Sleepless in Seattle? Or Topless in Manhattan?

As I told you last week, in New York City, it’s perfectly legal (and apparently it has been since the 1990s) for women to walk around topless because they have the same rights as men.  This is thanks to the “Topfreedom Political Movement” which seeks to advance gender equality.  I understand that it’s legal for women to be topless in Canada, too, though I’ve never actually seen it in action during my many visits.  Do any Canadians care to weigh in on this?

I was only made aware of this law because of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s daughter, Scout, pictured here, having made news recently to promote this movement to legalize topless women.

Some news articles I’ve heard or read on this subject indicate that part of this movement is because of people complaining about mothers who breastfeed in public.  My personal feelings on the women topless thing is that breastfeeding in public does not bother me at all.  Maybe if I had young children with me, I’d prefer that the nursing mom put a baby blanket over her shoulder until the baby is attached at least.  But my pet peeve is two-fold.

First of all, part of it comes from when there are activists that want a law amended to allow for these types of things, yet said laws, once passed, don’t seem to consider the possible or probable repercussions.  (Having been a paralegal for more than a dozen years, I tend to look at a lot of situations as how their potential for legal issues might unfold.)

For example, does the woman have to be at least a legal adult?  Because, if not, how many teenage girls look to be a lot older than they are?  So, how is the city going to police this movement?

A potential problem is, if for example, a tourist takes a photo of a topless  16 or 17 year old who looks to be 23, the tourist now technically owns child porn.  If he innocently posts this on his Facebook account, just to say, “Hey, look at how women don’t wear shirts here in the Big Apple!” he has now distributed child porn.  Technically, he could have just had sealed his fate of having to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life, when really he was just guilty of culture shock (okay and maybe exploiting women), once he left his small town life for the weekend.

Furthermore, if or when one of these topless women gets raped, how negatively will it play in that she was half naked and therefore “coerced” the rapist?  (No, I do not believe her attire, or lack thereof, has a thing to do with the heinous crime of rape, but you’d better believe there are plenty of jurors that do, not to mention clever defense attorneys that will use it to the rapist’s advantage.)

What if one of these ladies who simply want to “let the puppies breathe” is a school teacher?  How many parents will see her out shopping for some produce or a book, and will then become irate and write letters of complaint to the schools where the women work?  And now, if these women lose their job over doing something that, according to the city statute, is within their rights, how difficult will it be for them to be accepted at their next job because of the obvious taboo associated with the combination of nudity and teaching children?

Now, keep in mind, this statute allows topless women to walk anywhere in the city.  It isn’t just a designated area such as at a topless beach or park.  So, while certain retailers may have a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” restriction, the sidewalk and street, as well as the numerous sidewalk vendors and open markets there, are fair game.  And while it may be within the “limits of the law,” I can tell you that I definitely wouldn’t have wanted my kids (when they were young) to, pardon the pun, be exposed to topless women.

The second part of my pet peeve on this subject I guess stems from another place in me. I want to know, do the women who support this movement really want to walk around without a shirt on, or do  they just want the right to do it because men do?  I know it may sound like it, but I’m not trying to be a prude here.  Because honestly, yeah, if there’s a good looking, buff man without his shirt on, I’ll look (or ogle).  But most of the time that’s not the case.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, when I see men without a shirt on, I’m not thinking, “I wish I could do that, too,” I’m thinking, “Eww!  I wish he’d cover that up!”  I don’t even want to entertain the thought of my grandma or yours walking around the city topless, much less our daughters.  (Of course, please keep in mind that I live in the retirement capital of the country, Florida, and not only do we have a lot of topless and nude beaches, but even our regular beaches often have the over-90 crowd in their speedos and thongs.  I don’t want to make fun, but as a mom, I’ve been embarrassed on numerous occasions when my kids were small and one of them stopped to point and stare at great-grandma and grandpa’s semi-nudity.)

There are plenty of places for people to go where there is a designated spot to be either topless or completely nude if someone chooses.  And in those places, we don’t have to worry about our children accidentally seeing something that they wouldn’t be allowed to see in a Rated R or NC movie.  Furthermore, while I absolutely believe in gender equality for things such as equal pay for equal work, or opportunity for advancement in the workplace, there are some things that will never be equal — and shouldn’t be.  For instance, men will never have to fight to be allowed to breastfeed in public.

