Topless Activism

Topless Activism


Thomas Pluck hopes that the recent lifting of the ban on toplessness in New York City will bring about positive change.

As a writer, I’ve followed the Topless Co-Ed Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society for some time. They are a group of women who relax, sunbathe, and read together in public in the comfort of their own skin, making use of the recent legal decision that allows women in New York City to exist without covering their breasts in public.

As expected, this small group has generated quite a bit of attention and controversy. Seeing them at the New York Public library steps before the lions, Patience and Fortitude, was quite moving, and I don’t mean stirring in the loin area. When I saw their latest photo shoot, I was reminded of numerous photos that have surfaced recently of suffragettes in London who trained in martial arts (bartitsu, the same art Sherlock Holmes was written to use) to keep their protesters from being hassled and arrested by police. It’s a lost picture of rebels who changed the world, and part of me, the part that wasn’t simply dazzled by brave, beautiful women, wondered if I was seeing a similar act of rebellion that would have some small part in history.


I imagined these photos getting rediscovered a hundred years from now, like those photos of the suffragist bodyguards in London, forgotten pioneers and heroines fighting the backward and oppressive mores of their age. Or was I just enjoying the view? I won’t deny that the Topless Pulp women are beautiful. It takes bravery and confidence to bare yourself in public for any amount of time. I spent a weekend once in a naturist retreat, and I can still feel the knot in my stomach. I’m not comfortable with my body, I’ve never gone to gyms with showers and locker rooms. When I used a sauna recently, I felt like Tobias Fünke, the never-nude (there are dozens of us!) in my modesty.

My thoughts are mixed. Certainly there is exhibitionism at work. I’ve watched the Topless Pulp crew, on their blog, go from quiet secluded park settings and rooftop pools to rowing in the lake in Central Park, to this most public of places. Working themselves up to it. The first instinct is to chide them for seeking attention. But women attract attention no matter how they’re clothed, and I sat back and thought of the co-ed shower scenes in Starship Troopers, and how back then it was seen as a joke. Because men and women could NEVER be comfortable together naked. Our atavistic urges would crush our fragile brains and we’d be reduced to slavering animals.

We all know we’re better than that. At least when other people are watching. And that’s what’s so brave and powerful about what these women are doing. They are forcing us to confront centuries of Puritan upbringing. When we see a man without a shirt, sometimes we think he’s a show-off, but most of the time, depending on the situation, we just don’t care. Guy working on the lawn on a hot day? Who cares. Driving his car, maybe not. Riding a bike, we probably judge his physique before commenting. But a woman, we immediately think there’s something wrong with her, she must crave attention. Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to hide those away to make men hunger to see them?

I think about breasts a lot, no surprise. But what I think about is how much of masculine desire for that particular part of a woman is caused by culture and secrecy. In tribes where women go topless, breasts are not fetishized. No, we fetishize what is hidden. Does that mean every woman should go topless all the time? No, but if a few brave pioneers and rebels make us think that breasts aren’t secret goodies, they are just another body part, maybe they’ll move us a short way toward viewing women as people and not fetishizing them in their entirety, as strange unknowable creatures we need to attain and protect.

Or maybe I just like all variety of breasts, but for now I’d like to think they’re forcing us slowly toward inexorable change.


About Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck writes unflinching fiction with heart.
He is the author of the action thriller Blade of Dishonor, and Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Burnt Bridge, PANK Magazine, McSweeney's, The Morning News, Beat to a Pulp, and numerous anthologies. He is also the editor of Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT.
You can find him on the web at and Twitter as @tommysalami
And all his articles for GMP can be read here.


  1. I’m all for greater acceptance of our bodies and not living in shame of them. I’d love to live in a society where my worth wasn’t tied in how perky and perfect my breasts where.

    But, sitting on the New York Public Library topless doesn’t really seem like the best way to go about it. I don’t think other people’s nudity should be forced on others in public. I don’t think other people not wanting to see the naked body of someone else means they are “puritanical”.

