Original article on bralessness - Memetic Index
I thought it might be interesting to examine this article from Medium.com in terms of the three-layered narrative model of macromemetics. The Conservative Narrative is established on top of the Radical Narrative, and of course the conservative narrative has its own immunomemeplex (which we think of as being harsh and intolerant), but there is also the Liberal Narrative (1) which we think of as protesting and opposing the Conservative Narrative and pushing for "positive change." I put forward the theory that the Liberal Narrative is in fact just another megaimunomemeplex which serves the Conservative Narrative, justifying and shoring up its departures from the Radical Narrative, and perhaps little else. In other words, it's not doing what we think it is, but in fact much the opposite.
One question is, "So how do we reässert the Radical Narrative?" The answer may be "not through the kind of liberal activism which we've seen so far" and that should be a hopeful message.
Some Definitions and Examples
The Radical Narrative can be thought of as a kind of pre-lapsarian egalitarianism. To be specific, let's focus on feminist issues, and because of this article, memes to do with women's breasts and wearing or not wearing brassieres.
The Radical Narrative holds that people own their own bodies. This means that people can do whatever they want with their bodies, PERIOD, and also that other people are absolutely prohibited from forcing others to do (or not do) anything with their own bodies. In other words, kind of an idyllic dreamland.
The Conservative Narrative, of course, holds that women (somehow) belong to society, the government, or to some male relative. "Belonging" means that society, the government, the police, or said male relative have final say in many or most personal choices that women make. Said "empowered controllers," however, cannot make women do whatever they want--they too are constrained to force women to behave in certain accepted ways (2).
The Conservative Narrative basically holds that all people belong to some master, father, husband, government (or Lord representative), and only imposes restrictions to the exact degree and form of that enslavement. Slavery may in fact be central to the Conservative Narrative.
The Conservative Narrative provides the system of "yes, but" memes that somehow justify doing the awful things needed to construct the hierarchical systems that extract excess value from the working population, mount wars, and basically build civilization. This narrative is full of the kind of "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others" that we're all so used to. Misogyny may be a cornerstone of building a competitive hierarchical society, i.e., removing control from the hands of women.
I'll try to inject some rigor into this at some point.(3)
Now, the Liberal Narrative works ostensibly to oppose the Conservative Narrative, to contradict it, to try to force it to change. The justifications are ostensibly based on memes from the Radical Narrative, eg., that all people are equal, people should be free (where reasonable), everyone's sexuality belongs to them alone and it is their perfect right to share or not share it, and so forth. Again, ostensibly, this "anti-bra" piece purports to support some kind of progressive feminist position, to wit, that women should be able to go out in public (or even just outdoors) without wearing brassieres.
A Few Theoretical Ideas
One problem with the Liberal Narrative is that it invokes Conservative memeplexes, in the ostensible intent of opposing them, but merely by invoking them, it gives them strength. If you want to eradicate a memeplex, you don't do it by repeatedly making literal appeal to it. This is a basic principle of memetic engineering (4) by the way. You build alternative memeplexes that may be used instead of those you are trying to eradicate and make them more appealing. Also, since addition of memes to a system causes polarization, you design your updated memeplex so that all polarizations favor your new system. This is the "great taste, less filling" approach (5) by the way.
I’m Braless. So What?
* The word "Braless" is a meme, which means it's pretty loaded, and has a lot of other memes dragging along with it. Back in the day, "Put on a tie" was an immunomeme that could be freely deployed at men. It still exists. The head of an important company won't let men fly with him on the company jet if they don't have on a tie. The fact that there are lots of memes like this associated with brassieres, like "you're not wearing a bra!" or "put on a bra!" is significant. As we'll see below, the author (and comments to the original text on Medium.com) make references to how if your breasts "look good", "are perky" and so on, then it's okay to wear a bra. Part of the conservative narrative is that women are trying to get attention, or more to the point, get men excited, by their not wearing brassieres, and another part is that unless you are a very young woman (see Moscow Idaho Toplessness Statute) who is "chest lucky" (see below) your breasts just plain don't look good and it's a question of taste. In other words, it's part of the Conservative Narrative that if your breasts are "objectively attractive" then it's kind of okay, but the real thrust is that if they're not then you should wear a bra, and if you don't then you're saying "Hey! My Breasts are Superior!" (which is what we see below and in the comments) which invites conservative-fired scrutiny. Anyway, let's move on for now.
What exactly is the big deal about it?
Some sections of the media consider the non-wearing of a bra to be a newsworthy event. Readers on both sides of the Atlantic may be familiar with Dailymail.com, which is one of the worst offenders.
