. As I mentioned in the article, they have no evidence that skinny men are censored. Skinny men appear in magazines and in the public all the time with their chests bared. I’ll grant that it can also be related to queer bigotry, but that in and of itself is inextricably linked to bias against women. For instance, men dressing as women is a sin because women are inferior. Women dressing as men is generally accepted, because we should strive to be like men.

      3: That was an ironic statement that I thought was pretty clearly ironic.

      • Avatar of mrmisconception
        May 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm —

        Like I said, I agree with you and while I have never heard the gay-fear that some men have as being anti-woman that does make sense.
        I compleatly missed the irony of the NSFW statement. Just call me irony deficient. My bad.

      • Avatar of Lotak
        May 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm —

        “For instance, men dressing as women is a sin because women are inferior. Women dressing as men is generally accepted, because we should strive to be like men.”

        Please let me know if I assume incorrectly, but I believe you are presuming that this is the Judeo-Christian view. If that is the case then your comment is very wrong, at least in the Jewish view. The law applies to both men and women. Women shouldn’t wear men’s clothes as much as men shouldn’t wear women’s clothes. This does not mean that women should never wear trousers as, many Rabbis deem it acceptable for women to do so, although they recommend not to do this for certain occasions (e.g. going to Synagogue).

        For me, men and women are very different human beings, who behave differently, think differently and react to certain things differently. That doesn’t mean that ONLY men act in some way and ONLY women act in the other, but generally, men and women behave differently.

        You could easily argue that, if we lived in a country that has allowed the advertisement of breasts in a non-sexual way, that men would get so used to seeing breasts that it would be a part of the culture, just like seeing lingerie, short skirts or low cut tops and that it is only down to our conservative minds that we are treating female breasts differently to male ones. But you could also argue that seeing lingerie, short skirts and low cut tops advertised so much causes the sexuality of man to become that little bit more enhanced and as a result, makes a man more likely to want to want to have sex (not necessarily raping or sleeping with someone). I get a little turned on seeing a woman showing some cleavage and I know the same applies to the majority of guys. Does the same apply to women? (not rhetorical)

        Personally, I can’t see why this photo was censored. But I’m looking at it from a predominantly male perspective. I don’t find it attractive at all and if I saw it on an advertising board, I wouldn’t think anything of it.

        • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
          May 17, 2011 at 11:33 am —

          Please let me know if I assume incorrectly, but I believe you are presuming that this is the Judeo-Christian view.

          No, I was referring to the patriarchy, which of course is supported using Judeo-Christian doctrine but isn’t necessarily one and the same.

      • Avatar of sylvan.nak
        May 17, 2011 at 8:06 pm —

        Queer bigotry is bigotry against women? I thought it was bigotry against gay folk.

        • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
          May 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm —

          Queer bigotry is bigotry against women?

          No.

          • Avatar of sylvan.nak
            May 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm

            “No.” OK, because “I’ll grant that it can also be related to queer bigotry, but that in and of itself is inextricably linked to bias against women” sounds exactly like that. Perhaps I missed something.

          • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
            May 17, 2011 at 10:02 pm

            “OK, because “I’ll grant that it can also be related to queer bigotry, but that in and of itself is inextricably linked to bias against women” sounds exactly like that. Perhaps I missed something.”

            Saying it’s linked does not mean it is the same as.

      • Avatar of
        October 19, 2011 at 4:04 pm —

        If you owned a bookstore, would you censor the cover of Playboy magazine? Or, Maxim?

        Maxim itself, which does not have nudity in it, is wrapped in that plastic at Barnes & Noble.

  6. Avatar of ChrisZ
    May 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm —

    I have no idea why rape is part of this discussion at all. It’s not like no part of the male anatomy is considered obscene or indecent, or that the justification for censoring penises is protecting men from getting raped. Rape really doesn’t enter the decency/obscenity equation.

    If you don’t think women’s breasts should be censored, or considered in some way pornographic, you need to either distinguish them from genitalia or something you think can be so considered or argue that the concepts of obscenity and censoring pornography should be abandoned in their entirety. Instead you’ve made this weird argument that isn’t relevant. You’ve confused topics here, the motivations for limiting what women can wear and the motivations for limiting what people can see. I really don’t think rape is a point of overlap. I’m not saying the standards the contemporary United States has set up are the correct ones, I just expected an argument that made sense from you.

