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Topfree equal rights for women ─ why it matters

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Has it ever occurred to you how patently unfair it is that men can enjoy a day at the beach shirtless while women on the same beach have to keep their breasts concealed with a top? It has occurred to growing number of activists, advocates for topfree equal rights for women. While top freedom is about far more than nudity, an alliance between nudists and women activists who are fed up with the double-standard seems a natural fit. Both embrace the ideals that there is nothing shameful or indecent about the naked human body. Both have a stake in driving social change to normalize nudity.

A nation that ostensibly prides itself on equality for all should not have transparently gender-based laws that discriminate against women. As long as cultural norms backed by laws exist that require women to keep their breasts covered at all times when in public, female breasts will continue to be overly eroticized in our society. That contributes to women being objectified, marginalized and victimized by violence against women.

Understanding the issue

Even a cursory study of anthropological literature makes it exceedingly clear that evolutionary scientists seem to understand a great deal more about male biology than female, based on what is known about males throughout the animal kingdom.

Perhaps the most baffling mystery of all, notwithstanding the rather mind-boggling number of competing theories anthropologists have put forth in an attempt to explain it, is why women have prominent breasts and men do not.

The eye-catching anatomical difference between males and females is at the center of women receiving unequal treatment by society simply based on gender. At least since 1936, it has been socially acceptable in this country for men to go topless in public if they wish but for the most part, not so much for women. This is something that more and more women are actively taking issue with and they are demanding change.

Because women have protuberant breasts and men do not, at least in Western culture, the propriety of women going topless is somehow different from men going shirtless in public. That difference seems clearly and deeply embedded in the collective social psyche.

In Western culture women’s breasts have been highly eroticized and as a result female breasts are a stimulus for male sexual arousal since generally men tend to find it titillating to look at women’s breasts. As evidence of how cultural norms influence the perception of bare female breasts, anthropologists point out that in cultures where women’s breasts are not typically covered, the sight of them is not sexually arousing to the men since it is normal to see bare female breasts in non-sexual settings and context.

In the U.S. female breasts are generally looked upon as being almost in the same category as genitalia and it is considered lewd by many if a woman displays her bare breasts in public. As an example, consider a relatively new American television reality show, "Naked and Afraid." In each episode, two complete strangers, one man and one woman are marooned together in a wilderness setting. The couple must survive often harsh environmental conditions for 21 days while completely naked and must depend solely on the survival skills they have individually and collectively to shelter themselves and to find natural resources to subsist off of.

[More from Dallas Nudist Culture Examiner: Nudity and censorship ─ fig leaves and pixilation]

To pass muster with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission regulations that censor nudity, producers of "Naked and Afraid" blur specific body parts that are not allowed to be shown on broadcast television. Bare bottoms are shown but both male and female genitalia and female breasts are blurred. That suggests that in American culture, showing bare female breasts on television is considered just as 'indecent' as showing genitalia.

While is has been legal for women to go top free in the state of New York since 1992, women who have barred their breasts in public in New York City have been arrested or taken into custody and forced against their will to submit to psychological observation for baring their breasts in public in New York City at least as recently as last year. One of the founders of Young Naturists America, Felicity Jones was arrested there in 2011 for going topless while participating in an artistic performance on Wall Street. After being handcuffed and first threatened with being taken for a mental evaluation, ultimately she was transported under arrest to a NYPD precinct where she was held for 2 hours in jail before being released with a citation and summons for disorderly conduct.

Those in Dallas who might be tempted to dismiss the arrest and violation of Jones' civil rights as something that happened in New York City and doesn't affect them should consider what happened in 2010 to Meggan Anderson at Main and Akard, in downtown Dallas. Women here face the same unfair conditions. As the experiences of both Jones and Anderson illustrate, one thorny problem is that police and even some local prosecutors in many parts of the country, either out of ignorance of the law or as a result of calculated decisions to enforce their own personally held moral codes or beliefs about modesty instead of following the law, do violate women's civil rights.

Why it's a problem

When something is forbidden it draws more attention. Heightened attention can escalate into obsession. When something is scarce or in short supply, its perceived value increases. People want it more. These are the forces at work that contribute to female breasts being sexualized in our society. That's why purveyors of pornography make money selling magazines filled with bare breasts and why Madison Avenue relies on eroticizing the bodies of women to sell products.

If female breasts weren't habitually covered, in time breasts would not be perceived as patently sexual but simply a normal, natural part of female anatomy. Top freedom is a good first step toward women being seen as people rather than objects to be exploited for the satisfaction of sexual appetites.

What's being done

One top freedom activist group, Free the Nipple is producing a full length film to draw attention to the issue. In the video trailer available on their website, the narrator asks, "Do you have to be activist to agree that it's bullshit that a man can walk around shirtless on a hot summer's day and a woman will get arrested for it?" The film is aimed at affecting social change by eliminating the double-standard and they could use your help. You can "join the evolution" by signing up on the website, following the film on Twitter or Facebook or by making a donation to the crowdfunding campaign to help bring the film to theaters.

Not every woman wants to go topless in public but every woman should have the right to decide that for herself. Eliminating the double-standard is the right thing to do.

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