What to Read Next

Topless NYC woman Moira Johnston on a crusade to exercise her legal right

Nadine Bells
Shine On
July 30, 2012

Self-described "topless activist" Moira Johnston, 29, has been walking around New York City's East Village neighbourhood this summer without her shirt — or bra.

She insists her toplessness isn't out of protest. Rather, she's reminding women of their legal rights to bare it all. In fact, New York women have had the right to shed their shirts for 20 years now.

"I want women to know their rights and to give them the courage to go topless too," Johnston tells 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."

In Ontario, women have had the same rights for 16 years, the Globe and Mail reports.

Also see: Las Vegas Wedding Wagon marries couples on sidewalk for $99

Johnston's toplessness seems to have flustered officials into forgetting that she has legal right to walk around as she does. Earlier this spring, she was arrested near a children's park for refusing to put on a shirt.

"[The officer] says it could be considered endangering children," she tells the Daily Beast.

Johnston was also banned from a yoga studio after going topless in class, something her male peers were freely doing.

Yoga studios are privately owned institutions and can establish their own rules, as long as they don't discriminate against sex or race. After Johnston filed a legal complaint against the yoga studio, the studio made it mandatory for both men and women to wear shirts in class.

Johnston's not the first North American woman to meet opposition from legally walking around topless.

On a sweltering day in 1991, Gwen Jacob took off her shirt on Gordon Street in Guelph, Ontario. Her subsequent arrest was the catalyst for addressing the double-standard laws about toplessness in Canada.

She was acquitted in 1996 by the Ontario Court of Appeal on the basis that going topless is not in itself considered an indecent or sexual act. Because of Jacob's groundbreaking case, similar cases in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have since been acquitted.

"Canada needs to grow up like our European brethren. There are enough oppressive laws and social mores that restrict our freedoms," says Judy Williams of the Vancouver-based Topfree Equal Rights Association, a group that Johnston cites.

"In 20 years I don't think I've ever seen a woman topless on the street," Judy Rebick, once the president of Canada's National Action Committee on the Status of Women, tells CBC News. "Women don't walk around topless because they get hassled, they get harassed if they do. People stare at them. It's cultural, something about North America and the Puritan history."

Also see: British hotel replaces Bible with Fifty Shades of Grey

In 2005, Jill Coccaro was arrested for walking down New York City's Delancey Streets without a shirt on. She sued the city and received a $29,000 settlement, the Daily Beast reports.

Johnston claims that the right to bare breasts is related to other women's rights issues.

"For instance, it's related to breast-feeding. I feel that if people felt more comfortable with just seeing breasts in public, breast-feeding wouldn't be so socially stigmatized. Another thing is our bodies don't have to be sexualized or commercialized. The way we see it now in American culture, female breasts are seen in an exclusively sexual or commercial territory. I want to expand the vocabulary and definition of what breasts are. They can be non-sexual in any culture," she tells Alternet.

Hypervocal blogger Katie Ligon argues that topless laws are the least of women's concerns when it comes to equal rights.

"There are a multitude of equality issues that women are fighting for on a daily basis — right to choose, fair wages, maternity leave, access to health care — and this is what you chose?" she writes. "We get it, women walking around without tops is totally legal. Now do us a favour and put your shirt back on."

Free Workshop in Washington DC Area, Feb. 27!

This workshop introduces you to the tools to create winning trades no matter which direction stocks move! Attend the event and get a FREE silver bar!

Read This Before You Buy Medigap Plan F

Medicare Supplement Plan F is the most popular plan option, but there's another Medigap option you should consider.

How Older Men Tighten Their Skin

Men, reduce the look of wrinkles, sagging skin and fine lines with this affordable and effective skin tightening treatment without leaving your home.

Find your dream Ryan home in Carroll County!

3 Incredible new communities in one of Maryland’s fastest-growing regions, just minutes to recreation & dining. Save thousands now! MHBR No. 56

Hurry, Don't Be Late For This Very Important Deal!

Get 4 Disney Movies For $1 With Membership. See Details. Exclusive Titles, Merchandise, Offers & Discounts. Plus, Free Shipping On Your Initial Order!

Starwood Credit Card

Earn 25,000 Bonus Starpoints®! Use toward Award Nights or Flights.

Start Saving at Sears

Shop Online Today, and Get Free In-Store Pickup When Ready!

Attn Home Owners Who Never Miss a Payment.

Home Owners who have not missed a payment in 3 years or more need to read this. If you owe less than $625,000 on your home there is a solution.

Do NOT pay your insurance until you try this.

If you drive less than 55 miles/day OR have no DUI's you can get auto insurance for as low as $29/ Month! See if you qualify.

Got the Need for Speed?

Get on the fast track to a great career. Click here to learn more about training at MMI

An Overlooked Method To Pay Off Your Credit Card

If you're paying credit card interest, you could save hundreds or thousands of dollars by transferring your balance to this no-fee card.

Drivers With No Tickets In 3 Years Must Read This

If you drive less than 50 miles per day, there is a way to pay less for auto insurance that few people realize. Are you overpaying?

Bad News For Insurance, Great News For Virginia

Virginia drivers, with cars and good driving records are learning that they may qualify for lower car insurance rates. Do you qualify?

VA Mortgage Rates In 2016

VA Rates as Low as 2.75% (3.028% APR) 15 Year Fixed. Exclusive For Veteran & Military Takes 1 Min!