ARTICLES, TALKS, and the like

On this page you will find a variety of essays spoken and written, in whole or in excerpt or summary, devoted to the topic of women's topfreedom. TERA does not necessarily agree with everything expressed here.

We will post more material as time allows.


The topfreedom dilemma (by the girl who wrote "One small step for topfreedom," Adelle Shea; posted 2006 Septermber 10)

Uncovered: Celebrating Women in New York City (by Jordan Matter, posted 2005 March 22)

Letter to the Governor of California (by Julia Goforth, posted 2005 March 22)
Topfreedom: A Rhetorical Analysis (by Robin Jensen, posted 2005 January 30)
Baring our breasts (by Oquawka, posted 2004 September 27)
One small step for topfreedom (by a girl in Edmonton, Alberta, posted 2004 May 20)
Buffaloed (by John Aaron, posted 2004 March 16)

Wal-Mart is wrong (by Julia Goforth, posted 2002 December 28)
Discriminatoire! (by Isabelle, posted 2002 December 14) [in French]
Key West's Fantasy Fest: (by Bruce Frendahl, posted 2002 November 03)

John, John, John: a poem about the boob in the Hall of Justice (by Claire Braz Valentine, posted 2002 April 30)

York, Maine: Can we say "Avoidance"? (by Julia Goforth, posted 2002 January 21) 

The Judge (by Kayla Sosnow, posted 2001 October 25)

What's wrong with my breasts? (by Ann-Marie, 2001 August 07)

Canadian Tire attire (by Julia Goforth, 2001 July 07)
Beauty and the Breast: An Art Exhibition (by Allison Roberts, 2001 June 01)
The KAYLA SOSNOW interview (by Peri, 2000 March 30 and April 10)
I am not a sex object. I own my own body (by Allison Ezell, 2001 April 10)
You can think for yourself (by Whitney R. McCleskey, 2001 May 9)
Topfree as you wanna be! (by Peri, 1999 September 7)
A taste of freedom (by Cindy Olsen, 1999 September 14)
My breasts reclaimed (by a woman in Ontario, Canada, 2001 April 27)
Articles by Paul Rapoport:
Burn this page . . . (2005 November 28)
Barebreasted women: Exposing indecency? Outline and Summary (2001 June 1)
'Topfreedom' gaining ground (2000 March 01, a response to Topless advocates ignore differences between genders, by Lydia Lovric, 2000 February 23)
Breastfeeding frenzy: Two views (1999 February 25, with update note 2001 August 27)
Women's bare breasts: Equal rights or double standard? Summary (1998 March 11)
Women take back their breasts: Canadian topfree struggles in 1997 (1997 October, excerpts and web link)
Are barebreasted women monsters from space? (1997 August)



The person who wrote the next item has drawn a telling cartoon on the subject in three frames:




She concluded with this: "The only way people will get used to seeing the naked female breast is by seeing the naked female breast." Can't get any simpler, can it!



by Jordan Matter

The author is a noted New York photographer. Four of his photos are below; two more are here.

Jordan Matter is looking for women above 40 (especially 60 and over) to participate in an ongoing photography project titled Uncovered: Celebrating Women in New York City. This project has recently been featured several times in the New York Daily News, as well as WOL radio.

It involves photographs of women casually going about their daily routine in public while topfree. The project is a reaction to the public madness that followed Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction."

Public topfreedom for women and men in New York State is completely legal. If you're interested, please contact Jordan Matter.


After Janet Jackson's breast was briefly exposed during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004, the Federal Communications Commission launched an investigation as a reaction to the public outrage. Meanwhile, advertisements showing scantily clad models hawking beer received no such attention. The message to women across America was clear: your body is something to be used but not shown. Conceal your breasts behind 150 grams of fabric and you're an attractive, desirable woman; but remove that fabric and you're at best an aggressive opportunist.

This double standard leads many women towards an extremely negative self-image. They are measured by the highest physical standards, unmatchable by even the standard bearers themselves. Heidi Klum doesn't even look like Heidi Klum in person. So women rely on smoke and mirrors, spending a small fortune on pushup bras, body slimmers, and stiletto heels.

To reveal what's beneath the packaging renders it in effect useless. This project reveals what's beneath the packaging. And it does so very publicly.


Men are free to rip off their shirts with absolute impunity. I am encouraging women to do the same. The purpose is to demystify the female body. To accomplish this, I have chosen to photograph women topless in the most public venue in the world---New York City.

When I photographed Alicia, she was lying down on a curb in Soho. A van with two men was parked three metres away. They were very excited when they saw the purpose of the photograph. First they sat in stunned silence, then they hooted and hollered. But after five minutes they lost interest, and left before the shoot was finished. Her body was no longer mysterious.

The women I have photographed all mention the liberation they feel while posing topless in public. Having covered themselves up for a lifetime, they found it exhilarating to shatter the walls that society had placed around them. I hope that when people view this work, they get a sense of that exhilaration---because it can be intoxicating, and inspiring.


I want to have a national conversation about beauty. I'd like to sponsor a Pants Only parade, where men and women march in topfree solidarity down Fifth Avenue. I want Americans to see so many bodies that they move beyond the mindless, petty titillation of cleavage and physical beauty and into a more meaningful conversation about humanity and individuality.



by Julia Goforth

The following letter was written in the winter of 2004, in response to the move by California public defender Liana Johnsson to permit women more topfreedom in that state.

I am having a difficult time finding out your position on the proposed bill for female breast equality. I would think that your background would cause you to have a more enlightened view than that of the more gymnophobic westerner.

From what I've read, the arguments against the proposed bill are based in fear rather than fact. Statistics related to sex crimes against women indicate that countries/cultures that allow female breast freedom have a lower incidence of such crimes. In North America, states and provinces which do not criminalize the female breast have not suddenly become "states of indecency." In fact, very few women choose to exercise their right to be topfree, due to the shame they still carry from the ongoing sexualization of the female breast by those who can profit by such measures.

Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families, insinuates that allowing women to choose to wear tops or not will increase sex crimes against women. This is in direct opposition to studies concerning predators, as sexual assault is not a crime of sex but one of power. When a woman has the courage to choose freedom and comfort, she projects power and is unlikely to become a victim. Predators prey on "I'm weak" body language. Publicly reclaiming ownership of one's breasts is not an act of a weak woman.

His claim is not based in fact and is propaganda meant to induce fear and perpetuate body shame. A side note: body shame is the root of eating disorders, body-altering surgeries, and related "societal diseases" which are damaging our families in far greater numbers than even the current rate of sex crimes. Breast shame also prevents some women from performing breast exams and getting mammograms. It was you who proclaimed October to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

As a victim of sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse, having the opportunity to reclaim my breasts has helped heal my formerly devastated body image and self concept. While I do not "encourage" other women to go without tops, I do encourage them to make a conscious choice rather than allow others to make the choice for them. Without choice, one is oppressed and enslaved. And although I have the right to choose, I rarely choose to be topfree.

Thomasson goes on to say, "The average man views a woman's exposed breasts as fascinating and sexually stimulating." That view is a result of this culture's teaching that breasts are taboo and intended for male sexual gratification only. Only 12% of the world's cultures view the female breast as sexual. Biologically speaking, female breast development is a secondary sex trait, the same as male facial hair is.

The female breast's primary function is not one of a sexual nature. The biased laws perpetuate the myth that the female breast is inherently sexual. Sexuality of the breasts ought to be at the discretion of the owners, not the lawmakers.

US case law has already determined that the female breast isn't "genitals," and that mere breast exposure doesn't constitute indecency or lewd and lascivious behaviour.

Punishing women for having the "misfortune" of being women by denying the right to choose whether or not to wear a top is akin to punishing African-Americans for being African-Americans by denying them the right to sit where they want on a bus, attend a school with Caucasians, and vote.

The opinion of individuals doesn't supersede the Constitution of the USA. To deny women the choice of wearing a top or not is a violation of the 14th Amendment, as this is imposed on the basis of one's sex.

Children are not harmed by the sight of female breasts. They are harmed by prejudices and bigotry. Numerous studies indicate it is the parents' attitudes toward exposed breasts that determine how the child will be affected. It is the gymnophobic parental response that traumatizes the child, not the breast itself.

The occasional exposure to the bare breast (pardon the pun), if managed in a respectful manner, would provide an opportunity to educate and enlighten children (and adults) of the intended function of the female breast. Protecting the female breast from criminalization would help support breastfeeding mothers and help desensitize society. It would also make nursing mothers feel more at ease giving their child the best nutrition and nurturing, because they wouldn't have to be concerned about being harassed for using their breasts in a non-sexual manner. (Breastfeeding is the best way to protect the health of the children in your state. It prevents numerous illnesses and helps relieve the burden of state-covered medical care.)

Thomasson also says, "There are good reasons for modesty laws---to protect the innocence of women and girls and to promote a decent society supportive of children and families." Modesty is a culturally relative term. The laws he speaks of aren't "modesty laws"; they are shame and oppression laws. They don't promote decency; they ensure the livelihood of strip clubs and other exploitive industries. They don't protect innocence; they perpetuate ignorance. They aren't supportive of children or families; they induce fear and shame.



by Robin Jensen

This essay was written for presentation at the annual conference of the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender on October 10, 2003 in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky (hosted by the University of Cincinnati).


"One of my biggest fantasies is just to ride down the highway bare-breasted on my motorcycle. I resent the fact that men do not have to wear shirts and women do, especially in the summer when it's so hot." (Ayalah & Weinstock, 1979, p. 122)

"It was probably a good thing for those children at the pool to see women's breasts as much as they wanted to and to be done with all the mystique, this hide-and-seek with women's breasts is obviously unnatural and everybody suffers in some way, especially women." (Ayalah & Weinstock, 1979, p. 128)

On the smoldering summer evening of June 21, 1934, everything seemed normal at Coney Island in New York City. The beach was crowded with men, women, and children dipping into the water after a long day at work. Somewhere in this scene, a group of men decided to remove their bathing tops and perform calisthenics on the beach. The next day, The New York Times reported the scandalous incident. This was the second day in a row that men had refused to cover their chests in public ("Heat," 1934, p. 3). The men were arrested and rushed to the county courthouse. Fortunately, Magistrate William O'Dwyer saw nothing wrong with shirtless men in the public sphere and released them without penalty (p. 3). To this day, the ease with which these men earned the right to go topless stands in stark contrast to the efforts put forth by members of the opposite sex. For instance, sixty years later a woman went to jail for going bare-breasted in the Osceola National Forest (Latteier, 1998, p. 161). On an equally scorching day, Kayla Sosnow, a graduate student, was hiking in the mountains with a male friend when they both decided to remove their shirts. Two forest rangers spotted the pair and demanded that Sosnow cover her chest. She refused to do so. Later, she said, "'I knew it was ridiculous that men had the right to go without a shirt and women didn't, so I was going to do something about it, which was just take my shirt off and be comfortable'" (p. 161). Revealing her breasts in 1996 cost her four days in a Florida jail before she was allowed out on bail. Then, she:

was found guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced to thirty days in jail to be suspended after successfully serving five months probation, fifty hours of community service, payment of $600 in fines and fees, and a promise not to appear nude or partially nude in public for the next six months. (Latteier, 1998, p. 162) [At the time of Latteier's book publication in 1998, Sosnow was still facing appeals that were expected to last "three to five years" (p. 162). According to in a story by Peri Escarda accessed on April 7, 2003, Florida's 8th Circuit Court of Appeals "overturned Kayla Sosnow's disorderly conduct conviction" three years and eight months after her initial arrest.]

Even before Sosnow's absurd experience in 1996, people had been fighting to eliminate the gender discrimination involved in her case. These feminists are proponents of "topfreedom," which "is the notion that women have the right to not wear a top in any situation that men also have that option" ("Topfree!" 2003). The same website explains, "The word 'topfree' is used because it does not have the negative connotations of 'topless' in regard to commercial sex work." Although equality between the sexes has long been an ideal throughout most of western society, very little attention has been paid to this area of striking discrimination. In order to delve into the gap between current topless laws and the fight against gender discrimination, it is important that the arguments on both sides of the issue are elucidated so as to encourage understanding and change. Therefore, this essay explores the main arguments for and against topfreedom circulating in the public sphere and groups them into rhetorical categories for future analysis. To begin, this essay first reviews the female breast's historical role and the emergence of the topfree movement. Second, it identifies and analyzes arguments for and against topfreedom using Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's (1969) work The New Rhetoric: A treatise on argumentation as a guide. Ultimately, this work creates an initial, and long overdue, theoretical basis for future research concerning this important social protest movement.

The Female Breast's Historical Role

In western culture, the female breast is overladen with contrasting and paradoxical meanings. The breast has consistently played a central role in the perception of women as divine idols, sexual deviants, consumers, mothers, citizens, employees, and medical patients. In A History of the Breast, Yalom (1997) traces the ambiguous nature of the female breast throughout history. On one hand, the breast has long been a symbol of spirituality and the sacred role of motherhood that is modeled after the Virgin Mary nursing the baby Jesus (p. 31). It has been said that as Mary provided nourishment for the divine child and is worthy of veneration, so are the nursing mothers who follow in her footsteps. This view is evident in the numerous paintings, sculptures, and other ancient and modern art works that feature the sacred act of a woman nursing her baby (p. 40). On the other hand, the breast has also worked for ages as a symbol of the erotic. Separated from the innocent divinity of the Virgin Mary, the display of the breast is associated with sexuality and carnal lust (p. 49). The erotic breast was, and continues to be, dominated by men. In this light, breasts are "offered up for the pleasure of a male . . . with the intent of arousing him, not her" (p. 90).

