On hot South Florida days, when the temperature rises with the sun and humidity climbs, making one feel like they’re wading through a jungle, many men opt to take off their shirt.
Women, on the other hand, cannot.
“If a man can walk around the street topless, with breasts that are bigger than some, why can’t I?” asked Donna Newman. “There’s days in Florida where it’s so hot that you just can't stand it, and when I go to my mailbox I see every guy in the neighborhood with no shirt on.”
Newman, a Go Topless representative in Miami, as well as a priest and guide in the Raëlian Movement, is fighting for the right for women to be topless in public. The right for women to be topless is celebrated with protests near Women’s Day every August, when women won the right to vote in 1919.
Go Topless started with the Raëlian religion, which prides itself in the tenant of gender equality. A Raëlian leader read about and was motivated by a New York City artist, Phoenix Feeley, who was arrested for walking topless in New York City, even though it’s been legal since 1992. The city paid her $29,000 in a settlement.
Every August, coinciding with the anniversary date of women’s right to vote, pro-topless advocates take to the streets baring their chests and breasts. Newman and other Miami activists have done the same on Lincoln Road and Haulover Beach, a nude beach, but are looking for more people to join.
“We just don’t have enough girls that will participate,” Newman said. “Everybody is too afraid, they’re afraid they’re going to get arrested, they’re afraid they’re going to go to jail, they’re afraid to show their breasts.”
While the right to bare breasts seems a trivial pursuit to some, it opens up a larger discussion of gender equality and puritanical laws. Advocates argue that if men can freely walk around without a shirt on, why can’t women?
“In the United States in our Constitution, women are supposed to be equal to men, but of course we know we aren’t,” Newman said. “You were born naked, you were a child running around the beach naked, and at what point in your life did someone tell you that it was a bad thing?”
The Go Topless movement also intersects with social media’s #FreeTheNipple -- some women have posted photos of themselves topless and photoshopped male nipples over their own -- as well as mothers fighting to breastfeed in public rather than being sent to public bathrooms.
Newman reminds people that once, a woman’s ankle or collarbone was considered indecent and had to be covered up, making them sexualized as well. While participating in the Go Topless walks, she said that men catcalled them and hung out the windows screaming at the crowd as they walked past, “in a not supportive way.”
“[Men] need to get over themselves. If they get all excited about seeing a breast, what does that say about them? What kind of control do they not have in their life that they get so sexually aroused by a woman’s breasts that they have to act like a moron?” Newman asked.
Once upon a time, however, it was illegal for men to bare their chests in public until 1936 -- men had been protesting the right to take their tops off at the beach for years prior, including four men in Coney Island in 1934 and 42 men in Atlantic City in 1935. In fact, in 1934, a scene in “It Happened One Night” where Clark Gable takes off his shirt, with no undershirt underneath, caused waves with moviegoers -- the same movie where Claudette Colbert lifts her skirt to expose a leg in order to attract a car to stop for her.
“What you can’t see you want to see,” Newman said. “Gender doesn’t matter. A breast is a breast is a breast.”
“I’m not telling every woman to run out in the street and go topless. If you’re not comfortable, that’s OK.”
Visit GoTopless.com for more information about the movement, and for more information locally, contact Donna Newman at 305-690-9800