Many U.S. cities have laws against public nudity that are a little unbalanced. Men can typically walk around sans shirts with their nipples on display, while women’s nipples are considered indecent. However, that isn’t the case in every U.S. city. In New York City, for instance, a woman can appear topless on public streets if she so chooses. And, if a new proposal posited by a City Councilmember is adopted, Berkeley, California, may be next.
In Berkeley, it’s currently a misdemeanor for a woman to expose “any portion of the breast at or below the areola,” ABC 7 reports. Many activists believe these kinds of gendered ordinances are sexist, designed to criminalize and objectify women’s bodies. The “Free the Nipple” movement has gained a considerable number of supporters, including celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Chelsea Handler.
Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington has apparently listened to these activists, and he’s behind Berkeley’s proposal, according to SFGate. He represents the district near the University of California Berkeley and believes the current ordinance is sexist. He points out that there’s already an exception to the ordinance for breastfeeding mothers, which further illustrates his point.
“If a woman’s nipples are fit to be seen by the most innocent and impressionable portion of the population, babies and toddlers, then it stands to reason that nipples are not inherently sexual and are fit to be seen by the rest of the population, if that woman so chooses,” his proposal reads.
The proposal, if approved, would only affect public areas. Businesses would still have the option to demand that patrons wear shirts.
Back in the early ’90s, there were no real rules against walking around Berkeley in the buff. That all changed when Luis Andrew Martinez, then a 19-year-old University of California Berkeley student, began showing up on campus naked in September of 1992. He became known as “The Naked Guy,” and his activism delighted some and horrified others. He once wrote, “When I walk around nude, I am acting how I think it is reasonable to act, not how middle-class values tell me I should act. I am refusing to hide my dissent in normalcy even though it is very easy to do so.”
A good argument, perhaps, but by December of 1992, the university banned on-campus public nudity, and Martinez was expelled in early 1993. The city adopted a similar no-naked ordinance in the summer of 1993, and Martinez was the very first person to be arrested for violating it. He received two years’ probation. Martinez would suffer from mental illness later in life and was arrested in 2006 and charged with assault. While being held on those charges, he was found dead in his jail cell of an apparent suicide. He was 33 years old.