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Indecency laws (anti-topless laws) harm brains of women and girls: Interview with neuroscientist Dr. Marcus Wenner- Part one
Photo: Mother and Child Sunset Silhouette, courtesy of photographer Vince Cavataio
Today, with new advances in neurosciences, we can clearly map every part of the brain, showing how every inch of the body is intrinsically connected to neurons in the mind. Science points to the fact that the body and the brain are actually one: an undivided, indivisible entity. So what happens to individuals' brains when society imposes indecency laws upon them, shaming and banning some of their body parts in public?
That is what GoTopless is trying to determine by examining cases of women and girls whose breasts and nipples have been criminalized.
With that in mind, GoTopless interviewed Dr. Marcus Wenner, a neuroscientist in the United Kingdom and a teacher of the meditation practice called Sensual Meditation, which was developed by spiritual leader Rael who inspired the foundation of GoTopless in 2007.
Part 1 of the interview that follows addresses how current indecency laws (anti-topless laws) harm brain pathways in women and girls. Part 2 offers techniques from Sensual Meditation to heal brains that have been adversely affected by shame and guilt.
How anti-topless laws harm female brains: PART 1 of our interview with Dr. Marcus Wenner
Dr. Marcus Wenner, Neuroscientist
What happens in female brains when so-called “laws of indecency”, such as anti-topless laws, are imposed on women and girls?
Yes, as you mentioned, every part of our body is connected to a part of our brain via nerve pathways, peptides and hormones. Everyone knows, for example, that if you touch your little toe there is a part of the brain corresponding to that little toe that lights up. But what people don’t realize is that just thinking of that little toe also lights up that brain part. And what’s more, the way we think about that toe affects that brain part too. So the way we view our body has a direct impact on our brain.
Studies show that if you cover your eyes for a certain amount of time, the neurons in the visual cortex will begin to atrophy because they’re not being used and you will slowly go blind. Every brain circuit needs to be stimulated or it will die, especially in the young. Use it or lose it. The brain is very efficient at getting rid of unused brain circuits, and it’s the same when not using other parts of the body, or when not using other senses, such as hearing, smell, touch, etc. And it’s also the same when liking or disliking a part of one’s body, or feeling shame or guilt about it.
You see, there are parts of our brain which are active in maintaining our sense of self, telling us, “This is my body,” so the act of denying a part of our body is a bit like disinheriting a member of our family. It also takes energy to maintain the separation, since brain circuits are mobilized to stop thinking of the denied part as a valid part of the self. That is too wasteful for the efficient brain, so it ends up just killing those circuits.
And when we are taught to feel guilty about exposing our breasts, we are not only killing the part of the brain connected to and representing our breasts, but experience a detrimental rebound effect on the breasts themselves. That’s because the breasts need to be maintained by the brain.
Humans are designed to enjoy expressing themselves in many ways: in the way we speak to others, expressing our emotions; in the way we act, such as helping other people; in singing, cooking, dancing, and of course in simply being beautiful. To prevent someone from expressing their natural beauty is just like preventing them from expressing their emotions. It’s like repressing freedom of speech. All sorts of mental imbalances occur when we repress our emotions, and all sorts of mental imbalances also occur when we repress parts of our bodies.
In the case of anti-gotopless laws, which today are inflicted solely on women, the problem is compounded, since the female brain also perceives this as unfair treatment to her gender. To compensate for this paradoxical command, which goes against one’s person, the brain goes into rationalization mode: "I’m a good girl if I cover my breasts. Therefore, any girl who doesn’t obey this rule must be bad, and she is therefore a whore.”
Research shows that the more effort we put into repressing a natural part of ourselves, such as refraining from freely exposing one’s breasts, the more anger and aggression we will have when we see someone else disobeying our rules. The people most vocal against freedom are those who are most hung up about it: they would really like to do it themselves but cannot allow themselves.
How can the GoTopless campaign bring change to the female mindset?
Teaching little girls, such as the 8-year-old girl at a swimming pool in Gwelph, Ontario, a few weeks ago, that they should cover up their breasts is actually damaging their brains. It paralyzes and kills off certain brain circuits, which is definitely child abuse. And if you think about it, it amounts to a form of lobotomy. Fortunately, the brain is fairly plastic, so with time it can be restructured. GoTopless campaigns can help with this healing of the brain.
Since undoing the wiring dictated by indecency laws is a neurological process, it can be accomplished by exposing someone to the stimuli that was once taboo, but this should be done only if that’s what she wants. Forcing a woman to be topless would have the same effect on the brain as forbidding her from doing it. Free choice is crucial for sound human development.
Some minds bounce back rather quickly; others take more time. And there’s a portion of the population that will never be able to completely embrace the previously alienated body parts. That group may continue to inflict guilt upon others as a coping mechanism. A good piece of advice for parents is to practice empowerment of all body parts at the youngest possible age. It’s much trickier to have to backtrack later; it isn’t easy to remove shame from the brain.
GoTopless Day 2014, Denver, CO - Police officer learns the law about topless rights in his city
Letter written by Denver GoTopless Day participant Matthew Wilson
This story and video at the bottom of the article show that communities need to politely but firmly stand up for their topless right before the police and educate them on the law. In the case of Denver, it is legal to be topless and the police only found out during a GoTopless Day event!
