Rules Against Bare Breasts Reinforce Stereotypes About Women, Judge Says

They turn the naked female breast into something "disorderly or dangerous."

Women in Fort Collins, Colorado, are a little freer now that a federal judge has halted an ordinance prohibiting the public baring of female breasts.

U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson granted an injunction on Wednesday, writing that the municipal ordinance discriminated against women and reinforced negative stereotypes.

Jackson explained:

“I find that the ordinance discriminates against women based on the generalized notion that, regardless of a woman’s intent, the exposure of her breasts in public (or even in her private home if viewable by the public) is necessarily a sexualized act. Thus, it perpetuates a stereotype engrained in our society that female breasts are primarily objects of sexual desire whereas male breasts are not.”

The judge pointed out that laws requiring women to cover their breasts turn them into a sight to see:

“The naked female breast is seen as disorderly or dangerous because society, from Renaissance paintings to Victoria’s Secret commercials, has conflated female breasts with genitalia and stereotyped them as such. The irony is that by forcing women to cover up their bodies, society has made naked women’s breasts something to see.”

Jackson also noted that Fort Collins hadn’t offered “any meaningful evidence that the mere sight of a female breast endangers children”:

“The female breast, after all, is one of the first things a child sees. Of course, those are very young children, but children of any age might come upon a woman breastfeeding a child and see a naked breast. Yet no one suggests that they are harmed by that experience. Indeed, public breastfeeding is permitted by Colorado law.”

The city ordinance required females over the age of 10 to pay a $250 fine if they displayed any part of the breast below the top of the nipple. There was an exception for mothers who were breastfeeding.

No woman has been charged with violating the ordinance, according to The Associated Press.

City attorney Carrie Daggett issued a statement Wednesday saying that Fort Collins will no longer cite women for exposing a breast in public, pending a final decision in the case. She added:

“While the judge has acknowledged the other cases upholding similar laws, he concluded he is likely to find the city’s restriction on female toplessness in public is based on an impermissible gender stereotype that results in a form of gender-based discrimination. The city is reviewing the judge’s decision in this case and city legal, policy and enforcement staff will be considering the city’s options for next steps in light of the order.”

Brit Hoagland, one of the plaintiffs in Free the Nipple v. City of Fort Collins, declared the preliminary injunction a “historic victory,” one that grants privileges to women that men have enjoyed all along.

It’s a huge relief,” she told the Coloradan. “It is definitely a big win.”

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