Here in California, public nudity is legal as long as those in the buff aren't engaging in lewd or indecent behavior, but that's not the case everywhere.
In August, a 33-year-old woman named Phoenix Feely spent 16 days in a New Jersey jail for refusing to pay fines after being arrested for sunbathing topless at a Spring Lake beach in 2008. In 2005, she was arrested for walking topless in New York, where it's officially legal to do so. She won a $29,000 settlement after suing the NYPD, and she's now part of the women's advocacy group Go Topless.
"Most of the state laws, it's not that they specifically protect a woman's right to do it, it's that they don't specifically outlaw it, which takes the burden of having this issue on the plate on a state level," said The Atlantic's Jessica Blankenship on Take Two. "It opens the door for local governments to have different statutes that do outlaw it."
Such as in LA County, where under section 43 of ordinance 17.12.360, bans female toplessness on L.A. beaches:
No person shall appear, bathe, sunbathe, walk, change clothes, disrobe or |be on any beach in such manner that the genitals, vulva, pubis, pubic symphysis, pubic hair, buttocks, natal cleft, perineum, anus, anal region or pubic hair region of any person, or any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof of any female person, is exposed to public view, except in those portions of a comfort station, if| any, expressly set aside for such purpose.
Should women in this country be allowed to go topless in public anywhere men are allowed? If guys can do it, so why can't women? It's a heated debate, one in which both sides argue that they're fighting against the objectification of women.
Topless advocates argue that not allowing women to be topless where men are allowed is one of the most prevalent instances of gender discrimination in law.
"It basically says that women's bodies are inherently indecent whereas men's are not," said Blankenship. "Men are still subjected to laws against lewd behavior and public indecency, but for them, what determines their indecency is what they are doing with their bodies, rather than just the existence of their bodies, period. So the argument is that by saying that a woman's body, no matter what she's doing, is automatically sexual and therefore unfit to be seen in public."
On the other side, the argument is that having laws against letting women bare their chest in public is protecting them from harassment and abuse.
"Nobody sits down in support of these laws and says 'I can't wait to objectify women today,' the goal is always to protect public safety," said Blankenship. "I think that it comes down to…do we protect women from preexisting negative influences? Or do we try to start passing laws and taking an institutionalized and official viewpoint to challenge those things."
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