Topless rally marches through campus

“Mizzou Topless” might be a new student organization on campus next year as it is legal to go topless in Columbia.
Go Topless CoMo supporters lead a march through the Francis Quadrangle Sunday, August 23, 2015 in Columbia, Mo. Courtesy of Mark Schierbecker

The chant, “free your breasts, free your mind,” evoked both shouts of agreement and surprised stares from passerby as the group Go Topless CoMo marched topless through Peace Park and MU in honor of the International Go Topless Day on Aug. 23.

About 40 participants gathered at Peace Park on Sunday afternoon for the eighth annual topless rally where they constructed signs that read, “free the nipple,” and “radically legal,” before they commenced their march across Francis Quadrangle, to Speaker’s Circle, past the Student Center, and through Greek Town before reconvening at Peace Park.

“We are challenging a tacit, puritanical system, one which represses the minds and bodies of its young women by causing them to feel shame about their bodies,” Go Topless CoMo co-organizer Jeannine Anderson said in an Aug. 20 news release.

Go Topless Day falls on the Sunday closest to August 26, which is Women’s Equality Day and marks the day, 95 years ago, that women earned the right to vote. According to the Go Topless website, it is only logical that National Go Topless Day falls close to this historic date because the right to go topless falls under the same gender equality basis.

Marching to promote gender equality and the desexualization of women’s bodies, the group’s rally was legal. In Columbia, it is legal for both men and women to go topless in public, as section 566.093.1 of the Missouri Revised Statutes does not specify that women’s nipples are required to be covered in public.

In order for one to commit first degree sexual misconduct, they must expose “his or her genitals under circumstances in which he or she knows that his or her conduct is likely to cause affront or alarm, (have) sexual contact in the presence of a third person or persons under circumstances in which he or she knows that such conduct is likely to cause affront or alarm or (have) sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse in a public place in the presence of a third person.

Although being protected by the law, many first-time participants were still wary of revealing their identities or having their picture taken. One first-time participant, who prefers to go by the alias Andromeda Chace, wore a mask that covered her face in order to remain anonymous because she said her employer would not agree with her participation.

Despite covering her face, Chace showed her bare chest where she had written “No More or Less Human’ that she said was meant to draw attention to the purpose of the rally.

“It’s easy to look at the boobs, get hung up on the boobs and forget that the person you’re looking at is a person with a whole life,” Chace said. “So whether you see (my breasts), whether you don’t see them, whether they’re out or not, I am no more or less human.”

In addition to Chace, there was a wide variety of participants from students, to practicing nudists and even a 10-year-old boy.

Participant Tasha Knight brought along her entire family, including her eleven and ten year old sons. Knight, who was the only person who went topless at the first rally she ever attended, said she now includes her family to promote the idea that breasts are family friendly as she now marched in her third topless rally.

“Children feed from (breasts) as infants, but then for some reason when they’re weaned, it’s wrong and they can’t see them,” Knight said. “There’s nothing different, and it’s time that the world wakes up.”

Those on campus were awoken by the group as they marched, encouraging those walking by to join them in taking their tops off. Some men who attended wore bikini tops over their chests to cover their nipples and some participants painted on their chests as well.

Anderson and Go Topless CoMo co-organizer Jessie Iveson alerted both the MU Police Department and the Columbia Police Department of the rally beforehand, as part of creating a safe space for participants. Campus police stayed close by throughout the rally.

After participating in her first topless rally, Chace said she was not only glad she came, but also felt that the rally achieved the mission that Go Topless CoMo had set out to accomplish.

“I think it’s always interesting to see people’s responses because there’s the initial shock, and then some people make some sort of judgment, but not all do, and the whole point is that life goes on,” Chace said. “We walk by, and it’s really no different, which kind of proves the whole point that it’s not too big a deal.”

Although Iveson said she was glad to be back in Columbia to participate in the rally, she is currently working on changing St. Louis law where “female breast below a point immediately above the top of the areola” is considered an indecent or lewd act.

While it is legal to go topless in Columbia, it is not yet in other parts of the nation and world. The rally in Columbia was part of global movement with rallies also taking place in countries such as Canada, Australia and Israel.

Going topless may become a regular occurrence on campus. MU senior and rally co-organizer Mark Schierbecker said that next year the group also hopes to make Go Topless a student organization on campus. Tentatively going by the name “Mizzou Topless,” becoming a student organization would make it easier to receive funding and also get more students involved, Schierbecker said.

“Women’s equality is not a ‘loophole,’” Schierbecker said in an Aug. 20 news release. “It is an inherent right to bare one’s breasts in public. Columbia just happens to be one of the few jurisdictions that make this possible.”

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