R.: Mark Storey,
who organized the presentation at Bellevue Community
College outlined on the poster above.
A presentation on women's topfreedom, organized by Mark Storey (above), was given by Paul Rapoport, Judy Williams, and Claudia Kellersch at Bellevue Community College (Bellevue WA, near Seattle) on June 1, 2001. Below are an outline of Paul Rapoport's talk (with references) and the ten main points made by Judy Williams, both of which were distributed to the audience. Also below is a summary of Dr. Rapoport's talk. (Claudia Kellersch did not distribute written material but made salient points based on her European background.)
We also have some photographs from the day's events, posted on this page (above and below). Later in 2001, a videotape of the presentation will be available.
Before TERA's presentation, Allison Roberts put up an exhibition by several area artists (including herself) called "Beauty and the Breast," and Shannon Knepper sang and played (on her amplified acoustic guitar) some of her own music. Their photos are below. For an additional one of Allison Roberts and an article by her, go here.
Dr. Rapoport's talk:
Barebreasted Women: Exposing Indecency?
The thesis of his talk is that laws and social pressures prohibiting women to be barebreasted ("topfree") are a form of unjust discrimination. He does not advocate that women be topfree, merely that they enjoy at least the same right to choose in this matter as men do.
Topfree is used instead of topless because of the association of the latter term with sexual behavior in clubs and bars, which is unconnected to women who wish to be barebreasted for non-sexual reasons.
- Pervasive stereotypes of men and women
The legal and social issues
- Laws prohibiting women's topfreedom
- Assumptions behind the laws
- Disadvantages of prohibiting topfreedom
- More about anti-topfreedom laws
Some of the women in this struggle
- (Photos and stories about Kayla Sosnow, Evangeline Godron, Fátima Pereira, and Linda Meyer)
Typical objections to topfree women
- Observations by women
- This may be found below, after the references.
Glazer, Reena N. "Women's Body Image and the Law." Duke Law Journal, Vol. 43 (1993): 113-47.
Grueneich, Raymond. "An Argument for Topless Equality." Clothed with the Sun, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1982), 23-29.
[Meyer, Jim.] "Topfree in Canada: An Interview with TERA's Paul Rapoport." Nude & Natural, Vol. 20, No. 3 (2001), 24-28.
Province of Ontario Court of Appeal. Judgment C12668, The Queen vs. Gwen Jacob (1996).
Pundurs, Helen. "Public Exposure of the Female Breast: Obscene and Immoral or Free and Equal?" In the Public Interest, Vol. 14 (1994-95), 1-38.
Rapoport, Paul. "Women Take Back Their Breasts: Canadian Topfree Struggles in 1997." Nude & Natural, Vol. 17, No. 2 (1997), 37-48.
State of New York Court of Appeals. Brief of Defendant-Appellant Ramona Santorelli (1991).
State of New York Court of Appeals. Memorandum CoCt. No. 115, People vs. Santorelli, Schloss, et al. (1992).
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972.
Feinberg, Joel. Offense to Others. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Latteier, Carolyn. Breasts: The Women's Perspective on an American Obsession. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1998.
Nead, Lynda. The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality. London: Routledge, 1992.
Schneir, Miriam. Feminism in our Time. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
Smith, Dennis Craig and William Sparks. Growing Up without Shame. Topanga CA: Elysium Growth Press, 1996.
Spadola, Meema. Breasts: Our Most Public Private Parts. Berkeley: Wildcat Canyon Press, 1998. [Excerpts here.]
Tong, Rosemarie Putnam. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction, 2nd edition. Boulder: Westview Press, 1998.
Weitz, Rose (ed.). The Politics of Women's Bodies. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
www.tera.ca (Topfree Equal Rights Association).
L. to r.: Allison Roberts, Rhiannon McDonnell, Jenny Oakley, and Elizabeth Cromwell.
They all had work in the art exhibition "Beauty and the Breast," organized by Allison Roberts.
Not in the photo: Piper Gunderson, another of the artists.
(The flowers were part of one of Elizabeth Cromwell's pieces.)
Pervasive stereotypes of men and women
The problem barebreasted women face in North America cannot be separated from the traditional views of women which still inform our social interaction, despite progress of the past several decades towards equality. These historical views include treatment of the feminine as emotional, intuitive, weak or vain, passive, shy, dependent, and much else: all traits which are negative and devalued in comparison to the opposite traits usually considered masculine.
Laws prohibiting women's topfreedom
Legal prohibitions against barebreasted women usually involve one or more of three concepts: disorderly conduct, indecency, and exposure of private parts. The focus of these laws is almost always areolas and nipples.
A topfree woman does not cause disorder. Usually that is brought about by observers or authorities, who blame what the woman is or isn't wearing for their own conduct. This resembles the rape defence that blames the act on the woman's choice of clothing.
Private parts is a euphemism for genitals. Women's breasts are no more sex organs than are men's. In principle, women may be as interested in men's exposed breasts as the reverse, but for centuries they have been told that "good girls" don't have or don't show interest in sexual matters.