    I can remember as a little girl my mother taking me into New York City to visit the wonderful attractions. She’d take me out of school sometimes on a Friday to experience the museums and culture together. I loved going to the New York City Public Library and seeing those majestic Lions welcoming me to a world of never ending stories to discover. I was always in awe of the steps leading up to those big doors and the richness of it. It was like being in a movie.

    You can’t ration to a male or female child why there are ladies sitting around nude on the steps of the New York City Public Library when children are taught that clothes offer us protection and necessary privacy.

    It’s also unlikely you would see women in France sitting naked on the steps of the Louvre, despite their comfortableness with the naked human body.

    If these ladies want to be publically naked in a designated area? Great! But based on the picture alone, I don’t really see what they are accomplishing. Based on the picture, it looks like there is a higher amount of men surrounding them and taking all kinds of pictures or video of them. I don’t think all those men are taking pictures or taping them because they are ear-marking a moment in history for women’s liberation. More likely, they are liking that they get to see a couple different sets of bare naked breasts and are probably going on to save these photos for sexual reasons or to share with their buddies about the naked women they got to see.

    Thomas, I appreciate your perspective and support of viewing women’s breasts in a different light.
    You said: “Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to hide those away to make men hunger to see them?”
    I actually think the message is, “Doesn’t she know she’s suppose to hide those away otherwise she’s just a tease.” The idea that women control men’s lust and men are not responsible for their own lust and the ramifications of their lust at times.

    I also kind got a bad feeling about the little quip at the end about “or maybe I just like all variety of breasts…” Differences are great but commodifying women down to the variety they offer simply by quantity doesn’t help us gals either.

  2. I don’t know, this is just not an issue I can get really excited about. I don’t think that wanting people to wear clothing is puritanical. I don’t want to see naked people (male or female) walking around in daily because frankly, they are exhibitionists and it’s annoying. “Look at me! Look at me! I’m naked!” Blech. Most people look terrible naked — I mean, truly terrible. I’ve been in women’s locker rooms and most women’s breasts (including my own) are saggy and really not much to appreciate. A group of hot young women walking around in public has nothing to do with civil rights – it’s just narcissism and showing off. If a group of middle aged women tried it, people would be grossed out and laugh, believe me.

  3. Thomas, really enjoyed your article. I think topless activism is important. Sad that the men commenting don’t seem to get it, though. Nothing says patriarchy quite like men telling women what we should and shouldn’t do with our bodies.

    • PursuitAce says:

      These straw man comments are a little irritating. Unless you wish to elevate the discussion to nude activism. That will be coming mainstream in the future. One more step to the @#$%@# society. I can’t use the word or my post gets obliterated.

  4. I think we’re all missing a point here. Which is these women have yet to comment on any books they’ve worn, er, read. Also, the vast majority are Hard Case Crime books. Who are a great publisher, but are they paying them? Great marketing, but not really a movement then. Also, can they pay me to wear their books for pants? Because I already do.

  5. We sexualize things with our brain.
    Many cultures do not sexualize the breast. What becomes sexualized is what gets covered. In some tribes the back of a woman’s leg just under the knee is covered, and becomes sexualized.
    Are all human vaginas and penises sexual to you? Parents, in most cases, manage to not sexualize their children.

    Does the Naked Cowboy in Times Square offend us this way? He’s sort of a local hero. Almost got his own TV show. Women didn’t call him a tighty whitey patriarch. There was no controversy when he appeared on news segments.

    There’s a big difference between what you think, were raised to think, and decide is “normal” and what is actually empirically and subjectively so.

  6. scott Heathcote says:

    I think many people are reaching their tolerance of being told that their behaviour is unacceptable when it is not illegal. Perhaps what is unacceptable is the continual judging of others behaviour while refusing to take any accountability for one’s own behaviour.

  7. PursuitAce says:

    Like I’ve said before, if you don’t learn how to ignore all of this you’ll become a bad man very quickly. None of this is sexual. Get it? Feminism will continue to decide what is OK and not OK in the public square.

