Topless Controversy at Toronto Beer Fest

by | August 8, 2011
filed under Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT, Politics

Since 1996 it’s been legal for women to go topless in Ontario, but at this year’s Toronto Festival of Beer a woman was reprimanded by security after attempting to go topless (wearing a black bra underneath).


As the rain poured down at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) throughout the afternoon on Aug 7, the soggy and intoxicated crowd grew increasingly boisterous, and many ripped off clothing to dance in the rain.

So when queer activist and photographer R Jeanette Martin was dared by another woman to take off her top, she happily shed a layer, revealing a black bra underneath. (Full disclosure: Martin was at the event with this reporter.) Moments after Martin removed her T-shirt, a female security guard was at Martin’s side, telling her sternly to “put the shirt back on.”

“Why?” Martin asked. The security guard, who refused to provide her name, said, “There are guys here who will take that the wrong way.”  The security guard also told her, “That’s the rules of the festival.”

Martin pointed out that many of the men were topless and many of the women were wearing bikinis, not technically dissimilar from Martin in her bra. The CNE said they spoke to the security guard involved, but argued Martin keeping her shirt on would’ve been prudent for her safety:

Amanda Gray, security supervisor for the beer festival, tells Xtra the security guard who initially asked Martin to put her top back on was “spoken to.” Gray assured it won’t happen again.

But Gray says security people frequently have to diffuse hostile situations that are triggered “when a guy grabs a girl. We’ve had a lot of fights and stuff because guys do grab girls. That’s why I suggested [putting her top on].”

According to tweets from the event, several women then took off their shirts to protest in solidarity with Martin. Many tweeted that Martin’s treatment and that of women who want to go topless in society is hypocritical and a sexist double standard. Saying it’s due to safety also leans toward the victim-blaming side of things, suggesting that if Martin was sexually harassed or assaulted for doing something perfectly legal, it’d be her own fault.

What do you think?

(photo by Tomasz Sienicki via Wikimedia Commons)

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