Their headlines tend to follow a simple format:
<Minor Celebrity> goes braless while <doing mundane activity>
The celebrity in question may be shopping, taking a walk or just sitting in a garden. That’s not the point of the story. The apparently newsworthy fact is that they’ve been careless enough, or brazen enough, to pursue these everyday activities without the protection of a bra.
Of course, these articles don’t discuss the intellectual ins and outs of why the non-wearing of a bra is such a notable event. But the general tone of the articles is that we’re supposed to be somewhat shocked at the idea of anyone going braless. And some of the most popular comments on these articles suggest that many readers do indeed look rather disapprovingly on people who go braless.
But what’s wrong with not wearing a bra?
I shall declare an interest at this point. I never wear a bra. I don’t see any good reason why I should. And I don’t see anything wrong with not wearing a bra.
This leads me to wondering why some people are so scathing of women who go braless. What are the possible accusations that could be made against a braless female? I shall speculate.
Some people think that if you go braless, you must be desperate for attention.
I’ll admit that I quite like some of the attention that I get when people admire my figure. But I don’t see anything wrong with that. I enjoy attention, but I’m not desperate for it. I would go braless even if it got me no attention at all, because I just don’t find bras comfortable. And I simply don’t need one.
* It might be worth mentioning that, given these photos, one might not be blamed for concluding that the author is not only going braless, but also mostly "shirtless" as well. This might tend to draw additional shaming behavior from bystanders and onlookers. This might bring up some interesting memetic points. I have women friends who tell me they never wear bras. I only know because they tell me, even though we have even been roommates and such. It's rather like the contrary of the old joke: Q. How do you know someone is vegetarian? A. They will tell you. When a woman wears what is effectively a "boob tube" (a tube top in the USA) where there are obviously no bra straps or anything and her nipples are poking out (10), yes, her comfort, staying cool if it's a hot summer, and so on, but she's also wearing literally the least amount of clothing possible without being naked, and certainly less than anybody else nearby, and possibly transgressing actual laws or no-entry rules of some shops. The point is that the inventory of immunomemetic responses available starts to grow quite large if all of this bralessness, shirtlessness, lots of skin visible, nipples visible, cleavage visible, lots of bouncing and jiggling going on, nobody else is doing it--it's a lot to work with. Neither the wearer nor the viewer(s) can be unaware. In fact, some bystanders might even be open to attack by fellow bystanders for not reacting in certain ways, e.g., staring, not staring, being scandalized, not being scandalized, etc. My point is that not wearing a bra for any number of personal reasons (uncomfortable, have to go to the 'loo to adjust it all the time, yet another article of clothing to wash, replace, keep in stock, have a couple of favourite ones that always seem to be lost/dirty when you're getting dressed, takes time to put on, the shops never have one you like, your breasts are different sizes, it's expensive, etc.) doesn't have to involve everyone in the tri-county area knowing about it. Having said that, I'm unaware of the details as to how it's possible to not wear a bra without being noticed--my breasts aren't big enough yet to need one, I guess, but I'm working on it!--but apparently it is possible. By overtly transgressing some "norm" (some memeplex within the Conservative Narrative) in a way that's clearly even ostentatiously visible, one is making a choice to enable the memetic cohort to deploy immunomemes attached to that behavior. The irony is that all the "courage" and "unashamedness" involved notwithstanding, the effect is ultimately negative in terms of achieving meaningful social change, and may in fact incur the opposite (11). Why? Deliberately flaunting "social norms" (or, in memetic parlance, deliberately enabling the deployment of immunomemes which are triggered by the behaviour in question) reënforces said immunomemes (bullying memes) and consolidates them, raises them all to the same level in the public consciousness, links them together. And then specifically citing them (tenets of the Conservative Narrative, e.g., "it's immoral," "you'll look bad," "you're desperate for attention") as justification and attacking them only brings them up and connects them together in people's minds ("It's not immoral" now everybody's thinking about it, trying to decide if it is, "My titties look great!" now everybody's sifting through who's tits look good enough to be on display, and "I'm not desperate for attention," Really? No shirt and all that? methinks she doth protest too much, mayhap?), and polarizes everybody along those lines. People who might not have reacted before (to more subtle or occasional norm-flaunting) are now primed to do so, and to be at the throats of others who used to be only mildly inclined in the opposite direction.
Some bra-wearing women are jealous. They don’t have the sort of perky, stay-up-by-themselves tits that I have. And they resent people like me who are able to look good without a bra.
OK. So I’m lucky in the chest department. But there’s nothing immoral about trying to look good and be comfortable. For me, that means not wearing a bra. In essence, I’m acting no differently from most women who do wear bras. They’re trying to look good and/or be comfortable. And I’m doing the same thing. It’s just that what works for them, doesn’t work for me.
