Topless Picnics in New York

The Finger Lakes Times (New York) reports that on May 31 women in Penn Yann, Rochester and other New York area held topless picnics to highlight a 1992 New York state Supreme Court ruling that overturned a law preventing women in public places from going topless. According to the Finger Lakes Times,

[Cecille] Carpenter and four other women bared their chests under a pavilion Saturday afternoon at Pine Hills Park in what they said was a publicity-seeking effort to let people know women can legally take their shirts off in the same places where men can.

Apparently there is actually an international group, the Canadian-based Topfree Equal Rights Association, dedicated to,

. . . foster[ing] the understanding that there is nothing inherently shameful or sinful in allowing women the same rights and freedoms that have been available to men for many years.

Not surprisingly, the president of TERA is a man. But hey, this is a protest movement even I can get behind (or in front of as the case may be).


Topless picnic draws stares in Penn Yan. Kevin DeValk, Finger Lakes Times, June 1, 2003.

In Texas, A Picture of a Woman Breastfeeding Is Likened to Child Pornography

Peruvian immigrants Jacqueline Mercado and Johnny Fernandez turned in several rolls of film for processing at a one-hour drug store photo lab in November 2002. A single picture on that roll depicting Mercado nursing her one-year old child would have a grand jury indicting the two on child pornography charges.

Mercado’s son, Rodrigo, had already stopped breastfeeding, but according to a Dallas Observer story on the controversy, the couple wanted “to memorialize that stage of their baby’s development.” As Mercado told the Observer through a translator, “Johnny never saw the child breast-feeding, so this was for memories. For us.”

Police, who received the photographs from an employee at the photo lab who found them suspicious, had another interpretation of the photograph — that is was child pornography. The local District Attorney’s office presented the photographs to a grand jury who indicted the couple for felony “sexual performance of a child.” Police searched their home for other child pornography, and Mercado’s two children were taken away from her and placed in foster homes.

The District Attorney agreed that the photographs did not rise to the level of criminal activity and dropped the charges (conveniently, on the same day that the Dallas Observer published a long feature article on the case). But Child Protective Services refused to allow the children to return to their mother despite the dropping of the charges. At one point CPS demanded that Mercado and Fernandez take lie detector tests at their own expense before getting the boys back. CPS also chose very odd interpretations of some of the other photographs. For example, there are several photographs of Mercado in which she is topless with her arms modestly crossed across her chest, which CPS described thusly, “Mercado is in the photograph topless and touching her breast.”

The children were both released from state custody in late April (though the 4-year-old remained in the custody of his biological father).


State walks away from breast-feeding case. Patrick Williams, The Dallas Observer, April 24, 2003.

1-Hour Arrest. Thomas Korosec, The Dallas Observer, April 17, 2003.

Better not try breast-feeding in Texas. Vin Suprynowicz, Las-Vegas Review-Journal, April 27, 2003.

Hospitals Will Stop Pelvic Exams of Unconscious Women Without Their Consent

The bizarre thing about ethics in medicine is how doctors and others will turn themselves inside out over some grey area, but then turn around and make what are obviously unethical decisions in relatively routine areas.

This sort of myopia is what is behind one of the more bizarre news stories I’ve read in awhile — several top medical schools have decided to stop conducting unauthorized pelvic exams on unconscious women.

According to a story by the Associated PRess’ David B. Caruso,

Breaking with tradition, the schools have instructed doctors to ask patients for permission before allowing students to examine them [female patients] while they are unconscious.

Previously, each had routinely brought in students — sometimes as many as three or four — to conduct pelvic exams on women undergoing gynecological surgeries, usually without their knowledge.

So the very schools that are training up-and-coming doctors for years routinely violated the rights of their female patients by neither informing them nor obtaining their consent for an exam that did not directly benefit the patient.

Dr. Michael Gregory, a Boston physician, says he objected to this procedure when he was a medical student at Tufts University School of Medicine. Gregory notes that in studies most women say that would consent to such examinations but that doctors still are afraid to ask,

It’s this paternalistic, patronizing view that doctors know best . . . We underestimate people’s incredible charity, and their willingness to let us train. But I think that at a gut level, doctors understand that if they actually told patients that this was happening without their consent, people would be outraged.


Hospitals alter pelvic exam policies. David Caruso, Associated Press, March 11, 2003.

No Sex for Oil?

One of the nuttier ideas for opposing war in Iraq comes from a feminist-inspired group called The Lysistrata Project, inspired by the famous play by Aristophanes. The Danish-based group is planning a reading of Lysistrata in 56 countries, and also is seriously urging women not to have sex with men who favor war in Iraq.

Danish actress Anne-Marie Helger told the BBC News Online that, “Mrs. Blair, Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Rasmusen should stay out of their husbands’ beds until they call their dogs off.”

The BBC quotes Rhea Leman, an American theater director working in Copenhagen, as saying, “Basically we are saying No Peace, No Sex.”

Blogger Asparagirl has the perfect response to such nonsense,

The project of course assumes that all women are anti-war and all men are pro-war, and that furthermore the only way for women to make their political opinions known is to withhold sex, and further still that any woman would actually want to do that. It also implies that the best way that today’s women have of influencing their worlds is not through their writings, speeches, jobs, money or votes, but through their ability to have or not have sex, and that the sex will be solely with men, who are of course the real powerhouses in our society when it comes to shaping world events.


Real women don’t wage war? Asparagirl.Com, March 2, 2003.

Sex boycott urged over war. The BBC, March 3, 2003.

Germaine Greer Calls for a Veiled Protest

Germaine Greer has called for women in Australia to protest against the war in Iraq and the clothing industry by wearing veils. Seriously.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Greer told an audience at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival,

Imagine if Melbourne – if Australia – became a sea of black veils … it would be a protest that would be undeniable.

. . .

When I was a young hippy I thought marching naked would be a strong protest but I don’t think it would be as effective now.

But if every woman were veiled, it would be very disturbing, at least to the clothing industry.

Greer also told the audience that women should revolt against “invasive medical procedures” such as pap smears and mammograms which she said were part of a worldwide movement to make women fear their own bodies.


Germaine Greer wants veiled war protest. The Sydney Morning Herald, September 2, 2002.

Where’s Dowd’s Enron Follow-up?

Back in February, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a column that was widely discussed due to its analysis of the sexual politics of the Enron fiasco. Dowd offered up a warmed-over version of women as moral arbiter for civilization by noting that all of the whistle blowers in the Enron fiasco were women and all of the corrupt executives, of course, were men.

Dowd wrote,

What does this gender schism mean? That men care more about inflating their assets? That women are more caring about colleagues getting shafted?

It is men’s worst fear, personally and professionally, that women will pin the sin on them, come “out of the night like a missile and destroy a man,” as Alan Simpson said during the Hill-Thomas hearings.

. . .

At Enron, it was men who came up with complex scams. And it was women who raised the simple question, “Why?”

So where’s the follow-up? In the intervening months we’ve seen Martha Stewart in all the papers and broadcast news accused of insider trading. A female Colorado firefighter intentionally started a massive forest fire that threatened Denver earlier this summer. And, of course, celebrity publicist Lizzie Grubman got drunk and intentionally backed her car into a crowd of people.

Following Dowd’s usual script, any day now we should being seeing some hackneyed op-ed explaining how these three incidents are not isolated acts related to those individuals, but rather carry some important lesson about men and women which only Dowd can properly distill. I can hardly wait.