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Topfree is about Freedom, Topless is for Strippers


I prefer the term "topfree." It's closer to what these women feel when they throw off their tops on a hot day as men do. "Topless" also suggests strippers, but there's no connection here. Indeed, it's insulting to topfree women to tell them to head to the nearest strip joint.

Many make that suggestion in exasperation. It reveals confusion between bare breasts and sexual activity. So does the notion that any topfree woman is "parading" about. Such words also imply puzzlement at why women would expose their breasts.

Many women have explained topfreedom. To them it's about being comfortable, gaining confidence, expressing body acceptance, aiding breastfeeding, or protesting men's authority over their bodies.

Lovric claimed that society won't accept topfree women. Let's see what's happened recently to some of them in North America. Gwen Jacob in Ontario: acquitted of indecency. Linda Meyer in BC: public nudity charge dropped. Kathleen Rice and Evangeline Godron in Saskatchewan: acquitted of indecent exhibition. Three women in Idaho: acquitted of indecent exposure. Kayla Sosnow in Florida: acquitted of disorderly conduct.

Despite a few cases pending or on appeal, the trend is clear. Laws used to convict topfree women are failing. Most often, topfree women are not arrested and not news.

What about those great markers of popular culture---television and film? These days, many mainstream films have scenes with bare female breasts. TV programs too.

Importantly, such scenes may be in nonsexual contexts. On February 8th, CBS showed a lot of topfree women on a beach in prime time, with hardly a bleep from viewers. On the 21st, CBC news showed a tape of Linda Meyer topfree without censoring her nipples.

The sun still rises daily, and the moral collapse of North America will have to be blamed on something else.

North America does have an obsession with women's breasts. It's closely connected to women's lack of self-esteem, often manifested in debilitating eating disorders and dangerous surgeries. Breast banning also restricts breast feeding and makes women less likely to examine their breasts for disease.

Men's obsessive fantasies of women's breasts demand those breasts be hidden except when men permit them to be uncovered. Those demands control, exploit, and degrade women. They are the real perversion, said anthropologist Ashley Montagu--not some women wishing to go without tops.

Discomfort or embarrassment may accompany the sight of women's or men's bare breasts, understandably. But that alone is not a sound basis for criminal law. It's also easier to relieve than most people think. Fear, panic, and disgust really can be avoided too.

Regardless, like men, women don't go barebreasted everywhere. Ms. Lovric and I may agree on that. Nor do women walk fully clothed alone on certain streets after dark. Should we criminalize them if they do and blame them for men's assaults? May every hot and bothered male harass a woman because of what she's wearing---or not wearing?

Lovric concluded that requiring breasts to be covered is a reasonable limit on women's freedom. Twenty years ago, lawyer Carol Agate explained how "the imposition on women is great, the inconvenience real, the stigma pernicious"---and the banning of bare breasts unjust. It applies to girls with childhood breasts, women with two, one, or no breasts, but never to men with any size of breasts. Females are therefore restricted solely because they are female.

That contravenes Article 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which forbids discrimination in law based on sex. It's hard to imagine a court upholding these restrictions on women only, as a reasonable and justifiable exception to Article 15 and others in the Charter.

Yes, men and women are different. That difference has been used to deny women property ownership, education, civil rights, jobs, and money. It's no argument in this case either.

Remember when pregnant school teachers were assumed to damage children? When bikinis would cause complete social breakdown? In a few years we may laugh too at the notion that women's bare breasts are weapons of destruction.

"Aren't women's breasts sexual?" If that still needs an answer, how's this: "They may be, in some situations determined by their owner."

Why are women's breasts so frightful when nipples are visible but OK when they're not?

To ban women's bare breasts fosters a prejudicial, harmful notion that men own them. Gwen Jacob said it well in 1992, long before she was acquitted for her topfree walk in Guelph: "My breasts are for everyone else's pleasure and my own oppression. Whose breasts are they anyway?"

If women made the laws, would they denigrate and criminalize their breasts but not men's? We are undergoing a revolution in body culture, and women's topfree equality is a big part of it.

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