* It's unclear whether this article is actually trying to engage in progressivist activism in the first place. Again we make appeal to the memeplex of the Conservative Narrative that holds that women should wear bras because their breasts don't look good. So even if it's not sexual, or maternal (other memeplexes) at least it's a matter of taste or esthetics. Liberal messages tend to get mixed up in exactly this sort of way, making appeals to the Radical Narrative (comfort, body self-identification, economics, etc.) and to the Conservative Narrative (I have perky tits so I get a pass, other women are just jealous). The Liberal Narrative purports to be a clarion call for change, but then turns around and interrogates the memeplexes of the Conservative Narrative, thus reënforcing them. We've polarized the population (memetic cohort) around these ideas such as "saggy women are jealous" (or are they just decent, etc?) and "I've got nice breasts, so I get a pass" (do you? even if you do, please put a bra on... etc.) Now people who weren't thinking of this bra-no-bra saggy-vs-perky problem are now thinking of it. The memetic fabric is polarized. It is made no easier, probably harder, for other women, perky or saggy, to go without a bra. This is fairly typical of how the Liberal Narrative functions, eg., "those conservative people are stupid!" and the Conservative Narrative is upheld by sheer dint of use. We went from a state of "everybody should wear a bra" but the occasional woman who doesn't won't catch too much flak because of the low level of polarization (6) to a state where ten percent of the people think it's okay (and may be leering at women not wearing bras anyway) and ninety percent who were passively in favor of bra-wearing are now assiduously so, on the look-out for boobs-on-the-loose, and top-of-mind with all of the conservative messages about what women should and should not do, like even showing cleavage, perhaps even beyond those to do with appropriate breast adornment. Not only asking if women should wear brassieres, but maybe now whether they should leave the house unescorted, or drive cars, and so on. This might seem like overstating things, but I am concerned about the mechanism, and this is how I think it works.
Some people will look disapprovingly on almost any behaviour that is different from the norm.
Most people are conformists. They’re desperate to fit in with other people. So they do what other people do. They wear what other people wear. And they seem to have this terrible phobia of anyone who doesn’t share their desperate need to conform.
* All people are like this. This is the human condition. Macromemetics is the study of how this all works. Our author and everyone depend on everyone else behaving as expected, pretty much all the time, and it's horribly upsetting when they don't (12). If you talk to someone in the local language (in this case English) you respect a reply in that language, and a reasonable one. If I ask someone what time it is, or for a cup of coffee from someone across the counter at a café, I expect a reasonable response and not some diatribe on shark populations in the North Pacific or how Mars exploration is a waste of money, or to be shouted at or dragged off and beaten up in some dark room. We all expect this. Some people think it's bad to wear white after Labor Day. I don't happen to know anybody inured of this memeplex. One recent trend is things like "bralets" which are kind of like what she's wearing in all of these pictures, but lacier and potentially an undergarment. I would say the point is to what extent the memes are injected, not whether one follows them or not. If the penalties for non-conformance are minimal, then what's the big deal? If one is braving the slings and arrows of mild public disapproval for the sake of making it easier for the hordes of women who will follow, then that's something. However, is that what's happening? This is the problem of the Liberal Narrative approach, it stirs up a lot of muck, but ultimately asserts the conservative memeplexes, even making them stronger by dredging up all the available memes (in order to contradict them) and tying them together and anchoring them in people's mind all the more strongly.
But me? I’m happy to be a non-conformist. My mind isn’t constrained by what other people consider acceptable. And my unconstrained tits are an outward symbol of my pride at being a non-conformist.
* This statement is telling. This is a pithy comment on polarization. Knowing the rules and not following them is just another way of following the rules. If in Moscow Idaho or NYC or Kiev, Ukraine, you know that you will be arrested and jailed for public toplessness, and yet you go topless, you do so in the knowledge that you will probably be arrested and jailed. It doesn't make it more or less pleasant, but it's not a surprise. To a lesser degree, if you know that you will meet with some form of "disapproval" by some public behavior, and do it anyway, what is happening? Is it a "protest"? If you know you're going to get a rise out of people, make them feel "offended" because that is the social "norm" then you are making a deliberate decision to do so. Truly liberating women looks more like taking an action that somehow doesn't offend people, but makes them feel acclimated to what you are doing, and ultimately leads to other women doing the same thing and allows them to have actual material relief, e.g., feeling more comfortable, feeling as good or better about their own looks, and maybe saving money on expensive undergarments they no longer feel constrained to wear. That would be bringing us back towards the Radical Narrative, and without invoking the memes of the Conservative Narrative. I'll try to illuminate other examples, but the Liberal Narrative likes to start off with attacking head-on memeplexes of the Conservative Narrative, which causes polarization. As we see above, invoking conservative memeplexes such as "if you're tits look good, like mine do, then you should be able to go braless" in an effort to turn it on its head, but all the while asserting its strength.
