Topfreedom is a cultural and political movement seeking to advance gender equality by the recognition of the right of women and girls to be topless in public on the same basis that men and boys are permitted to be barechested. In addition, topfreedom advocates seek recognition of the right of nursing mothers to openly breastfeed in public, and of women to sun bathe topless. In North America, the Topfree Equal Rights Association assists women who have been charged for being topless, while GoTopless organizes demonstrations to protest against the legal and public attitude to the inequality. In Sweden, Bara Bröst is active in advancing topfreedom, as is Topless Front in Denmark.
Social and legal attitudes
Many societies consider women who expose their nipples and areolae as immodest and contrary to social norms. In many jurisdictions a topless woman may be socially or officially harassed or cited for public lewdness, indecent exposure, public indecency or disorderly conduct. Besides the objective of gender equality, topfreedom advocates seek to change community attitudes to breasts as sex objects or indecent. Several countries in Europe have decriminalised non-sexual toplessness.
Topless swimming and sunbathing on beaches has become acceptable in many parts of Europe, though the practice remains controversial in many places, and not common in most places. Many public swimming pools in Europe are owned by municipalities, which are treated as private organisations and allowed to set their dress codes.
In many countries around the world, breastfeeding in public is not unusual. During 2006–2010 and earlier, a number of news reports in the United States cited incidents where women were refused service or harassed for breastfeeding in public. In response, a majority of U.S. states have passed laws explicitly permitting nursing in public. The United States federal government enacted a law in 1999 which specifically provides that "a woman may breastfeed her child at any location in a Federal building or on Federal property, if the woman and her child are otherwise authorized to be present at the location." However, these laws generally do not apply to rules imposed by private organizations or on private property, such as restaurants, airlines, or shopping malls.
In the United States, states have primary jurisdiction in matters of public morality. The topfreedom movement has claimed success in a few instances in persuading some state and federal courts to overturn some state laws on the basis of sex discrimination or equal protection, arguing that a woman should be free to expose her chest in any context in which a man can expose his. Other successful cases have been on the basis of freedom of expression in protest, or simply that exposure of breasts is not indecent (or similar terminology).
Efforts are underway to unwind California's archaic nudity laws to allow for similar personal rights as being demonstrated in New York and other progressive states. Since 1967, state laws have outlined specific circumstances that exhibit "lewd" and "illegal" nudity. Local laws, when enforced, carry the additional weight of the states "sex offender" status for those convicted. This creates an undue burden of "justice" for innocuous and innocent nudity.
The right of a woman to protest topless has been held to be a freedom of expression and not an equal protection issue. For example, in 2007, a Florida court acquitted a woman of indecent exposure for being topless on Daytona Beach because of the political nature of her stand, under the First Amendment right of free speech.
In 1979, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that topless sunbathing was not in itself a lewd act under § 712-1217 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes that provides: "A person commits the offense of open lewdness if in a public place he does any lewd act which is likely to be observed by others who would be affronted or alarmed."
In December 2007, 50 residents of Pittsfield, Massachusetts petitioned the City Council requesting a segregated beach for topless sunbathing by both men and women. The petition was rejected by the council, with the Mayor calling it "unacceptable and unnecessary". Proponents of topless sunbathing vowed to continue their fight. In 2010, 200 residents of Pittsfield placed a question on the ballot asking whether State laws should be clarified to allow topless sunbathing equally for both men and women.
In 2008, Jill Coccaro, aka Phoenix Feeley, of New York City (see also New York, below) visited the beach at Spring Lake, New Jersey. She did not wear a top and was arrested when she refused to cover up. She was given a T-shirt but left the police department and took it off, and was arrested again. She was charged with violating a borough ordinance prohibiting public nudity. She appealed the conviction to the state appeals court, and the two-judge panel—one man, one woman—ruled against her. "Restrictions on the exposure of the female breast are supported by the important governmental interest in safeguarding the public’s moral sensibilities." The court cited State of New Jersey v. Arlene Vogt (2001) as precedent. In that case, Vogt was fined after she appeared on Higbee Beach in Cape May County, New Jersey without a shirt.
