On the surface, a movement for gender equality sounds like just the sort of thing we would praise, but the Go Topless Day leaves a lot to be desired. And not just because the founder is known nutjob Claude Vorilhon.
The LA Times reports that more than 200 people showed up yesterday to protest on the Venice Beach boardwalk. The crowd a rally as part of National Go Topless Day. Similar protests were planned for about a dozen cities across the country, from Chicago to Seattle. The event asked men to don bikini tops—and women to take them off—all in the name of fighting inequality.
Which is all well and good. Really, we do believe making bare breasts legal is an important step toward stopping the unnecessary and seemingly inescapable sexualization of the public female form. There is nothing obscene about boobs, and there is nothing that makes our nipples any more offensive than men's. However, there are a few problems with the Go Topless movement, starting with the founder and host of the GoTopless website.
A little clicking around at GoTopless.org reveals that there is something slightly strange about the entire "movement." When describing the event, organizers quote "spiritual leaders" and "Priestesses:"
For Rael, spiritual leader of the Raelian Movement (rael.org) and founder of Gotopless.org, the equation is simple: "As long as men can go topless, women should have the same constitutional right or men should also be forced to wear something that hides their chests."
"We will force men to legally cover up if women can't go bare," agreed Nadine Gary, Raelian Priestess and President of Gotopless.org.
Anyone curious enough to type in rael.org will be directed here, to the official internet home of Raelism, a "religion" founded by Claude Vorilhon, who now goes by the name of Rael. In 1973, Vorilhon says he saw a UFO, which inspired him to start his church—the "largest UFO religion in the world"—in Paris. Raelists believe that all earthly life was created by aliens, who now contact the human race through Vorilhon (his chosen name, Rael, means "messenger of Elohim," the Raelist name for our extraterrestrial overlords). Vorilhon has come under criticism for his liberal views of childhood sexuality, especially his belief that children should be free to do what they wish, which garnered him a reputation for encouraging pedophilia. His website denies these claims, explaining:
Some articles even refer to the Raelian order of angels, a congregation of women who want to develop their femininity and who can make the vow, if they wish so, to devote their sexuality only to our Creators and their Prophets. They would then wear a pink feather around their neck to openly show their desire to have no sex. These women decide freely to do so, just as catholic nuns would do; this is part of the free sexuality that we profess, the right to say no to sex as well. In this organization angel minors also have to signal the fact that they are under the legal age for sex, by wearing a black feather around their neck to make sure that no adult Raelian approach them at any time with sex in mind. Some of these minor angels also choose to have no sex at all, thus refusing sex with potential minor partners which most young girls experience during their teens. They would then wear a pink feather as well. Some newspapers have seen the minors' beautiful decision of reserving their sexuality for our Creators as an indication of pedophilia, which is completely ridiculous.
The "Order of Angels" mentioned above is actually a group of women who reportedly service Rael and his buddies. Another "women's group" for Raelist ladies to join is "Rael's Girls," which is composed entirely of sex workers. Their role is unclear, but apparently it has something to do with promoting sexual freedom among the members.
Vorilhon's personal history makes his involvement in the topless movement a little suspicious, as Prescott Carlson at The Chicagoist notes. Carlson suggests that this is all part of Vorilhon's PR strategy, which seems somewhat akin to PETA's. The main ingredient seems to be shock value (Vorilhon also once stirred up controversy by claiming to have produced a human clone). In this light, their interest in gender equality seems like little more than a stunt, ironically relying on the same double standards that they claim to protest.
This hypocrisy is made all the more clear by the images on the GoTopless website. The main picture, shown above, asks why allow overweight men to go topless, yet punish thin young women? Another set of images shows an older man sunbathing without his shirt, next to several young girls. It also has the "Allowed?" caption, so apparently older men are too gross to go topless as well. In fact, almost all of the women featured on the GoTopless website are young, slender and white. They're clearly trying to make the whole thing sexy, but by doing so, they completely lose sight of why toplessness for women is illegal in the first place. Breasts are considered obscene because they have been sexualized to the point where even breastfeeding is often viewed as a threatening or disgusting act. GoTopless isn't concerned with making boobs more acceptable—they just want to make them more visible.