A seventh-generation Nantucket native's proposal to allow women to go topless on the Massachusetts resort island’s beaches passed a Town Meeting vote Tuesday.
Dorothy Stover proposed a bylaw amendment, called “Gender Equality on Beaches,” in February, which reads in part: “In order to promote equality for all persons, any person shall be allowed to be topless on any public or private beach within the Town of Nantucket.”
"I'm going to share with you five facts," Stover said to open the meeting. "The history of bathing suits, chest anatomy, the difference between topless and nudity, the difference between sexual and sexualized, and current places in the US where there's top freedom for all genders."
"I hope you vote for equality today," she added after explaining background on each fact.
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Following Stover, there were several speakers both for and against the bill Tuesday night, but the motion ultimately passed with 327 votes yes and 242 no.
Stover, 40, hopes that allowing anyone who chooses to go topless on the beach will help people feel less insecure about their bodies.
"Call me a baby boomer, call me on the dark side of 60. But when I first read this, I was outraged for my six grandkids. It should be up to my son and daughter-in-law and my daughter and her husband to decide what is appropriate and what isn't for them to see at the Jetties Beach," Ms. Williams said. "Most of you know me, I have spent my entire life proving that women are as equal to men. And I was raised that way by my grandparents. And I was raised that way by my father and mother. And I just am outraged by this because if we have to go topless on Jetties Beach as opposed to nudey beach which is down at the end of my road, knock yourselves out down there, you really don't want to see what's down there, some people who should not be naked are naked but that's another situation."
"If I have to go topless to prove that I am equal to a male, there is something wrong with that concept. Because it's your actions, your stand on issues, your behavior...that proves you are equal to any male and any male is not superiors to any female," she added. "I don't need to vote in favor of going topless at the Jetties to prove that we are equal in this world. So please vote this down."
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"I appreciate what Ms. Williams just had to say but I'm not sure that it comes down to a matter of...freedom for those versus the offense of others," one man replied. "I understand the propriety issues, I understand what Ms. Williams had to say because part of me feels that too, but when it comes down to the real, real nitty gritty of this, to what is and what is not fair, I don't think it's fair. I can do it. They can't. I don't get it."
One woman speaking in favor of the amendment said, "I think historically that Nantucket women have always practiced and lived gender equality. They had choices, and choice is a good thing. Now, I may not choose to go topless, god forbid everyone would run away, but I think other people should have that choice, and it certainly has never caused a problem in Europe, it has never caused a problem in many South American countries, in the Caribbean, and I think that we should have that option...I would suggest that we vote for this so we have choice, and I'd say just go out and buy some stock in Banana Boat or something."
Another woman said "We enact laws to keep people safe and for various reasons to live as a community of our choice. Right now on Nantucket there are a number of beaches that people know you can go topless. It's sort of private, if you want to take your top off, I don't have a problem with it. But I don't think we need a law to make me feel equal to men...I just don't think it's necessary. I think we have other stuff to do."
One man who said he is on the finance committee but was speaking for himself and his family said, "We've been coming here for 35 years, I brought my kids in the summer...we've been living here fulltime for four years. I think it's absolutely absurd to think people are going to go to Jetties Beach and take their tops off. If they want to take their tops off, they are going to go to a beach that's private. They don't want to go parading around."
"So I think when you think about it, we can stretch this out and say people are going to walk around the street with nude breasts. It's not gonna happen," he added. "It's gonna be exactly what's going on today, and it's just a matter of equality."
"Not only is it a matter of equality, it's a matter of normalizing," Marjorie Trot said. "I think we should vote for it because... a lot of time the only female breasts that anyone sees are their own, their partners, or pornography on the internet, whether you want to or not. It's there. Kids are gonna find it, alright. We see men's bodies all the time whether we want to or not. Men can take their shirts off downtown. We're not even asking for that. We're just asking for the ability to take off our tops if we want to at the beach. You don't have to. You can wear a head-to-toe costume if you want. No one cares."
"The point is if you allow female bodies to become normalized in all their shapes, all their sizes the same way that men's are, everyone becomes safer. People grow up not expecting some idealized body. so not only does it promote quality for us, it creates better self acceptance," Trot added. "Little boys don't grow up expecting their wives to look like what they saw on the internet. Little girls don't grow up feeling horrible about themselves because they look down and it doesn't look like what they saw in the pictures. SO just for general human health as well as equality, I would urge everyone to please vote for this. And if you want to keep everything on, fine. If not, wear lots of sunscreen because skin cancer sucks."
"The world normalcy was just used by the prior speaker. I'm very concerned about the new normal. I guess I'm an old dinosaur. I've been coming to Nantucket since 1975 with our family," one man replied. "The beaches have always been one of the main focuses that Nantucket has to offer. I think it's ironic that the Boston Globe and national media have used a phrase, this is the topless beach island, or it's about to become the topless beach island. I'm against this article...I think we have to focus on decency and sensibility, rather than sensationalism."
"The island is at a crossroads now. Many of us think that it's going in the wrong direction, and to me this is a very misguided article," he added. "I can't imagine what...July Fourth weekend is going to look like at Surfside Beach...if this article passes. I think as a community we should show where we stand on this article and overwhelmingly defeat it."
"I've sat here for two days hearing this community talk about preservation, but also things about noise, crowds, density, ruckus, Bluetooth speakers, hot tubs, and I think it's all in the name to preserve the quality of life here. and there's a lot of differing opinions of that. I support equality, I support us trying to bring other people along and support people who have less than us but I think the main fear here as a father and someone who's been out at night in my younger days, I just feel as though this is opening a can of worms for which we may not be able to control."
"There are two issues. It's really safety.... I just think to myself, what would happen if one July Fourth we had a group of girls who want to take their tops off? And they felt empowered to do so, rightfully so, but something happened, and how would we control that? And is that the kind of community that we want to live in, is that the kind of place we want to create?" he added. "My second point, I think there's ample opportunity on this island to be topless. And I don't think anyone really enforces it or cares if it's done appropriately. And then lastly we are gonna create a major attraction of Nantucket being the topless island on the East Coast. I would call it Daytona Beach of the East Coast, which feeds back to my first point. We talk about preservation. We talk about make sure the shingles are gray, the windows are the right windows, we talk about the right colors on our doors, yet we're going to pass something that would call undue attention to this island for the wrong reasons. So I would encourage people to vote no."
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The measure will not go into effect immediately, Town Clerk Nancy Holmes said. All prospective bylaw changes must be approved by the state attorney general.
“I can’t see it being approved before September,” Holmes said.
There is also the possibility that the measure could pass and not be approved by the state, or require a change in the state’s open and gross lewdness laws.