“Topfreedom is a cultural and political movement seeking to advance gender equality by the recognition of the right of women and girls to be topless in public on the same basis that men and boys are permitted to be barechested.” – Wikipedia
When I first read the phrase “Topfreedom,” I admit, I didn’t know what it was.
I first considered Tops in BDSM relationships. To my knowledge, police don’t recognize consensual BDSM relationships as legal and courts have no legal precedent either. When I went to the Wikipedia page for Topfreedom, I immediately started thinking about when I started at Being Feminist a year ago. I wrote a piece about a woman visiting Savannah, Georgia from her home state of New York. The significance being that the police arrested this woman for indecent exposure and then jailed her with men.
The police’s decision to arrest her for exposed breasts, combined with their decision to jail her based on her legal sex, says exactly what most of us already understand, that it doesn’t matter where you fall on the gender spectrum, it doesn’t even matter what sex you are, what matters is that the traditionally feminine breast is subject to patriarchal sexualization and subsequent repression.
Breast hypersexualization is a particular phenomenon in the West. Far removed is western society from simply being attracted to the breast for its potential contribution to the species via reproduction and general special continuation (not to say that is where western society needs to be). For the patriarchal gaze, Western society finds itself now injecting, inflating, and piercing the breast.
And while people with breasts are socialized to understand that breasts are for this sexually driven gaze, they are also socialized to understand that their breasts are always supposed to be covered up until such a time that someone wishes to sexualize them, when those without breasts have the right to run around without shirts or bras or pasties without the risk of being arrested or persecuted.
Topfreedom’s main tenet within the movement is actually fighting for the right to breastfeed in public. Not only are there legal concerns to contend with, but there is also the sexual gaze. A popular direct action against archaic breastfeeding laws are for those who are breastfeeding to have Nurse-ins. A nurse-in is when breastfeeding mothers and their babies gather at a specific location (such as a restaurant, a park, a public building, etc) to breastfeed and to call attention to criminalized breastfeeding.
While forty-five states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location, only twenty-eight exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. That leaves three states (Michigan, South Dakota, Virginia) that exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws but that don’t specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. That leaves two states (Idaho and West Virginia) with no laws regarding breastfeeding in public or exemptions for breastfeeding from public indecency laws.
People have a right to breastfeed their children – it is their right to do it wherever they please and whenever they please and they should not face being chastised, arrested, gawked or pointed at for it.
The right for the breasted individual to sunbathe topless is another big goal for the Topfreedom movement. Common, especially in the more mainstream discourse, is an argument that comes out something similar to *Insert image of bigger, barechested individual here* “If those boobs are okay,” *Insert image of breasts* “then why aren’t these?”
But the point remains the same, why does social convention continue to demand that the breasted chest be covered up? Why is it seen as shocking, indecent, and immoral when breasts are bared?
The truth? There is no logical reason. The patriarchy does not depend on logic, it depends on perpetuating age-old power structures.
Interestingly, the court, when ruling against Phoenix Feeley in 2008, released the following statement, “Restrictions on the exposure of the female breast are supported by the important governmental interest in safeguarding the public’s moral sensibilities.”
The court’s feeble attempt at hiding suppression, repression, and oppression of a person’s choice to do what they will with their own bodies, especially when it will cause no harm to anyone or anything else behind the veil of “governmental interest” and that they evoke “the public’s moral sensibilities” is laughable.
There are many sides to see the Topfreedom debate from the right of a person with breasts to go topless to the right to freedom of choice as well as breast desexualization. All are important as Topfreedom activists move toward body autonomy and equality in society.
To bring this conversation full circle, let us note that not all women have breasts and breasts do not a woman make. The breast sexualization, the breast concealment, and the hierarchy created by a breast and non-breast dichotomy works to suppress a large majority, to steal their right to make choices about their own bodies, to steal their right to comfortableness with their own bodies and to even steal the ability to freely use their bodies as they deem necessary.
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Breastfeeding State Laws – http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx
Organizations of Interest:
Topfree Equal Rights Association
Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society
Bara Brost – Sweden
Topless Front – Denmark
Les TumulTueuses – France