Did you know that women in the State of New York are legally free to go bare-chested in public? This has been true ever since the 1992 New York Court of Appeals case: People v. Ramona Santorelli and Mary Lou Schloss. In this case the defendants were arrested for showing too much of their breasts. They were effectively able to effectively challenge the law as being discriminatory since it defines the ‘private or intimate parts’ of a woman’s but not a man’s body as including a specific part of the breast.”
Since this case, there have been women wrongfully arrested for exposing their breasts. One even received a $29,000 settlement. In the meantime a “Topfreedom” movement has grown to promote the freedom of women to go topless around the world. In this country victories include the freedom to breastfeed in on federal property. Two groups have emerged: the Topfree Equal Rights Association, which helps women charged with illegal toplessness and GoTopless which organizes demonstrations.
I, of course, support the right of women to publicly go out bare-chested. I tend to oppose any government restrictions on personal freedom, that don’t involve preventing some kind of demonstrable harm. I honestly do not see the harm caused by women going about topless. We have had to see men shirtless for ages in public, and it while it may not have been the most attractive sight, it certainly did not cause any demonstrable harm. It’s a bit silly that women can wear extremely revealing clothing, leaving little to the imagination, and yet we draw an arbitrary line at the full breast. Partial breast exposure is apparently OK, but showing the wrong parts is somehow taboo.
One has to wonder why this is considered taboo in the first place. We allow men to go bare-chested, which has just a much potential to be unsightly as bare chested women, if not more. Women’s breast are for milk production. This is a perfectly normal part of human biology, and there should be no need to scandalize it or make it taboo. While the female breast may play a role in sexual attraction, so does nearly every part of the body for some individuals, and yet I don’t see a push to have us all wearing Burqas. For me the most attractive and seductive part of a woman is her face, and yet there is no movement in this country to prevent facial nudity.
One of the things that makes the western world so wonderful is that people of both sexes are free to dress as modestly or immodestly as they want. Why not take this principle to the next logical step? Despite what some Muslim clerics claim, there is no evidence that female immodesty creates earthquakes or other natural disasters. There are countless traditional cultures around the world, in which it is perfectly normal women to be topless throughout their daily activities and few see any problem with this. Few would propose that the children in these cultures are somehow scandalized by this.
I consider it a positive development that western cultures are dumping Victorian prudery and are more open about embracing the sexual aspects of human nature. As such, it is time to dismiss the notion that breasts are somehow indecent. Human bodies come in many shapes and sizes, so why single out this particular anatomical feature for censorship? It seems that for many males in this culture, breasts have some sort of mystical status, which is in part because exposing them is somehow taboo. Many males may also have an idealized view of how breast should look, and living in a world where women go topless may give them a more realistic view.
Perhaps changing the law would not actually change much. I’m sure most businesses would keep their “no shoes, no shirt, no service” policies. Schools would almost certainly maintain their dress code. Of course, the topless bar industry might be forced to modify their business model to remain relevant. Yet, after a while, we’d all become accustomed to the sight of bare-chested men and women alike. We can look to Europe as a good example – across the pond, topless beaches and spa’s abound, yet society survives, in spite of the partial nudity.
In summary, I support the pro-topless movement. It’s time to modernize our modesty laws and finally leave the Victorian age behind us. It’s rational, it’s practical, and it costs us nothing.