Moira Johnston Walks Around Topless In New York To Promote Women's Rights

on August 01 2012 1:06 PM

A self-described "topless activist" has taken her cause to the streets of New York. Moira Johnston has noticed that while it's socially acceptable for men to go bare-chested in some places, it's uncommon for women to do the same and she cites the sexualized nature of breasts as the reason. Although it's legal for women to be in public with their breasts, Johnston's fellow New Yorkers have been slow to catch on.

Johnston was in a yoga studio back in January when she thought of the idea, according to The Daily Beast. Since men in the Manhattan yoga studio went shirtless she decided to do the same. That was until other people in the studio complained and the business made it mandatory for men and women to wear shirts.

She responded by filing legal complaints with 13 yoga studios with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

Starting in May Johnston, who originally is from Philadelphia where she worked as a topless dancer, has been spotted around lower Manhattan exerting her right. She was arrested that same month by the NYPD when she was topless near a children's playground. The Globe and Mail reports that although she was never charged with a crime, Johnston told The Daily Beast the arresting officer said "it could be considered endangering the children."

You can watch her discuss the incident with people in Union Square by clicking here.

"I want women to know their rights and to give them the courage to go topless too," she said. "It's not that I want everyone to take off their shirt, but I'm supporting a woman's choice to do it and think every woman should do it on her own terms."

Johnston also said that her job as a topless dancer has her accustomed to people looking at her breasts, although not under the watch of bouncers presents its own set of challenges. She said she'd never been assaulted or but one man did tell her he was just released from prison and wanted to hurt her.

"I considered carrying mace [after that threat], but that's absolutely not a common occurrence," she said. "Most people are fairly respectful, at least in terms of my physical space."

It has been legal for women to be topless in public since 1992, when a court ruled that a group of women should not have been arrested for showing "that portion of the breast which is below the top of the areola." That case, which Johnston cites often, is called People v. Ramona Santorelli and Mary Lou Schloss.

Johnston has also been raising awareness for the Kickstarter project "Topless New York," which was set up to remind women they are afforded the same bare-chested right as men.

Not every woman agrees, though, and the blog Hypervocal put their thoughts on the matter in what many women might find realistic.

"You're fighting for a right that everyone knows they have. This right isn't exercised often because, well, it's kind of creepy...I know I can do it, but kind of like skydiving, I choose not to."

You can see pictures of Johnston on the subway here or at other spots around the city at EV Grieve.

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