    Sorry, I usually love you Rebecca, but it seems like in calling out Jezebel for missing the point, you’ve gone completely off point as well.

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
      May 16, 2011 at 2:21 pm —

      It is relevant as I explained in the post. I’ll sum it up again here: the justification for covering women is very often, “to prevent them from being raped.” It’s why Muslims claim burqas are necessary and it’s why we call scantily clad women “sluts.”

      • Avatar of ChrisZ
        May 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm —

        I understand that rape is a justification used for enforcing norms of modesty on women, but I don’t think it’s relevant to why we censor *images* of breasts. Again, we don’t censor images of penises because we fear that men will get raped. We don’t even censor actual penises because we think men will get raped.

        I think that Barnes & Noble’s decision to censor this image, and the cultural influences that led it to that decision, have nothing to do with protecting people from rape, and everything to do with why people also want to censor penises.

        • Avatar of amstuart
          May 17, 2011 at 6:11 pm —

          Are women’s breasts ‘genitalia’? I find it a strange concept, that you equating them with penises, not male breasts. Something strange going on here – which I guess is what this article is pointing out?

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
      May 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm —

      (And BTW, examples of using rape as justification for covering women are so ridiculously plentiful that I wasn’t going to offer an example, but eh, here’s one.)

  7. Avatar of spellwight
    May 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm —

    Honest response?

    Personally I don’t find that picture sexy or disturbing at all. In fact, I’m too old to understand androgyny at all, but hey, to each his (her?) own. I’m a grown-up. I can just keep on walking, looking for men who look like men, women who look like women and kids to keep off my lawn – half-naked or not.

    Barns and Too Noble apparently jumped the gun in order to head off controversy. I’m sure there are tons of “art” books available there with way more possibly offensive photos so it’s just because mag racks are near the check-out?

    My advice to the world is if you’re easily offended stay home and order your books and mags online through your content-controlled browser. Don’t go out in public where women are under-dressed, people mock your beliefs and stores just might be in it to make a buck.

  8. Avatar of Noadi
    May 16, 2011 at 2:26 pm —

    What perfect timing. I went on a little Twitter rant last night over someone on Etsy flipping out over breasts. Basic summary: a woman on Etsy was upset because the photography section contains nudes and she was upset about her kids possibly seeing breasts while she browsed the site. I’ve seen a LOT of breasts on women of all shapes, sizes, and ages (yay for life drawing class!) and it’s just not that big a deal.

    We have seriously screwed up gender norms and bias against women, femininity, and female bodies. Boys still use calling other boys a “girl” as an insult and form of bullying. It starts very, very young that girls are inferior. Add to that the fact that women’s bodies are both sexualized AND shamed as being gross or unclean. I recently saw a conversation on a sexuality website of women who felt so grossed out by their bodies that they insisted on showering before and after sex and had to be freshly washed before they would let their partners even touch them. The sad thing is this wasn’t just one or two women, this was a thread with dozens of women posting the same thing.

    • Avatar of mrmisconception
      May 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm —

      This “shameful” attitude comes from some very unlikely places too. I have taken to giving my 9-year-old daughter a few seconds from knocking to entering her room because I have “caught” her rubbing on things (like stuffed animals, the bed, etc.)and I don’t want to embarass her. I’ve explained to her that what she is doing is normal and she shouldn’t feel ashamed of it in any way; however, when I told my wife to start giving her a little more privacy I basically had to force her not to confront and yell at our daughter. My wife also insists on telling her that she can’t have sex until she’s married while I contend that, not only is that unrealistic, it is the surest way to make her want to find out what she is missing out on. I may be a little naive, but I believe my wife is more so.
      .
      On a lighter note, the classmates of my daughter tell her she “throws like a boy” not because she throws hard or fast but because she couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

      • Avatar of Elyse
        May 16, 2011 at 3:50 pm —

        Unfortunately, the idea of women shaming women isn’t “unlikely”… in fact, it’s MORE likely. A recent Double Meat podcast explained this better than I can, but women are often on the front line of keeping women down.