Latteier (1998) tackles the breast's sacred and erotic role from a modern perspective. She identifies the ambiguity surrounding the female breast and the issue that brings this ambiguity to the forefront: breastfeeding. Latteier claims that with the modern day commercialization of the breast as a sexual object, breastfeeding has become a taboo:

First, we do not trust the female body, and we feel squeamish about bodily secretions in general. Then, we value breasts for their erotic appeal. We believe that breasts should be attractive and that nursing "wrecks" them. Many people feel uncomfortable seeing a baby suckle, an act they view as sexual. (p. 89)

With this outlook, the Western world has adopted numerous alternatives to breastfeeding. Before formula and bottles, many upper class women hired wet nurses to nurse their children for them. By the late 18th century, wet nurses fed 90 percent of babies born in Paris, and other European urban areas boasted similarly high statistics (p. 106). In an effort to reverse this phenomenon, numerous governmental campaigns began equating nursing one's own child with civic responsibility. Yalom (1997) explains, "The nursing mother was seen as fulfilling her duty first to her family and then to the commonwealth" as she nourished its future citizens (p. 107). Today, Nadesan and Sotirin (1998) argue that the act of breastfeeding is still rich with ambiguous symbolism and that a new slant is brought to the mother/sexual-object dichotomy in the "science of breast feeding" (p. 227). Science and medicine collapse the act into a normalized procedure that values "the chemistry of the product, breast milk" (p. 227). Modern campaigns encourage breastfeeding by using slogans such as "Breast is best," which frame the female breast as an object of health, prosperity, and monetary profit (women who decide to breast feed are often encouraged by the medical community to purchase nursing pumps, specialized bras, and expensive nutritional supplements). In this light, the breast is not a symbol of motherhood or sexuality, but rather, simply a producer of a medically endorsed item for consumption, equivalent to a faucet or perhaps an assembly line part (p. 229).

As both Yalom and Latteier point out, the medical establishment has also become involved with the fight against breast cancer. Breast cancer has recently reached epic proportions with one in eight women in the United States contracting the disease in their lifetimes (American Cancer Society, 2002, p. 7). Treatment for breast cancer can include a harsh dose of chemotherapy, radiation, and a lumpectomy or mastectomy (Accad, 2001, p. 231). These methods have proven to be extremely effective in ridding the body of cancer and extending breast cancer patients' lives. Despite this reality, some people, including Accad (2001) in The Wounded Breast, hold that the removal of the breast is often an unnecessary procedure that contributes to the objectification and mistreatment of the female body (pp. 229-230). For this reason, increasing numbers of women with breast cancer are turning to alternative medicines in order to escape the sometimes harsh world of medical technology (Yalom, 1997, p. 276). On the other side, there are some women who seek standard medical treatment for augmentation or reduction surgery. Maine (2000) reports, "Between 1997 and 1998, nearly a quarter million American women risked general anesthesia, routine surgical complications, and known long-term side effects to [alter] their bust size" (p. 132). While those who get breast reduction surgery usually do so to take weight off of their backs and increase their mobility, women who risk the many side effects of breast implantation often have purely aesthetic aims (Yalom, 1997, p. 239). Clearly, the female breast has a long and many-sided history grounded in unrealistic expectations, symbolic power, and patriarchal control.

The Emergence of the Topfree Movement

The many historical and contemporary issues surrounding the female breast have framed the emergence of what Latteier (1998) labels "breast activism," where individuals and groups encourage women to take the possession of their breasts away from the market economy (p. 153). Men were fighting for the right to go topfree in the United States until at least the mid-1930s ("Heat," 1934, p. 3). [According to the "Topfree Equal Rights Association" webpage, accessed on March 20, 2003, men continued to be arrested for going topless in other parts of the world such as South Africa.] The day on Coney Island in 1934 with which I opened this essay was one of the last instances where men had to fight for the right to go topfree in the western world, but it was just the beginning of women's battle to earn the same right. For instance, La Leche League was founded in 1956 and not only encouraged women to breast feed their children, an action that was frowned upon in the sexually repressed, sterile environment of the mid-20th century, but eventually defended women who nursed their babies and toddlers in public (Latteier, 1998, p. 154). To this day, La Leche League continues to play an active role in changing state obscenity laws that do not make exceptions for the exposure of nursing mothers.

While the League was one of the earliest groups to support breast exposure, they have done so exclusively for the benefit of nursing mothers. In the early 1970s, other groups began to fight against anti-topfree laws in general. During this time, some women removed their shirts and bras as a statement against patriarchy and the objectification of the female breast (Yalom, 1997, p. 276; Latteier, 1998, p. 39). These women challenged anti-nudity clauses that include the female breast in the list of genitalia that must be covered in public (Hyde, 1997, p. 133). [Although the ordinances vary from state to state, most of them resemble one cited in a California case from 1975. Nudity is defined as displaying "'the genitals, vulva, pubis, pubic, symphysis, pubic hair, buttocks, natal cleft, perineum, anus, anal region, or public hair region of any person, or any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof the female person'" (p. 133).]

For the most part, such efforts were shot down in the courts. For instance, in 1975 a California judge ruled that because men and women's chests are biologically different, laws that limit only the exposure of women's breasts do not constitute sexual discrimination (p. 144). Similarly, in 1977 a Florida judge charged women with disorderly conduct for showing their breasts in public (Latteier, 1998, p. 161). Yet, the tides began to shift in favor of the topfree movement in 1992 with the case of People v. Santorelli. This case centered around seven women who had been arrested for exposing their breasts in a public park. The judge decided that there was no governmental interest at stake in requiring women to cover their breasts and that the breasts of both men and women are legally the same (Hyde, 1997, p. 144). Anti-topfree laws were thus eliminated in the state of New York, supporting the argument that "power, not nature, tells us when and whether a breast is a sexual organ" (p. 148). Similar decisions have since been made in places as diverse as the province of Ontario, Canada, the District of Columbia, and the state of Ohio. In addition, between 1995 and 1997, 12 states enacted laws that allow nursing mothers to feed their children in public (Latteier, 1998, p. 155).

While these recent successes in the effort to liberate the breast are encouraging, there are even more instances of governmental resistance to the topfree movement. Sosnow's experience is neither isolated nor exceptional. For instance, Evangeline Godron

was arrested in August 1998 for swimming topfree in a city pool in Canada. This 64-year-old woman was literally carried out of the pool and charged with two counts of assault and one of mischief. She was then jailed for two days as a 'threat to society.' ("Woman's Choice," 2003)

Similarly, in New Jersey v. Vogt (2001) Arlene Vogt was charged $500 dollars for appearing topfree in a New Jersey public beach ("Topfree Equal Rights Association," 2003). In 1997, the Topfree Equal Rights Association, TERA, was created to help "women who encounter legal difficulty going without tops in public places in Canada" and to inform "the public on the issue. It also helps women in the USA" ("Topfree Equal Rights Association," 2003). Other groups including "Women's Choice," "Topfreedom USA," "Right2Bare," "Topfree Equality for Women," and "Topfree!" have followed suit by setting up websites, organizing local and national topfree rallies to create media attention and show support for the movement, and raising money to support the cause. Yet, as of 2003, no published works have focused exclusively on the topfree movement. Thus, the following analysis of the primary arguments for topfreedom will be based on websites, newspaper coverage, and court records in the hopes of providing a starting point for research in this area. Before moving into the analysis, the next section of this essay introduces the analytical tools that will serve as a guide for this work.

The New Rhetoric

In 1969, an English translation of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's work The New Rhetoric: A treatise on argumentation introduced "a compendium of methods of securing adherence, both argumentative schemes and stylistic resources" to a rhetorical tradition consumed by Cartesian logic (Conley, 1990, p. 298). Rather than limit their study of argumentative schemes to self-evident facts and logic, the authors developed a new rhetoric that is audience-centric, relying on logic as much as it does presumptions, values, and hierarchies (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969, p. 2). Their goal was to characterize "the different argumentative structures, the analysis of which must precede all experimental tests of their effectiveness" (p. 9). Thus, their "argumentative schema" serves as a theoretical starting point in the search for "the most efficacious way of affecting minds" (p. 8). These aims are appropriate in light of their definition of argumentation "as the discursive means by which an audience is led to adhere to a given thesis, or by which its adherence is reinforced" (Conley, 1990, p. 297).

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's (1969) work serves as an appropriate guide for the following categorization and analysis of the topfree movement for several reasons. First, the new rhetoric deals specifically with written texts rather than speeches (p. 6). Until the topfree movement gains more credibility in the western world, written texts will be the primary vehicle for making its points. Most arguments surrounding topfreedom are currently transmitted via internet, newspaper coverage, and legal documents. Second, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca wrote The New Rhetoric to serve as a theoretical starting point for future work in the arena of argumentation (p. 9). Similarly, groundwork needs to be laid for the debate surrounding the topfree movement in the way of categorizing argumentative schemes before other work on this topic can be accomplished. Third, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca sought to uncover the "entire range of discursive means of argumentation, not just the logical forms" (Conley, 1990, p. 297). In other words, they recognized the important role that arguments from value play in many areas of debate. The arguments surrounding the issue of topfreedom are heavily value-laden, making this debate a case-in-point of what the new rhetoric aimed to include in its analysis of argumentation. Ultimately, this project does not seek to force The New Rhetoric's categories onto the arguments surrounding topfreedom but, rather, aims to follow in Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's footsteps by identifying key argumentative schema and pointing out where similarities exist between the new rhetoric's categories and the arguments at hand. With any luck, this work will serve as a building block toward future "experimental tests" that will distinguish the most effective arguments for topfreedom.

The Rhetoric Surrounding the Topfreedom Debate

After analyzing topfree websites, newspaper articles covering media events surrounding topfreedom, and court documents obtained by using the search engines Lexis-Nexis and Google, I have divided the primary arguments for topfreedom into the following categories: rhetoric of equality, rhetoric of sexuality, rhetoric of time, rhetoric of commerce, and rhetoric of health. I will look at each category by identifying arguments on both sides of the debate, giving a specific example for each side, and examining some of the theoretical assumptions underlying these arguments using The New Rhetoric as a guide.

Rhetoric of Equality
First, the primary arguments surrounding the topfreedom debate deal with the rhetoric of equality. In most western societies, anti-topfree ordinances and court decisions tend to be grounded in the argument that men and women are inherently different and, therefore, laws must account for these differences. For instance, a few years after a group now called "The Rochester Seven" began to protest for topless rights in New York, a guest columnist for USA Today criticized their goals, arguing, "Bare-chested and bare-breasted are not the same," and shouldn't be treated as if they are the same (Ellis, 1989, p. A8). On the other side, proponents of topfreedom make use of the tenets of liberal feminism and operate under the assumption that allowing men to go topless in the public sphere, but not women, is an example of inequality. Topfree advocates argue that the following two claims are incompatible: 1) women and men have equal rights; 2) women are required to cover their chests in areas where men are allowed to go topfree. Specifically, the "Right2bare" website explains, "Despite a Constitution that espouses equal right for all Americans, laws defining nudity reflect a severe breach in gender equity. A topless woman is a criminal," while a topless man in the same situation is functioning within his constitutional rights (2003). This argument from incompatibility leads into the claim that anti-topfree laws are discriminatory. The "Topfreedom USA" website offers a case-in-point; it argues that laws against topfreedom are comparable to other practices that have been deemed discriminatory in the past:

To those who disagree, or feel that topfree equal rights are unimportant, consider how you would feel if our laws made it illegal for people of your race, or religion to remove your shirts in public, while people of other races, and religions remained free to do so. Imagine the police rushing in to a crowd to stop an African American from dressing like a white person. Imagine a Jew being fined, and forced to put on his shirt for trying to sunbathe like a Gentile. Imagine a woman being arrested for swimming in shorts like her husband. (2003)

Obviously, forcing a person of a certain race or religious belief to wear a shirt when other people are given the choice to do otherwise would be an act of discrimination. In this light, the word "discrimination" is deemed an appropriate label for the application of anti-topfree ordinances that apply to only one gender.

The rhetoric of equality involves arguments from definition, the "rule of justice," and arguments from incompatibility. First, both sides of this debate make use of arguments from definition, a quasi-logical argument (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969, p. 210). Those arguing against topfreedom define men and women as biologically different and, therefore, conclude that the genders' "equal" treatment under the law will also have to be different as well. Advocates of topfreedom, on the other hand, begin their argument by defining anti-topfree laws as discriminatory. This argument from definition is based on what the new rhetoric calls the "rule of justice" that "requires giving identical treatment to beings or situations of the same kind" (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969, p. 218). Here, the "rule of justice" fits into what Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca label the rhetoric of incompatibility, another quasi-logical argument in which "the theses one is disputing lead to an incompatibility, which resembles a contradiction in that it consists of two assertions between which a choice must be made, unless one rejects one or the other" (p. 196). In the case at hand, one must reject either the claim that women and men should be treated equally or the claim that women should be required to cover their chests in situations where men are not similarly restricted.

Rhetoric of Sexuality
The rhetoric of sexuality is another category central to the topfreedom debate and involves two assumptions underlying anti-topfree ordinances and laws: women's breasts are inherently sexual and, therefore, allowing women to be topfree in the public sphere will lead to increased cases of sexual assault. Carol Faraone, the founder of Keep Tops On, an anti-topfreedom group, claims that topfreedom is "'walking pornography'" and a practice that is "'degrading to women and would harm children'" (Gillis, 1998, p. 05). Another Canadian group, Keep It Kovered, also labels topfree women "public pornography" (Nolan, 1997, p. A1). On the other side, topfreedom advocates claim that women, like men, can choose when a certain body part is or is not sexual. Women's breasts are not part of the human genitalia and, thus, are sexual only in the way that a woman's legs or arms are sexual. In other words:

Different body parts arouse different people. Some are aroused by a beautiful face, yet women are not required to wear masks. Some are aroused by feet, yet women can wear sandals. Some aroused by legs, yet women can wear dresses or shorts. Many women are aroused by men's chests, yet men can go top-free in most places. ("Topfree Equality for Women," 2001)

Similarly, children, it is argued, "only get upset or bothered by something if they're taught to do so," and given the fact that babies are nourished by breasts, it is ridiculous to claim that the sight of those same breasts are in any way harmful to children ("Topfree Equality for Women," 2001).