  8. Testicles are sexual parts of anatomy for sure — but a knee to the testicles in response to a grope is not a sexual act. It’s an act of self defense.

    Breasts are not sexual parts of anatomy in the sense that they’re not an inherent part of sexual intercourse. Obviously some people find them sexually arousing, and that’s fine — but that’s also true of lips and eyes and necks and earlobes and feet, not to mention men’s chests. I think we can all understand the difference between genitals and other body parts.

    Speaking of which, if you really are “at a loss to find a body part that is sexual” after listing testicles and breasts, I might suggest you Google “vagina.”

    • scott Heathcote says:

      I’m not sure who ultimately has the right to define what is and is not a part of sexual anatomy. But if we are to use the criteria that only the anatomy required for sexual intercourse is sexual, then I suppose only a penis and a vagina are sexual. What is not sexual: testical, breast, buttocks, clitoris. I think the definition is a bit wanting and inconsistent.

      By the way, the sarcasm does not help in a free and respectful exchange of ideas. Rather it is aggressive and adversarial.

    • scott Heathcote says:

      Your definition of what is and is not a part of sexual anatomy is just that, yours. You don’t get to decide that for everyone else. So far, the law does consider breasts a part of sexual anatomy.

      • I’m having trouble with the polar opposites you’re taking in this argument since, I’m sorry OCTPFAS, but breasts are sexual – for two reasons, firstly they are erogenous, it is arousing to have them touched in a certain way (more so than hands for example) and they are also part of sexual signaling – that is they indicate gender and are therefore attractive to the opposite sex.

        Bu the testicles is a good point; a knee to the groin is not sexual, but not because it’s in self-defence, it is not sexual because it is violent. It’s not the kind of touching that is going to arouse anyone! Actually… I say anyone… there’s always a minority… anyway – extreme masochists aside, a kick to the groin is not arousing. A punch in the tit is not sexual either.

        I think the distinction here is sexual touching is the sort of touching that is fantastic when someone you are attracted to is doing it, and feels icky and wrong when someone you’re not attracted to is doing it – that’s pretty much the yardstick. And sexual touching of any part of anyone’s anatomy is sexual harassment if it is clearly unwanted and yet persists. Violent touching, like a kick in the groin or a punch to the tit, physically hurts regardless of who is doing it – that’s a useful yardstick there, if anyone is confused. If a Doctor is giving a woman a mammogram that’s not sexual touching either; it neither hurts (I assume, does it?), arouses, or leaves you feeling icky. The same area can produce different sensations depending on how it is touched, who is touching and the feelings you have towards them – that shouldn’t be that mysterious.

        The whole body IS sexual, actually. The degrees vary, erogenous parts are more sexualised than non erogenous parts, but come on, if someone sucks your finger during foreplay, your finger may not be one of the top ten erogenous zones, but at that moment it is definitely sexual and you are being aroused through it. I don’t believe there are cultures that don’t sexualise the female breasts; that to me doesn’t seem credible – they are there to be noticed; what does seem credible is that like the eyes or hair or legs they aren’t always sexual, you switch it off and on; and lets be honest, breasts don’t have to be naked to be sexual anyway. Sometimes you’ll be talking to a girl and it just takes an idle wandering of the mind and an involuntary wandering of the eye and you’ll suddenly find yourself thinking “that is a very flirtatious pair of breasts!” and then, click, you’re back in the room – “sorry my mind wandered there! What were we talking about?”

        • A knee to the groin is a sexual assault. The genitals are extremely delicate! They have an extreme proportion of nerves, even if it’s self-defense it’s still a sexual assault but usually overlooked as it’s an act of self-defense.

        • “I’m sorry OCTPFAS, but breasts are sexual – for two reasons, firstly they are erogenous, it is arousing to have them touched in a certain way (more so than hands for example) and they are also part of sexual signaling – that is they indicate gender and are therefore attractive to the opposite sex.””

