by Lisbeth Lipari

Personal as well as political conflicts appear to have thwarted a court effort to overturn on constitutional grounds Seashore regulations that prohibit topless bathing and nudity on the beach. 
     But while feminists insist that they withdrew their court appeal for political reasons, Lee Baxandall, founder of the nudist Naturist Society, claims it was dropped out of vindictiveness. 
     Baxandall and Nikki Craft, who was the chief plaintiff in the lawsuit, both acknowledge that they were once lovers. He claims that Craft instigated the suit's withdrawal because she was fired from her job at the Naturist Society and evicted from her apartment she had shared with him for several years. 
     Craft, on the other hand contends that the Naturist Society had betrayed feminist values by publishing exploitive photographs of women. She also claims that the child abusers have infiltrated the naturist movement. 
     The suit was spawned in the summer of 1986 with the arrest of several Provincetown women who were protesting the Seashore's nudity prohibition. The cost of the legal battle was borne the Naturist Society, which advocates nudity, or "body acceptance" and "clothes - optional lifestyles and recreational and living sites." 
     The plaintiffs challenged whether the Seashore regulations are constitutional, but lost before Judge Douglas P. Woodlock of U.S. District Court in Boston last April. It was the appeal, which was scheduled for a hearing this November, that was dropped. 
     Feminists claim they were seeking equal rights for women to take off their shirts, as men do on the beach. Nudists said they wanted the right to be totally nude on the beach. 
     Feminists argue that a woman without a shirt should be considered no more nude than a man without a shirt. Nudists claim that overturning the National Seashore's right to prohibit nudity on the beach would benefit both feminists and nudists. 
     But Carole Agate, an administrative law judge in Los Angeles, Calif., one of the plaintiffs, said she withdrew from the lawsuit because the legal arguments used did not reflect her goals. She advocates that laws must apply equally to men and women. 
     "I had understood the issue to be women's right to equal protection," said Agate. "But when I saw the brief I was floored. It argued against women's right to equal protection because it suggested that women who go without tops are nude, and my point is that women who go without tops are no more nude than a man is. A nudism suit should have been a mixed group." 
     Agate said she was puzzled by a very weak argument to the right to be nude as opposed to the very strong argument of a woman's right not to be discriminated against. 
     "The constitution guarantees all people equal protection under the law," said Agate. "Laws may not make a distinction based on sex. You can't have one set of laws for women and one set of laws for men. And here is a law which quite clearly treats women and men differently." 
     Agate said the courts have decided these cases on social not legal grounds. "The courts can't get rid of the notion that women's breasts are sexual objects, which is an artificially-created idea. It's a terrible imposition being placed on women in order to protect men from their baser instincts. It's the same argument that was used in the 19th century which made women keep their legs covered. 
     Diane Fabbri of Provincetown, a plaintiff, said they were not asking for complete nudity. "We never wanted to take off all our clothes." said Fabbri. "We just wanted to have equal rights on the beach." 
     Another Provincetown plaintiff, Laurel Brooke, agrees. "It's a totally different concept," she said. "We wanted to fight it constitutionally based on the gender distinction. We didn't want to go nude. That wasn't our thing. We weren't taking off our pants." 
     But Baxandall said the equal protection arguments were only part of the suit. He said they had decided for strategic reasons to level arguments, and let the court pick and choose among them. 
     "Our position is that it doesn't matter what we think constitutes nudity," said Baxandall. "Both the law and public opinion think a top-free woman is nude. We were not seeking to change public opinion on whether the chests of women are nude. We were dealing with the existing regulations and whether they were constitutional. 
     "The more substantive question is to relieve all governmental regulations of what body parts may be exposed. If that is addressed, the other issue becomes moot and a more substantive freedom is obtained. But speaking as the person who put up or pulled together the $36,000 for the case, I would have been delighted if we had just won on equal protection grounds alone." 
     Baxandall said he was very dissapointed when he learned the women dropped the suit. He attributes the withdrawal to the personal conflict between himself and Craft. 
     Baxandall said Craft knew the suit would include nudist rights from the beginning. He said she manipulated the other plaintiffs into withdrawing out of spite. 
     "What she is not telling you is that she joined wholeheartedly in the arguments of the case," he said.

[Nikki Craft interjects: This is a lie. When I drove into Boston and interviewed with the lawyer and realized he was primarily interested in persuing a First Fmendment direction I was disappointed and expressed my concern about it to him then. The lawyer agreed to come to meet with us on the Cape to discuss the specifics of the case and when I saw what he had laid out I again expressed concern about the emphasis on the First Amendment to him and Baxandall during the meeting. I was overrode and after the lawyer left Baxandall and I fought and even cried from frustration about it. I didn't have a choice in this matter. I wasn't paying the lawyer, I knew it could cost up to 70,000 in legal fees, and there was no place I could have come up witht that kind of money. I had to go with the lawyer Baxandall hired even though I was not happy about it in the first place and, unlike my other arrests for civil disobedience, I put forth little energy on the case. I am very proud that the other women and I were able to get this case toss out of the courts only hours before the higher court ruling.]
     But the lawyer representing the case, who asked not to be named, said Craft was hesitant about the first amendment arguments from the beginning. "Nikki's interest in life has always been gender equality," he said. "And I think she was uncomfortable with the thrust of the case." 
     Craft said that although she did have a personal falling out with Baxandall, the reasons she withdrew from the case have to do with political disagreements that culminated in August of 1988, when she was fired from her job and evicted from her apartment. 
     One of the conflicts revolves around what Craft sees as a blurring between naturist photography and soft-core pornography. In the summer of 1987, the naturist magazine "Clothed With The Sun" published a color center spread that featured 11 photographs of an 18-year-old woman with partially shaven pubic hair. 
     Craft said that she and other feminists perceived this photo display to be exploitative and criticized the magazine. 
     "I'm not a purist," said Craft. "But I'm not stupid either. The woman in the photographs is looking sexually available to the camera. Wholesome body acceptance involves a persons right to control their body, not a publishers right to publish endless pictures of naked people." 
     Another conflict relates to Craft's perception of child abusers in the naturist gatherings, and the society's hesitancy to confront it. 
     "Child molesters are attracted to the naturist movement like flies to fly paper," said Craft. "It's particularly apalling when so many vulnerable people are brought into the movement and kept ignorant of the problem." 
     As an example, Craft said one of the Naturist Society's official photographers was charged with child molestation at a nudist gathering this summer. 
     "I'm not saying that Baxandall is involved in child abuse," said Craft. "But there is a conflict of interest with child abusers involved in the naturist movement. Lee does have commendable social and political desires to change the society, but he's in a double bind.

* Reprinted from Provincetown Advocate December 22, 1988

Feminist Plainiffs Withdraw From Cape Cod Nudity Case
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