Big news comes out of Ocean City, Maryland this week, and it's not about a shark attack. It's about women going topless on Ocean City's beaches!
The Captain of the Ocean City Beach Patrol, Captain Butch Arbin, apparently instructed Ocean City Beach Patrol employees to document incidents involving topless women, but not to bother them. Arbin outlined the new policy in an email to employees in May, and the policy has been in effect since May 20.
The new policy comes after a pro-nudity woman approached the Worcester County Attorney's office
about the legality of topless ladies on the beach. Chelsea Covington, who approached the Attorney's office, is a "topfreedom" advocate who speaks out for women's rights to be topless.
Arbin told WBOC,
a local news organization:
“For the 44 years I’ve been guarding the beach in Ocean City, when we’d see people topless on the beach we would just tell them, ‘Hey, you can’t do that...’ But since this formal request from someone, and since the Maryland Attorney General’s Office hasn’t issued their opinion on it, we don’t feel like we can tell people not to sunbathe topless.”
Legal expert Adam Ruther weighed in:
“It’s not actually written or codified there is no book that has a definition of what is and what isn’t indecent exposure and that’s the reason there’s an ambiguity... She’s raising an argument that because men are allowed to go bare-chested so women should be allowed to go bare-chested.”
Worcester County Attorney General Beau Oglesby asked the Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh about the matter, but is still awaiting a response. Apparently, the mayor and the city council are strongly opposed to the idea of topless women on the beaches of Ocean City. While the city is also under the jurisdiction of Maryland "indecent exposure" laws, Maryland is one of several states with ambiguous laws surrounding public toplessness.
[caption id="attachment_2178" align="aligncenter" width="970"]
This map, created by Go Topless
, shows states that allow women to go topless (green), states that don't (red), and states with ambiguous laws (orange)[/caption]
On the Town of Ocean City Frequently Asked Questions,
a vague response is provided to the following question:
Q: What are the rules as far as kinds of bathing suits that can be worn in Ocean City?
A: Maryland law prohibits public nudity. Ocean City, Maryland was voted an All American City. We pride ourselves for having the reputation of a top-notch family resort town.
There is no specification about what types of swim suits would be contrary to the city's "All Americanness;" and there is no transparent explanation for why its reputation as a "family resort town" has anything to do with the bathing suits worn by beach-goers.
Despite the fact that all people, regardless of age or gender, are exposed to nudity when they change clothes or shower, there is still an association between nudity and sex. Activists like Chelsea Covington seek to change that. A woman's naked breasts are not inherently sexual, just as man's naked breasts are not inherently sexual, advocates argue. Covington weighed in on this:
"Disparate treatment of the male and female breast contributes to feelings of body and gender shame in young girls and adult women, which is associated with life-long health concerns... Entrenched negative prejudices about female breasts discourage breastfeeding, cement the idea that women do not get to decide when they are to be perceived as sexual or not and give rise to victim blaming, rape culture and bullying."
Of course, the day after this news broke, there were two shooting incidents and a stabbing.
So maybe women's breasts aren't the biggest threat to the city's "family atmosphere" after all.
What do you think? Is it really that inappropriate for women to be topless on the beach? Should Ocean City allow toplessness on the beaches? Let us know in the comments below.