        Girls aren’t taught to be liberated by their mothers and peers only to have it undone by EVIL MEN. They learn to be good girls by their mothers an friends. They learn to be thin and pretty and to stay in line because of social pressure. “Don’t be a slut” isn’t something we learn from boys. We learn it from girls.

    • Avatar of starstuff
      May 16, 2011 at 5:27 pm —

      totally agree. We’re constantly given the conflicting message… be sexually desirable, but don’t act on that sexuality because that would be slutty. And for a woman to act on her sexual desires is just the sin of all sins. And I don’t even know this conflicting message affects boys/men. I do know, from my own experience, that the virgin/whore complex is alive and well with many men these days, sadly.

    • Avatar of ozma
      May 27, 2011 at 9:48 am —

      I know my ex was totally phobic of me ever seeing her panty liner. When we had sex since I liked undressing her and doing some stuff with her panties on, she’d undress, toss out her panty liner and get dressed again.

      I thought it was the silliest thing ever.

      I’m a transwoman and while I don’t have the exact same body functions as a cisgirl like her when it comes to discharge… I’ve got no hang ups about it what-so-ever and wouldn’t be freaked out about having to see her panty liner for a few seconds while we got it out of the way.

      The female body is awesome… as is the male body and no one should feel ashamed of their own body… well unless they got the wrong model, then I totally understand.

  9. Avatar of ursulaminor
    May 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm —

    I was going to comment on this five minutes ago, but I kept scrolling up to look at the cover again.

    I’m going to say straight out that it made me blush a bit, but mostly because it’s pretty rare to see men photographed as just straight senusal as opposed to sexually aggressive.

    Could it be not only that this cover was censored for the feminine styling, but because the way the cover sexualized Pejic’s male body is so unusual that B&N cannot process it except as obscene. Sexualizaiton of this nature is always reserved for women it seems, and when faced with in on a guy, it simply does not compute. Or perhaps I have this backwards, in that the photo is only sexual because of the feminine styling? (Although I personally think you could have him barefaced in a crew-cut and this would still be a sensual photo.)

  10. Avatar of daedalus2u
    May 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm —

    A woman’s breasts are inherently sexual.

    In mammals, the archetypal social behavior is maternal bonding. That bonding is triggered through oxytocin by childbirth and by nursing, by the oxytocin release that occurs due to mechanical stimulation of those tissues by those events. Other types of bonding in females recapitulate parturition. Stimulate those same tissues and you can also get bonding.

    In males, bonding recapitulates territoriality and is mediated more through vasopressin.

    So seeing a woman’s breast triggers territoriality in men because they want to own them and to touch them to trigger oxytocin release to trigger bonding in the woman. Women want to restrict who they allow to touch their breasts to limit who they will bond to.

    It is the concept of women as men’s property (territoriality) that is the problem. Some men are unable to “bond” to a woman unless they can think of her as his property and treat her as his property. This is a part of evolutionary psychology that men just have to get over.

    • Avatar of greenstone123
      May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm —

      What you had said about oxytocin and vasopressin was so interesting and lead to me doing follow up reading. Seems like there would be all kinds of behavior implications. Thanks for the information.

  11. Avatar of liina
    May 16, 2011 at 3:19 pm —

    This article brings up two things for me:

    1. Once in Barnes and Noble, I found, on the bottom shelf (child accessible), an intensively graphic book about sex machines. My husband and I were really amazed by it, but have commented several times how surprised we were by it’s placement in a Barnes and Noble at all, let alone on a low shelf! Soooooo…I guess sex machines are purely mechanical and not sensual!!

    2. I would like to be able to go topless or braless as a woman. Braless, or even in a non-padded bra, I feel like I’ll be viewed as a slob if my nipples are noticeable. Topless, I feel like I can’t even do it in my own home if the shades aren’t drawn, or on my own back porch, not because I don’t feel comfortable, but because I “might offend” someone. Like, my next door neighbors couldn’t see me through the fence, but neighbors to the back have a second story, so they could “see”. If they did, is that their problem or mine? Really interesting to contemplate.

