Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Long Way, Baby?

It's perfectly legal for women to go topless here in Ontario, but for some reason I've never seen it done outside the Toronto Pride parade.

Every woman I've asked about this has replied that going topless would be more trouble than it's worth; there'd be so much staring, and so many negative comments, that the "freedom" of doing it would be worth less than just wearing a top.

Now here's a "Talk of the Town" section from The New Yorker, February 18, 1928:
The progress of the nicotinization of Women has been interesting to watch. Cigarette manufacturers have admitted openly that women smoke; the railroads have provided ladies' smoking-rooms on the more venturesome trains; and even the Old Lady from Dubuque has learned, through hearsay, that smoking occurs in both sexes. It strikes us that the only party not completely emancipated is Woman herself, for we have rarely seen a woman smoke on the street, the reason being--so our cigarette-borrowing lady companions advise us--that it attracts undue attention and the satisfaction isn't worth the embarrassment. To be exact, the only times women smoke in the street are on the sidewalk in front of playhouses during intermission, and the three or four steps they take getting into or out of a cab. We, who have supplied literally tens of thousands of cigarettes to ravenously beautiful smokers, will never be convinced of the reality of their fag-life until we see one of these ladies enjoying a brief siesta on a bench in Madison Square, non-chalantly smoking.

Incidentally, any lady desirous of learning to smoke in the street should know that the finest street in which to practice is the old half-abandoned mall right behind the Library, where a lady may pace and puff, in what travel literature might describe as Old World Splendor.
I'm surprised that women had problems smoking in the late '20s. I'm pretty sure that women were publically smoking by the mid-'30s, though there was probably still some stigma. Nowadays there doesn't seem to be any smoking stigma at all, other than the one that covers both genders.

I suppose that going topless is quite a bit different from smoking, in that it's something disapproved of even in men, and that for women it would be considered an outright sexual activity (which smoking probably wasn't, at least not overtly).


Eric Little said...

"Nicotinization"? "Ravenously beautiful"? "Fag-life"? These bits are worth reading just for the over-wrought prose.

Certainly by "Now, Voyager" (1942), smoking was considered the ne plus ultra of sexy sophistication, especially as performed by la Davis: "Don't ask for the moon when we have the stars." I wonder if she puffed away when she was the timorous spinster, before Claude Rains summoned her forth from her chrysalis (hey, I can be pretty durn elegant too!)

Now that smoking was been thoroughly demonized and smokers ostracized (our campus just banished puffers to their cars), smoking has become fetishistic again, even in pornography. In the 1950s. it was just another part of life: I just watched an episode of "Perry Mason" in which Raymond Burr was lighting cigs, out of politeness, for men and women left and right.

VanillaJ said...

I just wanted to point out that men have breasts too. When I see an attractive shirtless man, he falls under my "dirty-sweet" sexual radar. His naked chest CAN be sexual. If he's an unattractive shirtless man, he is just dirty trash. Never once have I conspicuously ogled any shirtless man and/or "whoo-whoo"'d from across the street. Both scenerios do make me want a smoke, though.

Adam Thornton said...

Blogger's spell check didn't appreciate "nicotinization," you bet.

When I used to maintain an (well, THE) Ann Miller fansite, I ended up hooking up with a guy who ran an (well, THE) "Pictures of Women Smoking" website. As a sideline he also maintained THE "Pictures of Women in Full-Length Opera Gloves" website.

I assumed that, since the '30s, a woman smoking was a sexy/fetish thing for some people, but I agree that it's probably enhanced now that smokers are increasingly marginalized. Though maybe not, because we're told nowadays that women who smoke are trashy hags with yellow fingernails and bad breath. Not like Bette Davis.

Adam Thornton said...

"Dirty-sweet!" Do I enter that category when my shoes smell?

Men certainly do have sexy chests, and I think that mainstream culture is acknowledging that more and more, but I do believe that -- when it comes to overt & obvious cultural fetishising and sexualizing, in media especially -- women's breasts (and bodies in general) still stand out in front. Err, so to speak.