Faith Neumann was 12 years old when she got her first lessons in sexism and gender inequality.
“I remember when I was in my tech ed class and the teacher was talking and this guy was talking to me,” said the Brooklyn Park pre-law student, sitting in a South Minneapolis coffee shop Thursday morning. “And the teacher, Mr. Taylor, said, ‘Well, maybe he wouldn’t be so distracted if you pulled your shirt up.’ I was only 12, so you can imagine. I didn’t have much to offer physically at that point, and he was talking to me, not staring at me, so yeah, this isn’t anything new. For an adult to say a girl should cover up so a boy won’t be distracted…”
Therein lie the roots of Neumann’s involvement with Go Topless Day, an eight-year-old national movement that seeks to change indecent exposure laws. Neumann organized the first area Go Topless rally (Sunday, 4 p.m. at Gold Medal Park in downtown Minneapolis), which coincides with similar rallies being held across the country. She spoke with MinnPost about her fight for the freedom to bare breasts.
MinnPost: How did you get involved with Go Topless Day?
Faith Neumann: I just graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I’ve always worked with different equality movements, from Black Lives Matter to doing my own protests down in Mankato. When I looked into the Go Topless movement, I saw they didn’t have a Minneapolis chapter. So I decided to make one, and I created the [Facebook] event, thinking that maybe 100 people would come, and now yesterday we hit 2,000 in attendance and 9,000 more still invited.
MP: What are you trying to accomplish?
FN: What I’m trying to get across is a very blatant example of gender inequality. It’s hard to prove our socio-economic worth is sub-par as women, or the way that we’re culturally valued… Stuff like that isn’t tangible, but to literally be able to point out a law and be like, ‘I will get arrested for something that a man won’t’ actually represents a lot more. So it’s kind of just making ripples to show that we are not even physically equal in the eyes of the law, so how can we be [equal] socially?
MP: Given the troll culture we live in, it’s very brave of you to put yourself out there like this. From what you’ve heard, what have been the biggest arguments against it?
FN: I’ve been told that I’m objectifying women, but I can only see that if [breasts] are objects, and they’re not. I’ve been told it’s immoral, which I believe is a stance and an opinion, not [based on] anything in reality; I would say that you can hold yourself to your morals, but you can’t hold other people to them. It’s been said it’s inappropriate, and I would just say that’s a social-cultural norm that we have right now, because on the same hand it’s appropriate for a man to do so. So if you can just break out of that and realize that until 1936, men weren’t allowed to go outside topless either, you would realize that we have room to grow here.
A lot of the pushback has been about this being about being nudists, and it’s not about ‘everybody being topless.’ This is just literally about being able to do so legally — whether it’s at the pool or walking around [Lake] Calhoun or wherever you feel like it. Where men usually can, that’s where I want you to be able to, and to feel comfortable, too; not feed into the other big pushback, which has been rape culture and that’s such victim-blaming and teaching girls how not to get raped instead of teaching boys not to rape.
MP: You were 12 when you first were treated differently because of your breasts. How has that played out over the years?
FN: Now I reflect on times in my life when I was more modest than I should have been, or needed to be. My grandpa used to take me swimming, and when I was five I couldn’t find my swimming top and I was freaking out. And my grandpa was saying, ‘You don’t need it.’ And I wouldn’t go, and I feel like I wasn’t even a gender yet at that age, you haven’t identified yourself as anything, and I so had it in my head that women and girls need a top.
People have been saying I’m provoking with this. I deal with at least three misogynistic perverts in a day. Even today, driving in my car over here, I have to deal with it and that’s not even getting out of my car and I’m wearing a sweater and a shirt. It’s really not going to matter if I have my breasts out or not, the perverts are going to be perverts and they’ll be there whether or not I have my rights.
MP: You’ve aligned yourself with Black Lives Matter. How does that work?
FN: What we have to realize is that one movement is always intertwined with others. If one group is subjugated, we all are. There’s never going to be peace if one group has any more disparity than another. Black Lives Matter, and the civil rights movement before that, they’re always the crusaders and they will set the bar for what the human standards should be. They set the pace for the women’s rights movement back in the ‘60s; that followed directly after civil rights. In turn, we also need to fight for them, too, especially people with [white] privilege.
MP: Gender equality has been at the forefront of today’s rights movement. You see Go Topless as part of that?
FN: Socially and legally, we’re fighting for rights. We just got the marriage equality, all across the U.S., which is fantastic, but there’s still pushback and it saddens me how people are scared, and how much it doesn’t affect them. I think this represents that, in a way. I’m suggesting to people that, if you’re gender-fluid or gender-gay, dress in whatever way helps this cause. If you identify as a male, dress with a cover on; if you identify as a female, take it off. It’s not a decree. I’m not asking that everyone go topless, that’s your own choice. However, that’s the premise of it.
MP: Is there any part of you that wakes up in the morning and goes, ‘God I wish I hadn’t started this whole thing?’
FN: It’s gotten so popular and it’s a little overwhelming but at the same time I know that two thousand people are so intrigued by the idea of a woman’s topless equality that they want to attend and hear what I have to say. They’re not coming there to display themselves, they’re coming to be part of something bigger. This is a powerful thing. With the feedback from some people, it propels me more. It makes me actually want to make the event bigger and put it more in their face.
One woman said, ‘Call me old-fashioned, but my breasts are just for breast-feeding and my future husband.’ And I’m like, ‘Great, then that’s what your breasts are for. You can do with them what you please. If I’m hot, I want to take mine out and I want other women to be able to do so, too.’
MP: What is the law for indecent exposure in Minneapolis?
FN: It’s very interesting, because it doesn’t explicitly say men or women’s nipples. I called the district attorney’s office to find out, exactly, and she was appalled that I would even ask. I think it’s up for interpretation, but I know that a police officer would arrest a woman and not a man because of social conditions.
MP: Are you ready to be arrested and go to court for it?
FN: Yes, yes I am. I wake up [worried], but I realize that any good activist is fighting for something that isn’t legal yet, and sometimes it’s not even the law, it’s how people are dealing with the law. Just like, you know how freedom riders had to go through and be like, ‘You know this is our right?,’ and they got bombarded. This is on a different scale, but yeah, I’m ready. I have people who will take my car home and call my mom. Hopefully not; I have an anniversary dinner for my friend that evening later on, but I may or may not be there.
The trolls say, ‘Oh this is such a first world problem, there are much more important things,’ and there will always be more important things but you can’t marginalize yourself for that. We all face our own personal struggles, our own cultural struggles, and as much as we can do this, we can do something else, too. The two thousand people who are hypothetically going to show up to this might show up at another event, too. People care. People really care.