Wearing a bra may be the acceptable norm. But I don’t care. So I’ll be staying unashamedly braless. And if anyone doesn’t like it? Tough titties!
Summary and Conclusions
This appeal double-dips into the Conservative Narrative and into the Radical Narrative to form a Liberal Narrative, which is ostensibly one of progressive liberation of women. This is a typical use of the Liberal Narrative. Women should be free, should be in control of their own bodies are part of the Radical Narrative. The Conservative Narrative contains such memes as "women's breasts are distracting (to men) and inappropriate", "a brassiere is a minimally appropriate covering (7)" and as the author points out "a woman without a bra is desperate for attention," and also something along the lines of "most women's breasts don't look good without a bra (saggy, not perky)". Dragging these conservative memes out into the open causes polarization. A polarized memetic fabric (8) results in individuals being more attentive to the presence/absence of given memes.
(1) The three-layer narrative consists of The Radical Narrative (or Fundamental Narrative), the Conservative Narrative, and the Liberal Narrative (or Pseudo-Liberal Narrative, or Crypto-Conservative Narrative, or Status Quo Apologist Narrative).
(2) And those set expectations become "hooks" which trigger women being oppressed, for example, in terms of whether it's okay not to wear a bra, go topless, etc.
(3) One issue to be expanded on is accretiveness. The Conservative and Liberal Narratives grow with time, accreting memes to themselves. This offers explanation why the Radical Narrative is overcome by the Conservative Narrative, even though the latter continues to use it as a kind of "justification" for it's memetic systems. Additionally, the Liberal Narrative uses the memeplexes of the Radical Narrative to construct its own memeplexes--"People should be equal, free, nice to each other, etc." and so on.
(4) As in the "Box-Binning" Project I did, and which I still need to write up. This is in an actual factory, manufacturing environment, making a group of some two hundred workers change the way they handled inventory, saving dozens of man-hours per month. Of course the process change was an improvement, but the point was that the change was performed over a couple month's period, without any time wasted on meetings or retraining, and without anybody (except for some managers and yours truly) actually knowing that it happened. In fact, everybody said "Yeah, we've always done it this way," and criticizing people who "did it wrong."
(5) Memetic Polarization occurs when a new meme(plex) is introduced and some of the cohort adopt it one way and some adopt it another way. It is of course never possible to get everyone in a group to adopt a meme system in exactly the way you want. As with Miller Lite beer, some people love it because of the great taste, others because it is "less filling," the point being that everybody is drinking your beer, even if they are ready to fight others who also drink it for the reason they should be drinking it. Unfortunately, many if not most liberal activists enter the fray in such a way that attracts some people to their new cause, but they also alienate many others who go to the exact opposite side, resulting in stalemate.
(6) I've seen some interesting cases of gay men living in Utah. The accent happens to be the same, but people in Utah by and large don't know very much about gay culture, and in another sense they aren't looking for it.
(7) A brassiere is okay for today, and there are all kinds of brassieres of all types, some of which might be considered to be risqué, but back in the day more involved coverings such as corsets and girdles and so on were de rigueur.
(8) Memetic fabric. The collection of a group of minds that are "memetically connected," seen as a singular "sink resource" which has a capacity for a certain quantity of memes, propagation rates, a given memetic inventory, and so on. Can be linguistically linked, linked by a network or game interface, can be physically co-located, geographically, work in the same building, etc., depending upon the purpose at hand.
(9) Memetic Pairing. Memes pair up in ways that are self-reënforcing, often a logical meme with an alogical one. One meme may not be taken down, or prevented from propagating, because the other defends it. A product might be harmful, but cheap, and everybody likes it. I'll try to think of a good example. Political campaigns might be a good example.
(10) There's an endearing scene near the beginning of the film The Slums of Beverly Hills where the main character's dad tells her to put on a bra when she is wearing a tube top (which she had borrowed from a friend). The Japanese title is, by the way, Fカップの憂鬱 (the depression of the F-cup-size girl) by the way. Anyway, it's a great movie for lots of reasons, including a young woman coming to grips with her sexuality in general and starting to have a noteworthy bust in particular.
(11) I'd like to draw a distinction between changing "social norms" and changing actual legislation. One obvious example is the New York City "Free the Nipple" activism and the FEMEN activism in Ukraine and the Moscow, Idaho Anti-Toplessness law. Here women are running around topless, getting arrested by the police, causing shock, but raising awareness of the law, i.e., that women were discriminated again and faced harsh penalties for just being women, i.e., going around without a shirt on. The message here was that "we're going to keep doing this until the law is changed" and garnering public support both in terms of "Hey, yeah, this is clearly wrong," and "Oh, just make them stop!"
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