          Breasts *can* be sexual. But they don’t *always* have to be sexual. Just as we, as human beings, can be sexual but we are not always sexual. There are many different sides to us. There are many different roles we take on. Daughter, sister, mother, caretaker, lover…So please stop saying that breasts *are* sexual. They certainly *can* be but they don’t *always*have to be. Since breasts are part of women, not these seperate round things sitting on a desk, just like us, are breasts are able to be just as multifacted. They can turn a lover on, feed a baby or simply be another part of our body.

          Secondly, there are so many other parts of my body as a woman that are erogenous. Breasts are not the only, or sometimes the primary place, women receive pleasure. They say that the brain is the largest sexual organ. Just because our brains are able to be sexual doesn’t mean that are brains are simply just sexual. As I said before, I actually get more excited from a man paying attention to my neck than I do my breasts. That doesn’t mean there aren’t wonderful nerve-endings in teh breasts but women have MANY erogenous zones that are not being accounted for in his discussion. And they are erogenous zones that often aren’t fetishsized like breasts are in our culture.

          Maybe places like France are onto something because it infact doesn’t seem like they place the importance on breasts like our culture does. I don’t know many French women you’d come across that have breast implants either.

  9. Scott, men DO wear thongs in public in NYC, and no one says anything. There’s a man who does ballet poses in the middle of the plaza by Delacorte Fountain in Central Park wearing nothing but a white thong, and hundreds of people see him doing it, and no one seems too put out. He’s not the most attractive guy in the world, nor the most graceful, so the sight could be more pleasant, but so what? If you don’t like it, look somewhere else. Certainly no one accuses him of forcing his sexuality into a public space, even if the 99% of his body is exposed. And if you go to Sheep Meadow on a sunny day, you’ll see some guys lying in the grass in thongs, and some women doing the same thing. Nothing wrong with it in either case.

    The example you give about sexually suggestive conversation only holds if the conversation takes place in your workplace — a place you can’t choose to walk away from without quitting (or losing) your job. That’s why it’s inappropriate there and a form of harassment. If your boss walked around the office topless or in a thong — whether male or female — that would be inappropriate too, again because you don’t have a choice as to whether or not to see it. (Naturally I’m assuming your workplace isn’t a strip club or an underwear showroom or something like that.) Conversely, if you overhear a sexually suggestive conversation just walking along the sidewalk or in a park or on a subway, while you might or might not find it pleasant depending on your tastes, you couldn’t bring an action for harassment. Workplaces are one thing, public spaces are another. Can a vegetarian sue someone for eating meat near her in the park? No. Can I prevent you from wearing a loud orange sweater because I find the color appalling? No. Bare-chestedness in a public space is the same. Some people don’t like seeing shirtless men jogging on the sidewalk. Fine — they’re entitled not to like it. But they’re not entitled to say a man legally can’t do it if he wants to, and they certainly aren’t entitled to say that a man can but a woman can’t.

    • scott Heathcote says:


      Unfortunately you’ve missed my point. I was simply saying that there is a conversation to be had about the balance of the right of an individual to dress as they please and the definition of “public decency”. Where does one draw the line? Toplessness was acceptable in many places in Europe well before it was legal here in North America. I am not opposed to toplessness in public, but there’s a discussion to be had about what constitutes “public decency”. Sex is a normal physiological behaviour, is it permissible in public? What about a man having a visible errection in public? In many places that is illegal, but as any teenage boy will tell you, it’s not always within his control.

      I disagree with you when you say “Certainly no one accuses him of forcing his sexuality into a public space, even if the 99% of his body is exposed.” Indeed some one can say he is forcing his sexuality into a public space. That is exactly the point I was trying to raise. There is a point at which general society says “nope, that’s too much for a public space”. Where that point is varies by culture, society and even gender.

      The author of the article calls these women pioneers for being some of the first women to go topless in public. Does he also consider the first men to wear thongs in public pioneers?