In response to the argument that allowing women to exercise topfreedom will lead to an increase in sexual assault cases, topfree advocates argue that men must take responsibility for their own actions. Ultimately, they assert, "It's not a woman's task to prevent a man from harassing her‚ by wearing clothes men deem suitable on her! Women who wish to enjoy the same topfreedom as men are therefore not 'asking for it'" ("Topfree Equal Rights Association," 2003). The "Topfreedom USA" website contributes to this argument by explaining:

Statistics show that Chinese women are raped more often than American women. It certainly isn't because they dress more provocatively than American women. It's because they aren't valued as equals by their society. Their value is disregarded, and their rights are denied. (2003)

Ultimately, topfreedom advocates claim that a woman's clothing choices do not automatically instigate men to violate them.

Several categories of argumentation underlie the rhetoric of sexuality: argument from definition, pragmatic argument, and the separation of the person from the act. Like the rhetoric of equality, both sides of the topfreedom debate utilizing the rhetoric of sexuality are guided by definition. The definitions of words such as "breast," "genitalia," "pornography," and "indecency" serve both as starting points for the rhetoric of sexuality as well as points of contention. Arguments from definition often lead into pragmatic arguments, "which allow a thing to be judged in terms of its present or its future consequences . . ." (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969, p. 267). For instance, those against topfreedom first define exposed breasts as "pornography," then they deem the consequences of topfreedom, exposed breasts in the public sphere, to be unacceptable. Topfreedom advocates often use a similar argumentative pattern by first defining the female breast as a sexually neutral body part and then deeming topfreedom appropriate given the consequences of not doing so: the criminalization of a non-sexual act.

By claiming that topfree women will create an increase in sexual assault, those against topfreedom use an argument based on the separation of the "person from the act" where "an act is interpreted as a function of the person, and it is failure to respect this stability which is deplored when someone is reproached for incoherent or unjustified change" (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969, p. 294). In this case, the person himself is separated from the act of sexual assault because it is, supposedly, part of his nature to commit this act at the sight of topfree women. In response, topfree advocates have chosen an existentialist argument by "putting the accent on the freedom of the person, which places him in clear opposition to things" (p. 295). In other words, it is argued that men can choose to control themselves in situations where they are exposed to topfree women.

Rhetoric of Time
Both sides of this debate make use of arguments dealing with elements of time. On one side, the supporters of anti-topfree laws claim that because women are showing more skin than they ever have before, modern society is on a moral decline; the standards of the past are deemed superior to the standards of the present and the future. Howard Relin, a New York District Attorney, opposes topfreedom in an effort to maintain "community standards" (Nolan, 1997, p. A1). Similarly, an Ottawa deputy mayor, Allan Higdon, contends that keeping female breasts covered is a "common courtesy" and to do otherwise is "thoughtless of the sensibilities of others" (Gillis, 1998, p. 05). Superior Court of New Jersey judge Wells in New Jersey v. Wells (2001) argues for the necessity of anti-topfree laws by noting that traditionally female breasts are "unpalatable" for the eyes of the general public ("Topfree Equal Rights Association," 2003). Contrarily, advocates of topfreedom claim that women are finally on the verge of a liberation that has never been available to them in the past. Over time, the covering of female body parts such as legs and arms has, for the most part, been deemed unnecessary and repressive. The "Women's Choice" website argues:

Let`s go to recent history for a moment: until 70 or so years ago, women couldn't even show their ankles---for the same reason, that "they are different." For centuries and centuries women had to wear skirts that were ankle length (just imagine walking in that your whole life!). Today, women in western culture can wear miniskirts showing "even" their knees---unimaginable for women before some 70 years ago. And, what happened? NOTHING. (2003, emphasis in original)

This website also claims that "if our decisions were always based on what has been the norm in the past, nothing would ever change. Slavery and other discriminatory activities would still be legal."

Clearly, the rhetoric of topfreedom is appealing to the future, while the rhetoric of anti-topfreedom is appealing to the past. The latter is making use of what Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969) label the "loci of order," which affirms "the superiority of that which is earlier over that which is later" (p. 93). This argument can also be understood in light of the "device of stages," commonly referred to as the "slippery slope" argument, where the reasoning is described as follows: "if you give in this time, you will have to give in a little more next time, and heaven knows where you will stop" (p. 282). In other words, as society has accepted women wearing less clothing over time, debauchery triumphs over morality. Topfreedom is yet another step in the wrong direction. Topfree proponents see things the other way around and appeal to arguments with "unlimited development" that: "insist on the possibility of always going further in a certain direction without being able to foresee a limit to this direction, and this progress is accompanied by a continuous increase of value" (p. 287). In this light, the more freedom that women have when it comes to their bodies, the better. Topfreedom is another sign of progress.

Rhetoric of Commerce and Health
These two categories are discussed together because, as this essay will discuss shortly, their argumentative structures are very similar. First, the marketplace is another point of contention in the topfreedom debate creating a rhetoric of commerce. Generally, the conventions of business and capitalism require that exposed female breasts be strictly regulated and restricted to certain areas. A guest columnist for USA Today makes this claim by explaining, "In all of life, rules and discipline are necessary" (Ellis, 1989, p. A8). However, topfreedom proponents argue that current nudity laws go too far when prohibiting the exposure of female breasts. Breasts are treated like a commodity, they say, and, as a result, women do not have control over their own breasts ("Topfree Equal Rights Association," 2003). In the spirit of Marxist feminism, or what Donovan (1992) labels socialist feminism and describes as the belief that women are oppressed by the combination of modern economic concerns and patriarchy, they identify a hypocrisy in the regulation of female breasts when topless bars, the pornography industry, and the world of advertising profit from the breast's exploitation. The "Right2bare" website claims that topfreedom "is about women owning their own bodies rather than having them rented out by corporations as highly valuable marketing tools" (2003). The "Right2bare" website also reports:

They tell us to flaunt all the skin we possibly can---but not too much. What would happen to the pornography industry---magazines, clubs, internet---if women were free to walk around topless in a park or down the street? Our breasts would lose their magical marketability. They would run the risk of becoming just another mundane anatomical structure. Corporations would lose our bodies as tools to sell us everything from cars to cigarettes. (2003)

Second, in light of the rhetoric of health, while those who support anti-topfree laws generally do not recognize a correlation between women's health and the regulation of their breasts, topfreedom supporters draw several conclusions about how these rules are detrimental to women's wellbeing. Some argue that requiring women to cover their breasts in situations where men are not required to do so teaches women that their bodies are unacceptable and objects of which they should be ashamed. This effect is only exacerbated when the breasts that are highlighted in the media belong primarily to young, extremely toned models. Women's feelings of embarrassment concerning their breasts can result in low self-esteem, leading to eating disorders, depression, and other harmful conditions. For instance, the "Topfree Equality for Women" website explains:

A grandmother of the author of this page had such a poor self-image and was afraid to have someone look at her body that she delayed going to a doctor until the cancer that she was suffering from had gone too far to be treated, and she died as a result. (2001)

Correspondingly, it is argued that when women are ashamed of their breasts, they are less likely to breastfeed their children, possibly compromising the health of their offspring as well as their own health.

In these final two categories, both the rhetoric of commerce and the rhetoric of health, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's (1969) concept of "presence" is especially pronounced. "Presence" relies on the fact that "all argumentation is selective" (p. 119). Thus, "by the very fact of selecting certain elements and presenting them to the audience, their importance and pertinency to the discussion is implied" (p. 116). The concept of "presence" is easy to spot in these two categories of argumentation because they discuss elements of the topfreedom debate that might not be immediately apparent to an uninitiated individual: the commercialization of the breast and the health consequences of anti-topfree laws. These arguments illustrate a specific "structure of reality" highlighting aspects of that reality that the authors wish "to promote" (p. 261). In the case of the rhetoric of commerce and the rhetoric of health, topfreedom advocates are drawing causal links (i.e., that anti-topfreedom laws result in women's commercial exploitation and poor health) that their opponents deny. They know that "the same event will be interpreted, and differently evaluated, according to the idea formed of the nature---intended or involuntary---of its consequences" (p. 270-271). Therefore, they have put forth arguments that feature consequences the public might not explore by itself.


Although topfreedom has a fairly long history in the western world, it continues to be an issue that receives little thoughtful consideration or attention from the general public. In fact, while discussing the project at hand with others, I found that upon hearing a brief synopsis of the topfreedom movement's goals, most people dismiss the idea that women should be allowed to go topfree whenever men are given the choice to do so as ludicrous. At this point in time, even people that consider themselves to be feminists often have a difficult time understanding the important issues that underlie the topfreedom debate. In this light, it is apparent that arguments for topfreedom must be thoughtful, purposive, and audience-centered in order to gain the consideration of an uninitiated public. While it might be easy to create a media event featuring "bare breasted ladies," the title itself reminiscent of a circus act, it is not so easy to get the public to take those same ladies' concerns seriously.

This essay seeks to begin the process of crafting argumentation that will bring the topfreedom movement forward by providing a theoretical starting point for the discovery of, as Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969) put it, "the most efficacious way of affecting minds" to the issues surrounding topfreedom (p. 8). Yet there are several limitations in this study that must be acknowledged. First, I have identified the five primary categories of argumentation surrounding topfreedom as the rhetoric of equality, rhetoric of sexuality, rhetoric of time, rhetoric of commerce, and rhetoric of health. However, there are also many secondary arguments surrounding the topfreedom debate that have yet to be addressed but are beyond the scope of this essay. Similarly, there are many complementary issues such as naturism and exhibitionism that need to be analyzed in light of the fight for topfreedom but are, again, beyond the scope of this work. Second, more emphasis has been placed on the arguments for topfreedom than the arguments against topfreedom in this essay. However, this is less of a biased oversight than a response to the number of anti-topfreedom arguments circulating in the public sphere. Currently, because the status quo has not been in danger, arguments supporting these laws are few and far between. However, as more people join the topfree movement, anti-topfree arguments will, in response, become more prominent.

Clearly, the topfreedom movement is ripe with research opportunities. Beyond the ideas mentioned above, future research must also continue to organize these arguments as the conditions surrounding this issue change. Perhaps most importantly, scholars will need to build from these theoretical categories to decide which arguments best interact with and inform audiences in various situations. Equal attention must be paid to the arguments that uphold anti-topfree laws and ordinances so that we can both understand them and respond to them. Ultimately, topfreedom as an idea is making its way into the agenda of public discourse and must continue on that path in order to achieve the important goals that it upholds.


Accad, E. (2001). The wounded breast. Chicago: University of Illinois.

American Cancer Society. Breast cancer: facts & figures 2001-2002. (2002). Atlanta, Georgia: ACS.

Ayalah, D., & Weinstock, I.J. (1979). Breasts: Women speak about their breasts and their lives. New York: Summit Books.

Conley, T. (1990). Rhetoric in the European tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Donovan, J. (1992). Feminist theory: the intellectual traditions of American feminism, 2nd ed. New York: Continuum.

Ellis, T. (1989, July 6). "Face-off: Going bare-chested; Good taste is not discrimination." USA Today, p. A8.

Gillis, M. (1998, July 5). "Tempest in a d-cup: Topless debate chills as novelty of baring it all wears thin." The Ottawa Sun, p. 05.

"Heat of 89.3 Degrees Ushers in Summer" (1934, June 22). The New York Times, p. 3.

Hyde, A. (1997). Bodies of law. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Latteier, C. (1998). Breasts: The woman's perspective on an American obsession. New York: Harrington Park Press.

Maine, M. (2000). Body wars: making peace with women's bodies. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books.

Nolan, M.K. (1997, August 11). "Topless women? Not in conservative Hamilton." Hamilton Spectator, p. A1.

Perelman, C., & Olbrechts-Tyteca, L. (1969). The New Rhetoric: A treatise on argumentation (J. Wilkinson & P. Weaver, Trans.). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame. (Original work published 1958)

Right2Bare. (2003). Retrieved April 17, 2003, from

Topfree Equal Rights Association. (2003). Retrieved April 1, 2003, from

Topfree Equality for Women. (2001). Retrieved March 22, 2003, from

Topfree! (2003). Retrieved March 20, 2003, from

Topfreedom USA. (2003). Retrieved April 2, 2003, from

Women's Choice. (2003). Retrieved April 15, 2003, from

Yalom, M. (1997). The history of the breast. New York: Knopf.

Copyright © 2003 by Robin E. Jensen



by Oquawka (Janie Rezner)

This article was written in September 2004. The author lives in California.


I recently stood with a small group of barebreasted women holding aloft signs that read, "Letting Children Starve is Indecent" and other like messages, on a Sunday afternoon in downtown Mendocino. I was responding to the outrageous reaction to the bare breast by the high and mighty of this country: John Ashcroft ordering the covering of a statue of a bare-breasted woman, the big to-do because someone's breast was seen for a moment on TV.

I was responding to the efforts of the patriarchal powers to diminish and vilify this very wonderful attribute of women which allows them to feed their children from their own body. The folks in power strive to wipe out any honouring of the maternal, and have been doing so for almost 5000 years. Nothing new there, of course. Ammachi, the Indian saint, speaks at length about this loss.

