I walked around downtown Montreal the other day. Topless.
No, I'm not a member of Femen. I'm not a mother breastfeeding her child and I'm not a three-year-old girl who doesn't want to wear a bathing suit top at a swimming pool.
I'm a journalist, and as such, I decided to document what happens when a woman decides to go bare-breasted in public.
So I took off my T-shirt, put it in the back pocket of my shorts and walked down Saint Catherine Street with a tape recorder, notepad and a photographer -- he was also topless -- just a few feet away, who documented people's reactions.
Don't worry, I wore sunscreen.
See for yourself what happened when Lili Boisvert walked around downtown Montreal topless. WARNING: These photos contain nudity:
Lili Boisvert is not a member of Femen. She's not a mother who is breastfeeding her child. She's not a three-year-old girl who doesn't want to wear a bathing suit top at a swimming pool. She's a journalist who decided to document what would happen when she walked around Montreal topless. (Lili Boisvert)
It was lunchtime, so I passed about 200 people. And as you can see, not much happened. I got a few smiles, some moderately surprised looks, but mostly, people didn't care.
Here's a list of things that happened:
- Some people smiled
- Many ignored me
- Some did a double-take
- One guy tried to get my attention by saying, "Hey baby!"
- I heard someone laugh
- Two young women asked me for directions to a store
And here's what didn't happen:
- No one raped me
- No one insulted me
- No one started masturbating in public
- No one threatened me
- No one looked at me with disgust, hatred or contempt
I conducted this little experiment because I've read many stories this summer about women baring their breasts in public.
There was this story, for example, about a young girl who didn't want to wear her bathing suit top at John F. Kennedy pool in Outremont.
As I read online comments and opinions of experts who said girls should always wear tops so they avoid assault, I started wondering: Is it really dangerous to show the upper part of your body when you're born with a vagina?
Many seem to think so. They believe that women -- and society in general -- are at great risk if women's breasts are on show outside pornographic contexts.
Rape, public masturbation sessions, devaluation of women's bodies -- these are but a few alleged threats women face.
Those who endorse this view rationalize it by saying men are attracted to women's breasts. But I would like to point out a problem with this assertion: A lot of people are actually more aroused by men's bodies.
Personally (and I'm telling you a secret here) men's bodies titillate me. And I know I'm not alone.
If we combine heterosexual women and homosexual men, there's a large percentage of the population that is attracted to men's, not women's bodies.
So why is it OK for men to go topless, but not women? Does it mean that women's and gay men's desires are worth less than those of heterosexual men?
At the same time, it sends men a weird message: that their desires are degrading. Like the mythic figure Medusa, what catches their eye is automatically doomed.
As you may know, there are Canadian provinces where a woman's right to bare her breasts has been upheld by the law. It has also been recognized in New York.
In Quebec, things are not as clear-cut. Femen militants weren't accused of gross indecency for their demonstration at the national assembly last autumn. But one of the women was accused of an indecent act after a protest during the F1 this summer. The accusation, however, was really related to the fact she pretended to masturbate with a dildo.
A trial is coming up, and Xenia Chernyshova, Femen's Quebec spokesperson, tells me she's very excited about it.
As for me and my breasts, we thought our experience on the street was very pleasant. It was warm, the sun was shining and people were respectful.
If you would asked me a year ago, I would never have gone bare-breasted in public. But in the end, it wasn't very hard.
So yes, I walked around topless. And the world didn't explode.