Nevertheless, one may reasonably ask why top-freedom for women is a naturist or (as we prefer to say) a clothes freedom issue. In some respects, it's a more general issue, since it involves gender equality. On the surface, the unequal treatment of women and men with respect to being able to mow a lawn, enjoy an outdoor concert on a warm day, or - especially - relax at the beach bare from the waist up certainly looks like societal discrimination against women. Many women resent this discrimination in principle, even if they are not ready, in practice, to go bare breasted in public. And even if they would, if society were more approving, many of those women would not be prepared to enjoy complete clothes freedom, at least outside the privacy of their own home.
The equality issue is unquestionably valid. But there is another point of view from which top-freedom becomes a clothes freedom issue as well. For one thing, clothes freedom is about nudity, and in North America, at least, a woman whose breasts are bare is considered by society to be (partially) nude, in a way that a man is not. This is true not only in general public opinion, but often in law as well. There are many parts of the U. S. in which a top-free woman can be arrested for "disorderly conduct" or "lewd behavior" or even "indecent exposure". In other words, for a woman there is little practical difference between being naked from the waist up and being entirely naked.
The key thing here is societal attitudes. People who oppose top-freedom for women, including prosecutors, generally claim that, in fact, our society regards a woman's breast very differently from a man's, in spite of the basic physiological similarity. Specifically, women's breasts are regarded by society as sexual features, while men's are not. Thererore, bare breasts can "cause" men to behave inappropriately. Never mind that such reasoning amounts to blaming the victim, just as was frequently done in rape cases. This de facto distinction is still claimed to justify unequal treatment under he law. Instead, perhaps men should be expected to control themselves - or to be the ones that law deals with if they can't.
The 1992 People vs. Santorelli case was an important court decision in New York that effectively made top-freedom "legal" in New York. Although the majority decision rested on narrow legal grounds, a concurring opinion went significantly further. In this opinion, Judge Titone wrote that the perception of women's breasts as a sexual feature
cannot serve as a justification for differential treatment because it is itself a suspect cultural artifact rooted in centuries of prejudice and bias toward women. Indeed, there are many societies in other parts of the world--and even many locales within the United States--where the exposure of female breasts on beaches and in other recreational area is commonplace and is generally regarded as unremarkable.
In other words, the mere existence of widespread societal prejudices does not automatically justify discriminatory laws or infringement of basic rights. Most people would certainly agree with that now as regards old racial prejudices, and the principle applies more widely. Indeed - and this is the real point - societal prejudices should not apply to harmless simple nudity at all, when there is no satisfactory evidence of harm caused by the nudity, regardless of whether the nudity is full or only "partial". Because, in the absence of harm, where is the compelling government interest in interfering with how people dress - or don't dress? As Judge Titone further wrote,
One of the most important purposes to be served by the Equal Protection Clause is to ensure that "public sensibilities" grounded in prejudice and unexamined stereotypes do not become enshrined as part of the official policy of government.
Here, the Equal Protection Clause refers to the key part of the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. We may hope that, someday, this same reasoning will be recognized to ensure that people who wish to exercise clothes freedom may do so without fear of unwarranted government interference.
Where do we go from here? It's worth noting that in spite of the many court decisions which have affirmed top-free rights in various states of the U. S. and Canadian provinces, there are very few beaches and parks where women actually feel free to be bare from the waist up - except at places which are entirely clothing optional. The reason for this is again social attitudes. Although such attitudes are not sufficient grounds for legal discrimination, they still certainly affect behavior. Ultimately the attitudes need to change.
How to do that in general is a large topic. But we may just note that there are even now a number of women who are prepared to assert and defend their top-free rights. Evangeline Godron in Saskatchewan is one example on whom we have reported. She is pursuing a court challenge to the legal difficulties she has encountered. For more information on this case, and specifically for details on how you can actually help, just check here.
And if you want to investigate the top-free issue a little further, the best place to start is our list of links. In case you really like to get into legal details, you can find copies of some of the important court decisions here.
That's quite a refreshing victory for common sense and body freedom, of course. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this story is how much media attention it has drawn. Even our report in this newsletter made the papers. An article that appeared November 14 in the Bangor Daily News noted that "In The Weekly Nudesletter, an online publication, Davis' crusade to stop a proposed ban on bare-breasted women was top news." As the article also notes, a number of TV interviews and talk shows have also featured Shirley Davis and her lawn-mowing daughter. In another self-referential move, a Boston Globe article on November 15 also takes note of the heavy media attention in a recap of the whole story. It observes that "Residents are generally amused by the notoriety, laughing about Newport being the topless capital of the world." Neighbor Mary Thompson, who may be most responsible for the furor by initially calling the police and then petitioning for an anti-topfree law, is quoted as insisting, in her own defense, "I'm looking out for the children." Sound familiar?
There are hopeful signs here. Newport town officials made every effort not to raise a legal issue over the incident. Newport voters overwhelmingly agreed that laws against women enjoying topfreedom were unnecessary. And the national media have had a great time with the issue, without trivializing it or being disrespectful towards Shirley Davis or her daughter.
