Going Topless not a crime — Rosie D’Agostino and Russ Lindquist

*This article first appeared in Grossmont College Summit’s magazine, November 2011 (page 12)

Imagine a shirtless woman. Good job. Now imagine a woman
defecating on a public sidewalk. Legally, they are comparable:
in most of our country, our state, our city and right here on the
Grossmont campus–both women would be criminalized under
either or both Public Indecency and Obscenity.

If a male student at Grossmont takes his shirt off on campus,
nothing would happen. However, for a topless woman, campus
policeman said he would “probably give a ticket for public
indecency.” The officer then clarified that such a charge, though
a misdemeanor, could result in the woman being required to
register, for her entire life, as a sex-offender. The supposed
indecency of the hypothetical topless woman would cause her to
be legally equated with child molestors.

Grossmont faculty, staff and students that we interviewed
offered several defenses for the status quo:
*Women’s chests are more important than men’s
*Women’s chest are more distracting than men’s
*Topless women would be too judged
*Toplessness would imperil women to vastly increased rape
*Women simply “should not”

Interviewees varied as to whether they believe men should be
held to the same chest-criminalizing standard as are women-
-plenty holding the traditional standard: immunity for men.
However, none believed that topless women should be classified
as criminals, and certainly not as sex-offenders.

Yet several said that topless, “disobedient” women should
be “punished” with “a fine” or “a ticket.” Pressed whether
an offending women who refused to pay her fine should be
punished with some jail, as is typical of those who flat-out refuse
to pay their fines, one student said, “Well, yeah, because that’s
disobeying a judge.”

Asked whether a mother who breast-feeds in public should be
considered a sex-offender, all interviewees said no, yet several
said that the women “should cover up.” Pressed as to whether
“should” meant that the women “should be legally required”
to cover up, two students said no, but that, “the mothers just
should.”

As for the distinction between allowing mothers to breast-feed
in public but not allowing women generally to go topless, several
students agreed that, “[Breast-feeding] is natural.” We reminded
them that, “a woman’s body is natural.”

Dean Baldwin, a Learning Center specialist in the tech mall,
says he agrees somewhat with the preventative spirit of legal
measures that proscribe toplessness for women. A father of five
girls, Baldwin said, “Often I don’t like the way that they go about
it, but government does have a role in protecting,” especially,
he said, when families are becoming more frequently splintered
and without a moral center. To leave women at the mercy of
being too much on public display is reckless, he said. Still,
Baldwin spoke of his world travels–how, in plenty of places,
publicly topless women are not always considered deviants; he
specifically named Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Pacific
Islands.

From the respective and collective points-of-view of these
writers, an important thing to remember is that a topless woman
is neither comparable to someone who defecates on a sidewalk
nor should a topless woman be listed along side child molesters.
Currently Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky is accused of having
sodomized eight children. If found guilty, he will be a registered
sex offender for life; if a male and female both walk topless into
Grossmont’s tech mall–one of them might end up on the same
list.

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