The maternal breast is very political. It's about women taking back their own bodies---making birthing and nursing and feeding the norm, rather than war and death, whose images are an everyday occurrence for our growing children. Rather than honouring scenes of violence and the taking of life, how about honouring the scenes of the giving of life? Nurturing rather than warring!

I sent some of my photos and recent writings to Christopher Titmuss, international Buddhist meditation teacher in England, who leads meditation retreats around the world. He is also an activist. His response was:

"I loved the article and the photos. To wake up consciousness, we have to be bold. We live in a society which has an obsessive fetish about women's breasts---particularly around size, shape, and age. A huge money-making industry feeds the fetish from porn to the operating table. It's big business. All credit to you and your women friends for baring the truth."

Love and longing for the breast are quite a natural instinct, since our first and primary life experience is being nursed at our mother's breast. Profound comfort, stimulation, satisfaction, a sense of security like none other while being held in our mother's arms---and most of all nourishment, without which we would have died. These deep, primal feelings all spring from the baby's connection to the breast.

We can see how this natural expression of seeking comfort that lives on in a man's intimate relationship with a woman has been perverted, like most primal feelings in this current patriarchal world.

Riane Eisler says, "We have to change the conversation." I'm hoping this issue and the deeper truth and reality that surround it will be brought more into the public eye. That's what we are all about, as conscious human beings on earth, aren't we? Not only doing our best to change the bigger conversation to the real concerns that are facing us, but for some of us, bringing awareness of what our history as humans has been, and how we must come back into balance, if we are to survive.

As we now live, with one half of humanity controlling and having ultimate power over the other half, with the Sacred Feminine dominated, her voice silenced, her wisdom scoffed at, a huge gap exists in our inner and outer life. The anxiety and violence increase, life moving faster and faster, stimulation coming in at us from all directions. All to dull the pain of a world gone awry, a world without love and compassion.




by a girl in Edmonton, Alberta

This article was written in May 2004.

In the summer of 2003, at the age of 14, I struck my first blow for topfreedom by wearing only a bikini bottom at a beach at Gull Lake, Alberta. Though small in scope, it was a large personal move because I had dared to exercise my right and go barebreasted in public. I say dared because, though legal, this is not yet socially acceptable, and I could have "caused a disturbance" and been subjected to ridicule and harassment, as so many women have in other places.

I dropped my top on our beach blanket next to my father and ran for the water with my girlfriend (her top still on) beside me for moral support. What would happen now? Was I ready for this? Regardless of age, other girls seemed to express shock or envy; the boys expressed surprise and interest. No one said anything to me, and no one called the police.

One couple nearby smiled and gave me a thumbs up. There was only one dissenting voice, a friend of my mother‚ who thought I was breaking the law. It was my father who told her that it was legal in Canada for a woman to go topfree anywhere a man could, and offered to show her the proof when we got home. She didn't seem impressed; but I remained topfree for the rest of our stay. 


So I got away with it and am still getting away with it on a regular basis. Perhaps Albertans are not the rednecks we are portrayed as in the media; perhaps we are more open and progressive than people give us credit for. Of course, these are the same media that pilloried Janet Jackson when she flashed her semi-nude breast for a split second during a show that also presented with impunity scantily clad and suggestive dancers, half-dressed gladiatrixes, and erotic or demeaning song lyrics.

Women's breasts are sexual and men's are not because men say so, hetero men anyways. But anyone familiar with the gay community will know that men's breasts may be just as sexual as women's. So why the controversy?

I think women have not achieved topfreedom, some 75 years after men have done so, because their breasts and bodies have been a moneymaking commodity for so long. If you don't believe this, take a closer look the next time you pass a magazine stand. Women's sexualization is used to sell everything from cars to candy bars. A financial resource of this magnitude must be protected.

Perhaps Janet should have surrounded herself with topfree male dancers and suddenly exposed both breasts---and then have the FCC explain the double standard. That would have been "one giant leap"!

Note: the legality as mentioned above is probably correct for all of Canada but has not been specifically established in some provinces, including Alberta.



by John Aaron

Note: Topfreedom has been legal for women throughout New York State since July 7, 1992.

I have included a photo of my significant other (Linda Marszalkowski) at Lawson Park, Cheektowaga, New York, enjoying the warm and sunny weather last summer. The newspaper never did a story on Linda because the police department finally found that she was acting within her legal rights removing her shirt in the town park. But they weren't happy about telling me this.


I talked to the police department after we got home. Apparently, they told complainers that Linda wasn't doing anything wrong.

But it didn't begin so easily. That day we took a short walk through the park and stopped for a picnic. Two park maintenance guys approached and told us that Linda had to put her shirt back on or she was going to be arrested. I explained that she wasn't doing anything wrong and showed them the documentation to support that. They said they were going to call the cops.

I decided because the newspaper wasn't going to do the story that I was going to find out myself how many police departments in the towns around the area knew the law.

Buffalo said that if she was spotted, she would be arrested.

Tonawanda said that they knew it was legal---but gave me an attitude.

Lancaster said that even if it wasn't legal, they wouldn't mind.

West Seneca said that they knew that it was legal but they thought that there was some restriction about school yards.

Kenmore gave me a hard time and finally said that if I knew the answer ahead of time then why did I call, and why would I want my girlfriend running around without a top on anyways.

Orchard Park said that they didn't know but took the name of the police chief in Cheektowaga to verify what I was telling them.

Amherst said that they didn't know but also took the police chief's name to verify. They thanked me for informing them.

Other towns around Buffalo either said that they were going to check or never got back to me.

It really disturbs me that the Buffalo police department, the largest in the area, initially didn't know the law and, even after hearing what I had to say, said that Linda would be arrested anyways.



by Julia Goforth

This letter was sent to Wal-Mart's American head office in December 2002.

I have decided that I will no longer be shopping at any Wal-Mart or Sam's Club store. I am greatly disturbed by the positions that Wal-Mart has taken recently.

I am appalled that Tamie Dragone of Lincoln, Kansas had to face horror and humiliation because of photos of her child that she entrusted to Wal-Mart. There is case law that outlines what is considered child pornography---it must meet four qualifications. Across the US and Canada, woman are fighting for and winning the right to be topfree in public as men are because the female breast is not a sexual organ and is not indecent or sexual by nature.

Many states recognize that to deprive a woman the right to be topfree in public while men are allowed to be is discrimination based on sex, and have laws protecting women's rights, including the right to be topfree. States that haven't moved into that still don't require a girl younger than the age of 10 to wear a top in public, e. g. at a public swimming pool.

The corporation's support of its over-zealous employees is absurd. I question the mindset of this employee if he/she found the photos of a three-year-old old to be erotic. (Incidentally, some counties in Arkansas refuse to respond to a call about a woman being merely topfree in public.)

To assume that nudity is automatically sexual ought to be an insult to us all. We are all nude. Most of us have been indoctrinated into believing our bodies are shameful and dirty and need to be covered, and that uncovering them is sexual, regardless of one's age.

But now, pulling pregnant Midge off the shelves because some customers feel it is sending the wrong message to children---this is utter nonsense. It's Barbie herself that sends the wrong message to children. If Barbie were real, due to her proportions she would not be able to walk upright. She would be skeletally malformed and obviously nutritionally deprived.

However, her friend Midge, waiting until marriage to become pregnant and still having her husband and son, is being pulled from the shelves. As a mother of six, I agree that this doll would be an asset to my children. In child play-therapy, it could help a child work through issues regarding the pending arrival of a new sibling or the abuse witnessed of its pregnant mother. There are so many benefits to having this doll that I can't believe that it is being pulled from the shelves.

The irony to me is that the toy, magazine, and electronics sections of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club are filled with things that promote violence, including destruction and murder, and titillate by showing the peek-a-boo cleavage of women in order to sell a product. And I won't even begin to discuss the bathing suit section. Please.

Wal-Mart purports to be family-centered and of high morals, which is the supposed reason behind the photo policy, but this is just a marketing ploy. I would rather drive farther and pay higher prices to a corporation that carries "whatever" in order to blatantly make a profit but doesn't lie to me by pretending to be moral and to have integrity.

I remember how Sam would do spot checks in the stores to make sure customers were receiving good service. It was about the customers, balanced with the profit motive. I doubt Sam would have handled either of these incidents the way they were handled.

Wal-Mart will no longer be getting any of my money. And as an advocate for women and children recovering from abuse, I will advise my colleagues of my decision and the reasons behind it, and encourage them to follow suit. As a leader in female equality, I will advise my associates similarly. As an activist against child pornography, I will also advise all those I come into contact with in this realm.

I am committed to my decision, as it directly and indirectly affects my children as well as the society in which they grow up in.



Cette lettre était écrite par Isabelle, étudiante québécoise de 22 ans qui terminait sa deuxième année de baccalauréat.

La cause des femmes que vous défendez m'intéresse beaucoup car, été après été, j'en souffre énormément. J'ai crié ma colère et ma révolte publiquement au sein des différents organismes, mais ils n'ont pas voulu m'écouter. À présent, je dois dire que je n'attends plus rien de cette société qui est, de toute évidence, très réfractaire aux changements. Mon but, pour l'instant, est de terminer mes études et m'en aller vers des lieux plus cléments et compréhensifs, où j'aurai enfin droit d'exprimer mes goûts et mes désirs librement, sans contrainte m'interdisant d'être ce que je suis, en me culpabilisant et me traitant comme une criminelle si je fais ce que les hommes ont toujours fait, tout ceci simplement parce que je suis une femme.

Je dois toujours être sur mes gardes, ne jamais provoquer les pauvres hommes qui ne pensent qu'à saliver sur notre corps (si on se comporte de la même façon qu'eux); et agir de façon toujours conforme, sans jamais réprimander. Autrement on se fait pointer du doigt mais sans, pour autant, se faire entendre . . .

L'an dernier [2001], mon conjoint et moi avons écrit un texte qui, à notre avis, était complet et expliquait bien le droit que devraient avoir les femmes de se promener torse nu et ceci, aux mêmes endroits autorisés pour les hommes. Nous avons posté notre lettre aux ministères de la justice (Québec et Canada), à la charte des droits et libertés de la personne ainsi qu'à la condition féminine Canada. Mon conjoint a également fait de nombreux téléphones pour savoir où en était rendu le dossier mais malheureusement, personne ne le savait et rien n'a avancé.

Voilà la lettre écrite par Isabelle et son conjoint:

Mesdames, Messieurs,

Nous vous écrivons pour vous dire à quel point nous trouvons injuste de voir qu'encore aujourd'hui, au Québec, dans notre société, les femmes n'ont pas le droit de se promener le torse nu, aux mêmes endroits que les hommes. Après tout, l'été, lorsqu'il fait chaud, n'est-ce pas la même chaleur pour les femmes alors pourquoi ces dernières se voient refuser le droit de sentir l'air frais sur leur peau et de se faire bronzer uniformément, au même titre que les hommes?

Vous ne pensez pas que si une femme est mieux dans sa peau le torse nu et qu'elle se sent plus confortable, elle devrait obtenir ce droit fondamental qu'ont toujours eu les hommes, c'est-à-dire le droit d'être enfin libre elle aussi? Ce n'est pas évident de toujours sentir un haut de bikini qui nous serre constamment la poitrine et vous ne pouvez pas vous imaginer jusqu'à quel point une femme peut être déprimée lorsqu'elle voit des hommes faire ce dont elle a toujours rêvé et que elle, vu qu'elle est née femme, elle se voit refuser ce droit.

Pourquoi est-ce légal pour un et illégal pour l'autre? Pourquoi est-ce naturel pour un et indécent pour l'autre? Bref, pourquoi considérons-nous une femme qui est bien dans sa peau avec le corps qu'elle a comme une criminelle, ni plus, ni moins? Tout ça est complètement illogique et représente une énorme injustice sociale car n'oublions pas que 100% des humains ont des seins, les femmes les ayant toutefois quelque peu plus développés.

Quoi de plus normal qu'une femme qui allaite son enfant? Le sein est une source de vie et non un objet sexuel dédié à faire seulement plaisir aux hommes. Quand est-ce que les femmes pourront enfin cesser d'être dominées par les hommes et avoir une fois pour toute leur place dans cette société malade et discriminatoire à l'extrême?

Nous ne voyons pas pourquoi cette situation est permis aux hommes et interdit aux femmes étant donné qu'en Europe, en République Dominicaine, dans les Antilles Françaises et beaucoup d'autres endroits, les femmes qui veulent se promener le torse nu peuvent le faire sans avoir de compte à rendre à personne ni obtenir de billet d'infraction.

Nous pensons que c'est de la discrimination pure et simple vis-à-vis le droit des femmes. On brime leur liberté en ne les mettant pas égales aux hommes. Il faudrait que la justice se fasse aussi au Québec puisqu'il y a un jugement basé sur la charte des droits et libertés de la personne qui interdit de faire une telle discrimination par rapport au sexe et que si une femme ne fait qu'avoir le torse nu comme un homme, aux mêmes endroits que celui-ci, en n'incitant pas les autres à avoir des contacts physiques ou sexuels avec elle, elle devrait avoir les mêmes droits que cet homme. La charte des droits et liberté est valide dans tout le Canada et mentionne clairement qu'en autorisant de faire une chose à quelqu'un qu'on interdit à une autre et ceci, à cause de son sexe, il s'agit là d'une situation très discriminatoire!