      As for my comment on conversation of a sexual nature in public, if a man walked up to you in the subway and started talking sexually to you, does that not constitute sexual harassment? It would seem to me that he is bringing sexuality into a public space without the consent of that person. If a woman were to walk into the same subway wearing only a thong bikini bottom do you still insist that there is no sexual element attached to her choice of clothing? If men are expected to be sensitive about how their behaviour affects others and modify it accordingly, I think the same standard should apply to all. To what degree is the discussion at hand.

      And for the record, it has been legal for women to walk around topless for 20 years.

      • Certainly there is a conversation to be had. We’re having it.

        What I meant when I wrote that “no one accuses him of forcing his sexuality into a public space” is that I’ve been there when he’s been doing it and I didn’t hear anyone accusing him of this. People tolerate things. This is a tolerant city. It’s one of the reasons I love living here.

        And yes, the first men to wear thongs in public were pioneers. Anyone who does something for the first time is a pioneer. Some pioneering is more significant than others, and some is better than others, but it’s all pioneering.

  10. John – breasts aren’t sexual objects (or objects of any other sort, except insofar as you’d call a hand or foot an “object”), but that doesn’t mean touching them is okay without the other person’s consent. If you saw a bare-chested man and reached over and squeezed his pecs, he’d probably respond negatively. You can expect the same from a woman. No need for you to be put on a sex offender list, but you might get a black eye or a knee in the groin. (The latter shouldn’t put me on a sex offender list either, incidentally. There’s nothing sexual about a knee to a man’s groin, even if his testicles are involved.)

    • scott Heathcote says:

      If breasts and testicals are not sexual parts of anatomy, I’m at a loss to find a body part that is sexual.

      • Maybe ALL of your body is sexual?

        • James Becker says:

          To comment that breasts are no more “sexual objects” than a hand or a foot strikes me as a little off.

          Do some research on the erogenous zones of the breasts and nipples. The neural area in the female brain to which nipple/breast touch sensations are connected is right next to those for the clitoris, cervix, and vagina. Breasts are erogenous zones to a much higher extent than a hand or a foot. Laws and opinions aside, that’s just a fact of nature.

          Even in primitive cultures where breasts, penises and vaginas are constantly on full display, the sexual/nonsexual distinction remains: their breasts, vaginas, clitorises, and penises remain fully fetishized, and throughout history breasts especially were often decorated, pierced, and tattooed. Of course, that’s a little different than being fully covered as in today’s society, but the distinction is still there.

          If ALL of your body is “sexual”, then if someone touched their mother’s or sister’s arm, would that be any different than touching their mother’s or sister’s clitoris? Even saying that makes me cringe, but it’s a good question to ask.

          We could stretch the term sexual to encompass the entire body, of course, but where, exactly, are we trying to go with this? If there are no more distinctions, we might as well just erase the word “sexual” from the dictionary.

          • I liked very much what OCTFPAS said. As a woman, it’s not too fun to hear your breasts referred to as “sexual objects”. There certainly can be a sexuality in breasts. And that’s fine. But to me, saying something *can* be sexual and saying that something is *always* sexual is different. Breasts aren’t “sexual objects” even if sometimes they can be viewed sexy. From this discussion, I can’t tell if we are making headway or if women are still being regulated into the “sexual object’ status.

            James, there are a lot of erogenous zones on the body. I can actually orgasm more from a man kissing my neck and behind my ear than I can from attention to my breasts. Even a light skim of his finger tips over my forearm or back or thighs can send a lot of shivers down my spine. I know I am not that different from other women.

            Some women go crazy when you touch the skin behind their knees. But most men wouldn’t say that that skin behidn the knee is sexy or a sexual object despite the pleasure it can realistically bring a woman. Based on my own experiences, sometimes we seem to forget that a woman’s entire body is a bundle of wonderful nerve endings that will travel right down to that place between her legs. Not just her breasts or her vagina.

            Oh, by the way, yeah, it would be ackward if someone touched my clitoris. It would also be ackward if a friend or relaitive kissed me behind my ear or touched the skin on the back of my knee.

