Northern Exposure

Posted April 29, 2010, at 6:24 p.m.

Maine is at the end of the line when it comes to national trends, which means we should be able to avoid some of the trends that ran their course elsewhere. The topless women parade phenomenon is one such example.

A recent topless protest in Portland, it turns out, is not really a spontaneous expression of that legendary Yankee independent spirit. Rather, it was an apparent offshoot of a National Go-Topless Day celebrated last August across the country. Dozens of bare-breasted women walked through Central Park in New York on a summer Sunday last year, as did many of their shirtless sisters in other cities.

A Brooks woman who participated in the Portland event has organized a similar demonstration for today in Farmington, where she is a senior at University of Maine at Farmington. Predictably, though somewhat inexplicably, Michael Heath of the American Family Association of Maine told the Lewiston Sun Journal he believes there is an “obvious” connection between the march and advancing “the agenda of the homosexual rights movement.”

In New York, as in Maine, there is no law preventing women from appearing in public with their chests bared. Most obscenity laws address only the baring of genitals in public. And even that has posed a legal conundrum in Maine. Two years ago, a woman was able to win acquittal in Greenville for jumping off a dock in the nude by arguing her genitals were not exposed in the same way as they were for the two men who also jumped nude into Moosehead Lake.

The women participating in the demonstrations assert, fairly logically and persuasively, that prohibiting women from enjoying the pleasures a man enjoys in walking around bare-chested on a hot summer day is discriminatory. They also point to images of overweight, undertoned men whose bare abdomens are less than aesthetically pleasing. But the reaction topless women get in public undermines their case.

In some cultures, bare-breasted women would not garner a second glance from a man. But here in the U.S., they get second, third and fourth glances. Unless someone can show that bare-chested women would not cause the sort of distractions that result in car crashes, twisted ankles and slaps from spouses, the women’s point is lost.

Before they organize the next parade, they should consider what happened when gun owners hosted a barbecue recently in Portland with side arms strapped to their waists to assert their gun ownership rights. The demonstration spurred some to call for stricter gun controls. Bare-breasted parades are an assertion of legal rights, but they ultimately empower those who would want to change the law.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/04/29/opinion/northern-exposure/ printed on July 25, 2014