Friday, July 22, 2011

Defining the topfreedom debate (Feb. 11, 2008)

Current mood: enlightened

In a blog post from a few months ago, I briefly mentioned topfreedom, the concept by which any female can strip to the waist in any location where a male may do so, without being arrested. While I only became aware of this late last year, I've read many arguments both for and against in the time since. Typically those who want it feel it is discriminatory for men to have a freedom women do not (even men did not have this freedom in the U.S. until the 1930s), while those against it believe the sight of female breasts, or portions thereof, will corrupt the morals of minors and lead to sexual wantonness. Many, many other side issues enter into it as well, on both sides.

My point here is not to take sides (though I have), nor to convince anyone else to take a side (though you may already have), but merely to focus the discussion. What IS this debate about, really? What is it NOT about?

What the debate IS about:
* Criminality. Women's bodies are not criminal, any more than men's are, but that's not what many U.S. state laws say.
* Choice. Men can wear shirts, or not. Women have no such choice.
* Commerce. Businesses make money selling women's bodies. If breasts were routinely visible, what would do the selling?
* Empowerment. Women who dare to go topfree are solidly in control of themselves, and thus least likely to appear weak and victimizable.

What the debate is NOT about:
* Nudity. Bare-breasted women are not nude. They have pants on, or at least a swimsuit bottom. Is a shirtless man nude?
* Hygiene. Assuming she has taken a shower recently, a topfree woman is not dirty. Same goes for any such man.
* Genitalia. Breasts are not genitalia. Swimsuit bottoms cover genitalia in both genders.
* Breastfeeding. Though closely related, that is a separate discussion.

Another important distinction: Topfree vs. Topless. Topless is women at strip clubs earning money for taking clothes off in front of a predominantly male audience. That is entirely off topic. Topfree is about going out to walk the dog, lie in the sun, or go swimming in a public pool, that sort of thing, sans a top. Other people present are irrelevant.

Some topics require more than a sentence. Sexual intent, for instance. Women determine whether they are being sexual, and when, and where, and with whom. A topfree woman taking the dog for a walk or reading a book in a chair at poolside is not being sexual. It is NOT in the eye of the beholder. Any such response in said beholder is the responsibility of the beholder, not the woman, and we already have rules that deal with that (assault, battery, stalking, terroristic threats, etc.). If the woman IS acting intentionally in a manner to stimulate a sexual response, that has nothing to do with whether she is wearing a top. Therefore, sexual intent is off-topic, and must be left out of the discussion.

More on the criminality aspect. In some locales, state law concerning indecent exposure is closely tied to those concerning sexual predation. Pennsylvania is one of them (18 Sec 3127 [may have to page down to 3127],and Ch. 31 in general), Thus, as I currently understand it (IANAL), if a woman goes out to walk her dog wearing only a pair of jeans, she could be forever forbidden from setting foot on public school property. If her voting district is in a public school, as mine is, that even further extends the reach of this discrimination.

Obscenity often comes up. Opponents of the idea believe the very sight of breast skin is obscene. Unfortunately for all, this is a subjective term, and we could spend all day arguing why X is obscene but Y is not, and still have no resolution. So that we can have a reasonable discussion at all, then, the discussion must declare off-topic all matters which are purely subjective. Morality is another. So is public acceptance. So is attractiveness. These may matter, but not in an objective discussion.

As I said, many other important topics come into play, some of them plausible ramifications of both the status quo and topfreedom. It's too much to get into here. All I wish at this point is to raise the issue, direct the discussion to just the relevant points, and plead for people to keep an open mind. Here in culturally backward suburban Pittsburgh, we're not even starting to get started on this yet. But we will. This isn't the first curve that I've been ahead of.


bus15237 said...

"If a man may, so may a woman. If a woman may not, neither may a man." That's what this matter is about.

bus15237 said...

Stuart Strickland
From another board: The simple New Zealand indecent exposure law:

Summary Offenses Act
27. Indecent exposure—
(1) Every person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding [$2,000] who, in or within view of any public place, intentionally and obscenely exposes any part of his or her genitals.
(2) It is a defence in a prosecution under this section if the defendant proves that he or she had reasonable grounds for believing that he or she would not be observed.

Sounds simple enough. Flashing and streaking are verboten. You have to wear something on the bottom. Breasts are not genitalia. Otherwise pretty much anything goes.