A thousand people, including many women with bare breasts, marched through the town on Saturday.
Residents and summer visitors to a picturesque town in southern France have rallied in support of a woman who faces prosecution after walking through its streets topless, in a furore over the right to bare skin.
The woman, identified as Marina, has been accused of sexual exhibitionism by police. But she says that she was walking topless in the town of Aurillac in the Cantal region simply because it was hot at the height of the summer heatwave, and that men have the right to do the same.
A thousand people, including many women with bare breasts, marched through the town on Saturday to express solidarity with the woman, brandishing slogans including “Aurillac topless”.
Men and women alike went bare-chested, scrawling “what difference?” in marker pens on their skin.
The incident took place on Wednesday, when the town was packed with visitors during Aurillac’s annual street theatre festival that brings in thousands of people each summer.
Marina explained her choice to the local press on Thursday, saying she had been “super hot” and wanted to do as “half the men” did that day, “who (had) no T-shirts on”.
She was booked by police officers after refusing to cover her top at their request.
The demonstration on Saturday had begun peacefully but then degenerated as some protesters burned French flags in front of the town court, with some breaking inside and starting a fire, authorities said.
Calm returned after Frederic Remy, artistic director of Eclat, the association organising the street theatre festival, and the Socialist mayor of the city, Pierre Mathonier, addressed the crowds.
Mathonier said he backed the woman’s cause but expressed dismay over the damage done by some of the protesters.
“Equality between men and women is a principle that should allow equal treatment for men’s breasts as well as for women’s breasts,” Mathonier told BFM television on Monday.
He added however that “the ransacking of the court is inadmissible, it tarnishes the image of the Republic and the festival”.
Topless sunbathing in France on beaches is legally not considered to be sexual exhibitionism, though it has become less popular in recent years. A controversy erupted in the summer of 2020 when a group of women were targeted by a complaint for baring their breasts on a beach.