So, tell me, do you think this law has the potential to cause problems?  If you’re a lady, would you go topless in Manhattan?  If you’re a man, would you find topless women distracting?  If you’re a parent, would you have a problem with topless women being around your children in public?  Or would you have a problem if your children’s teacher or your church’s minister went around topless in public?


55 thoughts on “Sleepless in Seattle? Or Topless in Manhattan?

  1. I can understand why a lot of women are pushing for this, just from the equality side of things, but it does have to be said that men and women are different. There is equality in many things, but you can’t get around the fact that women and men have different physiologies 😀

    If you have the confidence to walk around topless, then good on you, but all your points were completely valid. There are so many things that could go wrong with a movement like this. Now, I’m not saying I’m against equality and things, but there are other factors to consider (such as kids and photographers). That’s just how life is :/

  2. My family owns a nudist resort here in Florida. While it is a private resort, children/families are welcome. It is very much family oriented. I don’t have a problem with public nudity, but I can see some of the legal issues arising (esp. the rape/porn issues). We teach people that the body must be hidden, exposure is a bad thing. I think that promotes a negative self image in many. I can’t count the number of people at the resort who have told me they used to have a bad body image before coming to the resort and finding that every body is beautiful. If more people saw breasts, it would be such a “big deal” anymore.

    • I agree about the body image, and I’m all for places like your family’s where people can choose to go see nudity or not. Though, I have to admit, I find it odd that children are allowed there when they aren’t allowed to see nudity in a rated R movie. I’m not saying anything against nudists, but just wondering how the lawmakers can say one thing’s okay and not the other. 🙂

      Sadly, I can also see another problem with this topless law, in that I would feel horrible to witness some moron making fun of women’s bare breasts that are too small, too big, not perky enough, etc. And in resorts like yours, I would never expect that to happen because there is acceptance. In the public, I don’t think it’s there and people could be really mean. It’s sad.

  3. Ridiculous! Why do women want to show off their breasts? They know that even where it is legally allowed, everyone will be ogling… you just can’t help it! Personally, I’d rather have mine ‘strapped up’ so they don’t end up by knees when I’m older! Yeah, my boys are approaching puberty, I wouldn’t want them to be confronted with this every day as they struggle to cope with their burgeoning sexuality. Being a teen is hard enough as it is! I think this is taking equality to laughable and pathetic extremes… we may be able to walk around topless, but we still earn less than men for the same jobs, etc… there are far more important issues of equality to be fighting for surely than getting our tits out!

  4. yeh, i worry about the younger and less world-experienced women/girls especially, as being potential prey to older more experienced men. i have nothing against nudity as a concept, just know that not all of the world can deal with it in an appropriate way and therefore the danger of the public display.

  5. These laws advance the loss of feminine mystique. I’m a big fan of the female form, but I talk to tout now. If I tell a Cutthroat that it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all day, it won’t start dialing 911 and feeling for my eye. I once had a “lady” curse me for holding a door for her. I don’t know where this is headed, but I wonder if there will come a time when the rough men who were always willing to man the walls to protect their women from the screaming barbarians will tell them to defend themselves and go fishing.

    • Personally, I hate that Gloria Steinham and the women of my mom’s generation worked so much for “equality” that there aren’t many men left who will open the door for a woman. Of all the times I’ve moved, I’ve had numerous neighbors, all men, who stand around in their yard drinking and watch me try to wrestle a couch or a refrigerator out of the back of a truck by myself and they don’t ever offer to help and I think they’re pathetic. 🙂

  6. Rachel – I’m guessing you’ve already guessed what I’m going to say so I won’t say it. Having said that ‘topfreedom’ is fine by me unless of course it was the mother-in-law! A big woman; they used to use her knickers for hang gliding you know. In all truth, and poking fun aside the young fillies may look lovely, yet dressed (or undressed) thus it could all go distressingly wrong and that is a bad thing. As to breast feeding mum’s I get pissed off at the idiots who won’t allow it – I understand a cafe in Devon is now offering free tea and scones to women who need to fed their nippers! And that is a good, sensible thing to do.

