Skip to comments.`Topfree 10' sue for right to bare breasts (wants baring of female breast to be decriminalized)
Posted on 10/22/2003 7:22:36 AM PDT by bedolido
ROCKLEDGE, Fla. - (KRT) - Scanning the roomful of women, Jamie Hooper couldn't help but snicker.
Seated together were 10 women, most of them middle-aged and two who qualified as senior citizens.
"Ladies," Hooper teased her fellow plaintiffs that day a month ago, "we don't need to be taking our tops off."
Yet they are battling in federal court for the right to do just that, hoping to add to the small list of places where baring the female breast has been decriminalized.
Meet the women who call themselves the Topfree 10, a group as diverse as the ordinances and attitudes governing women's breasts nationwide. They range from 14 to 74 years old. Some are schoolteachers, some are naturists, and one is a fired NASA engineer convicted of an anthrax hoax.
The forces motivating them to pick this fight with Brevard County, Fla., vary nearly as much as their ages. About the only thing they have in common is the belief that they should have the same rights as men. Even when it comes to shedding their shirts.
And though legal experts say the lawsuit is likely to fail, the women are convinced the sun will someday shine on their cause - if not their bosoms.
"The issue is gender equality," said Hooper's mother, 74-year-old Marilyn "Smitty" Hooper, a grandmother of five and the lawsuit's matriarch.
Brevard's antinudity ordinance and two state statutes treat male and female breasts differently for no good reason, the women argue in their suit.
"I've seen men with bigger boobs than many of my friends," said the elder Hooper, a retired schoolteacher and social activist who has escorted women into abortion clinics, protested against nuclear weapons in space and lobbied for the hungry and homeless.
"Judges equate female breasts with sex organs, and they're not," she said. "They're glands, and the judges have them, too."
Never mind that neither Hooper would take her top off in public even if they were to win in court. Smitty Hooper said she's too old, and Jamie, a 44-year-old first-grade teacher at Golfview Elementary Magnet School in Rockledge, said she wouldn't set foot on a beach in anything skimpier than a shirt and pair of shorts.
They just don't think it's right that the only legal way to bare their breasts in Florida is for the gratification of somebody else - either a nursing baby or a strip-club crowd.
They also think they can win - even if legal experts don't - and that public sentiment is on their side.
"I don't think they'll find the courts very sympathetic," said Fletcher Baldwin, a law professor at the University of Florida, who compared the women's chance in court to that of snowball's in hell.
"Simply being topless, with all due respect, doesn't rise to the same level as, say, race discrimination," he said, chuckling. "There is no compelling need - unless they all want to be longshoremen."
The suit was filed Sept. 3 and no trial date has been set. In the meantime, the 10 women are trying to raise enough money to pay for a scientific poll asking Florida residents whether non-breastfeeding women should be arrested for being topless in public. Their attorney, Mark Tietig, said the main thread running through previous cases is that the courts insist the majority of people are opposed to women being topless, but there's no scientific data to back it up. He is convinced 65 percent to 75 percent of Florida's residents are in favor of the laws being repealed.
Kay Butchko isn't one of them. She is an officer in a conservative women's organization in Brevard and also lives on the beach in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
"We're talking about my front yard, where my grandchildren come to visit and other children play," said Butchko, 62. "We want it to remain a family-oriented community.
"I think it is very unfair for certain fringe groups to want to change our cultural environment and impact multitudes of people. There's a difference in men and women and the way they are perceived, and I think we need to accept that as a reality."
The Topfree 10 began their battle about five years ago, when 9-year-old Athela Frandsen was about to celebrate her birthday.
The daughter of Melbourne, Fla., naturists Marvin and Jan Frandsen, Athela was disheartened to learn that under the county's ordinance, she would be required to start wearing a top when she turned 10.
The ordinance was passed, in part, to stop people such as her parents from sunbathing nude at Playalinda Beach in the Canaveral National Seashore or even in their own back yard.
"When I was nine, I could take off my top to cool down in a hot car," said Athela, now 14. "When I turned 10, I cried because I didn't have the same rights as boys.
"Then Mom had the idea to contact a lawyer."
Jan Frandsen, 46, said she "decided it was time to take the leap and work through the court system to get things changed."
Frandsen looked up Mark and Lisa Tietig, married Merritt Island, Fla., attorneys who have taken on some of the toughest civil-rights cases in the county's history.
Then she started calling old friends.
There were naturists T.A. Wymer, a 56-year-old co-founder of a 26-acre nudist community in Fort Pierce, Fla.; Shirley Mason, 53, a Miami resident; and Kayla Sosnow, a 36-year-old Gainesville, Fla., resident who was arrested in 1996 for indecent exposure and jailed 20 days for going topless in the Osceola National Forest.
Frandsen knew Smitty Hooper from church.