GoTopless Day falls on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of women winning the right to vote in America. Events are held in order to promote topless equality. Events occur in multiple cities across the USA, so we decided to independently hold one of our own here in Denver.
We all met and lounged a bit in Denver's Civic Center Park. Eventually we grew to around 12 women and 8 men, enjoying mutual respect and appreciation without objectification. Some of the men even wore bodypainted or actual bikini tops to show their solidarity. One of the guys, upon realizing how uncomfortable the tops were, painted "This Thing Sucks!" beneath his top.
There was a bicycling event going on, highly publicized, so it was very populated. Though we exhibited no lewd or sexual behavior, we obviously weren't surprised that it didn't take long for law enforcement to appear and inquire about our purposes.
We were very peaceful and explained about GoTopless Day and related how Colorado has no state law against female toplessness, and that we weren't breaking any local ordinances. Soon, a member of the police department who claimed to be a public relations liaison appeared. He expressed some moral condemnation but admitted that there were no laws against female toplessness in Denver. He did state that the bicycle event was held by permit for the day, and that if the organizers complained, we'd be asked to leave
We walked the area for about an hour, receiving many startled looks but an amazing amount of appreciation from attendees (and not just because of "Wow, Boobs!"). Many men and women told us they felt the taboo against topless women was unfair. Though many women expressed how they wished they could join us, eventually (as expected), complaints were made to the organizers and forwarded to the officers, so we left peacefully and went for a walk down the 16th Street Mall.
The 16th Street Mall is always one of the busiest sections of Denver, full of locals and tourists; today was no exception. Smiling and waving, allowing photo opportunities when requested of us, we made quite a favorable impression on onlookers; we received many cheers and comments of support. Members of the public (including females) stripped off their tops and joined our stroll.
A female police officer walking her beat noticed us and asked the women to cover up. We politely related how we'd been assured by previous officers that we weren't breaking any of Denver's local ordinances. The officer said she'd recently been to a Vice class where she'd learned that it was illegal. She was at the end of her shift, so she called backup and handed it over to them.
Since a crowd was forming at that point, many officers arrived on site. A very amicable officer became the primary. He also was convinced that we were in error, and he said that if the ladies didn't cover up, they'd be ticketed. We knew our right to be informed of what laws we were to be cited under, so we politely asked him for the statute number.
He agreed to find out for us. He made multiple phone calls, including to the original lady officer, but nobody could tell him the statute. Eventually, he received confirmation that no laws were being broken. We cheered and went on our way. All in all, it was a wonderful experience!
We know that we'll possibly receive some ridicule in the news media, but also hope that our appearance initiates a deeper conversation. It took much courage for those in our group to make such a public statement. We know the taboos; we understood that there'd be those who'd choose shallow thinking over depth and react in juvenile manners. We braved objectification and condemnation, knowing that men once faced the very same thing when male toplessness was illegal in the US years ago.
Times are changing. It's the hiding of women's breasts that make them a "forbidden fruit". More and more cities across our nation are embracing equality, where female toplessness is accepted in the same situations and contexts as men's. Eventually, we'll actually achieve the equality that America proudly boasts.
Video of meeting with Denver police where his superiors confirm that going topless is legal
GoTopless organization denounces American and Canadian cities breaching existing topless laws
LAS VEGAS, July 6 – “Our organization has been closely following the recent controversy going on in Ontario, Canada, where an 8-year-old girl going topless at a public pool in the town of Guelph was ordered to put her top back on.” said Nadine Gary, spokesperson for GoTopless, a women’s rights organization working toward gender equal topless rights, in a statement released today.
“Ontario is a legally topless province for both genders,” Gary said. “Boys were going topless at this pool, but they weren’t ordered to do otherwise. Only the bare-chested girl was singled out and such a discrimination has to stop.”
She said persecution of bare-chested females isn’t unusual in North American cities, despite existing equal-gender topless laws.
“How does a town like Guelph so easily breach a provincial Court ruling establishing topless rights?” Gary asked, adding that the same unconstitutional decisions are also made by cities across the United States.
“Although many U.S. states are now legally top-free for all, city governments still pass ordinances violating the state statutes because repressive organizations and individuals pressure them to do it,” she explained.
Attainment of universal equal-gender topless rights is the primary goal of Gary’s organization.
“Maitreya Rael , spiritual leader of the Raelian Movement, inspired the foundation of GoTopless when saying, ‘As long as men are allowed to go topless in public, women should either have that same constitutional right or men should also have to wear something to hide their chests’ ”, Gary said.
“Rampant repression of female nudity continues to squelch women's equal topless rights in both Canada and the United States,” she said. “We’re seeing court rulings and states statutes trampled to cater to local community bias. This has to stop! What if Americans uncomfortable with racial equality were to pressure cities to bring back segregation and keep black citizens from using public pools? Lawsuits against such cities would immediately be launched, with huge damages awarded. So cities don’t.”
Yet local governments do believe they can overrule clearly established state or provincial gender equality laws, Gary said.
“The city councils of Ashland, Oregon, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, to mention two, wouldn’t think of reinstating segregation laws, but somehow felt justified to ignore existing state statutes by prosecuting female topless-ness,” she said. “We’re saying that’s not OK, and it has to stop!”
GoTopless' annual GoTopless Day is planned on Aug 23 in Guelph and throughout the US, Canada to denounce this violation and to firmly enforce equal gender topless rights.