New Hampshire’s state motto is, “Live Free or Die,” which was taken from a toast made by a Revolutionary Army General named John Stark. (The phrase was used widely in the French Revolution prior to that, according to Wikipedia.)
The motto has created a lot of irony over the years, as New Hampshire has continually been a cultural battleground between traditional, fiercely independent isolationists and the waves of transplants that vacation and retire there from the more urban areas to its south.
New Hampshire is also virtually entirely white in population, (94% white, 2% Asian-American, 1% African-American), and there can exists a palpable lack of nuance in their statewide conversations about racial equality. Likewise with regards to gender equality, the state’s 400+ member “citizen legislature” will sometimes pass or attempt to pass laws that leave the rest of the country scratching its collective head. (Which per capita is one of the largest such bodies in the world, and as my New Hampshire friend Joe insists in the state’s defense, with that many people, you are bound to get a few crackpots.)
This year four male state representatives introduced a bill that would have made female bare-chestedness illegal. This blog or Google will catch you up if you wish to look back at how it came to be (including the state rep who declared publicly that if another state rep got her breasts out she should be okay with him grabbing them.) In January, after a concerted effort from topfreedom supporters, the bill was rejected in committee 19-0. Shortly thereafter, a female state senator introduced a second bill that would have given the unelected department heads that oversee (among other things) parks, forests and the tourism bureau the power to regulate attire on all state property including beaches, parks and forests, stating clearly and repeatedly that she was trying to stop women from going bare-chested.
In response, one of the topfreedom supporters testifying before the senate committee proposed changing the state motto simply to “Die.”
Fortunately, after another well-attended show of dissent from the topfreedom supporters, that bill also died in committee, 14-1.
So yay, right?
Yay because women have indeed been going peacefully bare-chested across the state this year, including at Atlantic beaches, state parks and local swimming holes. (More on this below.)
But not so yay in the small town of Gilford, New Hampshire, where this whole saga began, and its immediate neighbor city in Laconia (home of the famous bike week) where police continue to arrest and harass women for going bare-chested, in open defiance of a court order to the contrary and two failed attempts at the legislative level to give the towns the right to ban female bare-chestedness.
In June, Laconia’s police chief stated publicly that his department would arrest bare-chested women and argued that the court order in question, which ruled that no state law criminalizes female bare-chestedness and that towns do not have the authority to criminalize it themselves, did not apply to Laconia which he says is a “city” and not a “town.” Several of us, including me by phone, talked with the chief at length, who claimed he believed women and men should be treated equally but that he and his legal staff feel strongly that they can and should keep women from going bare-chested. Two weeks later three women were arrested on purpose in Laconia for going bare-chested and their case will eventually go before the same judge that ruled in their favor in Gilford last winter.
On the positive side, I received these updates from others who have been going bare-chested all summer.
“Based upon my own experience, and that of others, there are a lot of “first-timers” going topfree at the beaches/parks. And a lot of folks who are noticing topless women in public for the first time.
I’ve also seen a couple instances of women wearing sheer tops at the beach, so this is helping those who are “in the middle,” too.
Other than Laconia and Gilford, there have been no reported legal problems. One woman has mentioned that someone called the police when she was at [a local swimming hole near Bristol], but the officer showed up and admitted that the only thing they have is a “nudity” ordinance, which does not mention toplessness or nipples.
My personal experience at one recent beach trip:
So, we (kids and I) were at Hampton Beach today with our friend G, her son, and her boyfriend. We were supposed to meet some others, but various craziness delayed us and meant we missed them. Still, she got her paints out, her top off, and painted herself up as an octopus. It took about two hours, total, for the painting.
Lots of folks slowed down to watch as they walked past. One woman came over about halfway through to say that she’d been watching, but had to leave, and wanted to know what the final design was going to be. A father stopped walking with his kids to tell them how cool bodypaint is. Things were going very well, and then a young girl, probably 10 or so, started to walk past, got the “I need to find my parent” face (the parents in the crowd know which one I mean), and I braced for some irate parent yelling at us. Sure enough, she came back with her mom, exclaiming, “see? what did I tell you? there she is… isn’t that so cool?!” They stayed for a minute or so, discussing the artwork.
All told, we spent six hours on the beach and the adjacent sidewalks, and she got hundreds of positive comments, and many requests for pictures (mostly from women). Many mothers asked if their kids could have pictures with her. Judging by the extreme variety of accents among those who spoke with her, the anti-nipple brigade’s claim that tourism will be harmed is proven to be nonsense.