Cathy Stanton, a 68-year-old Melbourne resident, also was asked to join in the litigation. Like the Hoopers, Stanton wouldn't think of going topless. But as a direct descendent of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a pioneer in the struggle for women's rights, she couldn't fathom shying away from a good fight.
Besides, she said, her famous ancestor probably would "get a kick out of this."
Laura Pinfield, 44, a music teacher at Hoover Middle School in Indialantic, Fla., also signed on despite concerns that publicly discussing it might jeopardize her job, according to the other plaintiffs.
A spokeswoman for the Brevard County School district said she shouldn't worry.
"We will not violate the civil rights of our employees," spokeswoman Sara T. Stern said.
The 10th and most controversial plaintiff, Dian Hardison of Port St. John, came on board after the women's first lawsuit failed in state court in 1999.
Hardison, 46, was one of seven clothed nudists cited in June 1997 for picketing outside the entrance to the Canaveral National Seashore in protest of a crackdown on nude sunbathing at Playalinda.
Four years later, she was fired from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for using government equipment to e-mail a friend a joke about President Bush. Last month, she pleaded guilty to sprinkling white powder in an envelope with her water bill and mailing it to the Cocoa, Fla., water department during the height of the anthrax scares nationwide.
She was convicted of threatening to use a hoax weapon of mass destruction and could face up to 15 years in prison when she is sentenced in January.
Laws regarding women's breasts vary from state to state and even county to county, said Paul Rapoport, coordinator for the Topfree Equal Rights Association, a small organization that helps women arrested for going topless in the United States and Canada.
For example, California and Ohio don't prohibit women being topless, while Indiana specifically forbids it.
And, despite Florida's laws, Mason said she has sunbathed without a top or problems from police for nearly two decades on a stretch of Miami's South Beach. Officers started looking the other way, she said, when the city's leaders realized topless beaches were good for business.
In pockets across the country, women are fighting antinudity laws, and sometimes winning, Rapoport said.
In a landmark case in New York, seven women were arrested in 1986 for going topless in a park. The women, dubbed Rochester's Topfree Seven, challenged the law that stated women could bare their breasts for "entertainment" purposes only.
Six years later, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that women could be topless in public in that state.
"Some people feel men can't control themselves if exposed to the sight of a woman's bare breast, but that's a misconception," said Topfree 10 member T.A. Wymer, whose nudist community includes members in their 80s.
Fellow Topfree 10 member Dian Hardison agreed: "If you saw half the people you work with naked, the last thing on your mind would be sex."
In their lawsuit, the Topfree 10 are seeking the right to take off their shirts "during their work, beachgoing, gardening, sunbathing, swimming, other outdoor activities, and in other nonsexual contexts as often as their husbands, sons, fathers and other men."
"We're not out to shock or horrify," Hardison said. "It's just a matter of personal preference."
The women argue there is no biological reason to define women's breasts as sex objects.
"It's just cultural," said Kayla Sosnow, a Topfree 10 member whose indecent exposure conviction was eventually overturned on a technicality. "In China, it's the feet. In Japan, the nape of the neck."
Women's breasts, she said, are secondary sexual characteristics "like men's beards."
And, as in other civil rights issues, American culture will change, Sosnow predicted.
"In 1919 women stood outside the polls. Today, we vote," she said. "In 1967 blacks sat at the back of the bus. Today, buses are integrated.
"It is only a matter of time before American women and men enjoy top-free equality."
Righhtttt..... I find a woman's lymph glands very arousing. I don't know of any guy who is attracted to breasts.
My wife (a nurse) told me breasts were actually fattie tissue. That's why woman weight lifters lose breast size as well when they gain muscle. Viva la fat!
Maybe someday they'll be able to direct fat genes as they gain more info on the body makeup.
Now, wouldn't that be something. Nothing goes to a woman's thighs-it ends up on her chest. Of course, you'd probably have a lot of women tipping over....
Thanks... I needed a good laugh and you helped deliver it. Been a bad day so far...lol
I didn't need to read this just before starting my work day . . .
This problem has been begging to be exposed for years. There's little doubt it can be titillating, distracting -- sometimes causing auto accidents, and even embarrassing -- as when figure skaters unexpectedly pop out of their costumes.
Not to make mountains out of molehills, but as I see it, there has been too much coverage and that creates an air of mystery, if not downright curiosity. Back in Victorian times when revealing even a knobby ankle or the nape of the neck was taboo, men and women were aroused to action. Standards changed and people became looser. It's all part of a historical trend -- think of it as a form of dialectical mammarism, that continues in Orlando to this day.
As we look back, we can see our President Jimmy Carter almost had it right when he implanted his concept of a "New Foundation" in the American consciousness. Unfortunately, he was a boob's boob. In fact, his mother Miz Lillian was said to have had the biggest boobs in Georgia -- Billy and Jimmy.
Ughh! I work for an ugly female boss, dog doesn't adequately describe her. If I had to see her topless I would need immediate therapy...
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