Asheville resident Soni Pitts responds to the open letter from city council:
An open letter from the Asheville City Council to tourists and other visitors states that “As citizens of Asheville and individual members of Asheville City Council, we do not endorse this conduct. We believe that it does nothing to help our community, and we recognize that it disappoints and embarrasses many of our citizens and visitors. We wish it were not happening.”
I’m not entirely sure what specific aspect the protesters’ conduct it is they don’t endorse–the legal right of women to go topless in public, or the legal right of citizens to assemble for the purpose of expressing their views. But my feeling is that, like many others have expressed, the impetus behind the letter is a feeling that “Hey, you got your law. Going topless is legal. Why do you have to make such a big deal out of it by creating an event to draw attention to your bare breasts? Wasn’t your whole point that it’s not a big deal?”
If this refrain sounds familiar, it should. It’s exactly the sort of personal-discomfort-based complaint you hear around Gay Pride and similar events. “Yeah. You’re gay and proud of it. We get it. We made homosexual activity legal. Why do you have to make such a big deal out of it by creating an event to draw attention to your gayness? Wasn’t your whole point that being gay isn’t a big deal?”
And yet, if the City Council were to publish an open letter stating that Gay Pride parades disappoint and embarrass many of our citizens and visitors (as is the case), and that they wished it wasn’t happening, there’d be rioting in the streets.
But the members of our council would never think of doing such a thing. And the reason why is the reason why the topless rally is so important. Being openly or even flamboyantly gay is no longer something that surprises or shocks most of us as a community. Sure, some individuals still disapprove. But our community as a whole has pretty well moved from shock and outrage at the sight of two guys holding hands to something approaching, “Yeah, whatever.”
The same cannot be said for women going topless. Yes, it’s legal. But it’s still extremely controversial, disruptive and in some cases dangerous to take advantage of the right because, quite simply, our community hasn’t gotten acclimated to the idea or the reality of naked female breasts just yet.
And that’s the service a rally such as this provides: Acclimation. When the day comes that I can walk around town topless and inspire no more comment than the topless guy next to me, then the rally will no longer serve a purpose in the civil discourse (although, like Pride parades, it will still be good fun).
Until that time, we need the rally to shock, to amuse, to inflame passions (of all types), until the community gets those emotions well and truly out of its system. This is a necessary process for societal change, and one we should neither shortchange nor shy away from out of personal discomfort. Enforcing change on an unready society in a “suck it up, sweetie” attitude just results in anger, unrest and, often, violence toward those standing on their rights.
The legality and social acceptance of social change almost always progress out of step. The law comes first and social acceptance of the activities that law enables is dragged along behind it, often quite literally kicking and screaming. This is the point–and the value–of Asheville’s topless rally. And the City Council should be ashamed for taking the stance they have.
If nothing else, Asheville is renowned for a friendly stance on civil rights and it’s welcoming attitude toward those asserting their rights. That they would take a public stand against this particular expression of legal, but still socially unaccepted, behavior speaks more to their own discomfort with naked female breasts than to any “embarrassing behavior” the rally represents.
Soni Pitts is a professional writer, editor and web geek with over a decade of experience producing content, consulting and training in the fields of personal development, social networking and health and wellness.