    • The thing is, in theory what man would complain about seeing perfect, perky breasts? But when you start seeing what looks like a couple of tennis balls hanging in tube socks, what kind of mean-spirited kids would not hesitate to be ugly? 🙂 I read recently that a Starbucks gave the breastfeeding mom a free coffee, too. That’s cool! 😀

      • Agree – it is a good thing for a woman to have the same ‘right’ as a man yet (subjectively) a foolish thing to exert it I think. Also it is good to hear Starbucks – a place I loathe with a vengeance for serving gluttonous coffee in buckets – has done something positive.

  7. I saw the story you refer to but I assumed she was swiftly arrested, I didn’t realise it was allowed in NYC. I can see a fair number of car crashes – we’ve already had car crashes where people claimed to be distracted by a huge bill-board featuring a partially-clad woman (or man).

    Given that it’s actually legal in NYC, I see what you mean about the child pornography thing. I don’t think this statute has been very carefully thought through. In this country (UK) women are allowed to breast feed in public, but not walk around topless. I think it’s a delicate balance between equality and decency. The smarter thing would be to ban topless men I think, at least away from the beaches 🙂

  8. I guess my reaction could go either way, depending on the woman. Which is hardly PC but it’s honest. 🙂

    But the real question is why either men or women feel the need to run about the city half naked. It just doesn’t strike me as prudent, even in the purely physical sense, clothing protects us from so many physical threats..

    And yes, the “Law of Unintended Consequences” is alive and well, indeed thriving as we attempt to replace with law, the sense we were born with . 🙂

  9. Rachel you point out the (inevitable) consequences of this statute very well. A wonder those didn’t cross the mind of the lawmakers.
    Simply put, our (Western) culture is to cover up and only a noisy few are trying to change that. Let them go off to Polynesia or somewhere where things are different 🙂
    And yes, I think it’s pretty gross seeing a bloke without his shirt (in the street) no matter how ripped they are.

    • Right! 😀 And I think running around an island half-naked would seem a lot more appropriate than running half-naked around a metropolis where the hub of conducting business goes on.

  10. My rant on this topic would be far too long and angry to post here, but I agree with you that this law is ridiculous! I really can’t say much more without completely blowing a gasket and spewing my peeved-ness all over the place.

  11. I can’t speak for all of Canada, but at least in Ontario, the whole topless women thing exploded back in the early nineties, largely due to University of Guelph student Gwen Jacobs, who was arrested and eventually fined on her way home from a sporting event in which most men were topless. After much sturm und drang und lots of topless protests, the ruling was overturned and (I’m over-simplifying here, I am sure) it was recognized that women should have the same rights as men to walk around topless.

    I do remember a few Toronto incidents involving topless women making the news in the year or two after…well, in the summer or two after (they may be topless in January, but who can tell through the permafrost)…women window-washers in some of the artier/trendier/hipper parts of town, for example, but the movement never really took off. Trust me, I live near the beach in Toronto…I would know if it took off locally!

    I’ve linked a story of the 20th anniversary of the initial complaint here for those who want to keep abreast (sorry, couldn’t help it):

    • I need to let you know that you pose very intelligent points in your discussion of this topic. My view is less so. SOme will find it prudish and I am ok with that. As a nurse who has cared for women who have experienced the trauma of having breasts amputated, I feel a sensitivity about the whole topless topic;. It is a difficult reconciliation to make any time a body part is amputated. For women breasts are tied up with their view of themselves as women and while I know many would say, “No that’s men’s view imposed on women.” The fact is regardless the loss of one’s breast is a very hard emotional journey. It is the loss of part of their nurturing ability- even if that time has long passed -or is never intending to come. There are all sorts of levels this challenges a woman. I think having topless women about brings this to the face of women who are already having a difficult time. Of course on another level, I do resent that people will pretend to be insulted that people would stare or comment. COme on- how would one not expect that? I would hope my daughters have the inner confidence to not feel the need to bare all. I don’t think this is a path to enlightenment or social growth. I think that we need to pay more focus to those aspects that actually move ius forward as a society. We need to use our brains. Our society focuses so much on the body that the brain and the soul are but a post script to mankind

  12. Great conversation generating post Rachel. 🙂 While I believe we’re far too uptight in our country about our bodies, I also believe clothing has its place. And in public is definitely one of those places.