  12. Avatar of daedalus2u
    May 16, 2011 at 3:19 pm —

    Just to clarify. The reason that rape is bad in the cultures that require burqa wearing is because it violates the property rights of the male who has property rights to the woman who gets raped.

    That is why punishing the woman who has been raped “makes sense”. She has been careless with the property of a male and has allowed that property to be used by someone without his permission.

  13. Avatar of russellsugden
    May 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm —

    I think you’ve been had.

    This looks nothing more than a marketing scheme to me, and one that’s worked because I doubt I’d have heard of such a ridiculous magazine otherwise.

    I doubt there’s anything that makes a publication more appealing than being branded “illicit” or “taboo-breaking”, that opaque plastic cover draws the eye and whets the appitite in much the same way stockings and suspenders do (the suggestion of nudity being more powerful than actually nudity, a bit like homeopathy)

    And it’s worked!

    Where all taking about it because some Don Draper type had a very clever idea. This is almost as good as the Yorkie chocolate advertising campaign “It’s not for girls” that had everyone talking about Yorkie bars (and got women to start buying more Yorkie bars than they ever had done in the past, clever that)

  14. Avatar of starstuff
    May 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm —

    Amazing post! I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always said that there’s this underlying hatred with anything feminine in the world and that homophobia and misogyny were just two sides of the same coin. And our society’s obsession with women’s breasts has always been irritating to me. (see… nipplegate). Breast are not obscene. If anything, they should be honoured as they provide food for our children in their early months. Honestly… very refreshing to read a post where I agree with everything said, and would have said myself.
    On a side note, I do find the cover very provocative in terms of what our eyes expect to see. The model is actually very beautiful (in a feminine sort of way) and my eyes do expect to see women’s breasts and when they don’t, it’s slightly jarring and for a person who likes my expectations of the world around me to be challenged, I really liked the cover.

  15. Avatar of MarianLibrarian
    May 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm —

    This same magazine was quietly “not selected” after it had been requested by patrons and we’d received two issues at the library where I used to work for similar pictures and pro-gay stories using provocative language. It made me incredibly sad and angry, especially because the people who chose to take it off the shelves were ordinarily smart people who believed in intellectual freedom. I can’t understand how they rationalized the decision.

  16. Avatar of Reverend Kel
    May 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm —

    Anyone else remember that guy a few years back that had breast implants put in to win a bet? He got, I don’t remember exactly, several thousand dollars to keep them in for a year, then he decided to keep them longer. I first saw him on The Man Show (I loved that show, I don’t care what anyone says about it) and he was also on some talk show. On both shows, he appeared topless to show off his implants, and on both shows, he was “black-barred,” his for-crying-out-loud STILL MALE breasts censored. I….was flummoxed.

    • Avatar of MarianLibrarian
      May 16, 2011 at 5:55 pm —

      For some reason, this kind of reminds me of when they censor someone calling someone else an “ass” because they don’t know that when you call someone an ass, you’re calling them a wild donkey, not a “butt.” I also have no idea why “butt” is OK but “ass” is not.

  17. Avatar of Finn McR
    May 16, 2011 at 9:50 pm —

    I am torn in my response to this. On the one hand, intellectually, I don’t see what the big deal is about showing female breasts. On the other hand, I’ve got a lot of cultural baggage (basic American) that tells me that female breasts are sexual objects. They’re not. No more than mens’ as far as I know. But I see this picture in particular as showing a sexualized image (again, maybe just my baggage). If I saw this picture as a kid in the bookstore, I would have been entranced. Then again, I also scoured back-issues of National Geographic…

    No, I’ve changed my mind while thinking to write. Either the kids won’t care, or they will go toss one off later. No big deal. The sky-is-falling adults who B&N is trying to appease need to get a grip (and possibly also toss one off).

    • Avatar of sylvan.nak
      May 17, 2011 at 10:21 pm —

      Actually, they are sexual, in that stimulating them (men and women) gives a sexual response. As any lactating woman can tell you, there’s a strong connection between the uterus and the breasts.

  18. Avatar of Christianne
    May 16, 2011 at 10:15 pm —

    Interesting. An entire article on this business, an entire post in response to said article, 22 comments, and not one use of the word “transphobia.” This seems like the same sort of thing that happened on Glee a couple of months ago when they rewrote “Sweet Transvestite” to omit the word “transsexual.”

