Opinion: Boobs are not a crime

People participate in a march during International Go Topless Day in New York Aug. 26.
(Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)

It’s hard to take the side of Rose Picklo, the inebriated young woman who was arrested for indecent exposure in front of a child during a soccer game in Minnesota Saturday. A 7-year-old boy pointed out the half-dressed woman to his mother.

Picklo was on her third beer, she told a reporter later, and got belligerent when authorities asked her to cover up. Eventually, she was handcuffed and carried out of the stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

It’s hard, but I am going to do it anyway because the law as it was applied to Picklo is stupid and sexist.


Picklo was not the only topless person at the Minnesota United game that day, according to the mother of that same 7-year-old boy. But she was the only one hauled off to jail, charged with indecent exposure and publicly shamed. The other topless soccer fans were men. The reporting does not say what their fate was, but it apparently was not serious enough to warrant any news coverage.

If the point of punishing Picklo was to protect the 7-year-old boy, and by extension any other child in the vicinity, then it was a failure. The subtle message conveyed in focusing on the topless woman in the crowd was surely not lost on the boys and girls who will have already intuited that society has double standards for women.

The takeaway for that 7-year-old boy, and any other boys watching, is that a woman’s breasts are scandalous and shameful (as opposed to their own, though they may be bigger and bouncier than their sisters, or covered with a thick fur.). The lesson for the girls in the stands was that their breasts are so dangerous that letting strangers see them is a crime punishable, if not with a scarlet letter, then at least two days in jail and a $3,000 fine.

Great. Granted, the injustice of nudity laws is not probably among the top concerns of those fighting for equal rights for women. Give me equal pay before the equal opportunity to go topless. And anyway, I have no desire to parade around topless. I’ve been steeped in American standards of modesty for too long to be comfortable being naked in public. But Picklo’s story is a reminder that gender equality is baked so deeply into our cultural mores, it turns up everywhere.

Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised that one city at least had dealt seriously with the issue. The Berkeley (where else?) City Council wrestled with this issue a few weeks ago when it discussed, and then tabled, a “free the nipple” proposal. Regrettably, this serious policy issue ended on a cartoonish note when a naked “body freedom activist” climbed up on a table and began berating the council members.

(I was interested to find as well that there is an entire organization devoted to advocating for topless, Go Topless. I became significantly less interested, however, after I discovered that Go Topless movement appears to be a front for a UFO-based religion headed by a guy named Rael.)

I don’t think that cities or states that have public nudity laws should change them to allow wanton toplessness, but they ought to apply what laws they have fairly. If it’s OK for men to go shirtless on the street, in a park or on a beach, it should be OK for women, too. If a community decides that it is too emotionally upsetting for children to see a woman’s breasts in the flesh, then men should have to keep their chests covered up as well.

Follow me @marielgarzaLAT