Thursday, May 12, 2016

Living in the Past

Last August about 50 women staged a “Free the Nipple” protest at Hampton Beach. There is a nation-wide movement to desexualize the breast and strike down local, state, and national laws against toplessness. A month later, six women were arrested for being topless on a beach in Guilford. Going topless is a misdemeanor offense for a woman in the state of NH. Driving while impaired is a misdemeanor. You can kill someone while driving drunk. Our state equates the crime of driving while impaired to being topless and female in public.

Clearly something had to be done about those dangerous breasts and the women who might flaunt them in public. State Senator Nancy Stiles of Hampton wrote a bill  (SB 347) to enable the state and municipalities to adopt ordinances regulating attire on state and municipal property. The bill concerned itself largely with regulating bathing, sunbathing, and swimming in municipal or state properties. It was going to be added to a statute that is intended to restrain and punish vagrants, mendicants, street beggars, strolling musicians, and common prostitutes and prevent them from engaging in obscene conduct. The state and municipalities would be allowed to create ordinances to dictate what sort of attire should be worn on state or municipal property. 

One could imagine, perhaps: Tuxedo Thursdays in Tuckerman’s Ravine?  Or maybe Hawaiian shirt day in Crawford Notch? Mendicant Mondays? Naturally every day would be coverall day at Hampton Beach to keep those rampant bosoms out of sight. This would also include the State House, which doesn’t seem to have occurred to the sponsors.

One could further imagine the creation of the Governor’s Commission on Proper Public Attire. What the bill lacks (other than any sort of coherent rationale) was an enforcement mechanism. It needs a Dress Code Czar, which is pretty much my dream job. I’m ready, willing, and able to instruct strolling musicians, common prostitutes and legislators on how to dress.

This bill came to us from Senate Republicans. Republicans, you may recall are the folks who complain so bitterly about what they “nanny state.” Then again, legislating the behavior of women has always been at the heart of the GOP agenda, and is therefore exempt - the accusations of “nanny state” only apply if they affect MEN. This attempt at dressing women in burkas at public beaches is just business as usual. Any idiot can have a gun in this state, but breasts are apparently the REAL danger. Two of the bill’s sponsors are not running for reelection. The rest of the bunch should seriously consider retirement, if this is their idea of important or necessary legislation.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, by the time a child reaches the age of 18, they will have seen over 16,000 simulated murders and over 200,000 acts of violence. And we’re worried about naked bosoms scaring the children?

In the category of actual important legislation, the House will have voted on the omnibus opioid bill (as well as the dress code bill) by the time you read this. The big drug bill is intended to do something about the opioid epidemic that is having such an impact on our state. It is one of the bills that were written last year to be “fast tracked” by the legislature. There is no fast track in NH. (If a provision had been added to give every addict a gun, this would have been passed months ago.) One of the actual provisions of SB 533 is an appropriation for $2 million to the Housing Finance Authority for supportive housing for substance abusers.

This is important. Addiction does not lend itself to cookie cutter solutions. Addicts have a variety of different needs. My second husband became a heroin addict after we split up. He had a good job, a car, and a place to live. When he got to rehab, he had the clothes on his back. No car. No place to live. Holes in his shoes. He still had the job – and lucky for him, he had excellent health insurance. He called me from rehab, because I was the only sober/clean person he knew. His world had narrowed to being populated mostly by other addicts, which is not unusual. He stayed clean for a while, but relapsed, which is common with any drug addiction. The second time, he stayed clean. He moved into a sober house when he got back from the second stint at rehab, and he stayed there for a couple of years. Some addicts need to put a lot of distance between the new life they’re trying to begin and the old life they’re trying to get away from.

New Hampshire doesn’t offer much in the way of substance abuse treatment. Supportive housing for people who need a complete change of venue if they’re going to be able to stay clean is crucial. Heroin (and other opioid) addicts can recover and go on to lead productive lives, despite what one sees in the comment section of the Union Leader. Unfortunately most people know very little about addiction, and that includes most of our legislature. We weren’t overly concerned about addicts until the children of the middle class started dying.

A disappointing aspect to all of the bills intended to deal with the opioid crisis is the heavy emphasis on law enforcement solutions. At the beginning there was a lot of talk about how NH couldn’t arrest its way out of the problem. That is still true, yet our legislature is determined to try. The war on drugs, the pledge, and trickle down economics are all failing our state, but we are unable to end our addiction to living in the past.

Edited to add:

Every story I read about the Free the Nipple events was incorrect. The NH media didn't do a very good job of covering the story. Going topless is not against the law in NH. Only 2 women were arrested in Guilford. I found SB 347 mockworthy for a number of reasons, mostly, because it would have allowed dress codes at every public property. That was and is silly, and deserved to be made fun of. I didn't intentionally spread misinformation - and I'm sorry that I inadvertently did. 

I wasn't writing to be sympathetic to the Free the Nipple activists, because frankly, their issue isn't even on my list. There are many, many things that need to change in women's lives. Homelessness, poverty, health care, equal pay, good jobs, the right to bodily autonomy, and affordable child care are right at the top, along with doing something about guns and violence against women. I find the Free the Nipple "movement" silly and self-indulgent. 

Published as an op-ed in the May 13 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.


Robert Owen Williams said...

In fact it is legal for all people (including women) to go topless in New Hampshire. It is only local laws (and only in Laconia and Gilford) that make it illegal. Those local laws are currently being challenged, and may go to the NH supreme court in the near future.

tworavens said...

As a woman, I am disgusted with my own gender. With all the seemingly insurmountable problems we face ,all the fifty women could come up with is to whine about not being able to go topless. Unbelievable! Are there any in the group or supporters thereof who have spent fortunes on breast implants (to impress and be slaves to men)? And then women complain about poor treatment by males who are "breast obsessed". If women spent less time idolizing the Kardashians etc. and more time on real issues, perhaps "glass ceilings" and other inequalities would disappear. As an aside, a good example of female hypocrisy is Hilary Clinton, who stood by a philandering dishonorable liar and then promptly stood on the podium of supporting women and children, all the while dragging behind her husbands coat tails. I and millions of other women left highly abusive husbands for a harder single existence because it was the right, moral and honest thing to do.

As for the "drug crisis", the only crisis there is in our society is the denial and avoidance of speaking about WHY individuals must feel a need to be high all the time. As a sixty year old I well recall the "drug era" of decades passed and refused to be part of it. It is a choice. And as an individual in daily pain I remain aware of the fact that taking, just once, any potentially addictive drug will lead down a far worse path than I am already in. Individuals I am observing have no problem spending money on drugs, and then complaining about lack of money, opportunity etc. As a nation, we are in huge trouble and there is NO candidate part of the machinery who is going to bail us out.

nelle said...

Do we really have to clarify that 'all people' includes women?