In 1986, seven women who picnicked topless were charged in Rochester, New York with baring "that portion of the breast which is below the top of the areola". That law had originally been enacted to discourage 'topless' waitresses. The women were initially convicted, but on appeal two of the women's charges were reversed by the New York State Court of Appeals in 1992 on equal protection grounds in Santorelli's case.
Jill Coccaro, aka Phoenix FeeleyCoccaro (Feeley) was arrested in 2005 in New York City for walking along a street without wearing a shirt. She sued the city for violating a New York State Supreme Court ruling in Santorelli's case which had declared that women can go topless in public. The city finally paid $29,000 to settle her law suit. The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society has since 2011 organized regular gatherings around New York City of women who read books in public while topless. The objective of the group, besides enjoying the sun and book reading, is to create awareness that New York law allows toplessness in public and to change social attitudes to the exposure of breasts. Although participation has been very small, there has been no harassment of the participants either by the police or the public.
When rallies were held in Asheville, North Carolina by GoTopless to mark Women's Equality Day in 2011 and 2012, the municipality requested the State Government to pass legislation to allow them to prohibit further rallies. Legislation to this end was introduced in 2013, to amend the indecent exposure statute, by adding the nipple and areola of the female breast to those parts of the body whose exposure is prohibited. This Bill (HB34) created international attention and local opposition.
Other successful cases include the District of Columbia 1986; Columbus, Ohio 1995; Moscow, Idaho 1998, Maine 1998, and Texas. However, women in Texas appearing topless in public can be charged under public nuisance laws, with the exception of Austin, the state capital, where some women sunbathe topless in Zilker Park, at various festivals, and at Hippie Hollow. Although explicitly illegal in Florida, topless bathing is tolerated on South Beach, along with a number of hotel pools in Miami Beach. In Las Vegas, a number of hotels feature "European" pools that permit female toplessness.
In 1991 toplessness as an indecent act was challenged by Gwen Jacob in Guelph, Ontario, who removed her shirt and was charged with indecency. Part of her defence was the double standards between men and women. Although she was convicted, this was overturned by the Court of Appeal. This case determined that being topless is not indecent under the meaning of the Criminal Code. However it did not establish any constitutional right of equality. This case subsequently led to the acquittal of women in British Columbia and Saskatchewan who faced similar charges. Although each province and territory technically reserves its right to interpret the law as it pleases, the Ontario case has proven influential. Since the matter has not been determined by the Supreme Court of Canada, it is still possible that a woman could be convicted elsewhere in Canada, but interpretation of moral law in Canada has become increasingly liberalized. There do not appear to have been any further women charged in Canada since these cases were determined.
In France, the feminist collective Les TumulTueuses organized a topfree protest in Paris in May 2009. The objective of the demonstration is indicated by their slogan: "My body if I want, when I want, like it is".
In Poland in 2008–2009, two women from Szczecin including glamour model Dorota Krzysztofek, won a court battle that reasserted the women's right to sunbathe topless on public beaches. Krzysztofek, along with her female companion, were fined by local municipal officials for topless sunbathing at a public recreation area. The women refused to pay the fine and took the matter to Civil Court. Their first hearing had to be postponed due to remarkable media interest.
On November 7, 2008, judge Szczepańska upheld the city staff decision, and charged the women with indecent exposure, explaining that their personal freedoms cannot encroach on the freedoms of families with children who frequent the same recreation spot. Although topless sunbathing is not prohibited in Poland, the judge sentenced them to pay a fine of 230 zloty (150 zloty by different source, or €40, $55) for breaking the rules of conduct. In her rationale, the judge also said that it is not up to the defendants to teach youngsters human anatomy; however, her decision was appealed by Krzysztofek's female friend soon afterwards, with the plea of not guilty.
