Female rights activist goes topless In NYC

Veronica Grossman says: "I work for a music website in NYC called BreakThru Radio. We recently published an episode for our show BTR Pulse. This episode features Moira Johnston and her feelings about going topless in NYC. After taking a look at your site I feel that your friends, fans, and followers will thoroughly enjoy this particular episode."

According to a 1992 law, women in New York have the right to go topless anywhere a man can, so long as they're not engaged in commerce. Yet many people still don't know this is legal twenty years after the ruling. This week, on BTR Pulse, Lauren Hawker caught up with Moira Johnston, a female rights activist from Philadelphia who has ditched her shirt to raise awareness about a woman's legal right to be topless in NYC.

Moira Johnston: Topless In NYC


  1. Yeah, It’s legal in Vancouver, legal in Quebec, pretty sure Toronto.

    I’m all fir sexy but hypersexualization & prudery offend me and feed off one another.

    1.  You realize that human beings predate clothes, right?  Bare-chested humans don’t constitute “hypersexualization.”  In some cultures it’s not sexual at all.  Check out the Minoans.

      1. You realize that I wrote nothing about nudity being a display of hypersexualization, “right”?  

        In some cultures on the streets of New Yawk City people gawk at nudity because women are considered objects by means of both hypersexualization, particularly young girls, and prudery, and that these two objectifications in culture as evidenced in media create a maelstrom that prevents in some ways the egalitarian society people think they have, but don’t.

        Check out my snark, I’d link it but “human beings predate clothing, right?” proves your ass has seen it already. 

      2. Who cares about that? The man used the word ‘prudery’ in a viable sentence! (Extra credit given for the cute colloquialisms). (Double extra credit given for  framing this news flash within an interesting context.)

    2. I was a part of that protest back in Vancouver ’92. God times. Wait… 20 years ago, wow.

  2. “[W]omen in New York have the right to go topless anywhere a man can, so long as they’re not engaged in commerce.”

    Huh?  What is the purpose of the “commerce” bit?

        1. Not a fan of Hollister by any means, but I do think their video facade at their Fifth Avenue store (in your photo behind the hunks) is quite cool. Last time I was in NYC, I was living one town over from Huntington Beach, CA and spent a lot of time there. Flew to NYC and the video facade shows video from Huntington Beach (not sure if it’s streamed or not, would be cooler if it was) so I thought it was neat.

    1. The other suggestions may be right. Though I have a feeling that the “commerce” bit may actually have been intended as a restriction on prostitution. Right or wrong in the intent.

    2.  It’s the same in Ontario. It’s to keep a company from using a topless woman to advertise a sale. It’s to prevent the pro equal rights decision from resulting in an increase in exploitation. (as perceived by the court). The risk being, ok Pizza counter chick, if you want to keep this job go stand out front topless with a sign and drum up some business. In an at will job you could fire an employee for not complying with an order to perform a legal action.

      1.  Around here it is (or used to be, before some councils were amalgamated) illegal to stand on the street and hold a sign advertising a business. It was caused by a new adult shop opening up and using a number of lingerie models to walk up and down the very wide road shoulder and attract attention. They sure did, so much so that there were three car accidents.

        I used to work at a pizza store and the manager would talk about calling the cops on a competing store who used a young (fully uniformed) staff member to hold a sign on the side of the road, as apparently the law was quite broad.

    1. If I were her, I would demand that the blurred area be at least 50% larger, just as a public relations move. 

    1.  As the father of two, I can assure you: children love boobies. especially when they’re young. Er, the children, that is.

    1. I ask the same question whenever I see men all over the place going shirtless. Personally I have never been so hot that taking off my shirt and letting the sun bake me seemed better. But judging be the guys in my neighborhood, some people really love to go topless whenever they can.

      1. …some people really love to go topless whenever they can.

        Can we just acknowledge that we’ve reached the point where male chests are as sexualized as female chests? Do a YT search for ‘big pecs’, ‘pec bouncing’, etc. Taylor Lautner doesn’t take his shirt off 15 seconds into every film because he’s warm; it’s a mating display. And a remarkably effective one, too.

          1. Because laws and police activity tend to follow current opinion?  Because gay men and straight women have as much voice in society as straight men?

    2. Reverse!

      Why do they have to be covered?

      I can think of more reasons to let em’ fly then to cover them.

    3. In the video, she says it’s to raise awareness that it is legal for women to go topless in NYC.

      I think it’s kind of like wearing pants at a time when women wore skirts all the time.  Sure, some people will think you are nuts, or think you are trying to be sexy or the police will harass you but the point you are trying to make is, why can’t women wear pants?  Sometimes it’s more comfortable or more conducive to an activity you want to engage in.

      No one asks why men go topless.  They just do it because they want to.  Maybe one day it will be the same for women, like wearing pants instead of skirts is.