Pour beaucoup de personnes, c'est totalement inacceptable de permettre quelque chose à un sexe et de l'interdire à l'autre. Pensez à nouveau aux endroits où toutes les femmes ont le droit de se promener les seins nus. Ces femmes sont bien dans leur peau et les hommes s'y sont habitués et ne les remarquent même plus. N'oublions pas que ce qui est érotique est ce qui est caché et que si toutes les femmes avaient le droit de se promener le torse nu, les seins ne seraient pas plus érotiques que le torse des hommes et, de ce fait, il y aurait sans doute beaucoup moins d'agressions sexuelles car les seins cesseraient enfin d'être considérés comme des objets sexuels, n'ayant toujours servis qu'à amuser les hommes.

Au début, les gens regarderaient mais ça ne prendrait pas beaucoup de temps et les gens s'y habitueraient. Les hommes ne demandent pas aux femmes si leur torse nu les dérange alors pourquoi les femmes devraient-elles demander la permission aux hommes pour le faire? Ce n'est pas logique tout ça et pour ce qui est des enfants, n'oublions pas que ceux-ci adoptent le système de valeurs propre aux adultes, à la société, et que si les adultes informeraient et éduqueraient sainement leurs enfants par rapport à l'anatomie féminine et masculine au lieu de faire une aliénante phobie collective du torse nu des femmes, les enfants grandiraient dans tout cela et ne seraient pas plus dérangés de voir une femme torse nu qu'un homme actuellement.

C'est sûr que tout changement comporte son lot de dérangements. à la première femme qui a porté un pantalon. Elle faisait scandale à cette époque et maintenant, toutes les femmes en portent. Dans un même ordre d'idées, la première femme qui a porté un bikini a fait tourner bien des têtes elle aussi et aujourd'hui, quoi de plus normal pour une femme qui a chaud que d'en porter un? Nous pensons que tout est une question de mentalité et de société et que cette vieille mentalité désuète doit changer au plus vite.

Ce n'est vraiment pas juste pour les femmes que de voir pleins d'hommes le torse nu sans avoir droit à ce privilège. Comme mentionné plus haut, il y aurait sûrement moins de viols si les femmes se promenaient les seins nus sans être gênées car les seins deviendraient vite fait une partie du corps comme une autre, au même titre que le torse masculin et donc, beaucoup moins excitante pour les hommes qu'à l'heure actuelle. Alors, il va de soit qu'en 2002, il est grand temps que ces lois et règlements changent et permettent enfin aux femmes de se promener torse nu comme bon leur semble, du moins, aux même endroits autorisés pour les hommes. Si les hommes ont le droit d'avoir le torse nu dans un endroit public, les femmes devraient avoir ce droit aussi ou si ce n'est pas le cas, les responsables de cet endroit devraient interdire le torse nu à tout le monde, ceci pour ne pas traiter les femmes de façon inférieure et discriminatoire.

Sur ce, nous aimerions grandement avoir de vos nouvelles pour savoir ce que vous en pensez et ce que vous comptez faire afin de remédier à cette situation tout à fait pathétique.



by Bruce Frendahl

Bruce Frendahl is a member of the Board of Governors of the B.E.A.C.H.E.S. Foundation, located in Miami Shores, Florida. He and his wife Judy visited the October 2002 Fantasy Fest, known for some years for its topfree women, or at least for women attempting to be topfree, in a variety of situations.

I felt that a barrier had come down. Not that a woman could now feel free to be topfree on Duval Street at high noon on an average day, but at least the enforcement of discriminatory laws against females typical of the state of Florida would magically be suspended for one brief if "wild and crazy" evening in the streets of Key West.

Whether the reason be Key West's finest finally giving in to the commercial demands of the residential artist community---or the lack of sufficient vocal protest from the local religious extremists---or the townwide revelation that women should be treated equally to men, especially if it could somehow be rationalized that there was an artsy side to the end result---or a realization that most of the arrests or citations or "police enforcement encounters" were a result of forcing reluctant women to keep a fabric covering across their chests (both on floats and in the massive costumed crowd, admittedly inebriated to varying degrees)---or a combination of all these factors, and others of which we know not . . . it happened.

It will likely continue to happen, as long as women express their collective preference to do so, artists continue to make money from it, and law enforcement personnel realize that an arbitrary dress code (at least this aspect of it, on this particular night) is archaic and silly. Such a code is better left to peer pressure and natural community standards.

Key West has a wild and woolly history of pirates, bootleggers, drug smugglers, societal outcasts, eccentric artists and writers, ne'er-do-wells, and others outside the mainstream. Considering the town's seedy history, to deny this simple and innocuous pleasure on the craziest night of the year in Key West would be foolhardy to most independent observers.

Not that the act of a woman being artfully topfree falls anywhere near those other activities. But it is consistent with the traditionally independent attitude of the Conch Republic. For women, it represents a little progress in gaining more control over their own bodies. And that's a good thing for everyone.



by Claire Braz Valentine

This piece of work began circulating on the Internet in the spring of 2002 after US Attorney General John Ashcroft spent more than US$8000 to hide a breast on a statue in the Hall of Justice in Washington, DC.

Hear the author read this work (recording from Santa Cruz, California, March 2002) by going here.

John, John, John, you've got your priorities all wrong.
While men fly airplanes into skyscrapers, dive bomb the pentagon,
while they stick explosives into their shoes,
and then book a seat right next to us,
while they hide knives in their luggage, steal kids on school buses,
take little girls from their beds at night,
drive trucks into our state capital buildings,
while our president calls dangerous men all over the world evildoers and devils,
while we live in the threat of biological warfare, nuclear destruction, annihilation,
you are out buying yardage
to save Americans from the appalling, alarming,
abominable aluminum alloy of evil,
that terrible ten foot tin tittie.
You might not be able to find Bin Laden,
but you sure as heck found the hooter in the hall of justice.
It's not that we aren't grateful,
But while we were begging the women of Afghanistan
To not cover up their faces,
You are begging your staff members to
Just cover up that nipple,
to save the American people
from that monstrous metal mammary.
How can we ever thank you?
So, in your office every morning
in your secret prayer meeting,
while an American woman is sexually assaulted every six seconds,
while anthrax floats around the post office
and settles in the chest of senior citizens,
you've got another chest on your mind.
While American sons arrive home in body bags,
and heat seeking missiles
fly around a foreign country
looking for any warm body,
you think of another body.
And you pray for the biggest bra in the world, John,
because you see that breast on the Spirit of Justice
in the spirit of your own inhibited sexuality.
And when we women see
our grandmothers, our mothers, our daughters, our granddaughters,
our sisters, ourselves,
when we women see that statue, the Spirit of Justice,
we see the spirit of strength,
the spirit of survival.
While every day
we view innocent bodies dragged out of rubble,
and women and children laid out
like thin limp dolls
and baptized into death as collateral damage,
and the hollow eyed Afghani mother's milk has dried up
underneath her burqa
in famine, in shame,
and her children are dead at her breast.
While you look at that breast, John,
that jug on the Spirit of Justice,
and deal with your thoughts of lust
and sex and nakedness,
we see it as a testimony to motherhood.
And you see it as a tit.
It's not the money it cost.
It's the message you send.
We've got the right to live in freedom.
We've got the right to cheat Americans out
of millions of dollars and then
just not want to tell congress about it.
We've got the right
to drop bombs night and day
on a small country that has no army,
no navy, no military at all,
because we've got the right to bear arms,
but we just better not even think
about the right to bare breasts.
So now, John, you can be photographed
while you stand there and talk about
bombs and guns and poisons
without the breast appearing over your right shoulder,
without that bodacious bosom bothering you.
And we just wanted to tell you
in the Spirit of Justice,
in the Spirit of Truth:
John, there is still one very big boob left standing there in that picture.




by Julia Goforth

Julia Goforth is a former Vice-President of the Topfree Equal Rights Association. She wrote this article in early September 2001.

In late July 2001, I visited York, Maine. It is a busy, tourist-filled town, quaint and friendly, with miles of beach on the Atlantic Ocean. What a beautiful place to be!

I sought to find out what to expect from law enforcement officials in the area should I decide to enjoy the beach in my usual manner. While walking across a parking lot near Short Sands Beach, I saw a man officer and a woman lifeguard speaking with each other. I approached them and explained that I was visiting from Ontario and planned to spend time on the beach in my "monokini" bathing suit (bottom only). I asked if I would encounter any problems from the police department.

Seeming to be surprised by my question, they both answered "Yes." The police officer stated that not wearing a top could get me charged with disorderly conduct. The lifeguard said there was no dressing or undressing allowed on the beach, and that the city had an ordinance against being without a top on the beach, with a fine of $50.

I asked where I could get the exact wording of these statutes and ordinances. Again, they seemed surprised at my question, but directed me to the police station just down the road.

So I paid a visit to the Town of York police department. Officer Scott Cogger offered to assist me. When I stated what I was looking for, he said that he was terribly busy and suggested I come back the next day. I smiled and said I didn't mind waiting for him to finish what he was doing.

After a few minutes, a dispatcher offered to help me. I made my request known to him. Then he politely declined to help.

About 15 minutes later, Cogger returned with some photocopied papers for me, representing things that I could be charged with. He requested that if I planned to be on the beach without a top, I do so on a weekend so that the officers on duty on weekdays would not have to handle the call. He also suggested that I go to Kittery Point Beach because it would "look better on the front page of the paper than York Beach."

Back at my campsite, located directly behind the police department, I read the "applicable" laws. Here are the "relevant" parts:

Maine Law Section 17A

854. Indecent conduct

1. A person is guilty of indent conduct if:

A. In a public place,
1. The actor engages in a sexual act, as defined in section 251; or

2. The actor knowingly exposes the actor's genitals under circumstances that, in fact, are likely to cause affront or alarm.

501. Disorderly conduct

A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if:

1. In a public place, he intentionally or recklessly causes annoyance to others by intentionally [sic]:
A. Making loud and unreasonable noises;

B. Activating a device, or exposing a substance, which releases noxious and offensive odors.

C. Engaging in fighting . . .

2. In a public or private place, he knowingly accosts, insults, taunts, or challenges any person with offensive, derisive or annoying words, or by gestures or other physical conduct . . .

The city ordinance spoken of is the "ordinance prohibiting obscenity for commercial gain."

Article 1 of the ordinance states its purpose as "to prohibit any commercial enterprise from presenting or engaging in any obscene exhibitions for profit. It is not intended to suppress or inhibit the free exchange of ideas of artistic expression. The Town of York has enacted this ordinance for the purpose of promoting and protecting the general welfare, public safety, public order, and morals."

Article 2, Section 5 of this ordinance defines obscene as "any conduct of a sexual nature" and continues to outline what would be considered of a sexual nature: anything

A. which, "to the average individual applying contemporary community standards, considered as a whole appeals to the prurient interest;"

B. which "presents in a patently offensive manner actual or simulated ultimate sexual acts, sodomy, beastiality, excretory functions, masturbation, direct physical stimulation of the unclothed genitals, flagellation or torture in context of ultimate sexual acts, lewd exhibition of the human male or female genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or the female breast below the top of the nipple;" and

C. which "considered as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."

Article 3 outlines what is prohibited: any commercial enterprise is prohibited to present or engage in an obscene exhibition for profit; or to solicit, permit, promote, or assist any commercial enterprise or person to present or engage in any obscene exhibition within the Town of York.

Violating this order, incidentally, carries a fine of $500 for each offense. The lifeguard was off a bit in her figures. Come to think of it, she was off a bit in a lot of this ordinance.

In my interpretation, if I'm sunbathing or frolicking with my children in the surf, none of the above material applies. Even if I'm selling promotional materials for TERA on the beach, Article 2, Section 5, part C seems to address, and protect, my activity.

Unfortunately, I left York at sunrise the following day and was unable to test my theory. But there is always next summer. Stay tuned!



by Kayla Sosnow, posted 2001 October 25.

Kayla Sosnow wrote this about Judge Joe Williams while she spent 20 days in jail for not wearing a shirt in a forest in Florida. For a photo of her singing/chanting this poem, go here.

~With a country twang~

Chorus: (But) (still)
Well I'm just sittin' here in jail
Wondrin' how did I fail
Why am I held without bail
All I did was be female
and wondrin'
Why is it that the judge
Is refusing to budge
If I could just give him a nudge:
"See, it's only about pudge!"
But in court you can't speak free
You got to pay a lawyer's fee
For the priv'lege of giving up your voice
There really ain't much choice
So I made me a plan
To get access to this man
He'll let me out of the joint
Once he understands my point
And in this fantasy
I invite him for herb tea
And far from the halls of justice
I ask what all the fuss is
Well, thoughtfully he sat
Then said . . . "Mine are flat, yours fat . . .
And I think it's really shitty
That you showed the world your titties."
But then I explained to him our quest
To gain freedom of the breast
"You see judge they aren't dirty
You'll get used to that they're purty
"And who was it to decide
That by law females must abide
Our bodies in shame we must hide
That seems most undignified!
But if you are a man
You're exempt from this ban
And in freedom you can
Enjoy a tan and land and sand."
Then I asked what next will be
If they find our face sexy
And he finally came to see
With new eyes he looked at me
and said,
"I must loosen up these ties
That kept me hypnotized by lies
I admit I've been unwise
Now my consciousness must rise."
With that he handed me the key
And said, "You're out of jail free!"
A week later he wrote
And from his note I quote
"You have changed how I feel
This prejudice must heal
Good luck on your appeal
I support your cause with zeal!"

Copyright © 2001 by Kayla Sosnow

by Ann-Marie, 2001 August 07.

Ann-Marie lives in Texas. The following is taken from a longer essay.


I see breasts every day. Mine. So does my husband. Every woman has them. So why is it such a horrible thing when they are seen on television? We see men and boys taking off their shirts every day, in the movies and on television, but as soon as a woman takes off hers, parts of the picture become mosaic, or she pulls a bed sheet over her chest. Why?

