The Right To Bare Chests
Recently, I chanced upon a shirtless man crossing the road along with a group of people. It was somewhat startling to see a man roaming shirtless under the sun in a bustling city, wearing just khaki shorts and sneakers. Then I realized that I was in Toronto and not India.
This obviously led me to ask, with a rather surprised note in my voice, about whether being shirtless in public is legal. The answer I got was something which I thought was a joke at first.
In Canada, wherever a man can go bare-chested, so can a woman.
I had heard of women being topless in public at beaches, sauna baths, and pool parties. Women topless walking through the city was completely unheard of to me.
So I got to reading more about the 'Topfreedom' movement in Canada- which has largely been an attempt to challenge the interpretation of public indecency when applied to women. 'Public indecency' is an offence under the Canadian Criminal Code. However, what classifies as 'indecent' is not defined and hence, open to interpretation by the courts.
It started in 1991 when a woman named Gwen Jacobs bared her breasts in public and was arrested for it. Part of her defence was the double standards between men and women regarding toplessness in public.
She was eventually acquitted by a court of appeal, and this set a precedent for all similar future cases involving women being topless in public. Yes, many were offended and believed that women being topless in public is inappropriate, but the court's judgment made such a compelling argument that it shut up most of the naysayers.
It held, "there was nothing degrading or dehumanizing in what the appellant did. The scope of her activity was limited and was entirely non-commercial. No one who was offended was forced to continue looking at her" and that furthermore "the community standard of tolerance when all of the relevant circumstances are taken into account" was not exceeded.
There were some who took advantage of this ruling, going topless in swimming pools where kids were also present, and sometimes using the topless form to solicit clients, but these cases were promptly dealt with by charging them with indecency, and rightly so. Such incidents have been very sparse, though.
The 'fear' of such incidents also seems to have led to posters such as this one outside a famous fast food chain- prohibiting smoking, roller skates, and pets, but almost comically requesting that people wear a top.
Although several public polls and surveys conducted among Canadian women reported that a majority of them would not go topless in public just for the sake of it, just to prove a point, the fact that Canada allows women the freedom of choice, goes a long way in proving just how liberal and open (no pun intended) the country is.
The allowance of the choice to be topless is simply a reflection of the level of acceptance and tolerance of society.
I believe it's high time that we, as a nation and society, especially considering how undermined women are in our country, need to take a leaf out of Canada's diary in terms of allowing women the freedom of choice, and maybe also easing up a little on the Blitzkrieg-ish moral policing.
Sometimes it feels just fine to know that the moral Gestapo will not come baying for your blood because you exercised your freedom of choice.