    4. Why?

      Hold that question in mind.

      Now consider the following thought experiment. Put two shirtless people in public: a man with large breasts (by the conventional female definition), and a woman with no breasts (by the conventional male definition).

      The man is legally decent:  after all, he’s a man. The woman, on the other hand — who’s visually identical to any typical shirtless man — is indecent. 


      Well, it’s obvious: a nipple on a woman is sexualized and indecent, while the identical thing on a man is  A-OK.

      Reductio ad absurdum, which means it’s all just social convention: if everybody did it, nobody’d care.

  3. what is the problem with the children !!! They don’t have the issues with human body that you seem’s to have… Breast are a feeding mecanism for them, not a sexualized one

      1.  I wish.  When I was in high school I was at a friend’s house and my friend’s mother pointed out a story in the paper in which a woman went topless and was either arrested or cited or something.  My friend and I agreed that it was only fair that women should be allowed to be topless if men are.  The mother’s immediate response was: “If you had kids would you want them seeing that?”

        I was thinking, “yeah, they’re presumably going to see it all eventually anyway” but I kept my mouth shut.  The point of the story is that the Mrs. Rev. Lovejoy is not really fictional; she lives in the hearts of suburban housewives everywhere.

  4. I found the people running up with their camera phones more offensive.  “Omg, boobs!  I have to share!”

    1. If this going-topless thing was done all the time, then there would be nothing noteworthy about it.

      1. That’s why Scarlett Johansson’s classy nude photos were such a brilliant move – it frees her from being chased by paparazzi hoping for a nip slip photo. 

    1. I hope I’m never so desensitized to breasts that I am no longer tempted to look at them.  It’s rude to stare, of course, and no one should ever be made to feel uncomfortable about their bodies, but still.  Viva la difference.

      1. That’s silly.  Are you “desensitized” to people’s faces just because most people don’t bother covering them up?  Breasts will be nice to look at regardless of whether there’s clothing on them.  The only difference hiding them makes is how “dirty” it feels to enjoy it.

        Then again, maybe you’re the sort of person who gets off on feeling “dirty.”  No judgments in that case, it’s just not how I see things.

        1. “Breasts will be nice to look at regardless of . . . “.

          Nice? Nice? How proud you are of eating your eggs without salt. Could it be you don’t taste much?

  5. I find it hilarious that the pre-roll ad is for spark plugs.  The ad network has obviously figured out the audience demographic for attractive female rights activists that show their boobs.

  6. If I spend a long holiday weekend drinking beer, my boobs will be at least that big. 

  7. Toplessness is legal here in Boulder as well, but nobody ever does it. I’m not sure if it’s because women aren’t aware it’s legal, are too self-conscious to expose themselves, or are afraid of the reaction it would get, both from crass males and easily-offended prudes. While Boulder itself is fairly liberal, it’s in the middle of a very conservative area. I’d also imagine people in NYC are exposed to so many different cultures, viewpoints and weird, unexpected things on a daily basis that it’s hard for anything to really shock them, especially something as simple as a woman walking around topless.

  8. I have no problem with women or men being as nude as they want, so long as they aren’t violating anyone else (yeah, yeah. I know. Define “violating.”) I’ve been to Burning Man a bunch of times and the novelty wears off pretty quickly, although occasionally, extra nice breasts do understandably grab my eye for a moment or two. That said, if we desexualize our bodies, then what’s left to turn us on? Don’t we need benefit from keeping some things hidden, so they can provoke curiosity, fantasy, enticement, etc.? And don’t we need to some body parts to be priveleged reveals and shares?

    1. Yeah, the novelty does wear off at burns.  Of course, that should be obvious since human beings probably spent the majority of their 300,000 year history not wearing clothes so it’s not exactly novel to begin with.  Also note that throughout this period of not wearing clothes — presumably one in which everyone was “desexualized” — human beings nonetheless persisted in sexual intercourse as is obvious from the fact that we’re sitting here typing on computers right now.  (That’s right, the naked people having sex in the woods are “desexualized.”  The clothed people interacting with a simulacrum of reality are apparently “sexualized.”)

    2. …then what’s left to turn us on?

      If somebody I like, of the opposite gender in my case, is trying to turn me on! Totally works for me. Also dancing with someone you find attractive can result in a surprising turn of events. Even if our bodies were desexualized, there’s no reason why you can’t get in the mood with someone and enjoy each others bodies. Naked people everywhere may not be very sexy, but intimacy is.

      1. Exactly that. Being ‘turned on’ is a state of mind where intimacy is the key. Or do you think tribespeople or nudists don’t ever get turned on? It’s quite nice to be free from imposed constraints dictated by the powers that be – when you realize that we’re all naked underneath, that the human body is what it is – and love and lust can be independent from the amount of skin or time you’ve been with someone.

