Berkeley may soon legalize public display of female nipples

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Berkeley is considering an ordinance to legalize the display of female breasts in all public places in an attempt to equalize gender nudity laws.

City Council will discuss the ordinance at its regular Tuesday meeting Sept. 12. Authored by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the ordinance recommends that the council eliminate a section of city municipal code to permit the public display of “any portion of the breast at or below the areola thereof of any female person.”

In the item description, Worthington wrote that the current law prohibiting public nudity specifically discriminates against women without placing the same restrictions on men. Since female nipples serve a working purpose for babies and toddlers that is “not erotic in the slightest,” Worthington wrote, nipples are not inherently sexual or more sexual than male nipples.

The difference between female and male nipples, Worthington added, can sometimes be trivial.

“Some men naturally have a high amount of breast tissue or prominent areoles, which can be nearly identical to mammaries,” Worthington wrote. “Yet, male nipples are still deemed fit for public exposure.”

Worthington added that the current law makes shirtlessness complicated for transgender men — individuals who were assigned female at birth who identify as male — who have not yet had a male chest reconstruction. In these situations, Worthington wrote, the city would either have to invalidate the individual’s gender identity and arrest them for public female toplessness or arbitrarily allow the display of biological female breasts.

Several cities in the United States have already legalized female toplessness in public, such as Portland, New York City, Asheville, Columbus and Washington, D.C.

Although 28 states in the United States have legalized public displays of female breasts, many local ordinances in cities within those states still ban female toplessness. For instance, public female toplessness is legal in the state of California, but is banned in Venice Beach, Los Angeles.

City Council first adopted an anti-nudity ordinance in July 1993 during a meeting in which former UC Berkeley student Andrew Martinez, more commonly known as “The Naked Guy,” appeared without clothes before the council. The council voted to impose the ban with six in favor and three opposed.

The law as it currently stands outlaws the public display of nipples only for females, making no such restrictions for male nipples. The revised law would define nudity as publicly showing “genitals, pubic hair, buttocks, perineum, anus or anal region of any person.”

“Implying that the display of a woman’s chest is inherently vulgar enough to warrant illegality needlessly objectifies her as a sexual object,” Worthington said in the ordinance text.

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

Contact Harini Shyamsundar and Ashley Wong at [email protected].