Here are additional new stories from the Bangor Daily News:
Up the coast, in the northern corner of New South Wales, it appears that Belongil Beach on Byron Bay will finally get official clothing optional status. On October 30 the Shire Council Mayor announced that nude bathing would be allowed on three kilometers of the local beach. This is a compromise in that activists have been requesting more. (In April, there was an announcement that nine kilometers of beach would be open to nude bathing - see Vol. 1, No. 12.) But it does represent a concession to the persistent requests expressed through the regular "Nude Ain't Rude" rallys (see Vol. 1, No. 9). At least in this case, mass nude protests seem to have accomplished something. The compromise didn't please everyone, though. A naked male on roller blades led police on a chase through the streets of Byron Bay to demonstrate his displeasure that more accessible beach areas were not also designated for clothing optional use.
A little farther north, just over the line in the conservative northern state of Queensland, the issue of a clothing optional beach for the town of Gold Coast remains in dispute. Les Hotchkin, publisher of Australia's Sun and Health nudist magazine, was quoted by the Associated Press as pointing out that the area was missing out on valuable domestic and overseas tourism revenue by not having a nudist beach. Hotchkin reported that he receives many enquiries about nude beach opportunities in the Gold Coast area. Unfortunately, local officials remain as uncooperative as ever. One Councillor called the idea "an offensive scheme to the community and to the normal family person." Evidently, "normal" families are different in Queensland from those in the rest of Australia.
Donkey Beach has been an attraction for naturist vistors from all over the world, so it's especially ironic that the Kauai Visitors Bureau is supporting the interests of local developers instead of the desires of visitors and tourists for a diversity of beach options. Real estate development benefits only a few, while the tourist business sustains the entire island economy, including the many on Kauai who subsist on very modest incomes.
Another one of the deceptive rationalizations used by the forces that want to eliminate options and choice is that nudity is invading other beaches on the island: it's "not just on the remote beaches anymore. Yes, it's been tolerated, but it sounds like it's starting to get a little out of control. We're starting to get an image that it's OK anywhere." If that were really the problem, the obvious solution would be to clearly enforce anti-nudity rules elsewhere, while leaving the established clothing optional beaches alone so that those who prefer them need not look elsewhere.
Naturists should contact the Visitors Bureau to let them know how important it is to preserve historic options which cater to the widest diversity of potential tourists - and how, if these are lost, a lot of potential visitors will take their travel spending elsewhere.
The Naturist Action Committee is planning to contest the local "crackdowns" and has issued an alert regarding the Kauai situation and a similar one on Oahu.
For instance, on November 5, a Federal judge in Wisconsin declared that the ban in Cumberland, WI on nude dancing is unconstitutional because it is broad enough to outlaw other depictions of nudity, including scenes from movies like "Titanic" and "The Godfather." The Wisconsin Supreme Court in June invalidated a similar ban on nude dancing in Trenton, WI. The court ruled that this ordinance was unconstitutional because it forbids all nudity as a form of free speech. (Look here for more information.)
On November 2 the Supreme Court of Georgia declared that a ban on nude dance club billboards violated freedom of speech. The unanimous decision agreed that protecting motorists was an appropriate government concern, but held that the statute went further than necessary to achieve that objective.
Finally, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated a 1994 Erie, PA ordinance designed to prevent exotic dancers from being nude. The court held that the ban improperly infringed on dancers' constitutional right to free expression. The court stated that the Erie City Council lacked a compelling reason for the ban, which was worded as a general ban on public nudity.
Although nudism and naturism have nothing in common with erotic nude dancing except for the nudity, these are encouraging decisions, because they declare that a very high standard of scrutiny should be applied to laws that affect speech and behavior simply because it includes nudity. Such laws, if they are valid at all, must show a compelling government interest, must show that the requirements of the law actually further the interest, and must prove that the requirements are the least restrictive way to do so.
The last of these articles is particularly interesting, as it shows a relaxed attitude towards nudism in the area going back to the early 1930's.
An article from the Naples Daily News about this appeared on October 21.
A somewhat more routine anti-fur protest was staged by three naked animal rights activists in Moscow a little more than a week later. And a news release on November 19 promised that the following day protesters with nude bodies painted like leopards would take to the ice at New York's Central Park ice rink. It almost seems as though these protesters are enjoing their work too much. See Vol. 1, No. 8 and Vol. 1, No. 10 for reports on earlier PETA protests. For a sample of a PETA anti-fur ad, involving Nadja Auermann, look here.
Morissette alludes very briefly to the background of this video in an MTV story on October 22. "I think [I've reached] a turning point over the last couple of years, and I've been seeing my body so much more as an instrument, rather than the ornament it is encouraged to be seen as by society and people in general. I had objectified myself a lot, especially through my teen years, and I just reached a point that [I became] very comfortable with my body and take care of it."
In another interview which was held November 5, she explained a little more. One morning, naked in the shower, "I just thought it was appropriate to be naked in [the video] and to be 'powerful' and 'vulnerable' at the same time." When asked if she'd ever spent time in a "nudist colony" during her time off from performing, she admitted that, "I've spent time on retreats with people where we're all naked, yeah." And when asked how that felt, she just said, "It's so ... it's beautiful!"
Morissette is also nude on the cover of her new CD, "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" which contains the song "Thank U". A review of that album notes that she "appears at ease without her clothes".
And why not?
Well, what did he expect at a "nudist colony"?
Back to The Weekly Nudesletter Front Page
Copyright © 1998, All Rights Reserved