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Topless in NYC: One woman's crusade to bare her breasts

For most people, talking about the "right to choose" is usually a discussion involving a woman's right to an abortion. Not Moira Johnston. Her right to choose involves a woman's right not to wear a shirt, a tank top or even a bra.

Called the "topless activist," the 29-year-old Philadelphia native has been seen, confronted and threatened by passersby in New York City's East Village neighbourhood this summer, according to The Daily Beast.

But Ms. Johnston isn't baring it all out of protest. No, in fact, it's been 20 years now that women have had the right to go topless in New York City (16 years for women in Ontario). She is doing it remind women of this freedom won.

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"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."

But many people – including the New York Police Department – seem to have forgotten Ms. Johnston has this right. She was arrested in May (though not charged). In a video interview, Ms. Johnston said she was detained (in handcuffs and all) and forcibly had her shirt put over her because people complained that she was topless near a children's playground.

"[The officer] said it could be considered endangering the children," she said.

His reaction (plus the overly supportive reaction from some men, the scolding from religious fanatics and the NSFW label on articles about her activism) is exactly why Ms. Johnston is trying to give women "courage" to make a decision that they're entitled to. But her plight proves that just because a right is won doesn't mean the battle is over.

That said, not all women are happy about her work. Hypervocal blogger Katie Ligon is one woman who is sick of Ms. Johnston's sun-loving, free-hanging breasts.

"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 wrote. "We get it, women walking around without tops is totally legal. Now do us a favor and put your shirt back on."

Do think Ms. Johnston is gaining ground for women's equality? Or is this is just the work of a woman who wants attention?

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Editor's note: Women have been allowed to go topless in Ontario for 16 years. Incorrect information appeared in the original version of this article.

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About the Author

Madeleine White is the Assistant National Editor for The Globe and Mail. She has been with the Globe since 2011 and previously worked in the Globe's Video and Features departments, covering topics ranging from fitness and health to real estate to indigenous education. More

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