  13. No shoes, no shirt, no service, Spiccoli. The old “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” line works for me still, both genders. Public places, everybody cover up

    Exception: At the beach or pool, OK, bather’s choice, but be respectful of others, too. No ogling.

    Breast feeding in public, all for it, bring a diaper or throw cover to be a tad discreet.

    Thanks, Rachel.

  14. The closest thing I have seen was at the beaches in Portugal when we live there. We called them “fried eggs” and there was a designation for men on nude beaches. Little kids run around naked all of the time on the beach. I took my babies to the local park and sat with a whole group of mothers nursing their babies. No one saw that as being remotely sexual. But, no, I wouldn’t recommend walking around NYC without a shirt if you are a woman. Too many pervs.

  15. This is another funny law– I would not choose to walk around topless and I know others with children may not feel comfortable. However, like others have said, sometimes it depends on the environment–the beach may be more acceptable and safer, but in the streets and in grocery stores, probably not so much.

  16. I don’t know what to say about this except… a little discretion would be nice. 🙂 My concerns about equality have more to do with equal pay in the workplace and equal opportunities for women. The idea that women need to bare their breasts to promote equality with men who bare their chests is just… silly.

    As always, you post the best topics for discussion. I really enjoy your blog.

  17. I think it’s just that some people crave attention, at any cost. Like the first photo, Demi Moore’s daughter, I never knew she existed until I read your post. She is instantly famous now, and because of her mother.
    If all the women started doing this, soon it would become boring and covering up would be all the rage.
    Where is the world going? The standards of dignity are dropping like crazy, for both men and women. It worries me sometimes.
    Great post Rachel.

  18. Frankly, the whole idea of this branch of “gender equality” is just strange to me… Okay, I am slightly disturbed by the “equality” bit of that sentence. I think what most people think of when they think of “gender equality” is really just that guys and girls are equal. But some people just blow it entirely out of proportion. Rather than gender equality, what they really want is gender identicality. (I don’t care if that’s not a word, Microsoft, it’s the best way to describe it!) And guys and girls are not identical, they’re not the same, they have different needs and so forth, they even think differently, to an extent. Let guys and girls be equal, sure. Just don’t expect them to be identical. (That’s boring. Cookie cutters are overrated.)
    I guess it’s okay if this is legal, but that doesn’t mean people should actually do it. But then, I know I can’t force my opinions on people, so if they want to do something I consider stupid, that’s their choice. 😉
    Thanks for the post, Rachel! Very well thought through (as always 🙂 ) and a topic I wasn’t even aware of. 🙂 I’ve always loved deconstructing people’s arguments to see what the real problems are… 😉

  19. Rachel … You do raise many valid points. The unintended consequences of this freedom are many.

    I’m in the camp who would advocate for the “sisters” to be less visible. I work in a middle school. The dress code says the “girls” or “cleavage” should not be visible, yet, too often they are. By 7th grade, some of the female students have a build that might make Jessica Simpson envious. It is distracting to the hormonally-challenged males. I have quietly pointed out to some of my female students who do expose their charms that it is not just the boys they like who are ogling them. It’s also DOM (dirty old men).

  20. (Sorry I haven’t read the preceding comments.)

    The problem is that not everyone is raised the same. Topless-rights-activists are trying to force their view down everyone else’s throats, because one can’t “not look if you don’t like it”, because usually this kind of thing is in your field of vision and in your face before you can block it. In other words, their rights override mine, not to have to see the bits that should stay concealed.

    This is in the same line as smokers and their rights. (This very dated argument should make things quite clear.) A smoker used to have the right to light up wherever, and boy did they ride rough-shod over very non-smoker’s rights to breathe clean air! It’s not only that they did it; it’s the stinky, unapologetic attitude of “if you don’t like it, why don’t you leave” attitude they displayed until laws came out to restrict them (and now they are acting SO put upon because of these laws!).

    Do we really want a repeat of that on the territory of upbringing and social sensitivities?

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