GoTopless movement aims to shed gender inequality, one shirt at a time

Liz Sauchelli Contributor
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Since 1986, women have been able to walk around Washington, D.C., topless. Cosmo pointed out this fact in its July 2011 issue in an article entitled “Fascinating Breast Facts.”

GoTopless is an organization that promotes the right of women to be topless in public places. “FREE YOUR BREASTS! FREE YOUR MIND!” a line on the site proclaims.

“The ultimate goal is for the laws to change on the national level so that women have the same rights as men,” said Lara Terstenjak, spokesperson for GoTopless. “As long as men are allowed to be topless in public, women should have the same constitutional right or men should have to cover up in public.”

GoTopless was founded in 2007 by Rael, leader of the Raelian movement. Rael started his movement in 1973 after he met an extra-terrestrial, which, according to the website, “gave him a new detailed explanation of our origins and information on how to organize our future.”

Rael founded GoTopless after Phoenix Feeley was arrested in Manhattan in 2007 for being topless. Feely, an East Village artist, was charged with indecent exposure by police in 2005, the Daily News reported. The police who arrested her, however, were unaware that going topless became legal in New York in 1992.

Feeley sued NYC and was awarded $29,000 in a civil rights settlement. Rael started GoTopless after he learned of Feeley’s case. (TheDC Interview: Lisa Baron, author of ‘Life of the Party’)

In the 1920s, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. At that time, there were laws that prohibited women from wearing clothing that exposed their ankles and collarbones, Terstenjak said. Since then, women have had to continue to fight for equality.

“I don’t have the same freedom as men if I’m stuck in traffic and my air conditioning is broken to take my shirt off.  If I was in my own car driving without a shirt on, I could get in trouble,” Terstenjak said. “It’s the only thing right now that’s keeping women from having the same rights as men.”

Women are often unaware that some cities and states allow them to go topless in public, Terstenjak said. And even in places where it’s legal, law enforcement tries to enforce a nonexistent prohibition against undressing from the waist up. Topless laws tend to vary by city in the U.S.

Since 2007, GoTopless has held marches in various cities across the United States. On August 21, the marches will commence in honor of National Women’s Equality Day which is celebrated on August 26.

But not all women’s rights activists support the topless-rights movement.

“No, CWA does not support mammary rights and we are particularly incensed that the people who choose to embrace it really shouldn’t,” Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance said.

In 2012, GoTopless is planning a “2 million boob march in Washington” to bring attention to its cause. Terstenjak compared the topless movement to the civil rights movement.

“It’s a fight for freedom and the right to express yourself for who you are,” she said.

Liz Sauchelli