“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.