The funniest part is "the controversial nipple." That's pretty much what's being hidden here. In Pennsylvania, at a strip bar, the dancers have to wear pasties over their nipples. Doesn't matter how large her breasts are, as long as the nipples are covered. Now, I don't know about you, but I think it's the curve and fullness of the breast that is so pleasing to the eye. Nipples be damned! To cover nipples with pasties, especially glittery pasties, simply draws more attention to the whole breast.

Obviously, this does nothing for the equality of men and women. Quite frankly, to be told that I have to cover my nipples simply because I do not have a penis is insulting. Yeah, we're different . . . but we're equal. If a man can take off his shirt and not have his nipples blurred out on television, a woman should be able to do the same. So ours look a little different . . . they're a little bigger . . . SO WHAT?! All women have them. All husbands and boyfriends see them. All children still nursing see them. All other women see them in changing and locker rooms. Do you honestly think that we all try to cover up in the locker room?

And don't get me started on the whole breastfeeding in public issue. Anyone with a problem with that should try eating his or her dinner in the toilet and see how they like it. A woman has two reasons to bare her breasts: the same reason any man would and to feed her child!

Through this censorship, we are sending very mixed signals to our women and girls: that they should be ashamed of and hide their breasts at the same time they are taught by fashion magazines that they should enlarge and display them. What hypocrisy!

We're also sending a signal to men and boys that they cannot control themselves at the sight of a breast. Do men commit assault as a result of seeing bare female breasts on PBS or in a movie? Yeesh!


The author.

OK. Seriously . . .

I'm not saying that I want to walk around everywhere topfree. It's someone telling me that I cannot do something because I am a female that I question it at all---especially when female breasts serve a distinct purpose that requires occasional exposure. Restrictions like this are ridiculous, illogical, and unfair. They need to be tested, pushed, and broken.

If you are going to blur a woman's breasts on television, you might as well come into my home and digitize my breasts while I shower and change my clothes.



How I used a non-policy to begin educating the police and others.

by Julia Goforth, 2001 July 07.

This is a report of an incident on June 30, 2001 at about 11:00 in a small city north of Toronto, Ontario. The dry approach reflects the author's calm, cool control.


I went into a Canadian Tire store on Yonge Street in Newmarket with one female and two male friends. One of the men and I were topfree, while the other two chose to wear shirts.

After a half hour of browsing and purchasing, Mr. Allen Dodds, Retail Manager, approached me with Ms. Tanis Pottage, Manager, and another store employee. Mr. Dodds told me I was going to have to put my shirt on. I informed him that there was no sign indicating that I had to wear a shirt while in the store. He stated that Canadian Tire is private property and I had to put a shirt on or leave the store.

I asked if this was a store policy. He said it was. I requested to see the policy in writing. He said that it was not written anywhere.

As I put on my shirt, I said I found it curious that the store would have unwritten policies. I asked him to please put this one in writing for me, and that a hand-written copy would be acceptable. He then accused me of creating a disturbance with his customers. I pointed out that I was merely shopping and was not creating a disturbance of any kind. He said that other customers were bothered by my being without a shirt. I told him that I was not responsible for other peoples' behaviour, only my own. He excused himself and went outside to talk to the police.

When he returned, he informed me that the police said that he didn't have to give me anything in writing. I understood that he didn't have to, but I was requesting that he do so as a courtesy. He refused.

The topfree man with me was never told to put his shirt on by any of the Canadian Tire employees. Taking note of this, I asked Mr. Dodds, "Is this a gender issue?" He said, "Yes." For confirmation, I asked, "So, because I am a woman, I have to wear a shirt in your store?" He paused a moment, then said, "I don't want to get into this. I don't want to argue about it." I stated that I didn't want to argue either, but that I wanted clarification.

Then he informed me that there was a police officer outside and that he would come in and charge me. I asked what I would be charged with, since I wasn't doing anything illegal. He said he didn't know---whatever the officer wanted to charge me with. I replied that I would be charged if he pressed charges, so I would like to know what he was planning to have me charged with.

He threatened once again to bring in the police. I encouraged him to include the officer in our discussion. Stunned, he excused himself to speak with the officer.

Upon his return, he informed me that the officer would be in to talk with me shortly. Then Mr. Dodds left, not to be seen again during the rest of the incident.

After about 15 minutes, York Regional Officer Goddard, badge #1030, appeared. The officer, the other woman and the topfree man in my party, and I all joined Ms. Pottage in the office in the customer service area. Officer Goddard clarified, "The manager told you to put your shirt on." I said, "Yes." After a pause, he asked, "So what is the problem?" I said there was no problem, merely that I had put on my shirt when I was told to, but that I was asking for their store policy in writing regarding the wearing of shirts, since it was not posted.

I suggested that to require me to wear a shirt while allowing men to be without one was illegal.

Officer Goddard informed me that my being without a shirt was drawing attention from the other customers; that was the reason I was confronted. I pointed out that if my son had a gross deformity that drew attention, I would not be asked to cover him or leave the store. The officer agreed. I then pointed out that this was basically the same kind of thing. He said he understood, but that this was a "cultural thing." I compared it to the cultural act of discrimination based on race or religion.

He offered, "Well, it's going to take some time for society to change." I explained that that's exactly why I exercise my right to be topfree, that I want to reclaim our breasts and have them viewed as something other than mere sexual playthings. I am helping not just women but men as well, by changing how they view women in general.

Officer Goddard said that the store did not understand the laws about women being able to go without a shirt, and that because the law was so new, even the police were unsure how to handle this type of situation. [Ed. note: the law was only 4.5 years old at this point!] I recalled that I had once encountered an officer who was so unsure what to do that he begged me to put my shirt on long enough for him to get into his cruiser and leave. That sort of action weakened the police's position and effectiveness in the public eye.

I informed Officer Goddard that as Vice-President of the Topfree Equal Rights Association, I would like the opportunity to help the police deal with the public when they receive a call regarding a topfree woman. I asked whom he would recommend that I get in touch with to arrange an informative presentation. I didn't want to tell anyone how to do their job, just offer more viable options on ways to deal with the issue that keep everyone happy without violating anyone's rights. He suggested that I speak with the Chief at York Regional Headquarters.

As the discussion came to an end, Ms. Pottage stated that they would contact Canadian Tire's corporate office and institute a "shirts required" policy in all Canadian Tire stores.

I thanked Officer Goddard and Ms. Pottage for their professional attitudes, then asked the officer for directions to another store. He gave me the directions and then asked, "Am I going to be getting a call from that store in a little bit?"



by Allison Roberts

Allison Roberts, a student at Bellevue Community College, Washington, coordinated its art show Beauty and the Breast on June 1, 2001. For more on that day's presentations, go here.


Although I do not consider myself an activist, I felt compelled to work on this project from the moment I heard about it. Maybe my perspective will inspire people a little, or at least inspire some thought about topfreedom, sexualization, and body image.

In the US today, the average 7-year-old girl has been on at least two diets. Younger and younger girls are influenced by our culture's constant pressure to conform to an unrealistic body expectation. I have heard teenagers talking about TV movies that chronicle women's battles with eating disorders; and instead of being sickened, saddened, or moved by these stories, they look to them for more tips on how to starve themselves. A recent documentary on bulimia stated that the no. 1 inspiration for girls with eating disorders is the movies and books intended to stop them. They think they're glamorous.

Virtually every woman I know has resorted to drastic measures to obtain what our culture teaches is the "ideal" body. What we consider that body to be is probably a very sick one. Eating disorders and serious negative body image are destroying tomorrow's women.

Now, how does this tie into topfreedom?

Even at the age of 27, I have probably seen only 10 or 15 pairs of real breasts. Most of my knowledge about breasts comes from movies and magazines. But actresses use body doubles to give the illusion of a more "perfect" body, and photographs of models have been airbrushed to remove any "unsightly" bumps or discoloration. These women, whom we consider ideal, represent a mere 1% of society.

When girls as young as 12 talk about getting breast implants based on this standard, I say we have a serious problem. Three 14-year-old girls have told me separately that they need breast enlargement surgery, with nothing to base their body hatred on but a stolen copy of Playboy. How can a girl who has little to no idea what real breasts look like be expected to accept her own body as normal and natural? How can we teach our children that our bodies belong to us and are perfect as they are, if we are also teaching them that their breasts are merely dangerous sexual objects to be hidden?

How can we say that to view a woman's breasts will damage children, when it is so clear what not seeing them is doing?

Allison Roberts and her painting American Woman.

We pulled this show together in just under two weeks. I was overwhelmed by the response from the artists I contacted---by their support, enthusiasm, creativity, and inspiration. It was both a gift and a pleasure to work on the show, to spend even two weeks on something I believe in passionately.



by Peri, 2000 March 30


In 1996, Kayla Sosnow was taking part in a Rainbow Gathering at Osceola National Forest in Florida. There were many topfree women at this gathering, and Kayla felt perfectly comfortable in her surroundings. But when she and a male friend left the festivities to fill up their water jugs, she was jolted back into the reality of life here in The United States---where every person is supposedly created equal.

Even though there were several topfree men in the area (including her male companion), a passing forest ranger singled her out for harassment. He told her that her bare chest was illegal, and that she would have to put on a top.

"Really?" Kayla responded. "Do you have a local law about this?" Her question flustered the ranger, and he went back to his radio. Soon after, three Sheriff cars pulled up. The Sheriffs were not interested in discussing the situation. Kayla was told that she must cover up or go to jail. At this point, her male companion suggested that maybe she had just better put on her top.

Now, let's all pause for a moment and put ourselves in this situation. You are enjoying time with friends in a beautiful national forest. Suddenly, you find yourself facing jail time. There is only one way to escape the situation: you must agree to abide by a law that is obviously discriminating against you simply because of your sex. What would you do?

A comparison

What's wrong with this photo?

Kayla Sosnow chose to go to jail. She was handcuffed and driven to a county jail. She was to spend four days there, and because she refused to plead guilty, she ended up serving another sixteen days after conviction.

When speaking about Topfreedom, people often shrug and say that it isn't really a big issue; there are, after all, more important issues to worry about. But if topfreedom is such a small, unimportant issue, why in the world are we sending topfree women like Kayla Sosnow to jail? Taking away a person's freedom by incarceration is never a small issue. Inequality between the two halves of humanity (the male and the female) is never a small issue. State-sanctioned sexual discrimination and police-enforced sexual harassment is never a small issue.

Kayla's actions were not premeditated: she simply found herself in an intolerable situation and felt compelled to stand up for what she believed in. Kayla was not raised in an atmosphere that specifically encouraged topfreedom, but she was raised in surroundings that respected social activism.

"Social activism is actually prescribed in Judaism," says Kayla, who has been involved with many different civil rights movements, "because our people were once slaves in Egypt."

Criminal Kayla!

Criminalized for being a woman!
Kayla Sosnow in handcuffs

Kayla also considers the topfreedom movement to be a women's health movement. "Women are not getting screened for breast cancer because of our attitudes about breasts. Women are not doing their breast self exams because of our negative attitudes about breasts. And women are dying because of this. Also, women are not breastfeeding their babies---I can't believe that our society is still making women feel uncomfortable about such a natural process!"

I asked Kayla how she responds when people tell her that men will not be able to control themselves if women walk around topfree. "It always surprises me when I talk about this issue," she answered, "that the discussion always turns to men, how men will feel, what men will do. That is not the issue here. This is about women choosing for themselves."

Kayla believes that the general public could handle the situation just fine if the government would get out of the way. She has tested this theory by being topfree around her house. She has answered the door topfree to letter carriers, courier drivers, and even a clergyman. All of these men were able to "control themselves" just fine.

"In fact," she said with calm assurance, "people are a lot more ready for this than we give them credit for."

Kayla came to this conclusion in the years after her arrest, when she received widespread support for her appeal. She actually won this appeal last year [1999], and is now involved in a suit against the state of Florida. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has filed this lawsuit on behalf of Kayla and nine other females---including a nine-year-old girl. It is very encouraging to see that a reputable organization like the ACLU is offering support on this issue!

Because of her leadership in the topfreedom movement, Kayla has a unique perspective on the progress that has been made in recent years. "The more I talk about this issue, the more I hear about women who have been arrested for being topfree. This has not been organized: it is a grassroots movement! Many, many different women are starting to get fed up and are saying that they don't want to take it any more. I want women to know that they can choose to challenge these laws. We don't have to take it anymore!"

Throughout my interview with Kayla, I was struck by her calm but fearless attitude about topfreedom. Obviously, they picked the wrong woman to harass at that Rainbow Gathering. Or perhaps this was the right woman! Although we are sorry that Kayla had to go through her horrendous legal battle, we are eternally grateful that she chose to stand up and fight for all women's equal rights under the law. She will continue to inspire other women to question the unfair laws that keep women from reclaiming ownership of their own breasts.

2000 April 10

Read on for more topfree inspiration!

Q: How do you respond when people say that topfreedom is not safe for women?

A: The evidence does not bear this out. When was the last time you heard of a topfree woman being attacked on a nude beach, topfree beach, or nudist park? Concert or festival, even? Any topfree woman anywhere? Never! I have never heard of one! And I've heard of lots of topfree women!

Not only does the evidence not bear this out, but neither does my personal experience. I have gone topfree plenty, and have never been attacked. There is an element of strength to going topfree, while at the same time exposing the world to the soft and nourishing parts of women that for too long have been devalued in favour of the tough competitive ideal of our society. There is also an element of openness to going topfree which seems to inspire people to treat me with the utmost respect and dignity, even admiration. People have thanked me for acting on behalf of equal rights.

