Monday, September 3, 2012


It is difficult to stand out in a city of 8 million people, but 29-year old Moria Johnston is doing just that. It all started a year ago when she was attending a co-ed yoga class and noticed that several of the male participants were shirtless. Upset at what she perceived to be a double-standard, Miss Johnston removed her top and continued the class until a number of complaints brought her to the attention of management.

Since then she has been walking the streets of Manhattan unfettered from the waist up. This behavior, interestingly enough, is completely legal thanks to a 1992 court decision by the New York Court of Appeals that ruled it was discriminatory to prevent a woman from going topless if it was legal for a man to. The case is cited as a landmark decision for “Topfreedom” activists who argue that bare-chested women in public should be as socially accepted as bare-chested men. As a result many businesses, including Johnston’s yoga studio, have unilaterally banned shirtlessness (Matthew McConaughey is reportedly inconsolable). 
The “Topfreedom” movement is often intertwined with advocacy of public breastfeeding as they both seek to normalize the appearance of a woman’s bare breast (albeit in different circumstances). For her part Moria insists, “I want women to know their rights and to give them the courage to go topless too.” She was recently arrested, and subsequently released, for being topless too close to a playground (also technically legal). It should also be noted that Miss Johnston currently works nights as a topless dancer.

There is one very compelling reason to believe her motives are altruistic: the more successful she is in her daytime quest, the less money she will generate in her nighttime profession. I am surprised her current employer doesn’t have some sort of “proprietary disclosure” agreement that prevents her chest from making uncompensated public appearances. After all, how many guys are going to pay a cover charge to see the same boobs they pass everyone morning on the way to Starbucks?

As for the law itself, I find myself torn. I believe a woman should be allowed to breastfeed her child in public without fear of legal reprisal, so in that context I completely support the movement. I realize that seeing a woman breastfeed can make some people uncomfortable, but if we could outlaw everything that made us uncomfortable I would have already drafted legislation that addressed speedos on the elderly.

On the other hand, if women were to walk around topless everywhere the productivity level of the entire male population would plummet. Teenage boys would setup bleachers outside of Forever 21. Entire shifts at Auto Zone would go missing and I hate to even fathom the traffic fatalities during outdoor jogging season.  

I suppose there is also a chance that normalization would occur. Once enough time has passed perhaps none of us would think twice when our waitress inadvertently dips her nipple into our iced tea and commenting on the new receptionist’s areolas would not trigger a lawsuit. Hooters would file for bankruptcy, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show would only take half the time, and someone would owe Janet Jackson an apology. Taken to the extreme, biometric security systems would incorporate a nipple ID device in lieu of the traditional badge reader.

I doubt Moria’s actions will spark a widespread movement of women going “convertible,” but it is something to think about. The early adopters would enjoy several advantages over their bloused counterparts such as more attentive service at restaurants and decreased prep time in the morning. Either way, the crusade needs to act quickly before it is crushed by the powerful sports-bra / Cinemax conglomerate.

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