It’s unlikely that mayhem and anarchy will ensue
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down a ban on women being topless in public in Fort Collins, Colorado. The court’s decision makes it now legal for women to go topless in all of the states that fall under the 10th Circuit — Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Brit Hoagland and Samantha Six had sued the City of Fort Collins in 2015 on behalf of the #FreeTheNipple movement.
They called the ban an attack on gender equality because there were different laws for men and for women. Considering female breasts to be inherently sexual in a way that men’s breasts aren’t, was discriminatory said the plaintiffs. Determining that male breast nudity is different than female breast nudity and only criminalizing one in effect criminalizes being a woman. The city did have an exception for nursing mothers, but otherwise, there was a $250 fine for any female over the age of 10 who exposed her breast below the top of the nipple.
“Hey, my body is not indecent if his is not indecent,” said Brit Hoagland.
The City Council decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the case already but expressed some concern about what kind of mayhem might now erupt. Would topless women parade in front of elementary schools or swim topless in public pools? And what if they did? Do we really believe that children don’t realize that women have nipples too?
The City Council’s concerns pretty much confirm the need to do away with laws that perpetuate the idea that women’s breasts are sexual in all instances, whether they are intending them to be or not. It’s insanity that public breastfeeding is still as controversial as it is in many places. The exemption for it was only added into the Fort Collins ordinance as a kind of concession before the case was decided. So far, there have been no incidents or noticeable instances of women going topless in public in the 10th Circuit since the ruling.
Last Fall my husband James and I vacationed at a topless-optional resort in Cancun called Temptations. Inside the restaurants, women were required to have tops on, but around the pool and at the beach nearly all women went without. The only people who had tops on were a few younger women who had more conventionally attractive bodies, but not the self-confidence to own them. There was no mayhem or men tripping over deck chairs because they couldn’t handle the sight of so many female breasts. It was no big deal, at all and in fact, felt very natural and comfortable.
As is commonplace in Europe and many other places in the world, when you desexualize human bodies, they become just that — the bodies of human beings. It’s high time that America learns this and gets past its puritanical past. The automatic sexualization of women and girls is a societal construct that has been shown to cause women significant harm.
One of the reasons that the 10th Circuit overturned the ban was the expert testimony of the head of psychology at Colorado College, Tomi-Ann Roberts, who testified to this harmfulness. Some of her areas of research include “Social psychology of emotion, gender, and the body; psychological consequences of the sexual objectification of women and girls; gender differences in self-evaluation, self-conscious emotions, and perceptions of bodily states.”
In 2019, any law that begins “Women shall be prohibited…..” is in serious need of updating. It’s also time to realize that moralistic pearl-clutching about women’s bodies is itself objectifying and sexualizing, not protective, as it purports to be. Three New Hampshire women have asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their case, which they lost in the New Hampshire courts. It is similar to the one in Fort Collins. The Court is expected to announce in October whether or not they will hear it. In the meantime, women in the 10th Circuit have the same rights as men.