Swedish women lose fight for topless bathing

Two Swedish women who want to be allowed go topless in the nation's swimming pools have had their case rejected by Sweden's equality watchdog.

A ruling released on Friday underlined that women’s bodies were different from men’s:

“There is a physical difference between a woman’s upper body and that of a man,” said Equal Opportunities Ombudsman Anne-Marie Bergström.

“There is also a great difference between how people in general perceive men’s and women’s bodies. It is therefore hard to maintain that [the topless bathers] were in a comparable situation to men who bathed with naked upper bodies.”

Ragnhild Karlsson, 22, who brought the case, told The Local on Friday that she was unsurprised by the ruling:

“Of course we are disappointed, but I understand that from a legal perspective they can’t pursue this case. Still, I think it’s sad that society is the way it is – that men don’t have to cover their upper bodies but women do,” she said.

The case reached the watchdog in September after Karlsson and her friend Kristin Karlsson, 21, went for a topless swim at the Fyrishov swimming pool in Uppsala.

A female lifeguard caught sight of the pair and told to put their tops back on or leave the pool. They chose to leave the pool.

The women complained to the ombudsman, saying that if men can show their chests, women should be allowed to do so as well.

But the watchdog said different rules were applied to men and women in most cultures:

“Women’s bodies have more often been the subject sexually objectification, decrees and dress-codes. In our society, the female body is sexualized in a way that the male body is not. This is demonstrated in pornography and in parts of the rest of the media.”

Bergström said that the fact that women’s bodies were objectified “is a sign of a lack of equality and hampers the process of building an equal society.”

Despite rejecting the women’s case, Bergström it was good that they had raised the question:

“The case has achieved a lot of attention and it is good that we can have a discussion about unequal rules for the bodies of men and women.”

The women behind the protest say they are pleased with their campaign, despite Friday’s verdict.

The case has provoked “lots of positive reactions,” said Karlsson. One result has been the ‘Bara Bröst’ network, which campaigns for women’s breasts to be ‘desexualized’. The name translates both as both as ‘Bare Breasts’ and ‘Just Breasts’.

“We’ve had a few negative reactions too,” she added.

“There have been quite a few un-serious comments from men who say ‘this is OK for attractive women, but not for ugly women,” she said.

Karlsson pointed out that men can walk around bare-chested “no matter what they look like.” She also pointed out that they want topless bathing to be “an individual decision.”

“We’re not saying that everyone should go topless.”

Meanwhile, the campaign for equality is set to continue.

“We are going to pursue this through political means,” said Karlsson.