    • Avatar of liina
      May 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm —

      That’s really interesting. The way this topic is portrayed in this particular article, I didn’t get the impression of it being a transphobia issue at all, although CLEARLY it is! It’s totally blowing my mind that this point was missed by myself, by the author, and by other commenters. I got completely hung up on “censorship/boobs are bad” and missed other implications.

    • Avatar of punchdrunk
      May 20, 2011 at 3:00 am —

      That was my reaction, too, seeing the article – ‘Well, yes, this is a clear case of transpho..homoph..? Oh, guess not.’

  19. Avatar of bubblecup
    May 16, 2011 at 10:20 pm —

    I live in Montreal, which has inherited quite a bit of French influence, so we’re pretty jiggy with boobs being in the public eye, as it were. In practice, this means that here and there you will see “art” magazines with tasteful-ish depictions of the naked female torso. But mainly you will see pretty shameless porn, and also explicit photos outside of strip clubs to entice you to come in – to the point where I rush past, eyes averted, and cringe whenever I am downtown with young children. Female breasts are sexualized in our society, and I’m OK with that. Most straight men are aroused by the female breasts, and most women are aroused at having their breasts fondled during intercourse, in a way than men don’t. So if we draw a line at erogenous zones being displayed in a public forum, then it makes sense to me to include female breasts there. To censor this particular magazine cover (which does not include breasts) seems a bit odd and prudish, but I’m not at all offended by it.

  20. Avatar of bubblecup
    May 16, 2011 at 10:30 pm —

    Sorry for the hasty editing; had to rush to put a baby back to sleep.

  21. Avatar of James Fox
    May 17, 2011 at 1:08 am —

    So we have a controversy about a lack of boobs or some perception of imagined or inferred boobs with an alleged hint of homosexual gender bending on a magazine cover that some paranoid retail outlet decided to obscure to protect some imagined potentially sensitive group of customers. What a load of horse shit. Everyone knows boobs and exposure to boobs makes people happy, reduces crime rates, improves overall community mental health, and increases high school graduation rates.

  22. Avatar of benjaminsa
    May 17, 2011 at 3:03 am —

    Great post, Bertrand Russel made this point in a great essay Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?

    Every boy is interested in trains. Suppose we told him that an interest in trains is wicked; suppose we kept his eyes bandaged whenever he was in a train or on a railway station; suppose we never allowed the word “train” to be mentioned in his presence and preserved an impenetrable mystery as to the means by which he is transported from one place to another. The result would not be that he would cease to be interested in trains; on the contrary, he would become more interested than ever but would have a morbid sense of sin, because this interest had been represented to him as improper. Every boy of active intelligence could by this means be rendered in a greater or less degree neurasthenic. This is precisely what is done in the matter of sex; but, as sex is more interesting than trains, the results are worse.

    I think that those who say: showing more skin will lead to more rape, because it drives men crazy. Have it exactly backwards (as well as being very insulting to men), no no no, it is by covering it up, forbidding it, that it becomes more alluring. You would think they would have learned from the whole Eve apple catastrophe.

    However, I am not sure it will impact rape greatly either way.

  23. Avatar of JulianMorrison
    May 17, 2011 at 7:14 am —

    Nonsense to the people who are saying women’s breasts aren’t intrinsically sexual. Apes with non-sexual breasts are flat when they are not lactating. The extra fat padding in humans which creates curves is blatantly a selected, not incidental characteristic.

    The real problem is: women’s sexuality is irrationally considered bad (including by those commenters who think the best way to get acceptance of breasts is to call them non-sexual).

    • Avatar of catgirl
      May 17, 2011 at 8:43 am —

      The extra breast tissue doesn’t necessarily need to be explained by a sexual selection factor. Compare the face of a baby human to that of a baby chimpanzee or other primate. Baby humans have noses that stick out more, and don’t have the protruding lips that many other primates do. It’s simple geometry that the human baby’s face wouldn’t fit very well against a flat chest wall. It’s probable that the female breast developed to fit the face of the baby. It might not be the only factor, but it is probably at least part of the reason that we have breasts.

