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The Small Town Banning the Underboob, but Totally Chill With Public Boners

In response to a Free the Nipple rally, Springfield, MO, has banned displays of underboob, sideboob, and all areas of the butt—but erections are no longer considered indecent. Young feminists are fighting back.

Grace Sparapani

Grace Sparapani

Photo by Rene de Haan / Stocksy

My hometown has banned underboob. In a move straight out of either the 1950s or Footloose, Springfield, MO, has adopted a new anti-underboob ordinance, which also effectively bans sideboob and hotpants. Proposed in response to Free the Nipple rallies, the legislation redefines "indecent exposure" to include any segment of boob from the top of the areola down, as well as to the side, and all of the butt.

The new, stricter legislation mandates that "women are now required to cover a greater percentage of their breasts in public, and both sexes must cover 100 percent of their buttocks," according to the Springfield News-Leader. Per the new law, the indecency comes when these areas are shown "for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification or which is likely to cause affront or alarm." Notably, Councilman Justin Burnett, who proposed the new ordinance, also removed a provision forbidding "the showing of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state."

Women are now required to cover a greater percentage of their breasts in public, and both sexes must cover 100 percent of their buttocks.

In other words, when it comes to "protecting women and minors from exploitation," as described by Burnett—self-described "conservative advocate for family values, gun rights, fiscal responsibility, and prosperity"—boobs are bad, but boners are totally fine.

As someone who constantly dresses to evoke both sexual arousal and alarm, I was worried and confused about my future in Springfield. While the new law raised concern, it also certainly raised a few questions. For example: How will people go swimming? Where do we stand on whaletails? If I can't wear anything that shows my carefully placed under- and sideboob stick-and-poke tattoos when I next visit my parents, will they finally forgive me for getting said stick and pokes?

Luckily, for those of us still confused about the effects of the new law, local newspaper The Springfield News-Leader put together a video entitled "Springfield's Law and Your Nipples," featuring a mid-20s male staffer uncomfortably gesturing to a naked mannequin with blue tape over its nipples and covering up its no-no places with a black rectangle, essentially becoming a live version of the FCC. The video also features clips of statements from one of the City Council meetings in which the law was debated. Against the ordinance is Rebekah Stanford, who states, "I am outraged that it is OK for women to be naked on magazine covers...but when I fight for my right for equality, I am suddenly indecent and immoral." And in favor the ordinance, we have Danny Henderson, who succinctly says, "I must not lust after women's bust."

By this point in my life, five years after moving away, I feel removed enough from Springfield that it can, at times, feel like a performance piece playing out across different social media platforms and news outlets. But the almost unbelievable absurdity surrounding the new ordinance is exactly what makes it so important.

I am outraged that it is OK for women to be naked on magazine covers...but when I fight for my right for equality, I am suddenly indecent and immoral.

Councilman Burnett did not propose the change unprompted; he did so in response to the first Free the Nipple rally, tweeting the day of the event that he would be calling for stricter laws. Council members who joined Burnett in voting for the new legislation seemed to blame the protestors for forcing them to legislate on nipples instead of something more important—the City Council members who voted to pass the proposal lamented that they had been forced to discuss "being politically correct," in the words of Councilman Craig Fishel, instead of Springfield's problems with poverty and hunger.

The hypocrisy of voting to pass an ordinance and then complaining about its existence was not lost on Alyssa Berrer, 18, who organized the Springfield Free the Nipple rallies. Though she "half expected" the ordinance to pass after her first Council meeting, she says that she was "more upset by the childish and inappropriate responses," adding, "It was completely hypocritical—we wouldn't have even been in Council if not for [Councilman] Justin Burnett."

The sad thing is that Berrer's story shows the power of community building in towns like Springfield: She first got the idea to hold a rally after being inspired by a friend whom she describes as a "huge women's rights activist." Alyssa was surprised by the response she received to her idea to hold a Free the Nipple rally when she presented it to her friend's feminist group. "It was amazing—even though it was just me, and I was just 18, I realized I could do this."

Decisions like this aren't just laughably retrograde—they do active damage to young activists working in places where the political odds are against them. Even forgetting the victim-blaming mentality that is clearly present in Burnett's mission to "protect women and minors from exploitation" through regulating their bodies and limiting their own decisions, there is the added "activist-blaming," implying that the organizers of the rallies brought the ordinance on themselves by holding a rally in the first place. The "she was asking for it" mentality is being applied twofold.

We're doing a good thing, regardless of what [the City Council] thinks.

While there is undeniably some question as to the efficacy of Free the Nipple, in places like Springfield, with City Council members like Burnett, it can be hard to figure out where else to start. Luckily, local feminists haven't been discouraged. There are plans for a Springfield Slutwalk downtown on October 2, and another Free the Nipple rally on November 6. A petition has also been started to vote on Burnett's removal from Council, the Facebook group for which is currently over 1,000 strong and growing. Organizers have also looked into taking legal recourse and have been in touch with the ACLU.

As frustrating as it is to think that lawmakers are enacting archaic laws like this in 2015, it's heartening to know that young people are fighting back and affecting change. I could not have fathomed the existence of a Free the Nipple rally in Springfield when I lived there. While it still has a long way to go, the Show-Me State is clearly changing. Says Berrer, "I'm just glad people are talking about it. We're doing a good thing, regardless of what [the City Council] thinks."