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Misunderstandings about
Women and Bare Breasts

Desite the fact that women's topfreedom has been in the news and has been discussed often in the past few years, and women's bare breasts are a frequent occurrence on cable television and in movies, even in North America, topfree women are obviously still a distressing issue for some. Many complaining loudly about these women are conservative politically and religiously. While there is nothing wrong with such a background, TERA finds it reprehensible that these people continue to try to suppress the rights of others. Here are some of the things they have said to the media:

"My husband won't be able to control himself if he sees a topless woman in public."

"I don't want to be hassled and perverted by these topless women."

"My right to go to the beach has been taken away."

"This will lead to bottomless women and group sex in the streets."

"We are on the slippery slope of moral decay."

"Send these women to the nearest strip joint."

These statements reveal a lot of anger, which is understandable but unnecessary. It is also misdirected because of ignorance and fear. Many people wish to relieve their confusion or frustration by mislabelling, name-calling, condescension, and telling others what to do. This is not helpful to anyone.

To further dispel misunderstanding, we offer the following.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions reveal misconceptions about the topfree issue. Brief answers follow each question.

1) Why are you encouraging women to take their tops off in public?
We are not doing that at all. We believe women have the same rights as men. Those who wish not to remove tops should keep them on---by choice.
Those who choose simply not to wear a top should not be harassed or penalized in any way whatever. (See the next point!)

2) Isn't it illegal for women to go topfree?
This activity is legal for women and men in New York State, in Ontario, Canada and in other locations.. A high court decision from December 1996 makes it clear that in Ontario, topfree women and men with no "sexual or commerical" intent are not indecent.
A similar decision from a similar court in New York came in July 1992.

3) Is it legal for women to be topfree everywhere, then?
No, because there are places where it is illegal for both women and men to be topfree, e.g. where health regulations require tops as well as other articles of clothing. This is completely consistent with assuring women rights equal to those of men.

4) Doesn't the Bible forbid this kind of activity?
We don't think so, nor do many others who are deeply religious. But this is not a religious issue. The laws in this country are not made according to certain avowed Jewish or Christian preferences, whatever their source, but in accord with a variety of principles.

5) Aren't women's breasts sexual?
It's up to women to decide when and where they are or aren't sexual. Everyone can respect a woman's or man's decision to lie on a beach and not be bothered, whether she or he has a top on or not. It is unconscionable to restrict women because men have some opinion about them or their breasts. Men aren't required to wear tops because women find their uncovered chests sexual, so the reverse should not be required either.

6) Isn't this a morals issue?
It's an issue of rights more than morals. Those claiming that all topfree women are morally wrong do not usually give any reason except personal preference while ignoring the moral principle of equality. The law must be applied equally to women and men and ignore such personal claims.

7) Aren't topfree women just walking pornography?
No. Are topfree men? The automatic connection between women's breasts and sexual activity is one which is often made. The media reinforce it. We can and should reject it. We may choose to be nonsexual when changing clothes, taking a shower, lying on the grass, strolling down a street, etc. What we wear does not have to be relevant to the sexuality of a situation. There may indeed be more flirting in complete outfits than in topfree attire.

8) Don't women's clothes incite men to do certain things?
A woman or man may wear clothes for many purposes, including to be noticed. Nothing anyone wears or doesn't wear is an invitation to harassment or assault. It's not a woman's task to prevent a man from harassing her---by wearing clothes men deem suitable on her! Women who wish to enjoy the same topfreedom as men are therefore not "asking for it."

9) Won't topfree women increase sex crimes?
Experience in Europe and elsewhere shows that the answer is No. Sociologists from various places have stated that there is no connection. This is true partly because women and men almost always remove tops only when they think it is safe to do so.

10) What will children will see and do?
Children are not harmed by seeing breasts but by adults' phobias about them. The breasts themselves are doing nothing, except perhaps providing a lesson in body education. Adults should refrain from passing their irrational fright, intolerance, or hatred on to children. Bigotry is not a family value. Far better to explain that topfree women are just doing whatever others, including topfree men or fully clothed people, are doing (walking, sunning, swimming, etc.).

11) Won't there be topfree women everywhere?
That's very unlikely.. Women and men can determine for themselves where it is appropriate to be without a top, according to the social context. Most will choose to keep their tops on: that has been the case elsewhere, notably in New York, where this matter was resolved similarly by an Appeal Court in 1992. But if a majority of women and men keep tops on, this does not warrant criminalizing those who choose not to. A majority must not remove a minority's rights just because that group doesn't conform to some other group's wishes. Issues of religious intolerance have surely taught us that.

12) Aren't topfree women, and men for that matter, ugly?
Perceived superficial qualities are not a cause for legal action. This question disguises a fear of anything different from a very narrow set of expectations and reveals an unhealthy lack of body acceptance.

13) How will recreation staff treat the matter?
They are trained now to handle the public in a variety of situations. Little further training is necessary. They may wish to counsel those complaining about topfree women or men that such people are harmless.

TERA recognizes that fears on this issue are valid simply because they exist. They don't come from a vacuum; they must be respected. But they are unnecessary. The people who profess fear should ask themselves what they are truly afraid of. On this issue, in most cases they can deal with their fears themselves or get help for them.

Concerning topfree women, promulgating anxiety and insecurity based on fear and ignorance is what we have to some extent observed in Ontario and elsewhere since the summer of 1997. Of course women and men everywhere should use good judgement in the topfree issue. But they must define that for themselves and not be considered criminals merely because others feel offended or wish to feel better about themselves. If this kind of reaction were cause for enacting or applying laws, then those who declare themselves most loudly to be the most prejudiced could harass and persecute any group they merely did not like. Irrational fear and loathing of topfree women must not be satisfied by enacting repressive laws and taking away women's rights.

In 1997, the government of Ontario asked the federal government to rewrite the Criminal Code so that, effectively, women with bare breasts automatically would be deemed to cause harm and therefore be indecent and criminal. This goes against the carefully thought out ruling in the case of Gwen Jacob, whose topfree walk in Guelph in 1991 was ruled legal in 1996. Ontario's request was unfair, insulting, and dangerous, and happily not acted upon.



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