Through the whole day, there was only one negative interaction, when a trio of women complained that she should not be near the playground (despite the fact that she was there with her child). One said something along the lines of, “not everyone wants their child to see that.” G replied that people definitely have different ideas of what they want to see in public, just like some people might not want their kids to see someone smoking. She tells me that she didn’t even consciously realize that this busybody was smoking in the playground before the words were out of her mouth – in that case, her subconscious was on the ball with the most perfect possible argument.
As those three left, they tried to tell others coming in that they should not because of “the naked woman,” and everyone they spoke to thanked them for the information, then ignored them and came in anyway. A few minutes later, they brought the police, who quite firmly told them to get lost; based upon their body language, I believe their words towards that trio would not have been even vaguely polite if they were not in uniform. So, maybe Gilford and Laconia can send their police and other employees to Hampton for training?
The remaining couple hours were more positive interactions, folks asking if they can be bodypainted at some point in the future, and at least one shout of “free the nipple.” After a swim in the ocean, some of the paints washed off and others remained, leaving her with one nipple unpainted. The interactions remained positive, including several more interactions with families.”
And this update from a different friend:
“Sorry for the late response. Been really busy with work. I have gone out bare-chested — quite a few times actually. I love swimming and go probably once a week and haven’t worn a top once. I have been hearing and talking with a lot of women who are exercising their rights. That is why I love our Facebook group. I think us all being able to share our stories and experiences helps other women see that it is okay and it inspires them — whether they want to go bare-chested or not.
Unfortunately for us the police are not being very cooperative…despite having lost a court case last December, Gilford cops threatened they would arrest for criminal trespassing if [women] go topless on the beach… and get this, it was [our friend] who called the police to say, ‘Hey we’re going to be going to Gilford Beach and we will be topless. Just wanted to inform you beforehand.’ She was giving them a heads up to do the right thing and give them a chance to do the right thing as well. I’ve gone topless at a local falls quite a few times topless and have only had one incident. A cop was called on me and even though he knew he couldn’t make me put on a shirt, which he acknowledged, he was still very upset I wouldn’t. He kept trying to convince me and even went as far as to lie and say that the town of Bristol has an ordinance (which they don’t). So, not sure what to do about Gilford!
Thankfully, most of my experiences and most of the women I see talking about theirs, have been positive. I do believe more people are in support or indifferent to it.”
And from this weekend’s Go Topless Day events, this update I found on the Topfree Runboard, “I spent Sunday (which was go topless day) afternoon and Monday (just a regular day) at Hampton Beach. Go Topless day seemed to present an example of what would happen if it were culturally acceptable, as well as legal, for women to choose what they wear at the beach the same way that men can. On Sunday there were topless women all over the beach. Ages ranging from 0 – 60 and just about everything in-between. But there were no senior citizens. Looking around this seemed to be because there were no senior citizens at all. Though the beach goers were mostly white, there were hispanic and african-american groups as well, and lots of European tourist as well as Americans. Some women from all of these groups joined in doffing their tops. I suspect some of them had no idea it was go topless day (such as the ones I overheard speaking Russian or some Slavic language), but looking around and seeing lots of other women topless, just felt comfortable joining in.
On Monday it was a different scene. For one thing the senior citizens showed up. I guess with parking costing 1/6 as much as the day before and them not having to be at working that makes sense. Secondly we were back to the typically American beachwear scene with the only topless woman I saw that day being a friend was with me.”
And this super awesome update from an attendee of the New Hampshire Go Topless Day.
“Our go topless day was amazing. I would estimate there were at least 200 topless women and nonbinary people, if not more. It is hard to say because throughout the day women were joining in. Some were tourists from other states and overseas. A man and a woman were walking together and I heard the man say “it must be legal, it has to be.” and so the woman undid her top, took it off, and they kept walking 🙂 At one point a little girl, maybe 8, asked me “why aren’t you wearing a shirt?” so I told her “Because it is hot!” she accepted this answer. She wasn’t scared or angry but rather curious, like most children who notice (usually they don’t).”
And finally this article from the conservative Union Leader. The article is neutral to my ear, and the comments are the predictable vitriol the Union Leader is known for. So I take it as a win that the article is journalistic. (I don’t read comments sections. They are not an accurate reflection of public sentiment.)