    • John Schtoll says:

      OCTPFAS: Actually the breasts of a woman are considered sexual objects by the law , which was my point and if you fondle them , you can and probably will end up on a sex offenders list whereas if a woman fondles a mans pecs, she won’t.

      • The law changes. It used to be against the law for women to go topless in New York, and now it isn’t. Similarly, the law describing assault as sexual if a woman’s breasts are involved but not if a man’s are will change. You’re right that the two should be consistent. But let’s make them consistent in the better way, not the worse one. Consistent equality for all, not consistent inequality.

      • I’ve had people grab my manboobies, the POLICE said it was SEXUAL ASSAULT and I could press charges if I want. This is Australia however. I didn’t press charges, I just wanted the bullies to fuckoff. Whenever someone touches me there without my permission, I want to put them in hospital. I do NOT like it, I can’t stand it, I flinch just as much as I do when someone touches my penis. But maybe it’d be different to some degree if my chest was flat n sexy, but the humiliation and sexual degradation bothers me extremely.

    • Are you by chance responded to John Schtoll above?

      If so he didn’t say that such things wouldn’t still be classified as rude/illegal. He seems to be questioning “If breasts aren’t sexual, then why is it a sex crime to touch them against consent?”

  11. Scott Heathcote says:

    If a group of men started wearing thong swimsuits in public I wonder if you would view them as brave pioneers or as individuals forcing their sexuality into a public space? I think there is a reasonable analogy there. If I talk in a sexually suggestive manner with someone who would rather not participate that is sexual harassment. However, if a woman chooses to expose, what is universally accepted as a sexually enticing part of her anatomy, be it breast or button, and someone is offended – it is there fault for being “puritanical”. Sure, one could tell those offended by an exposed breast to look away, but one could also tell the offended lister to not listen. I am not against women going topless in public, nor public nudity for that matter. However, there is a conversation to be had here. How does one person’s right to go about their day without being forced into a sexually suggestive situation intersect with another person’s right to dress themselves as they see fit?

    And regarding your reference to suffragettes… One of the main points often overlooked in the history of voting is that universal suffrage for men and women arrived at almost the same time. In Canada for instance, both men and women achieved the vote in 1917. The UK had a few years difference, and the US had the most protracted difference, some 20 years if memory serves. Before then, the vote was limited to a very few, rich property owners. And while they were predominately male, they also only represented about 5% of the male population. Throughout history, suffering has been dictated more by wealth than gender. I imagine there were quite a few poor coal minors who looked at the mine owner’s wife’s lifestyle with envy – until he was killed in another mine collapse.

    • Go to France, board-shots are banned in swimming pools, and the largest pair of trunks that are allowed are tiny speedos, which barely cover your bum.

      They wouldn’t describe it as men forcing their sexuality into a space where it is not wanted.

      • scott Heathcote says:

        Sigh, my comment was not about what they do in France, or even what people wear. The issue is questioning the motives of the individuals exposing more of themselves than their peers. There seems to be a presumption that if males expose their bodies it’s because they are being sexual, while when women do the same it’s about their freedom. No one would suggest they might be doing it because it gives them a sexual thrill.

  12. John Schtoll says:

    So, if breasts aren’t sexual objects, how long will it be before the law against touching them will be downgraded to a non sexual act not requiring being put on a sex offender list.

    • That’s an interesting point.

      On one hand we are supposed to get it through out heads that breasts are not sexual however when they are ogled, touched, and rudely commented its called sexual harassment/assault/etc….

      Either such things are sexual assault/harassment or plain physical assault/harassment.

      Can’t have it both ways.

