Women fight for right to bare breasts

Two female students are demanding their rights after they were banned from bathing topless at a swimming pool in Uppsala. If girls are forced to wear bikinis, boys should be too, one of the women told The Local.

Women fight for right to bare breasts
Photo: Ted Callander, Unknown

Ragnhild Karlsson, 22, and her friend Kristin Karlsson, 21, live on the same corridor in a student residence in the university town. On September 5th they took a trip to the Fyrishov leisure complex, where they decided to hop in for a swim without their bikini tops.

Though the pool was full of swimmers, a female lifeguard eventually caught sight of the bare-breasted women and reached for her whistle.

“We had been swimming for a while without anybody paying us any attention when the guards called us to the side and told us to either put on a top or leave. So we left,” Ragnhild Karlsson told The Local.

On Wednesday, the two women sent a letter to the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman explaining that they saw no reason for men an women to be treated differently. If anything, a bikini top could be accused of drawing unnecessary attention to a woman’s breasts.

“It’s a question of equality. I think it’s a problem that women are sexualized in this way. If women are forced to wear a top, shouldn’t men also have to?”

The two friends said they were surprised when they were approached by the lifeguards.

“We thought it was against the law to treat people differently,” said Ragnhild Karlsson, who is studying to be a speech therapist. Her friend Kristin aims to practice occupational therapy.

Staff at the pool later referred to studies showing that crimes of a sexual nature were particularly common in swimming pool environments.

“Surely women should be allowed to decide for themselves whether they need protecting. And is it not strange that women should somehow bear responsibily for sex crimes carried out by men,” said Ragnhild Karlsson.

But a spokeswoman for the leisure complex stood by their decision not to allow the women to bathe topless.

“Swimming pools generally require men to wear swimming trunks and women to wear either bikinis or one piece swimsuits,” Inger Grotteblad told The Local.

“There are three reasons for this. First, there is a security aspect, then there is a hygiene issue and finally there is what we call ‘prevailing manners and customs’. It is above all this last point which is important here,” she added.

She also pointed out that the swimming complex always needed to bear in mind the preferences of its guests.

“We have a lot of visitors here, ranging from families with children to the elderly. We also have people from different ethnic backgrounds. We want all of them to be able to enjoy themselves when they come here.

“This issue is new to us and we welcome the debate. It is important that everybody gets to voice their opinion, from families with children to naturists, older people and Muslim women. We have asked our governing body to look into this and hope they will come back to us with recommendations,” said Grotteblad.