Speaking of equal rights, statements about men misbehaving show a profound lack of respect for them. Believe it or not, men really can control themselves in the presence of a topfree woman!

Q: How do you respond when people say that topfreedom is inappropriate for children to witness?

A: Silly rabbit, breasts are for kids! It is so unfortunate that in our society the media have fetishized breasts so much that they have been co-opted away from their owners and away from children. Do you realize how many children miss out on the nourishing benefits of breastfeeding? All because of the view that this statement represents, that breasts are sex objects, meaning that they are for men, not women and children.

Q: Do you have any advice for women who might want to try being topfree in public but haven't quite got up the courage?

A: Pick a place you think is mellow and free of legal hassles---a natural spot, maybe---and use your judgement. Then, you know how you take off your shirt at night to go to bed? It's just like that. Really. Just like you've been doing since you were a kid. You just take it off. Once it's off, it's off. People can handle it, and noticing that, you'll be able to handle it too. I'll bet there'll be a surprising lack of fanfare.

Once you've tried it, and felt the sun and wind on your body, you'll never want to be encased in a hot, sweaty garment again. Why do you think men go topfree? It feels better. Let's not be denied!



by Allison Ezell, 2001 April 10

In April 2001, Allison Ezell began a project to decriminalize women's exposed breasts in Indiana. Her website operated for a couple of years.


I can't tell you how great it feels to be doing what I am doing. It is almost cathartic, like I am purging myself of years and years of bullshit and body propaganda that I internalized. And I am trying to help other women.

I have been involved in several activist endeavors. There are an infinite number of worthy causes to promote in this world. But I have found one that gives me peace. This issue is so personal to me.

I don't have to adjust or apologize or explain or be ashamed. I am not a sex object. I own my body. It is not government property.

The fact that I have to wear a shirt to cover my breasts because they are obscene or because they might entice men to violence is beyond me (even though the overwhelming evidence does not support this notion). It is they who have the problem but I am the one whom they legislate.

Women will never be able to accept their bodies as long as we are expected to keep covering up and concealing and hiding from the world with makeup and bras and and control top pantyhose and $60-a-jar wrinkle cream. If we all walked around naked and unadorned for a little while and turned off our TVs, would we still believe that everyone has to look like a Barbie (or a Ken for that matter)? Would women still force themselves to puke? Would we still spend over $80 million a year on diet bullshit? How in the world will women be able to love and accept their very bodies if every other part is either flawed or criminal?



by Whitney R. McCleskey, 2001 May 9

In April 2001, Whitney McCleskey began a project to decriminalize women's exposed breasts in Alabama. Her website is under construction. On January 24, 2002, she gave birth to Victoria Eve, whose photo from Winter 2002 this is:

Victoria Eve.jpg


Out of my own curiosity, I've been investigating the social problems surrounding topfreedom for almost two years now. I have learned that it is difficult for most people to improve their perspectives on something which their culture has taught them to view with contempt. But it can be done.

Most of us grow up in societies which place restrictions on women's breasts, saying that the mere exposure of one is morally threatening to the welfare of the public. We adapt to this belief without question. Our media reinforce it through ads, movies, and TV programs. Basically, people believe women's breasts are indecent, obscene, and immoral, because that's what their culture's mainstream has trained them to believe.

In all of my questioning, I've found no one who has ever been able to tell me what it is about the human female breast that is so immoral, obscene, or indecent. Nor has anyone ever been able to produce anatomical facts supporting the general concept that women's breasts are primarily for sex.

I've concluded that the female breast is the most misunderstood part of the human anatomy. The sight of one (that's not being used for sexual or commercial purposes) is only detrimental if you want it to be. Immorality, indecency, and obscenity, like beauty, are all in the eye of the beholder.

Basically, you can think for yourself. You can purge yourself of the misleading impression promulgated by the state and mainstream media.

Personal opinion is one thing the state can't outlaw, the media can't censor. Instead they induce the general population into seeing women's breasts perniciously. Women's topfreedom is in itself harmless.

Our freedom to choose our standpoint is precious. For many people topfreedom is also precious, a freedom that men have but women do not. Ask yourself (not your government or the media), "Are women's breasts really nocuous to society?"


by Peri, 1999 September 7


When I was 16, I spent a summer in Mexico. One of the girls I met there had just returned from Spain. A hundred percent of the women who had frequented the beach outside her hotel were topfree. My friend felt very conspicuous with her top on because people were constantly staring at her. Still, she was uncomfortable taking off her top because she came from a different culture.

But after a few days, she became weary of being the object of so much attention. So she took off her top. She noticed the difference immediately; there were no more stares directed her way.

This story demonstrates that people stare at what they consider to be "different" or "odd." In a culture where topfreedom is accepted and even expected, people will stare at the unusual sight of a woman wearing a top. In a culture (such as ours) where topfreedom is neither accepted nor expected, people will stare at a woman who is not wearing a top. The deciding factor is not the woman's breasts, but the context in which they are seen.

Topfree as you wanna be!

Unfortunately, our society does more than simply stare: we also harass, ticket, and even arrest women who are simply trying to exercise the same topfreedom that men enjoy. This can be seen in the case of "The Moscow Three," a trio of women who dared remove their shirts last year during the 32° degree heat of a summer day in Moscow, Idaho. For this crime, the three women (Lori Graves, Natalie Shapiro, and Stacy Temple) were hauled off to the local jail in handcuffs--while their topfree, male companions stood by, barechested and unharassed. If this is not a blatant example of discrimination, I don't know what is!

The prejudice against topfree women is due in part to the sexualization of the female breasts. Since women are not allowed to bare their breasts in nonsexual situations, our society immediately associates bare breasts with sexuality. Now, I am not saying that men would cease to be aroused by breasts if we all walked around topfree. Of course some would! Just as some men are aroused by long hair, or bare legs, or blue eyes.

Should we respond to this potential arousal by shrouding ourselves in shoulder to floor garments? Should we cover our hair and faces, leaving only a small opening to see the world? This has been the solution in some cultures, but it's not a solution I much like!

Instead, we can demand that our society grow up and learn to deal with the existence of our physical bodies. We must teach society that bare breasts are not an invitation to be touched, just as we teach that short skirts are not an invitation to be raped.

When we look at the larger picture, we see that sexual violence against women is perpetuated by our present system: a system that legally sanctions women to be topfree only when they are performing striptease acts or serving men drinks in a "topless bar." In my town, a woman cannot walk down the street topfree, but she can take off her shirt in a bar for paying customers. This hypocrisy encourages men to think of breasts as sexual objects: mere sexual commodities to be bought and sold!

Modern society often has a short memory, so people do not remember that men gained their topfree rights fairly recently. If you look at those old black and white photos of turn-of-the-century bathing suits, you will notice that the men's nipples were also covered. It wasn't until Clark Gable bared his chest in a film in the thirties that men began to go topfree in great numbers. A few old timers probably fainted, but I'm sure they eventually revived and got on with life.

Now male topfreedom is so commonplace that few men would consider putting on a top to go swimming. If we want women to enjoy the same rights, some of us are going to have to be brave and just do it!

This is easier said than done. Each woman needs to choose the time and place that feels safe and appropriate. Believe it or not, I do not enjoy making myself a public spectacle! Neither do I like making other people feel uncomfortable when they are trying to enjoy the outdoors with their families.

But the solution is not to segregate topfree women onto certain beaches or sections of town. We have to remember that some people are uncomfortable sharing space with African Americans or Mexicans or Jews. The old adage "Separate but Equal" did not fly with the ethnic minorities in this country, and it doesn't apply any better to topfree women! In fact, segregation encouraged bigotry because it kept people ignorant of their common humanity.

The same applies to topfreedom. Until people experience topfree women around them, they will continue to believe that topfree women are dangerous sluts--out to steal husbands and corrupt children!

It's important to provide the information that will help end this ignorance: to know cases where women have challenged unfair laws in court, to discuss how topfreedom affects breastfeeding, motherhood, and body esteem.

Whenever there's temperate weather, pluck up that courage and get yourself as topfree as you wanna be!



by Cindy Olsen, 1999 September 14


I remember the day the photos below were taken. It was a very gray, January day . . . long before I really got involved in topfreedom.

My husband, our children, and another family member had gone out to the beach for photos of the children and for the opportunity of fresh air during the long, cold winter.

The wind was fierce. Stronger than I could ever remember. I was in a different place then.

A taste of freedom

It was not the normal thing for me to shed my top on a public beach, but somehow the wind beckoned me. First, I stripped down to my bra. But when I felt the cool sting of the wind whipping my skin, I had to be completely free. Free I was. Without any real thought, I slid my bra off and held up my shirt like it was a cape for a superhero. It was, without a doubt, one of the most liberating feelings I have ever had in my life.

The coolness of the air. The wind whisking away my breath. My breasts standing in the wind and shouting, "I am free! I am beautiful! I am decent!"

I haven't looked over these photos in quite some time. Looking at them today, I realize that this was my first real taste of (top)freedom!

Thank you, wind!



by a woman in Ontario, Canada, 2001 April 27

This story makes the connection between women's topfreedom and breastfeeding, in the context of life-giving well-being.


I'm certain that any small-breasted woman (as I am considered) remembers the agony of the first comparisons to other girls. In high school, changing for gym class made me self-conscious. I was the only girl in Grade 9 not wearing a bra.

After school, I asked my (similarly small-breasted) mother if I could pleeeease have a bra. "A training bra?" she asked. "Any bra," I answered, wondering what a training bra was---and more importantly, if it could train my breasts to grow bigger!

Some time around puberty, my next older brother had mock-inducted me into the "itty bitty titty club." His teasing was the beginning of nearly 20 years of shame, embarrassment, and feelings of inadequacy regarding my breasts. Did I ever toy with the idea of breast surgery to incease my cup size? You bet.

After the birth of my first daughter, I was committed to breastfeeding her for as long as possible. With the books "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" and "BestFeeding" as my guides, I suffered through six weeks of painful cracking, bleeding, and screaming nipples---but finally drifted into six additional months of comfortable breastfeeding. Ah, relief. And confidence. WOW, the confidence!

I finally realized that I measured perfectly. When did this new woman emerge? Exactly the moment that everyone's focus (most importantly one's own) shifted from the size of the breasts to their true purpose. It was exhilarating. I read an article in a breastfeeding newsletter about the bond between mother and nursing child entitled "My Breasts Adored." I beamed with recognition. After the powerful experience of successful breastfeeding, I decided that the only changes to my breasts that I was willing to undergo were natural ones, associated with nourishing my children.

Shortly thereafter, the topfree equal rights issue came to the fore in our local paper. I felt a spark, a confirmation. How dare anyone limit the purpose or visibility of my breasts? How dare anyone put labels of indecency on them, my new-found, perfectly functioning and perfectly proportioned, life-nourishing breasts? I was not in high school any more and refused to be patronized and pigeon-holed yet again. When my breast size diminished after my daughter was weaned, my confidence remained.

Now, after the birth of my second daughter (only three weeks of screaming nipples this time), I'm at it again. We're into our 13th month, and nursing anywhere and everywhere. People hardly notice my exposed areolas and nipples. When I'm feeding my child, I don't care what they see.

Photo of the writer just before the birth of her second daughter, and breastfeeding her son in 2004.



by Paul Rapoport

Hamilton [Ontario, Canada] Spectator, November 28, 2005. This article relates topfreedom, nudity, and sexuality to increase understanding in a few areas.

. . . there's "innocence" at risk. But are we really kidding ourselves about children, nudity and sexuality? Are we sending them a harmful message in the process?

Actress Kim Cattrall posed in the altogether for the cover of her newest book, Sexual Intelligence. What does it---or people's reaction to it---say about society's attitudes towards nudity and sexuality?

From Sexual Intelligence, Published by Greystone Books
[the photo was printed 23 cm high in the newspaper article]

A few weeks ago, on a "Go" section cover, The Spectator printed a large photo of actor Kim Cattrall in connection with a new book of hers. Some readers complained about the photo because Cattrall was naked.

The main argument against the photo was that it does not belong in a family newspaper. "Family" means a few things, chiefly the presence of children, also a certain parental attitude: young minds should not be polluted by nudity in a newspaper that arrives for breakfast.

Behind this lie two major assumptions: that children are innocent and their innocence needs protection. Although in some ways children are innocent, many parents narrow that to mean ignorant and try to keep them so, especially in sexual matters. "Protection" via ignorance then easily backfires as a method of upbringing. It also loads burdens onto minors of all ages that adults fail socially to deal with.

Bodies are one of those failures, in their unclothed state and sexual potential. We act in imaginative ways to keep even the topics of nudity and sexuality from minors. It doesn't matter that young children in all cultures prefer to be naked, that at very early ages they masturbate, if non-erotically, and that in adolescence they know well what erotic experience is.

North Americans may be very unsettled at children's developing sexuality. "Our culture deals with this inevitability," writes the social critic James Kincaid, "by issuing orders to deny it." Ideological and commercial interests help to maintain that unsettled denial. Ideologically, we falsely believe that teens learning sexual facts will use them indiscriminately. Commercially, advertising blasts us with sexual messages that we try to prevent many of their intended targets from heeding.

Many deny reality constantly to maintain the myth that we can enforce minors' distancing from sex. The United States, for example, officially promotes and exorbitantly funds "abstinence-only" sex education. Five of the best American professional organizations have shown scientifically that it doesn't work, that vows of abstinence break far more easily than a good condom. The result: the U.S. government says that's not science.

