Male nudity in public spaces

by Emily Mead

cw nudity, sexual assault, male entitlement, anxiety, mentions of genitalia, swearing, possible biological essentialism


i feel u mike

feminists are often accused of focusing too much on the little things and looking for offence; we  basically go through life searching for molehills to make mountains out of, because that’s just our idea of fun, I guess!!! so when I complain about cis men stripping down and parading around topless during summer, or drunk men peeing in public, some people just assume it’s because I’ve run out of Important Things to be angry about.

chances are, if you’re a cis man, you might vaguely know that this is annoying, but never really think about how harmful this sort of behaviour is. that’s probably because cis male nudity is normalised throughout childhood and in popular culture, whereas female nudity is portrayed as an exclusively sexual thing… cis male nudity is so commonplace that you can get away with doing it without anyone batting an eyelid (or at least, with no-one feeling safe enough to tell you it makes them uncomfortable).

cis men exposing their bodies in public spaces is really fucking irritating because just shows how entitled they feel to public spaces (you might also have heard of / partaken in manspreading). when you take your shirt off because it’s hot outside, when you pee in public because you can’t be arsed to find a bathroom, when you send unsolicited dick pics for whatever reason you thought was appropriate (???), you are implicitly asserting your dominance and saying that your comfort matters more than everyone else’s.

as if that wasn’t enough to be upset about in the first place, this sort of crap can make survivors of sexual violence really fucking uncomfortable to say the least. Gross cis men imposing their nudity on me is a really fucking awful reminder of times when dudes felt like it was ok to subject me to way more than I’d consented to— at best displays of cis male nudity make me feel disgusted and unsafe, at worst they give me panic attacks. i’m sure (i hope?) that wasn’t the intended effect.

please please p l e a s e think about what you’re doing when you treat unwanted nudity like it’s no big deal. in future, before you pull this kind of shit, think about whether or not the people around you are okay with what you’re doing. (they’re probably not).


two things, in case someone has opinions about this

1— please don’t even think of talking about #freethenipple and how **everyone** should get naked for equality to be achieved. not only is it weird that you’d try to use a liberation movement for people with breasts against them just to make a point, but it’s problematic in that it mostly focuses on liberating able bodied cis white women. being able to take my top off without feeling too uncomfortable is a massive fucking privilege that I have & i have 0 interest in subjecting people to that. so yeah no, “women should get naked too!!!” is not nearly as relevant or useful as you might think

2— if a woman’s experience isn’t enough to convince you that there might be something wrong with forcing your nudity on non consenting strangers, here’s a heartfelt tale from a reformed dudebro who has seen the error of his dick displaying ways (same content warnings as this article apply + alcohol, discussion of homophobia).


  1. JR

    (edit by emily: cn splaining, sexual assault, bodily autonomy)

    Hello Emily, thanks for this post. It gives a real view into something which I am privileged not to have experienced. With that major qualification in mind, I remain unsure as to whether men ought in all circumstances to withhold from revealing their skin, or at least that of their torso.

    As I understand it, you give two reasons: (A) that it implies a claim of entitlement to public spaces; (B) that it can make some people, especially those having experienced sexual assault, feel unsafe.

    (A) seems to me to be a self-evident implication of most social actions, not any special reason for the badness of a given action: namely, doing something usually implies that one thinks that it is legitimate. Naturally, taking your top off implies that you think that you ought to be able to take your top off. But it still stands to question why that action should be proscribed. Perhaps you mean that it is objectionable because it is an expression of the differential possibilities open to men and women. It seems to me that the relevant bad in this area is actions which perpetuate that difference, not those which merely express it. After all, patriarchy is pervasive, such that if we were to proscribe all those actions expressing it, we would have few possibilities left indeed. I’m sure that you have a better handle on this point than myself, and would be interested to hear you elaborate on what you meant.

    (B) seems to me a very strong reason, and I am saddened to hear about your experiences. I’m still not sure how to handle (B), however. I think bodily autonomy is a very basic value, and secondarily, that it would be a very good thing if people had a more comfortable relationship to their physical self. How this should be balanced against (B) is very unclear to me. I suppose I would like to hear about more experiences, and explore how widespread that kind of reaction is. If it is as widespread as you suggest it might be, perhaps (B) is a strong enough reason.

    Again, thanks for an enlightening piece. It has changed how I think about the subject, although my thinking certainly isn’t finished.

    • genderagenda

      hi JR, happy to hear that. have added a few warnings to your post as a heads up before ppl choose to read (or not).

      in future though, i’d appreciate it if you didn’t explain to me what i might have meant (“”perhaps you mean…””” etc.)— you might not have realised + it takes a while to get under control but again that’s a thing that unhelpfully takes up space in conversation.

      (a) i’m not going to elaborate beyond what i wrote, but by all means read more on this!!! here is a good starting point.

      (b) two quick things: 1- how widespread this experience is would not invalidate it either way, 2- yes i’m all for respect of bodily autonomy, but the way you use it is a bit misguided (bodily autonomy is actually all about consent and respect of ppl’s bodies + boundaries, maybe read more on that too!!).


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