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Sexuality Education Resource CentreTopless women in public?

by Bre Woligroski


Dear Ate Anna

On the news they are talking about women walking around with no shirts or anything to cover them above their waist! Why would anybody want this? Yes it is ok for men to go shirtless but women are a very different story!


Dear Marites,

Thank you for your question. This topic has been in the news a lot lately. Some people want laws to be changed so that women are able to walk around topless. Others find that idea very strange. The issue is more complicated than it may seem!

Currently the laws in Canada allow for males but not females to be in public spaces with their top area uncovered. Just to make it clear, it is illegal for anybody, no matter whether they are male or female, to be in public with their genital area – the parts between their legs - being visible.

Laws tell us to cover our genital area in public because this area of the body holds a lot of cultural meaning in Canada. This part of the body is considered to be very sexualized – and by that I mean very private and connected to our understandings of ourselves as sexual beings. The top part of the body is a bit more controversial. Many people say it is not fair for different rules to be applied to males and to females, as the parts on the top of the body are very similar. Males and females have nipples and a breast area; the only difference is that on females this area grows larger.

So, if two bodies have the same body part, and one body is allowed to walk around without a shirt and the other one isn’t, it can be seen as discriminatory and unfair.

As we said before, cultural meanings are key in talking about situations like these. The genital areas between our legs are considered to be very private spaces within Canadian culture. The breast area is less clear, and many people want the breast area in female bodies to be less sexualized than it has been in the past. By that, I mean that many people want female breasts to be seen as simply another body part, the same as an arm or an elbow, and not a body part that is tied to sex and sexuality.

A number of people also want laws to stop considering women’s breasts as shameful. This is why there is a movement for people to allow women to be topless in public. Take breastfeeding for example. Breastfeeding is simply providing food for a baby. In this act, the breast is not a sexualized body part; it is a normal body function that is beautiful and shouldn’t be considered a shameful activity. Because it is normal and not a sexualized activity, women should be able to breastfeed in public if that is the most convenient place.

I hope this answers your question. Canada is struggling with some of these questions, and the voices of all citizens should be part of the dialogue! Ate Anna would love to hear what others might think about this issue, at the contact info below.

All the best,
Ate Anna

Ate Anna welcomes your questions and comments. Please write to: Ate Anna, Suite 200- 226 Osborne St. N., Winnipeg, MB R3C 1V4 or e-mail: Please visit us at You will find reliable information and links for many resources on the subject of sexuality.

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