Two topless equality rallies held in Asheville, North Carolina, have prompted State Rep. Rayne Brown to introduce a bill to criminalize a woman showing her nipple in the state.
The problem, according to Brown, is that the state’s current law is poorly written regarding topless women. In addition, many localities do not have laws against going topless so the state must jump in and save traumatized North Carolinians from the sight of a woman baring her breast.
HB 34 amends the offense of indecent exposure to include “the nipple, or any portion of the areola, of the human female breast.” The bill does make exceptions for strip clubs or a woman breast-feeding her child who inadvertently shows her nipple.
Here we go again. The equivalent of the American Taliban is at work. While that may sound like an exaggeration, it really is not. The same belief that women must dress and behave modestly in public in Afghanistan is not so different from what is being proposed in North Carolina.
With the burqa, a woman must cover her body when in public because there is an inherent sexualness in the female body that drives men out of control and turns them into sex maniacs. The Taliban decree that a woman must be covered, but not a man.
Brown’s bill does the same, but only with part of the female body. While it is the mammary glands that cause the breast to develop and grow larger than a male’s, it seems to be always the nipple and areola that are deemed obscene. While it is true that the female areola is generally larger that the male’s, men have both an areola and nipple as well. According to HB 34 and laws across the country, it is perfectly fine for a bare-chested man to show his nipples and areola in public. That is not so different from the Taliban directive that a man can show his face in public but a woman cannot.
Cultures around the world don’t have this problem. Most sub-Saharan cultures in Africa don’t have this hangup about a woman’s breast. The Europeans aren’t as hung up on it as Americans are, either.
The European women’s rights organization Femen routinely protests topless across Europe, including recently in Paris to commemorate Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. The protesters were simply removed from the cathedral they were protesting at to the street. They weren’t charged as criminals as North Carolina is considering.
HB 34 would create two tiers of criminality for a woman who exposes her breasts. Simple exposure would be a Class 2 misdemeanor. If the public exposure occurs “in the presence of any other person less than 16 years of age for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire” then it would be a Class H felony. While the felony charge sounds somewhat reasonable since it would involve a minor, it is unclear if baring breasts during a protest would be a misdemeanor or felony if someone under the age of 16 witnessed it.
North Carolina law is complicated regarding the sentencing for misdemeanors and felonies, but it is interesting to compare other Class 2 misdemeanors and Class H felonies with publicly showing the female areola and nipple.
First, the misdemeanors:
A Class 2 misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of sixty days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Class 2 misdemeanors include simple assault, disorderly conduct, resisting a police officer, and carrying a concealed weapon.
That’s right. Under the least serious offense, flashing a breast is the same as resisting a police officer, assault or carrying a concealed weapon. Instead of titling the bill “An Act to Clarify the Offense of Indecent Exposure,” Brown should have called it “Conceal the Breast, Expose the Weapon.” Concealed guns and exposed breasts — these are two of the great dangers to American society, or so it seems some North Carolina politicians believe.
A Class H felony varies from a maximum penalty of 25 months per charge to up to 10 years in prison. Some Class H felonies include possession of stolen goods, larceny by employees under $100,000, third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and continuing criminal enterprise. The third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor involves depicting a visual representation of a minor engaging in sexual activity. To be included, if Brown gets her way, is revealing a woman’s breast in public where a minor might become sexually aroused.
It appears that topless protests would generally not be a felony. However, with the puritanical morals at work in North Carolina, that depends on how uptight the local prosecutor is with seeing a woman’s breast.
American society is not ready for topless women to walk about like topless men, but there really isn’t any need to go backward to a society that is more restrictive. The more a woman’s breast is viewed as obscene and forced to be covered, the more it is going to be sexualized. If men were forced to keep a shirt on in public, bare-chested men would eventually become associated as indecent. If North Carolina wants to criminalize a woman’s nipples, they should at least do the same with a man’s. That’s not going to happen any more than the Taliban holding men to the same standards they impose on women.