‘Free the nipple’ ordinance shot down by Berkeley City Council

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Maria Eklind/Creative Commons

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At its regular meeting Sept. 12, Berkeley City Council tabled a city ordinance that aimed to legalize the display of female breasts in public and equalize gender nudity laws.

The ordinance was authored by Councilmember Kriss Worthington after Simone Stevens, a high school senior at Head-Royce School who worked as one of his summer interns, drafted the initial proposal. The proposal recommended that the council eliminate a section in Berkeley’s Municipal Code that prohibits the public display of “any portion of the breast at or below the areola thereof of any female person,” as its illegality “needlessly objectifies (a woman) as a sexual object.”

Before the council was able to debate the issue any further, Councilmember Sophie Hahn motioned to table the ordinance at the Sept. 12 meeting. Worthington said he was shocked that Hahn had such a strong reaction to a proposal he believed was perfectly reasonable.

“The woman who brought this to me wanted to make this small change to have men and women be treated the same way,” Worthington said. “I really didn’t expect it to be a controversial thing in Berkeley.”

Hahn could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Stevens also said in an email that she was disappointed in Hahn’s comments. According to Stevens, Hahn said during the meeting that there were much more pressing women’s equality issues to be addressed, questioning whether the toplessness issue was a “fake women’s movement.”

“If (Hahn) wants to wait for a time when all of the issues she brought up are fixed, she’ll be waiting for a very very long time and will let vital opportunities like this slip by,” Stevens said in her email. “I respect her caution and her passion for doing what she thinks is right, but I don’t respect the contempt she showed to the toplessness movement.”

Both Stevens and Worthington expressed support for the potential reintroduction of this item to the council.

Carina Zhao covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @c_zhao96.

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