Panic on the Beach

Is it sexist to be in favor of female toplessness? Or is it sexist to be against female toplessness? As a male, I feel this is not a choice I can make without being sexist, so pretend I never asked the questions.

I bring this up because a federal judge in Maryland recently had to rule in a case brought by five women who wanted to go topless on the beach in Ocean City without being arrested.

Again, I want to reiterate that I’m not taking a position on this topic, but there are some things described in the ruling that I found surprising.

The first was that “as the debate over female toplessness in Ocean City became public,” the City Council started getting comments about the city’s position.

I’ve tried picturing the public debate over this. Were debaters on one side topless? Were debaters on the other side closing their eyes? What did the television coverage look like?

The next sentence in the ruling makes it weirder: “The overwhelming majority of these commenters expressed disapproval of public female toplessness in Ocean City, with many saying they would not return to Ocean City if it permitted female toplessness.”


The overwhelming majority? Who are these commenters? Are they residents? Was the city in danger of becoming a ghost town? If they weren’t residents, how did they know to send comments to the City Council? Did the City Council consider that people terrified of breasts would be replaced by breast fans?

Again, not taking a position here. The mayor and City Council apparently wanted to keep its beaches family-friendly (or at least friendly to anti-breast families). Fair enough. So the city enacted an emergency ordinance — yes, this was an emergency — banning nudity in public.

This included outlawing the baring of “a female breast below a point immediately above the top of the areola.” So skimpy bikinis are fine. Families can handle those.

My favorite part of the law, though, is the ban on “the showing of the covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state.”

You need to remain calm on the beach.

Courtesy counts. Life is hard sometimes and other people can be annoying, but it pays to be polite no matter what the situation. Politeness can save you from years of litigation.

Case in point: an instructive tale described in a March ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia that begins with an incident in 2015. Note that they’re still in court almost five years later.

The story begins with this admission by the plaintiff, who claimed a local McDonald’s got his order wrong: “(S)he was trying to give me a lecture on the sandwich and I didn’t want a lecture on the sandwich. I asked for a refund. So I called her a stupid f—ing b—- again and she give me my refund and we left. The next thing I know, I have a warrant out for arrest for harassment.”

Fast food and fast justice. And then slow civil litigation.

After he was found not guilty at his criminal harassment trial, the guy who admitted calling someone “a stupid f—ing b—-” sued the alleged b—- for defamation and infliction of emotional distress.

Note: If someone lashes out, it doesn’t mean that person isn’t sensitive and won’t sue.

The litigation, as of this ruling anyway, isn’t over yet, but it looks like the plaintiff is going to lose, years after McDonald’s lost its criminal complaint. The lesson here is that you can avoid lose-lose situations with a little courtesy and/or forbearance.

And if you have a client like this plaintiff, advise him to get a sandwich somewhere else. Or maybe learn to cook.

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