      • Avatar of JulianMorrison
        May 17, 2011 at 11:32 am —

        Interesting point. But that still only works for very small breasts – regular sized ones are too large to be explained by fitting a baby’s face. Perhaps that got it started and sexual selection picked it up?

        Anyhow, I just wish people would quit looking for ways to de-sexualize boobs, and address instead their phobia of women’s sexuality.

        • Avatar of catgirl
          May 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm —

          No, I actually have very large breasts, and they would still fit a baby’s face better than a flat chest wall. Fat tends to be more flexible than the ribcage, and also natural breasts tend to not be very round, especially as sagging sets in (which is pretty early if they’re big enough).

        • Avatar of Elizabeth
          May 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm —

          I’m sorry…but what are “regular sized” breasts?

      • Avatar of burpy
        May 21, 2011 at 6:53 pm —

        If female breasts are not sexual, how come I get a boner whenever I look at some? Regarding the OP; this is North American prudery, nothing more. This would not be a problem in Europe, except Ireland and possibly the UK, the two cultures that gave you Catholic guilt and the Victorian horror of all things sexual.

        • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
          May 21, 2011 at 7:15 pm —

          “If female breasts are not sexual, how come I get a boner whenever I look at some?”

          This is exactly why I keep telling people puppies with their heads ripped off are sexual.

  24. Avatar of catgirl
    May 17, 2011 at 8:40 am —

    Can we please remember this next time progressives lament over prepubescent girls not sufficiently covering their non-existent breasts? Whenever a fauxgressive man pretends to want equality, but then assures us that his own daughter would never be allowed to wear xyz item that he personally disapproves, he is reinforcing this attitude. Whenever a progressive wrings their hands over the poor teen girls who are being tricked into sex (because they could never actually want it, amirite) but doesn’t worry about the teen boys “getting into something they’re not ready for”, you are reinforcing this problem. Either we accept that women have a right to exist and their bodies have a right to exist in public in any clothing they may choose, or we don’t.

    • Avatar of Skepotter
      May 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm —

      May I add that women and girls are also entitled to their sexuality? My (now ex) gf and I used to discuss what you’ve covered in your post – it was frustrating because she became sexually active at 13, and was very clear that SHE was the one taking the initiative because she wanted to – but it was almost impossible to get people to accept that she hadn’t been tricked or coerced.

      • Avatar of Elyse
        May 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm —

        I’m glad we’ve gotten to the heart of the issue: that 13 year old girls are hot, waiting and ready. That is exactly what Rebecca was talking about when she wrote this – 13 year olds need more dick.

        • Avatar of catgirl
          May 17, 2011 at 10:14 pm —

          Maybe some 13 year-olds are ready, though they are not necessarily hot nor waiting. Sometimes it’s the girl that actually initiates things. You don’t have to frame it as a passive object waiting to be taken by someone. Ugly or hot, some girls want sex, and sometimes they initiate things rather than waiting passively.

          It turns out that all people are individuals and one story of one girl who was ready at 13 certainly doesn’t imply that all 13 year-olds should be having sex, so don’t read into it that way. There isn’t a magical age where everyone is suddenly ready. For some it’s earlier and for some it’s later, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them.

    • Avatar of whyru1
      May 17, 2011 at 11:19 pm —

      Women have the right to wear whatever they want, and I think you should.
      But be warned there people that don’t give a shit about your rights or your well being and pray on women
      They are watching for women who dress sexual and considered an easy target
      No one can blame women to dress how she wants’ but also that’s what predators look for…

  25. Avatar of Jeffrey
    May 17, 2011 at 11:44 am —

    It’s a minor point at the end of the article, but I don’t think Barnes and Noble is going out of business, although I know Borders has been getting there.

  26. Avatar of whyru1
    May 17, 2011 at 10:59 pm —

    I agree with all of you I think we should be all naked in public
    But if you are going to make a man look like a woman or a woman look like a man then by all means let’s get naked…
    Some people look better covered up I’m sure you guys know a few…

    • Avatar of punchdrunk
      May 21, 2011 at 6:04 pm —

      So, *attractive* women are in danger if they show skin, but the *ugly* ones are only in danger of everyone around judging them for not being attractive enough.