That kind of reaction reached its nadir a few years ago. In 1998, a scientific analysis by Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman claimed that not all sexual experiences of minors presumed harmful are actually so. What did the U.S. Congress do? It didn't say, "We'd better study this" or "We think your stats are wrong." As soon as it could, in a fit of political hysteria, it denounced the analysis in unanimous votes in both House and Senate. It lynched the messenger because it didn't want to understand the message. Promoting baseless fear reaps far more political benefits.

Don't sneer at our southern neighbours, however. Canada, while better, is hardly free from criticism. Its government has tried hard to make some thoughts about sex a crime. Its pornography laws are based on discredited theories. Its police often wrongly claim that child sexual abuse is an epidemic. Ontario's Children's Aid societies threaten nudist families, who refuse to buy into body shame and phobia. And its sex-ed curriculum for elementary schools is warped by omission of important concepts.

Obsession with sexuality may become absurd. Often, it results in those most afraid of it inducing plenty of harm where none existed. In Florida in 2004, a 22-year-old female babysitter undressed in front of her four-year-old male charge because he asked her to persistently, in his innocent way. The boy was declared psychologically damaged and sent to counselling. The babysitter faced 30 years in prison, much more than for murder.

That unhappy tale reminds me of an old joke about a four-year-old boy who spotted a totally naked woman standing up in a convertible. "Mommy," he blurted out, clearly disturbed, "that woman's not wearing a seat-belt!"

The crusade for children's innocence takes other forms. Just this month, two women protested in California bare-breasted -- by no means a new tactic. Sacramento police arrested them for indecency and disorder, claiming their act "could corrupt children ... and cause sex offenders to run amok." There is no evidence whatever to support such claims. Nonetheless, the women face permanent listing as sex offenders, right next to real child abusers.

That sort of thing happens in Canada, too. In the past 10 years, arrests of bare-breasted women in several provinces have been major news. In 2001, when the magnificent Breast of Canada calendar from Guelph showed women's complete breasts, it was labelled "pornographic." Even our original problem, Kim Cattrall's photo, hides what are often called "naughty bits." What message does that send to children?

So we, too, can pin major harm on a tiny part of women's bodies. This nipplemania is the ultimate fetish. It blames women's nipples for disorder subsequently caused by police and calls them indecent to support false claims of protecting misconstrued innocence. We do not help children by teaching them intolerance, disgust, and unjust discrimination towards women's bodies or by hiding from them as much information as possible about bodies and sexuality.

Cattrall's new book is called Sexual Intelligence. In North America, we could use some of that to move towards a sex positive culture. Currently we convey mostly body negativity, in sexual politics of fear and hypocrisy. As protective measures for children, nothing could be worse.



Society is coming to accept that bare breasts are not threatening.

by Paul Rapoport









[Dr. Rapoport's article is below. It is from The Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton Ontario Canada, March 1, 2000. It was written in response to the article at the right by Lydia Lovric, which appeared in the same newspaper on February 23, 2000. Her article is posted with her kind permission.

At the time, as the article says at its end, she was an undergraduate student at McMaster University in Hamilton, the same place where Dr. Rapoport is a professor.

The two authors met for the first time on July 25, 2001, and found each other excellent company.]

Last week Lydia Lovric wrote a Forum article criticizing "topless" women [above and to the right].

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.



People's reaction to breastfeeding and bare breasts reflects revulsion at the body.
Such harmful attitudes shouldn't override the law.

by Paul Rapoport

[from The Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton Ontario Canada, February 25, 1999. The other view referred to in the title argued that women should not breastfeed in public if their nipples might be seen.]


Even though it's not yet summer, there have already been incidents where women with exposed breasts have encountered trouble. Recently, Julia Goforth was removed from a Niagara Falls YMCA, and Shannon Wray was told to leave an indoor pool in Hamilton. Both were breastfeeding. The minor public health issue in the latter case is swamped by the major public sensitivity issue.

Letters in this newspaper said that Ms. Wray was insensitive to breastfeed in view of others. Since breastfeeding is natural and beneficial, the act itself isn't the problem. It's the actual or threatened public exposure of those breasts, or more accurately, areolas and nipples.

Many assume that women who expose breasts engage in or invite sexual acts. This assumption is created and maintained by heterosexual men. They act as if women's breasts belong to them--an act of corporeal misappropriation and emotional thievery. No wonder many women won't breastfeed in public!

A corollary is that men seeing women's breasts can't control themselves. It's false. It also sounds like the old and discredited notion that women are "asking for it" in dressing or not dressing a certain way.

Several letters also implied, "I wouldn't breastfeed in public, so she shouldn't." Aside from the defective logic, this represents the kind of coercion our laws are designed to prevent.

At the heart of the matter is the issue of offense. People have the right to be offended. They do not have the right to remove their offense by removing others who are causing no harm. It would help if people unsettled at the thought of women breastfeeding or uncovering their breasts in public would recognize the source of what is mostly their own problem.

That source is often revulsion at the body. It helps produce calamities---mostly for women---such as bulimia/anorexia, low self-esteem, mutilating surgery, reduced breastfeeding, and sexual dysfunction. Not least is the debilitating body shame and guilt adults lay on children, based on peculiar and damaging adult phobias.

But where does all that come from? Two major places: misapplication of Freudian ideas---some of them untenable in the first place---and misunderstanding of religion, often manifested in inappropriate use of Christian scripture. Not least is the precept that the mind is pure and the body is filthy. That attitude doesn't do much for the temple of the soul, or human beings created in God's image.

Disgust at women's breasts causes women to live their entire socially conscious lives as if there is something bad or wrong about the upper parts of their bodies but not men's. Why? Because men say so. Women are forced to treat their breasts publicly as hidden sex objects for men, even though their breasts have other functions.

An Ontario Court of Appeal ruling in 1996 made much of this clear, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids discrimination on the basis of sex. Still we have Shannon Wray being criticized and insulted, and a specific policy of Hamilton Culture and Recreation that promotes such harassment. Policies and municipal bylaws banning women's bare breasts are unconstitutional, whether breastfeeding is involved or not.

Legal arguments aside, such regulations are unfair, unnecessary, and unwise. Women have brains. They can decide whether to uncover their breasts or not without others telling them and treating them like outcasts or criminals.

Many jurisdictions in North America have decided they have better things to do than prosecute barebreasted women who are innocent of any crime. Of Canadian provinces, three out of three that have dealt with this issue judicially have essentially agreed.

Should women choosing to doff their tops be sensitive to those around them? Of course. So should everyone else. But you can't legislate sensitivity. What happens when sensitivities collide? Perhaps Shannon Wray could have explained nicely what her rights and wishes were, at least to breastfeed in the pool area. Then others might have understood.

But she is hardly required to do that. Those decrying Ms. Wray should recognize her sensitivities too, and educate themselves about what her rights are, why she has them, and the consequences of denying them.

[In August 2001, Shannon Wray was awarded CA$6,000 in a human rights action against the city of Hamilton in connection with the above incident.]




On March 11, 1998, Paul Rapoport presented an hour-long talk at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario. The title was: "Women's Bare Breasts: Equal Rights or Double Standard?" Dr. Rapoport is President of the Topfree Equal Rights Association.

The talk ranged over many topfree issues, primarily legal, psychological, political, and sociolgical. It reviewed cases around North America (in both the USA and Canada) before concentrating on events in Cambridge Ontario in 1997. Dr. Rapoport showed that the main opposition to topfree women results from confusion between nudity and sexuality. He also showed that topfree women do not harm children or cause violence to women, contrary to the claims made by certain political grandstanders in Canada and their supporters, many of whom are members of extremist groups.

Ultimately, he said, the matter is one of equal rights for men and women. It is also a matter of respecting the Ontario Court of Appeal decision on women's topfreedom, which ruled in Ontario in 1996 that it was legal.

To illustrate his points, Dr. Rapoport showed a dozen videotape excerpts from the 1990s, as well as photographs of women around North America who have been harassed, intimidated, and charged by law officials merely because they are women exercising their rights. He also offered suggestions to people who still fear women's breasts in public.

At the end of the talk, Dr. Rapoport introduced the two heroic women from the Cambridge-Kitchener area who were charged in 1997 for swimming topfree: Jeannette Tossounian and Fatima Pereira Henson. Both defeated the charge, and Ms. Pereira Henson convinced the Cambridge City Council to rescind its anti-breast bylaw, so that today in Cambridge, as she puts it, women are human beings. She and Ms. Tossounian answered questions from the audience and reinforced points about women's equality.

Dr. Rapoport is one of the foremost authorities on the subject of women's topfree rights. He has written many articles on it and has appeared many times on radio and television. He is available to speak at other locations in Canada and the USA This talk was very well received by the audience, which was mostly university students. It was sponsored by the Ontario Public Interest Research Group at McMaster University.



by Paul Rapoport

Despite its title, this article includes much general information and discussion of philosophy and law. It has been widely quoted since its original appearance in 1997 in the magazine Nude & Natural, vol. 17, no.2, published by The Naturist Society in late 1997.

The article is now on a different site, that of Topfree Action. The article itself is here.

Only one problem: the online version lacks the footnotes. They provide not only references but more of the argument. If you wish to have an electronic copy of the footnotes, contact us. Meanwhile . . . here are a couple of paragraphs from near the end of the article:


Independent judicial decisions cannot be made on the basis of public opinion. As TERA states, moreover, in a free and democratic society, fundamental rights such as equality of the sexes are not subject to the whim of a majority. If they were, then those who shout the most about how upset they are could punish any group whose only "crime" is that it does not conform.

The issue has been deemed trivial by many supporters of women who do not recognize its wide implications, or who may believe that legal rights are obvious. Topfreedom involves fundamental questions of power and control; of justice and rights; of body freedom, respect and acceptance; of self-expression and self-image; as well as centuries-old patterns of male-female relationships which the last third of the 20th century has fought hard to change through the ongoing social revolution of feminism and its struggle for equal rights for more than half the population of the Earth.



by Paul Rapoport

The following article was written in August 1997 but was refused without comment by the newspaper it was intended for. It was on The Body Objective website for some time. American and other non-Canadian readers may wonder about the Canadian references; but lots of Canadian readers might too. The main points come across fairly easily.


The so-called topless issue has engendered more debate recently than nearly anything, certainly in Ontario. Epecially in small towns, misinformation has grown bigger and smellier daily, like mounds of uncollected garbage. It's time to remove the garbage and freshen up the air.

The catalyst for the arguing is the December 1996 Ontario Court of Appeal decision acquitting a woman of a charge of indecency for walking in Guelph topfree. ("Topless" is loaded; "topfree" captures the freedom many women feel when doing what men have been allowed to do for decades.) This summer I've heard complaints about equal topfreedom for women that are quite revealing--about the arguers, not the issue. "My husband won't be able to control himself if he sees a topless woman." "I'm being harassed and perverted by these topless women." "I want to enjoy this country as it was originally designed." "Go rot in Hell, you sinner!"


More acceptable expressions still come from misperceptions. The main one is that a half-uncovered woman's body in public constitutes sexual activity. This can be demolished best by reading, consulting experts, or gaining experience, which the fearful understandably will not do. But both experts and experience are close to home. In 1992, this same ordeal took place in New York State, where the matter was resolved in favour of women's equality. Shortly after, bare breasts there became a non-issue.

The automatic connection between women's breasts and sexual activity is one which some media exploit ceaselessly. We can and should reject it. Both women and men may choose to be nonsexual in many topfree situations: lying on grass, swimming, strolling down a street, etc. What is worn may have no connection to the sexuality of a situation. There may indeed be more flirting in complete outfits than in topfree attire. Women who wish to enjoy the same topfreedom as men are therefore not "asking for it."

Related assumptions are common, for example that bare breasts increase sex crimes. Sociologists know that the two are unrelated. Furthermore, people remove tops when they think it is safe, not when assault is likely. Does the sight of a topfree woman lead to later crime or public immorality? The evidence for this elsewhere is nil.

Who controls women's bodies?

Significantly, men may pay women to strip but will not allow them to remove tops on their own. Now there is a real connection. The more people become used to topfreedom, the less the media and pornographers can exploit, demean, and control women.

Many people also think that bare breasts destroy children. That is a myth perpetrated by unthinking adults. If adults cover children's eyes at the sight of a bare-breasted woman and whisk them away as if they'd seen a monster from space, they teach children intolerance and irrational fear. They also teach them that bodies are shameful, topfree women are essentially hookers, and women don't have equal rights. Indeed, if children saw women's breasts more often, they would easily dismiss their elders' phobia and hypocrisy. Maybe we should also close galleries of Renaissance paintings!

A few women and men may behave illegally while bare-breasted or not. We have law enforcers for that. But we can't condemn others because a few break a law. Otherwise we not only throw out the baby with the bathwater, but blow up the bathroom as well.

The loudest "argument" is that the majority of women won't be taking their tops off. But is this a reason to remove women's equal rights? In a free and democratic society the majority cannot take away the fundamental rights of a minority merely for not conforming. The same holds for "community standards." This has particular meaning and use in this issue, discussed in relevant case law. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Article 15, forbids discrimination on the basis of sex. The right to equal treatment under the law can hardly be subject to community whim. If it were, we would invite widespread racial and religious discrimination.

Body freedom, body acceptance

People have a right to feel offended, but not the right to criminalize women in order to make themsleves feel better. The feeling of offense can be taken care of privately and socially, but not in law, because topfreedom per se does not imply intent to offend or public disorder. The ready legal solution is to ban topfree men too, a step which would destroy healthy concepts of body freedom and acceptance, as well as make Canada the laughingstock of the western world.

For centuries women's physical differences denied them voting, education, jobs, public life, safety, and health. The topfree issue is no different. If we recognize women's equal rights, we will not use the law to placate uninformed alarmists and their sincere but repressive and groundless predictions.

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