Controversy

Should women be allowed to go topless in public?

WRITTEN BY
03/29/22
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Fact Box

  • Rael, the founder of the organization GoTopless, states, “As long as men are allowed to be topless in public, women should have the same constitutional right. Or else, men should have to wear something to hide their chests.” 
  • It is illegal for women to show their breasts in Indiana and Tennessee; however, it is legal for women to go topless in six US states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.
  • The #FreeTheNipple movement on social media originated with a tweet from singer Miley Cyrus in 2013. However, filmmaker Lina Esco’s movie of the same name in which she aimed to “make a movie about women challenging censorship laws,” gave the movement credibility and traction. The film, which features topless actresses out in public in New York City, debuted in December 2014. 
  • A 2014 YouGov poll found that 54% of men think “it is acceptable for a woman to go topless on the beach,” while only 25% of women feel the same.

Sheryll (Yes)

Laws that treat people differently solely based on their inherent biological differences should be assessed with some level of skepticism. The main argument against granting women the right to appear topless in public is the understanding that women's breasts are sexual and would therefore be considered indecent exposure in most circumstances. However, it is essential to acknowledge why the naked female form is considered more obscene than the naked male form. 

One could argue that a woman's chest is no more sexual than a man's chest. Topfreedom activists explain that the sexualization of women's breasts is purely a cultural phenomenon resulting from a more general sexualization of women's bodies under patriarchal systems. Since men consider female breasts as sexual in nature, female toplessness has come to be viewed as obscene. However, what women are and aren't allowed to do in public should not be viewed through a lens of male sexuality.

Many also argue that laws prohibiting female toplessness may indirectly reinforce harmful societal perceptions of women. Since these laws cater to the male response of seeing female breasts, they fail to consider what women want for themselves. This type of discrimination suggests that men have more control than women do over their bodies. 

Removing bans on female toplessness could also help normalize female bodies. It would arguably help prevent women from being seen purely as sex objects. And though this mental shift would take time, it could play an important role in feeding a decline in other issues, such as gender-based violence. 


Maha (No)

Women should be able to do what they want with their bodies. However, going topless may not be the 'progress' they aim for--and it may even put them in danger. 

First off, allowing women to be topless in public isn't a gender-equal position on public nudity. Quite simply, it's because of the biological differences between men and women. 

Moreover, there's a consensus that women's breasts have been sexualized. Though they're secondary sex characteristics, breasts have become associated with sex, obscenity, and shame. Their sexualization and objectification are also associated with rape culture. 

Because of this, breastfeeding mothers are concerned about nursing in public. That too, despite having the legal right to do so. 

Many women also choose to cover their chests for fear of harassment and exposure online, even in states where topfreedom is legal. Take, for instance, the 29th Annual Dyke March. In an event where thousands of women marched for their rights, only dozens chose to go topless

Notably, from a legal standpoint, going topless isn't considered a right to free speech. In fact, previous court rulings suggest that nudity doesn't constitute an act of expression.  

There are also several repercussions women themselves may face if toplessness is legalized. For example, allowing minor girls to go topless may be considered enabling child pornography if they're filmed. 

With so much to lose and so little to gain, women should consider focusing their efforts on other important causes, especially since society is still far from ready to not react to nipples in a non-sexual way.

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