      Thanks for your input.

  27. Avatar of dantosz19
    May 17, 2011 at 11:38 pm —

    while I absolutely agree with your article, a quick fact check. B&N is not currently going out of business. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows them to restructure and stay open. However, they are at risk of liquidation soon if no one will buy them. Here is a recent article

    http://www.bankruptcyhome.com/bankruptcy-news/800509009/Borders-may-liquidate-if-not-purchased

    • Avatar of Buzz Parsec
      May 18, 2011 at 1:30 am —

      By “They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy…”, I think you mean Borders, not B&N… At least, the article you linked to is about Borders. It does mention that B&N tried to buy some of their stores, which I don’t think B&N could do if it was also in Ch. 11.

  28. Avatar of earthling
    May 20, 2011 at 4:59 am —

    Find this very interesting. It’s ironic that some people perceive women’s chests to be more sexual (and therefore more obscene) than men’s, given that a) many men find their nipples to be very sexually sensitive and find their stimulation highly arousing etc and b) the sight of men’s bare chests can be very arousing to straight women (depending on personal taste of course). I don’t see that there’s a great deal of difference between that and ‘boobs are erogenous/men find them attractive’, so it just seems to me like sexism from B&N (and the world at large), plain and simple.

  29. Avatar of lear
    May 31, 2011 at 8:48 am —

    Draconious says: “In my head, I understand that there’s nothing inherently sexual about a woman’s breasts.”
    You should consider a little skepticism about that. What purpose do prominent breasts serve when not lactating, and why don’t other female mammals have them?
    Furthermore, body parts don’t need to be “inherently sexual” to be sexually attractive. Consider legs, hips, eyes, and a lovely smile.
    Regardless, it’s clear that the US culture is ludicrous about breasts. You can always tell American men at topless or nude beaches overseas: we’re the ones staring gape-mouthed. IMHO, US culture has amplified a natural reaction to an unnatural level.

  30. Avatar of
    October 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm —

    Obscenity is not the issue. Images of women or men naked, even with pubic area exposed, are not legally obscene in the U.S., and there are U.S. Supreme Court opinions that back that up. Playboy magazine, for example, is not obscene.

    There is no law in the United States that required Barnes & Noble to cover that image. Barnes & Noble is a private, albeit publicly traded, company that says it did something that it thinks its customers want. Naturally, that doesn’t make it right, and I agree with you that Barnes & Noble covering up a man’s chest out of fear of offending its customers is ridiculous.

    It’s like when Borders Books took an issue of Free Inquiry off of their shelves because the issue had images of the false Prophet Muhammed in it, for fear of offending Muslims.

    The fact remains, however, that neither issue is a legal issue.

    As for women’s breasts. That is a legal issue, because there are laws that prohibit magazines that have images of penises, pubic areas of women, female breasts/nipples, etc. from being displayed in a place where children are reasonably expected to be. The idea is to keep Hustler, Playboy, Playgirl, Penthouse and a host of other men’s magazines from displaying nudity right on the shelves, so all of those magazines are wrapped in plastic that obscures the images on the covers.

    If women’s breasts were to be allowed to be displayed on the cover of art magazines like Dossier, there would be no reasonable way the law could be set up to prevent Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler from displaying them, and I guarantee, based on much of the other stuff the Skepchicks have written on this blog, you wouldn’t be in favor of the way you’d interpret that the women were being portrayed. You expressed outrage at Brian Dunning portraying a woman, nude and kneeling, next to him in an image. What do you think Hustler would put on their covers?

  31. Avatar of
    October 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm —

    Oh, by the way, did B&N make any public statements about this, explaining why they did what they did?

  32. Avatar of dxman
    March 9, 2012 at 8:56 am —

    I was actually starting to think there was a point to not showing boobies on magazines and then I gave up. In the Czech Republic we have them and the only problem you have is that it can be a bit awkward reading a magazine with a naked woman on it in the subway.

    As a boy I was always hyperenergised by anything even slightly sexual in public spaces, but the idea that an adult would have problems looking at breasts just shows the squeemishness or mysoginy of that adult.

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