The move this month by a panel of the Minneapolis Park Board to relax its rules around proper attire seems a modest blow for fairness and gender equality. The existing ordinance is simply indefensible in its discriminatory treatment of women's bodies.
We're not talking about public nudity at Minneapolis beaches. Women and men alike must wear bottoms, however brief. Above that bit of below-the-belt gender neutrality comes an exercise in legal hairsplitting that robs the human form of whatever dignity it may possess.
Let the Minneapolis Park Board's current ordinance speak for itself:
"No person ten (10) years of age or older shall intentionally expose his or her own genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breast below the top of the areola, with less than a fully opaque covering in or upon any park or parkway."
A litigant might be able to challenge that ordinance simply on the grounds that, without the requisite comma after "covering," it is the park and parkway that need to be opaquely covered, not the person ten (10) years of age or older. No matter. Errant commas have proved their capacity for mischief in the Second Amendment. It's the assault on human dignity that concerns us here.
There is something needlessly clinical in the ordinance's recitation of what Monty Python referred to as the naughty bits. It would be one thing to require that female breasts be covered, or even to stipulate that the covering include the nipples. But to specify the areola as the event horizon — as the Rubicon that must not be crossed — seems like an indecency all its own.
So does law enforcement's decision to deploy surveillance drones to uphold the ordinance, as Golden Valley police did on a recent 85-degree Friday. When confronted with the tactic July 10 on a beach at Theodore Wirth Park, an outraged sunbather segued seamlessly from denial to accusation: "There's drones? Are you SPYING on us?!"
The little triangles of cloth with which the suspects protested their innocence seem like arbitrary, even flimsy, defense, but they are enough for an arbitrary, even flimsy, regulation. We'd rather not descend to this level of argument, but here it is: Women have nipples; men have nipples. Women have areolas; men have areolas. Women have breasts; many men have them, too.
To say that men's chests are acceptable in a way that women's are not is an offense to logic, to equality and to the idea that government should leave people, as much as possible, to their own sense of right and wrong.
Again: We are calling not for public nudity, but for public equality. Why not begin with a pilot project? The Park Board could designate certain beaches as topless/optional and others as family friendly, meaning that tops must be worn (except in the truly family friendly cases of nursing mothers).
Here are two predictions: In the first couple of seasons, it will be difficult to find a parking spot near the topless/optional beaches; and before long, the difference will seem unimportant.