Pro and con: Why shouldn't women be able to be topless in public like men?

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Kristina Wyman's picture
LeeAnne Pelletier

When most people read the word “nipple,” it makes them uncomfortable. They may laugh or be hesitant to read it aloud. So the persistent campaigning of women and men across the nation to “free the nipple” is undoubtedly being censored.

But the feminists who inspire embarrassment and reproach when they protest topless aren’t only fighting against worried officials; they’re fighting against the reactions their nudity causes in the first place.

Women, they contend, should have the same rights as men to be topless and bra-less in public. Activists believe that the laws and societal norms which demand women to hide their bodies cause unreasonable disgrace and damage to self-esteem.

“You can pay to see women topless in porn videos and strip clubs, but the moment a woman owns her body, it’s shameful,” said Lina Esco, founder of Free the Nipple, in a Time Magazine article.

This summer, women from 60 cities worldwide went topless for Go Topless Day on August 23. One of these cities was New York, which legalized public semi-nudity of women in 1992.

When around 300 protestors appeared in New York City; however, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton found them to be a nuisance. The protests were in response to officials debating whether or not to ban topless women in Times Square, where they attract a lot of tourist attention.

Critics of the movement point out that they believe the nudity would be improper, especially for young children to view.

“[This seems to be a] direct reflection of how unevolved this puritanical country is,” says Esco.

Breasts aren’t inherently sexual, and have a purpose much more meaningful than men’s nipples do: they give essential nutrients to infants. Why should women’s nipples, then, be hidden away? Why should mothers be forced to breastfeed in smelly bathroom stalls?

Censorship involves blocking what is harmful to the public. Sex is censored as to not corrupt the youth and expose them to content that is too mature for them to process. Breasts, however, are not concerned with the process of reproduction. They are merely secondary sex organs, like beards and Adam’s apples in males.

“Free the Nipple” activists want this to be recognized. They desire a shift in public thought and know that it will not come easy.

“It just may take time to normalize,” said Matt McGorry, an actor on Orange is the New Black, for Time Magazine’s Question Everything section. “And it’s possible that acclimation may occur in future generations based on the change that we are trying to elicit right now.”

McGorry, Esco, and activists reinstate that the movement is about more than just showing breasts in public.

“If it becomes legal to show your nipples in public, do you honestly think all women are going to run around topless,” asked Esco. “‘Free the nipple’ is simply about having the choice.”

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