Moira Johnson, 29, is a topless dancer at night and a crusader for justice by day, when she is also … topless. The transplanted Philadelphian, now a New Yorker, says she did not choose the role of crusader, but found it thrust upon her when, in January, for reasons unspecified, she took her top off in a yoga class. Some of the other participants were uncomfortable with it, and she was banned from the class. Since May (because January in New York was a bit nippy, even for a crusader for justice) Johnston has taken to walking around the city’s downtown topless to raise awareness about a little-known woman’s right to strip to the waiste in public.
This right was given to women in 1992, when New York’s Supreme Court struck down a law that prohibited women but not men from going shirtless, it has been legal in New York for women to bare their breasts in public wherever men may legally do so. Johnston surmised that the only reason women would choose to cover up is that they are unaware of their right to just hang out, “I want women to know their rights and to give them the courage to go topless too,” she told The Daily Beast. “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.” Since the court’s ruling other women in New York have chosen to exercise their top-free rights on their own terms, and at least a few were arrested for it. East Village artist Jill Coccaro, 27, aka Phoenix Feeley, was arrested for indecent exposure on Delancey street in on August 5, 2005. The 29 year old sued the city and won a settlement. Performance artist Holly Van Voast, 46, has been arrested for going topless on several occasions, the most recent being this July outside a midtown Manhattan Hooters in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the court’s ruling.
It turns out the women of New York are aware of this particular right, but, as blogger Katie Ligon puts it, choose not to exercise that right because “it’s kind of creepy.” Ligon suggests the greater importance of other women’s causes that haven’t already been stamped by the judiciary. In May, adults at a local playground, some of them women, found Johnston’s behavior creepy enough to alert police, when she decided to exhibit her ta-tas near the playground. Responding officers were not particularly sympathetic either on this point of women’s’ rights, and asked Johnston to put on a shirt. When she refused citing her legal right to go shirtless, she was shirted against her will and taken into custody. She was later released without being charged. We will no doubt be seeing more of Johnston in the future, at least until winter.