Being female is not disorderly

Blog Bush Axe edit
St. Jones River, Dover, Delaware. Delaware law specifically forbids public female bare-chestedness, but not public male bare-chestedness, nor public breast exposure by transitioning people who have “female-looking breasts” but still have male genitalia

“Bare-chestedness may be legal, but a bare-chested woman can still be arrested for disorderly conduct.”  

I hear this so much from police I have begun to anticipate the argument when I email them before a walk or bike ride.

Sometimes a police officer will initially deny the legality of female bare-chestedness but that usually goes away quickly when we look at the applicable statutes, because they are almost always clearly written.

But then, almost universally, that police officer will warn me about disorderly conduct or some equivalent charge, like open lewdness or public indecency.  Having heard it so often, this is what I write now in my very first introductory emails.

“Anticipating the argument that a police officer may still charge a bare-chested woman with disorderly conduct, public indecency or open lewdness, merely being a female is neither disorderly, indecent nor lewd, any more than being a male is.  Since you would not consider mere bare-chestedness disorderly, indecent or lewd in a male, you cannot consider it so in a female. 

Disorderly conduct traditionally consists of such actions as using vulgar and obscene language, vagrancy, loitering, playing loud music or creating excessive noise, intentionally causing a crowd to gather in a public place in such a way that it impedes movement or creates a danger, or annoying passengers on public transit. 

Bare-chested sunbathing, walking or cycling involves none of those things.  

Nor is it a valid argument that female bare-chestedness is lewd because it is unusual in our society, or because it draws attention from, offends or upsets people who are not accustomed to seeing exposed female breasts, or because a person (or 10 or 20) calls 911 to report a bare-chested female.  Twenty people reporting a legal act does not make it illegal.  Unusualness is not a valid reason to arrest someone.  Mixed race couples were unusual and criminal at one time in our history as well.  

Normalizing female bare-chestedness is a social challenge, not a legal one.  The law is clear.  Females and males must be treated equally under the law.”

This argument applies of course only in places where the law clearly protects gender equality or uses gender neutral language.  Places that have unequal laws have to  be tackled in another fashion, more on that later.

Even so, I challenge a police agency who leans on unequal statutory language to defend itself in this day and age.  It feels like a battle they aren’t too interested in having.  How many police chiefs want to hold a press conference in which they have to talk about the danger of breasts?  Better to solve it quietly behind the scenes, for me and them.

In all my walks, bike rides and beach visits, I have never been arrested.  I have talked to a lot of police officers though, by email and on the street, before and after 911 calls.  When they understand I am prepared and confident, and also (very important) non-confrontational, they deescalate and listen.

And since what I am saying is true, they come to agree with me.  Every single one, so far.  They may not agree with what I am doing, often they don’t, but they understand my right to do so.

And that’s all, frankly, I’m asking of the police.

Just let me go in peace.

29 thoughts on “Being female is not disorderly

  1. Thank you for this, it is a good read! I attended a ‘Go Topless’ protest this summer in Montreal to highlight the fact that in 2015 there is still gender inequality – since men can walk around bare chested but women can not. There is absolutely nothing offensive about a woman’s body or breasts and women should be allowed to comfortably go topless just like men are allowed to do so!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All I can say is wow! I love and respect your moxie! I’ve seen the disorderly conduct charge used in a situation where a crowd did gather around a friend of mine who was topless at a festival where it was perfectly legal. Eventually the charge was dropped. I wish you lived in my town do help lighten up people’s attitudes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe thank you. It helps me that I am sure of my rights and pf my worth as a human being. They like to use that charge when they get nervous and want to just stop the situation right then. They aren’t considering what will happen later, which is why it doesn’t always stick.
      May I ask where you live? I’ve been going to different states…


        1. I posted my answer as an article titled, “Finding Other Topfreedom Fighters.” I asked about your locale because I have this fabric in my mind of people across the country who have reached out. I asked your gender because it would shape my answer as to what type of activism. When women ask me that, my answer is, “Be the activist!” Have the internal conversation first, then just go do it. When men ask me that, I generally say, “Be a model of responsible behavior for other men, treat people well, treat women as equals, as humans, and neutralize bullies.” That’s the short answer. The long answer is now an article. You were asking of course about the practical means of forming or joining an activist network. You just did! Welcome. Thank you for reaching out. May it grow…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. One topic you mention briefly in this post is about being non-confrontational. That might be worthy of a blog post. Somehow you have managed to figure this out. But as other women try this, whether they run into a cop or just someone out on a walk who disapproves, it’s a virtual certainty that someone is going to be confrontational with them. How to respond? How do you keep your cool? Where did you learn this? Zen? Gandhi? Martin Luther King? I know I could use this, and I’m not even female.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Yes, whenever I write anger is fear I am basically quoting Gandhi. He felt that if a person was not afraid of anything, there would be no reason to be violent and that violence betrayed the presence of fear. And the famous Dr. Martin Luther Kind quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” I believe you get back what you put into the world. I put out peace and acceptance and that is very often what I get back. I only push back as hard as I have to to keep someone from hurting me, which isn’t usually very hard. I don’t want to hurt someone just because she or he may be trying to hurt me. They are just afraid, and I can fix that. People back down out of the midbrain when they feel they are being heard. People reacting from their midbrains cannot be reasoned with. That part of the brain gets us through perceived lion attacks. Escalating to the level of a person in the midbrain will hold them there, unable to leave their survival mode. But something about feeling heard deescalates people very fast in my experience. I don’t receive many negative interactions at all, especially in person, but when I do, I try to model calmness and present a non-threatening energy so they can come back down and have a lucid conversation with me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. First, thanks for your efforts to shed light on this dark subject. As I understand it, essentially the law specifies that possession of male genitalia is a ticket to walking without a shirt on legally. Hence women and post-op transsexual women can be jailed for walking without a shirt. I wonder if the law specifies the makeup of the mail genitalia, or would possession of silicone male genitalia meet the legal requirements?


    1. Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. In 2010 some folks who had male genitalia but “female breasts” went bare-chested in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. They were ticketed, but won in court and since then people with male genitals but “female looking breasts” can go bare-chested in Delaware. People with female genitalia cannot go bare-chested no matter what their chests look like. I admit to daydreaming about going bare-chested in Delaware and challenging them to check my genitals before writing me a ticket.


  5. Good for you. I admire your courage, and wish I could go nude freely here in Australia. But as an older man, I would most likely find myself in all sorts of hot water. So I choose my time and place to enjoy a skin-full of fresh air.


    1. Hi Graeme. Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment. Hopefully someday it will take no more courage for a woman to go bare-chested than it does now for a man to do so, and we won’t think of her as any more or less nude than a bare-chested man. We are getting there. With each setback, progress. Be well.


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