The appellate court declared both women to be innocent, because the city staff were unable to prove that anyone at the beach was indignant or scandalized by their toplessness, and no complaint was ever reported. On the contrary, some visitors stood up to their defense. There were no signs at the recreation area against what is otherwise legal. The appellate court’s decision was binding, but it also created an aura of ambivalence, with topless sunbathing in public declared acceptable only if nobody else including families with children formally objects to it.
In December 2007, a group of women and men calling themselves Topless Front swam topless in public swim baths to promote topless equality. In March 2008, after a year-long campaign by the group, Copenhagen's Culture and Leisure Committee voted to allow topless bathing in its swimming pools.
In Sweden, toplessness is not illegal. However, private or public establishments are permitted to establish dress codes which may require women to wear tops, and deny access or remove individuals who breach these standards. In September 2007, "Bara Bröst" (a pun meaning both "Just Breasts" and "Bare Breasts") appeared to promote topless equality in these semi-public facilities. The group staged several events in public swim baths in September and October 2007, starting in Uppsala from which they were evicted several times, before succeeding in Sundsvall.
The group scored a victory in June 2009 when the Malmö city's sports and recreation committee approved new rules that, while requiring everybody to wear bathing suits at indoor public swimming pools, did not require women to cover their breasts. "We don't define what bathing suits men should wear so it doesn't make much sense to do it for women. And besides, it's not unusual for men to have large breasts that resemble women's breasts", said a council spokesman.
Activism and organizations
Topfree Equal Rights Association
The Topfree Equal Rights Association (TERA) helps women who encounter difficulty going without tops in public places in Canada and the USA, and informs the public on this issue. It does not advocate topfreedom for women but promotes the concept of freedom of choice of the individual woman and the de-sexualization of breasts in public.
TERA argues in part that a woman should be free to expose her chest in any context in which a man may expose his. It notes that in several North American cases, charges against topfree women have been overturned. Successful cases include those in the District of Columbia in 1986, New York State in 1992, Columbus, Ohio in 1995, Ontario, Canada in 1996, Moscow, Idaho in 1998, and Maine in 1998.
GoTopless Inc. was formed in 2007 in the United States, and claims that women have a constitutional right in the United States to be bare chested in public places on the same basis as men. Unlike TERA, which does not organise demonstrations, GoTopless organises protests in favor of recognition of women's top-freedom rights. The organization is sponsored by the Raëlian Church.
GoTopless sponsors an annual "Go Topless Day" protest (also known as "National GoTopless Day", "International Go-Topless Day", etc.) in advocacy for women's right to go topless on gender equality grounds. GoTopless has organized Go Topless Day to coincide with Women's Equality Day: August 23, 2008, August 23, 2009, August 22, 2010, August 21, 2011, and August 26, 2012.
In Toronto in 2011, a Go Topless Day rally was refused a permit to meet in a park, so they marched down the streets, with a police escort. GoTopless also organized a topless march in Paris, France on 27 August 2011, but 6 of the proposed marchers were arrested.
- Judy E. Williams: NAC board member, chief advisor of TERA, chair of Wreck Beach Preservation Society (WBPS) in Vancouver, BC.
- Gwen Jacob: test case for equal rights who won in Ontario, Canada.
- Linda Meyer: test case for topless rights for British Columbia. On June 8, 2000, she won in court against Maple Ridge, British Columbia. She had been arrested at the District of Maple Ridge's indoor public swimming pool. That was after she had provoked arrests for many years, and had gone to jail, in order to win in court and thereby stop official harassment for her public activities.
- Paul Rapoport: activist, writer, editor of Going Natural, a publication of FCN.
- Sue Richards: Publisher of the breast health calendar Breast of Canada.
- Morley Schloss: NAC board member, activist.
- Nikki Craft: feminist, past topless-rights activist
- Sherry Glaser: American actress, performance artist, and political activist; member of Breasts Not Bombs.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Topless demonstrations and protests|
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