The Battle over Nipple Exposure in North Carolina
Considering how dependent humanity is on them for its very survival, hostility toward women’s nipples begs for an explanation. In North Carolina, for example, two state legislators have filed a bill to make it a crime, punishable by up to six months in jail, for women to expose their nipples in public, but their only stated justification for the idea is to put an end to topless rallies in the Smoky Mountain city of Asheville—of which there have been exactly two.
Filed January 31, the bill clarifies the state’s indecent exposure law by redefining “private parts,” to include “the nipple, or any portion of the areola, of the human female breast.” If the exposure is determined to be “for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire,” the woman could be charged with a felony, while non-sexual exposure would be a misdemeanor worth up to 30 days in jail, and “incidental” exposure during breastfeeding would remain exempt.
The sponsors of the bill, State Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe) and Rep. Rayne Brown (R-Davidson), admit that the purpose of the proposal is to shut down the Asheville topless rallies for women’s rights, the first of which, in 2011, drew about 2,000 people, while the second, in August 2012, drew several hundred.
“Quite honestly, what happens in Asheville receives a lot of discussion in Raleigh,” said Moffitt. “A number of legislators were concerned about the rallies and the city’s seeming inability to address it like they have done in other towns.” Brown, whose district is about 130 miles away from Asheville, claims her constituents have voiced concerns to her about the rallies as well.
Yet some in the Tar Heel State question the wisdom of the proposal. Rep. Nathan Baskerville (D-Vance), the only member of the House Judiciary Committee to vote against the bill, pointed out that any city or county having a problem with public toplessness can pass a local ordinance.
Even former Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower (R) who has worked to end the topless rallies, said the law “seems like a shotgun approach in a mouse hunt,” since Asheville is the only place in the state that has had topless rallies. “There is not a problem in our state with women running around exposing themselves. So I see no need for a major state ordinance, in my view. We need to enforce the ones we have.”
Rep. Annie W. Mobley (D-Hertford) noted how easily a woman could get around the proposed law by simply covering her nipples with pasties or even duct tape. “You know what they say, duct tape fixes everything,” quipped Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). No word on whether Rep. Moore has ever applied and then removed duct tape from his own skin, much less to a sensitive area like the nipples.
One point glossed over by all the participants in the debate is the First Amendment, which is surely implicated—though perhaps not violated—by a law whose sponsors admit it is intended to stop a particular sort of actually existing political protest.
To Learn More:
Moffitt Introduces Bill to Ban Female Nipple Exposure (by John Boyle, Asheville Citizen-Times)
Legislation could Mean Prison Time for Topless Women (by Michael Biesecker, Associated Press)
NC Lawmaker: Women should ‘Duct Tape’ Nipples to Stay out of Jail (by David Edwards, Raw Story)
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