Topless ‘Activist’ Freed After Baring Breasts at Jersey Shore
A New York City woman was freed from a Monmouth County jail Thursday after serving a quarter of her 16-day sentence for refusing to pay a fine after she was arrested for going topless at the Jersey Shore. Her sentence was commuted after she staged a hunger strike.
Jill Coccaro, 33, an artist who goes by the name Phoenix Feeley, ran into trouble when she took her top off in the town of Spring Lake in 2008.
She was arrested once, then a second time after she bared her breasts immediately on leaving the police station. She appealed her $816 fine, arguing that an exposed chest isn’t nudity and if a man can do it, a woman should be able to as well.
“In America, the land of the free and where equality reins free, a woman can’t take off her shirt but a man can,” she said at the time. “In another country, a woman can’t take a scarf off her face without getting stoned to death. What’s so different about the two?”
Alas, the court saw differently, and when she didn’t pay up she was given just over two weeks to sit behind bars.
The Right To Be Topless
Feeley is already a veteran of mammary-related litigation. She sued the city of New York and won $29,000 in a civil rights settlement after she was arrested in 2005 for walking around with no shirt. According to a 1992 appeals court ruling in that state, yes, women must be allowed to show their chests anywhere that men are granted the same freedom.
The cause has been taken up by other women, most notably Moira Johnston, who regularly strolls around Manhattan bare-breasted to draw attention to women’s right to go topless.
However, the New Jersey appeals court that Feeley found herself in front of didn’t buy the argument. “Restrictions on the exposure of the female breast are supported by the important governmental interest in safeguarding the public’s moral sensibilities,” the judges wrote in the 2011 decision.
She may have had a better chance if she had argued that she was showing her parts to express herself artistically, or as a form of protest, as did a man arrested for getting naked in the Portland airport last year.
Constitutional and Enforceable
“In the United States, as opposed to many foreign countries, a woman’s breast is a part of the female anatomy that is out of sight, but never out of a man’s mind,” says Lawrence Berezin, an attorney who practiced in both New Jersey and New York. “It was Robert Paul Simon who said, ‘B is for Breasts Of which ladies have two; Once prized for the function, Now for the view’ and Dave Barry said, ‘Scientists now believe that the primary biological function of breasts is to make males stupid.'”
Feeley’s case is drawing attention because of the prominent placement of her bosom, but unfortunately for her pocketbook and physical freedom she violated a law that was upheld in court.
“Spring Lake had an ordinance that was ruled to be constitutional, and enforceable by the local gendarmes,” Berezin says. “It’s not about gender equality, it’s about prohibiting nudity in public. There are more important issues to deal with in the realm of gender equality, than to focus on a woman’s naked breasts.”
Next time, best to stay in New York before unhooking that bra.