The Right to Bare: Who Are We to Judge if a Woman Goes Topless?

by Jenna Thrasher

September 11, 2020

During Thursday’s class, we spent some time analyzing a Steve Sack cartoon for the Star Tribune, titled “Police lineup, toplessness” edition. In the cartoon, an older woman is looking at topless suspects, with a police officer asking her, “Can you identify the nipples that offended you?” In a world currently plagued with a horrible and seemingly never-ending pandemic, I couldn’t remember what had happened around the end of July (the time that the cartoon was published) that had prompted such an intriguing cartoon, especially one having to do with nipples. 

As I racked my brain for answers, we clarified the situation by turning the page of our [course reader] to an article written by the Editorial Board of the Star Tribune titled “A Stand For Dignity on Public Beaches.” It is a witty, thoughtful, and slightly snarky piece that pairs perfectly with Sack’s cartoon, which only further illustrates the absurdity of the situation.

As the Editorial Board said, “To say that men’s chests are acceptable in a way that women’s are not is an offense to logic, to equality and to the idea that the government should leave people, as much as possible, to their own sense of right and wrong.” If it’s not a matter of logic or morality, then the problem lies in the mentality of our culture. However, it’s not like we live in a prudish land where sex is banned and shied away from. 

Our culture is filled with sex. It’s there when we walk past advertisements, scroll through our Instagram feed, flip through a magazine, watch TV — everywhere. I’ve never heard anyone complain about seeing a woman’s nipples on HBO. A woman’s nipples on the beach, however, seems to cause quite the stir.

Perhaps the problem with a woman’s nipples lies in the fact that they are often reserved for the confines of our screens and not real life. This has given us the choice to determine our exposure to them — a matter of turning off the computer or not.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s slightly jarring to see something out of the ordinary in our culture, and I can’t deny that I would be really surprised if I saw a woman topless on a beach in Minnesota. However, uncomfort doesn’t excuse discriminatory behavior. While going out topples may be someone’s worst nightmare, it may be somebody’s dream. It shouldn’t be up to the law to determine who or who isn’t able to pursue either option.

America needs to start becoming more comfortable with the nipple if we are ever going to achieve true gender equality. If all genders are equal, then all nipples are equal — it’s as simple as that. While finding a solution may not be that straightforward, I think that the Editorial Board of the Star Tribune posed a good prediction for the future of the freed nipple, “In the first couple of seasons, it will be difficult to find a parking spot near the topless/optional beaches; before long, the difference will seem unimportant.”

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