2011’s pro-topless rally–Asheville’s first–was organized locally to raise awareness for women’s right to appear topless. Ironically, an event meant to empower women and support toplessness has resulted, two years later, in a bill that would make toplessness illegal not just in Asheville, but in the entire state.
If animal abuse, child abuse, assault, and DUI are not felonies, is female toplessness threatening enough to be a Class H felony here in North Carolina? In the Asheville Citizen-Times, Casey Blake explores that question in a thoughtful editorial worth a read:
One can even abuse children, as in the kind that actually leaves bruises and draws blood, but acts of child abuse that do not result in the death or permanent “serious physical harm of a child” will typically result in a misdemeanor.
Ask any child who has ever been slapped or beaten, and I’m sure they too would gladly trade a peek at a woman’s nipples any day.
Beating children, assaulting women, torturing animals and driving drunk time after time — none of these are so serious they require a felony conviction.
But baring your breasts in a way that turns a man on? Now that’s a true issue of public safety.
I spoke with Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe who co-sponsored the bill, briefly about these concerns, and I should say first that he was very gracious about discussing an issue I know he is exasperated with talking about.
He said the intent of the bill was never to add punitive rigor to the statute, but simply to clarify a pre-existing, ambiguously worded precedent that has long been on the books.
“I think it’s important to point out that this is not creating new law, but simply clarifying existing law.” Moffit said.
“It’s really what we would consider a technical issue, where clarifying legislative intent provides law enforcement with what they need to enforce the law.
“More than likely, these will be prosecuted as misdemeanors and not felonies,” he said. “That will be left to the discretion of law enforcement.”
But that’s the thing about civil rights — they are inherently in the eye of the beholder. It’s easy for my colleague John Boyle and Moffitt to play fast and loose with rights that don’t apply to them and cross their fingers that it won’t be enforced it to the extent that the law allows.
A counterpoint editorial from Blake’s colleague, columnist John Boyle:
…no, I’m not exactly a prude. Honestly, I’m more troubled by excessive violence in movies and television than sexual situations and half-nudity.
Bodies are natural, and we certainly carry on a proud tradition of puritanical hang-ups about them. But that is where our culture stands on the issue. Maybe a hundred years from now, female toplessness will be the norm, but for now, it’s still a head-turner.
So I do believe localities need a tool to stop the outdoor strip show we’ve witnessed here. As a dad, it would make me uncomfortable to be downtown and have to explain this kind of behavior to my kids.
It just makes the whole city look sleazy.
So to me, the law makes sense. Just not the felony part.
More national press from Indyweek and Lisa Sorg:
Areolas and nipples apparently are a threat. Co-sponsored by Rep. Tim Moffitt, a Buncombe County Republican, the bill is a response to the Go Topless movement in the den of depravity, Asheville. Last summer, according to Mountain Xpress, several dozen women bared their breasts in the city’s Pack Square to show support for the constitutional right to appear topless in public. (Currently, there is no state or Asheville law prohibiting women from baring their breasts.)
Because nipples and areolas are defined in the bill as “private parts … external organs of sex and excretion,” it would be a misdemeanor to air them in public places, except where “same-sex exposure is incidental to a permitted activity,” such as the locker room at the gym.
And adult women could get busted for a felony if they willfully expose their nipples or areolas “in the presence of any person under 16 for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.”
GoTopless.org president Nadine Gary has stated that topless rallies in Asheville will continue, regardless of the law. From her statement:
“…even if it passes, our rallies will continue, with the insistence that men also be jailed for nipple exposure. All we’re insisting upon is equality: either equal rights to go topless or equal punishment for violating a law that’s applied equally to both genders.”