      • But touching anyone’s breasts is a sexual act male or female. I had this at work, some of the guys found it funny that I’d react defensively to attempts to grab my nipples; it wasn’t abusive, it was like friendly teasing, like trying to tickle someone under their armpits or similar, but you wouldn’t want a stranger to do it, or someone you didn’t trust or feel comfortable with. A female colleague, who actually (and probably, fortunately, given what I’m about to recount) is a dear friend, probably decided by this it was reasonable behaviour and during a lull in a conversation experimentally pushed my nipple with a playful “beep” sound as though it was the button on a machine. I pulled a comical “shocked and appalled” face, and then after a moment beeped hers back; her jaw dropped, shocked but amused, “You can’t do that!” she said. “Why not? You just did it to me.”; “It’s different. I’ve got boobies”; “Hey”, I replied, “my nips are as much erogenous zones as yours are. If you can’t take it, you shouldn’t dish it out”. Shrug, nod and “fair enough”. Of course there is nothing sexual about a beep; I mean really what makes something sexual is not what you do it too, it’s what you’re doing to it. Yes if you grab breasts in a sexual way, and the other person doesn’t want you to, it is harassment; but touching someones face in a sexual way would also be harassment; touching legs in a sexual way when you know it’s unwanted would be sexual harassment and it wouldn’t even have to be the thighs either; touching hair in a sexual way, were it unwanted would be sexual harassment. We have legs and faces and hair on show all the time; and men (as the article points out) frequently have their chests on show all the time, doesn’t give people the right to touch them, particularly in a provocative way, without good reason to think they’re permitted to do so.

        • Part of the effort in this is to desexualize breasts. Nothing wrong with that.

          But at the point you’re talking about you’re talking about criminalizing intent.

          Yes if you grab breasts in a sexual way, and the other person doesn’t want you to, it is harassment; but touching someones face in a sexual way would also be harassment; touching legs in a sexual way when you know it’s unwanted would be sexual harassment and it wouldn’t even have to be the thighs either; touching hair in a sexual way, were it unwanted would be sexual harassment.
          In any given scenario who is to say that the person doing the touching meant it in a sexual way? For the most part this is largely decided on where the person was touched. Well if body parts are being desexualized then how do you tell a touch on the leg that is sexual and a touch on the leg that is not sexual (of course assuming that both touches are unwanted)?

          Are you saying that even breasts are desexualized, an unwanted touch of the breast would still be a sexual harassment/assault?

          • I don’t think we are talking about a desexualisation of the breast; which would not be desirable; we’re talking about a defetishization of exposed breasts.

            But if a woman runs her hand over your chest and you don’t want her to I do think that does count as unwanted sexual attention. If she knows it’s unwanted and persists anyway then that would count as sexual harassment; I don’t see why it doesn’t. Doesn’t it?

            I think in normal courtship the breasts aren’t the first port of call anyway; I think ordinarily one would already be kissing before you start touching someone’s breast, don’t you? By which time, no one is saying “hello, sexual harassment!” because both parties are already up for mutual and consensual taboo breaking – if by some error of misjudgement it is too early she’d let me know I was moving too fast. If I accidentally touch someone’s breast, as I have done in fight choreography, no one cries sexual harassment, it’s mutual embarassment and a cause for laughter instead; if I deliberately grab someone’s breast, and they don’t want me to, why am I doing that? That seems a little odd – do I have a good reason to do so? I don’t get the logical leap that because it is not necessarily sexual to expose a part of the body then it follows it is not sexual to touch it. There are plenty parts of the body that it is sexual to touch that are already exposed on a regular basis.

            Give me a case in point where someone has touched a woman’s breast with a non-sexual motivation and been falsely accused of sexual harassment and then we have something objective to talk about. At the moment I’m struggling to imagine a situation.

  13. Thanks for this article, Thomas! Just two things: In your headline, you probably don’t mean “the recent ban on toplessness in New York,” since toplessness is not banned in New York, and regarding “recent” in the headline and the first paragraph of the article, the legal decision allowing female toplessness in New York is actually 21 years old, dating back to 1992. It’s true that few women took advantage of this right for the first 19 years or so, but it’s been legal all that time. We’re just trying to spread the word that it’s legal and get more people comfortable with it.


  1. […] wrote about the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation society for The Good Men Project. Not because I enjoy admiring brave and beautiful women, but because they struck me as a force for […]

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