The supposed indecency of women's bare breasts is said to reflect others' discomfort, embarrassment, or offence at seeing them. These reactions may come about through sympathetic identification (a woman seeing another topfree when she herself wouldn't be seen in public like that), potential loss of control (a heterosexual man fearing such on seeing a topfree woman), or distress at being an unwilling observer (either men or women not wanting to be observed by others to be seeing a topfree woman).
To prevent such discomfort is theoretically a legitimate minor objective of some governments. But we will find faulty assumptions here, as well as overriding principles which reduce or eliminate the significance of the supposed discomfort.
Assumptions behind the laws
Courts have established that there is no harm involved in seeing a topfree woman. Therefore, we may not reasonably be threatened by one, as we may by someone aiming a gun or about to throw a bomb.
If sympathetic identification is a valid prohibitor of women's topfreedom, it elevates personal preference to legally sanctioned intolerance. That some women don't wish to be topfree does not constitute an argument to prevent other women from being so.
Potential loss of control may easily be shown to be a groundless fear. There is plenty of evidence that men do not lose control, especially if there are several women going topfree, a busy area is involved, there is little or no surprise to the event, or the women are not seen as potential erotic interests for whatever reason. Regardless, this question cannot justify requiring women to dress a certain way.
To the unwilling observer is offered the following: 1) Don't look; 2) You get used to topfree women very quickly. In any case, being unwilling to observe someone is no cause for abridging that person's rights.
Why do we penalize topfree women showing no sexual intent or action? Do immature heterosexual men have the right to control women's bodies to avoid the easy responsibility of controlling themselves? Does men's historical dominance grant them the right to make women's choices for them in areas where men are free to decide for themselves? What if women made the laws: would they criminalize their own breasts?
Disadvantages of prohibiting topfreedom
Requiring girls and women to cover their breasts, removing their right of choice, tells all females from an early age that there is something unacceptable or wrong about their breasts in comparison to boys' or men's, that there is something bad about being female.
- promotes poor body image in women, with resulting shame and anxiety.
- contributes to eating disorder syndromes and questionable breast surgery.
- contributes to low self-confidence and self-esteem, with resulting loathing and guilt.
- promotes a body split in which women treat their breasts as if they belonged to others, not themselves.
- promotes the breast fetish that equates personal worth with shape and size.
- contributes to women avoiding their breasts, and not examining them for early signs of disease.
- contributes to women avoiding breastfeeding because doing so in public is censured.
- promotes prurience and violence towards women, because the sexual obsession with breasts requires them to be hidden: that is a large component of the allure. If boys and men saw all kinds of breasts often, would they behave as badly towards girls and women as some do now?
More about anti-topfreedom laws
Have standards changed in the past several decades regarding acceptability of women's exposed breasts? Television and movies are two indicators that the answer is yes and that laws forbidding those breasts are outdated.
Is the so-called offending behaviour reasonable or necessary? Does it have any social value? Of course it's reasonable: on a hot day, for example, the comfort, convenience, and freedom enjoyed by men should be enjoyed by women too if they choose. It's also necessary, given the eight points above under Disadvantages. Being topfree is also the only way women may demonstrate and demand equal treatment on this issue under the law and reject unjust discrimination based solely on sexual category.
To quote one judge in a famous topfreedom case: Equal protection must ensure that "public sensibilities" grounded in prejudice and unexamined stereotypes do not become enshrined as part of the official policy of government. The prejudice and stereotype here are that women's breasts are universal fetishized sex objects controlled by men. This goes well with the socialization of girls to be passive, shy, and weak.
Typical objections to topfree women
- "Women's breasts are different." People making this statement often confuse equal with same. Women need to be considered equal to men (not the same as men) precisely because their difference has led to unjust discrimination.
- "This will increase violence towards women." There is no evidence at all for this. Women have the brains to choose to be topfree where they will be safe; most current laws tell them they don't.
- "This will harm children." The breasts that feed infants then turn into weapons of psychological destruction? The problem is adults, not children.
- "I just don't want my children to see that." Children see many things their parents have to teach them to deal with properly, not with phobic intolerance.
Most of the objections to topfree women used to apply to racial and religious minorities. Just substitute Black or Jew or Asian for topfree woman in any of them to see the insidiousness of the discrimination.
In the simplest sense, people mistake women's topfreedom for indiscriminate, charientically indecent sexual activity. Does any woman think she is instigating sexual actitvity merely by having her top off?
Do barebreasted women expose indecency? Yes, but not their own. They expose the indecency of the forces that control, subjugate, and sometimes abuse their bodies. One partial solution to this is to allow those breasts whatever freedom their owners want, giving all women a choice, and declaring them to be human beings, once again.
Shannon Knepper (l.) performed her own music,
and Judy Williams (m.) and Claudia Kellersch (r.) spoke at the presentation on topfreedom.
Ms. Williams' talk:
- Take time to understand local, municipal, and federal laws.
Open your mind to personal freedoms.
Prepare to stand up for your civil rights.
Focus on who you are on the inside!
Reconnect with yourself.
Educate others that it is your right to be topfree where it is appropriate for a man to be so.
Enjoy your body as the temple of your soul.
Determine your own destiny as to whether or not to bare your breasts.
Oust prejudice of those who would objectify your breasts.
Maximize your self-acceptance!
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