Head to Head: Free nipples don’t free women

Abby Vander

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

This is a head to head column. Read the opposing view here.

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While activists working against the topless ban in Fort Collins may have good intentions, advocating for women’s right to go topless in public spaces will do little to empower women, and could even have the adverse effect.

My colleague Katrina Leibee and I agree that  a focus on this law is a poor use of energy that could be put toward greater feminist issues. But female toplessness is not necessary or beneficial within the framework of American culture — especially not within that of Fort Collins. In addition, the law could have unintended consequences for certain groups of women.

Detrimental or not, Americans view female breasts as private body parts, and we treat them as such. Women do not want their breasts touched without permission, and our sense of sanctity surrounding these private parts translates not only to how we dress, but how we are treated.

Fort Collins is a city. There is no reason for any gender to walk through Old Town or go for a run through City Park without a shirt on. Winters at high elevation are cold, and in summers our elevation translates to increased risk of sunburn and skin cancer.

One utility of legal toplessness is the ability to breastfeed in public. Our culture calls for women to breastfeed in private, and although public breastfeeding would be beneficial, this policy change cannot correct the cultural stigma that has been built around doing so.

The only women who would actually exercise this right are those who would do so with the intention of making some sort of statement.

“A crucial aspect to true feminist rhetoric is an emphasis on freedom and equality for all women, but the complexity of these aspects are absent within the discourse surrounding female toplessness.”

In a 2016 video by the New York Times, multiple proponents of the Free the Nipple campaign discuss their desire for equality to expose a part of their bodies that has been sexualized by culture.

Even in peaceful settings, such as reading in the park, female toplessness can be risky. The video shows cops being called on women from a topless book club.

One member, who appeared to be white, said “I wasn’t terribly threatened by it, because I know my rights.”

But in a country where rights aren’t always upheld as they should be, especially for minority groups, going topless could put women in unanticipated situations of danger.

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Until we are confident in the equal treatment of women and racial minorities by local and national law enforcement, this law seems to disproportionately enable white women to display their bodies, as they can do so more safely.

Proponents of public toplessness also fail to consider the impacts this has on mothers, who should have the right to decide what they do and do not want their children exposed to.

In a city like Fort Collins, toplessness could have an isolating effect on members of minority religions where females follow a dress code.

As parks and other public locations become more liberating to some women, they will become less so to others.

A crucial aspect to true feminist rhetoric is an emphasis on freedom and equality for all women, but the complexity of these aspects are absent within the discourse surrounding female toplessness.

Women who don’t prefer to wear clothes shouldn’t claim to be vanguards of feminism just because they happen to be women.

By making toplessness a topic of intense debate, both sides are sending the message that the female breasts are more than just body parts, when this is the very opposite of what “Free the Nipple” proponents want.

Female expression is important, but we should advocate for it in a way that makes sense in the context of our culture.

Abby Vander Graaff can be reached at letters@collegian.com or Twitter at @abbym_vg