    3. ” . . .  then what’s left to turn us on?”

      The answer is SIN! duh! We need sin to keep sex spicy. And this, my BB friends, clearly illustrates the value of religion. 

      “Sex without (sin) is like cooking an egg without salt. Sin gives more chances to desire.” ~ Luis Buñuel

  9. It’s just a good thing the TV station pixeled out those naughty naughty titties. They can cause sinful thoughts.

    EDIT: Post too soon. Only the still was pixeled, and not the actual story. Jesus wept.

  10. Kudos to the lady from Kentucky for being relatively cool about the whole thing, and for wearing matching leopard-print eyeglass frames/blouse.

  11. I walked down Second Avenue behind this woman a couple weeks ago. It was fun to watch the reactions from the New Yorkers as she made her way down the street. The whole spectrum from laciviousness to urbanity to cheerful thumbs-ups. She took it all in stride.

  12. Activist, photographer and artist Holly Van Voast has been blazing this trail in NYC for a couple of years, exercising her rights at St Patricks Cathedral, in the NYC subway system, at Comic Con (where I spoke with her), and at lots of other events in the city – and regularly getting arrested by clueless cops on bogus charges. She’s represented by Ron Kuby, noted former protege of Bill Kuntsler.


  13. As the topless-ness part is pretty much a non-issue to me, my thoughts are pretty tangential:  I’ve got to get on Lauren Hawker’s career track.  getting flown across the world so I can interview a topless woman?  talk about a great gig.  also, though their thoughts were selected as the most provincial, did anyone else notice that the women from Kentucky were hands-down the best dressed in the video?  her tortoise-shell glasses matched the print on her blouse!

  14. And don’t forget sunblock!

    Seriously, one year at the beach my nipples sunburned. 

    Then they cracked, and man that saltwater stung!

  15. I’ve always thought that absolutely, if it was legal for men to go without shirts in public, women should also be allowed to go without shirts in public.

    And, to be honest, I’d just as soon accomplish this equality by banning both from going without shirts in public, but either way works. 

      1. You’ll have to pry the toggle bolts out of my cold dead fingers before restricting my access to Cliff’s Variety. Anyway, I see enough naked men at the gym. If I prefer the female form is that okay with you?

          1. She/he deserved a thoughtful and a specific response rather than a crude dismssive one. On the rag is so middle school.

  16. A male friend of mine was ticketed for toplessness in Salt Lake City in the early 80s.  As a European human, he was more dismayed than you could imagine.

  17. It’s worth pointing out that Moira is very attractive and has a nice body, and I think obviously you’re going to have a lot more attention and media interest with someone like that. I doubt there would be so much positivity and good feelings on display in this video if she did not have such desirable physical attributes.

  18. That in fact is a completely different can of worms. Every body is beautiful – and a topless/nude walk of all ages, shapes and sizes would certainly carry that message… and would be greeted with sneering and repulse by many who (hypocritically) support equal ‘exposure’ of bodies as long as those bodies conform to certain beauty canons.

    Take a long walk along beaches in Spain, Italy or Greece to see what I mean. From toddlers to grandmothers, nobody looks twice. It’s a sea of people enjoying the sun, not a sexy parade for the sexual gratification of some.

    But let’s take a step at the time. Let’s achieve equal opportunity first, we’ll work on equality of judgement (or rather – a lack of) later…

  19. “After taking a look at your site I feel that your friends, fans, and followers will thoroughly enjoy this particular episode” Indeed, indeed. Topless women are our specialty here! 

  20. Haven’t read all the comments, so someone may have suggested this already, but given the fact so many women aren’t aware it’s legal – and don’t seem too likely to conclude it must be legal just cause Moira’s doing it – maybe she should put a slogan on her tits or something?

  21. So we can’t make fun of gay people anymore AND boobs are no longer taboo. Thanks for nothing internet.

  22. I’d rather get paid the same money, have more access to power, have less domestic responsibility, have a greater say over my reproductvie healthcare options, and more governmental support for being a working-mother than the “right” to share my chest with the world. I’ve never once felt I was discriminated against by society because I “had to wear” a top. So, as far as I’m concerned, she’s not helping me in my struggle against structural misogyny in the US, at all. Thanks for nothing.

    1. So any activity that doesn’t advance your priorities is worthless? That’s rather bitter. And frankly, you have no idea whether she’s addressing all those other issues besides the one about equality in dress.

  23. I prefer people to keep their clothes on when in public places :)

    I prefer men to keep their shirts on too. I really hate those ‘loose, big arm hole’ t-shirts as well. Boys, just remember – you smell and look weird.

    I’d prefer less revealing clothes at the beach too…weirdly, I’m more inclined to these views as I get older. Damn, I must be getting *OLD*!

    I guess we all have our idiosyncrasies ;)

Comments are closed.