We want people to see women’s bodies the same way they see men’s: neutrally, as objects in the world, objects of beauty some of the time, objects of simple utility other times, in either event deserving of respect and fair treatment. The way we set out to achieve this is by going out in the world and using our bodies in a wide variety of ways, and doing it unclothed to the same extent men have been doing for ages, and hoping that repeated exposure to the sight will cure people of whatever concerns or anxiety or fear or prejudices they might have.
Most of the time this involves sitting in the park reading books — we are a book club, after all. But when Adam Benedetto of Loudest Yeller Bicycle Tours approached us to suggest a topless bicycle tour of literary and historical sites in downtown Manhattan, we jumped at the chance.
Now, not all of us are what you would call expert riders of the two-wheeled contraptions we were being asked to climb aboard. But Adam reassured us that in all his years of running bicycle tours around the world, from here to Shanghai, he’s never had an accident. And sure enough, once we were all seated and pedaling and got the initial wobblies out of the way, breezing through the city streets turned out to be a joy — an absolute joy.
We headed first for the ferry dock to drop off supplies with Adam’s fiancee (she was leading another tour at the same time — not a topless one, sadly), then bicycled across the Williamsburg Bridge. And let me just say this: if you have never bicycled across a New York City bridge bare-chested on a warm summer day, well, you simply haven’t lived.
The next five hours — yes, five hours — sped by in a blur of exercise, education, conversation, and bare bodies. We rode along the Battery Park esplanade toward the Statue of Liberty, where one of our number was enlisted to recite poet and activist Emma Lazarus’ sonnet The New Colossus — not just the famous part, but the whole thing: “Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand/A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame/Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name/Mother of Exiles…” (Imagine it, if you will, read in a beautiful British accent, courtesy of one of our ex-pat members.)
City Hall Park, where the mayor presides over New York’s affairs, was a short ride away, and Adam pointed out the site — now up for rent — where in the 19th century Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published the women’s rights newspaper called The Revolution. (An appropriate theme for our group on any day, but doubly appropriate on a day of bicycling!)
After a stop at the African Burial Ground National Monument, we cycled past the giant, imposing courthouses where in past years women were sometimes brought before judges for doing no more than we were doing on that very spot, at that very moment.
…where finally we stopped to pick up the makings of a picnic lunch. Disappointingly, Murray’s Cheese chased us out before we could buy anything there, citing some entirely nonexistent health code supposedly being violated by our bodies, but their next door neighbor — Faicco’s Italian Specialties — welcomed us warmly, sold us sandwiches and cookies and fancy imported sodas, and did it all with a smile.
Next stop: Washington Square Park, where we rested our well-worked-out calves and thighs and glutes while munching, kicking a ball around with some guys who were playing nearby, and chatting with a New York Post reporter, who looked like she was about two seconds away from taking her shirt off too…but never quite got there. Next time. 🙂
After lunch we had all those new calories to work off, and we did it with a visit to a former women’s prison, the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the Stonewall Inn, and the former workplace of Anais Nin.
At this point it briefly rained, but you know what? Far from ruining the day, it felt refreshing and wonderful. Basically nothing could ruin the day for us. Even when one of us got a flat tire and we had to stop while Adam patched it, we found ourselves outside a downtown boxing gym, where this fellow entertained us by working his jumprope outside on the sidewalk.
Now, look at that chest. Just look at it. Isn’t that an object of beauty? Sexually attractive? It certainly is. And no one but no one told him to put a shirt on or asked what he was doing exposing himself where children might see. No one bothered him or whistled at him or booed or cheered or applauded. And that’s as it should be. All we ask is equal treatment for our bodies. It’s really not that much to ask.
He’s the best — well informed, a great guide, a feminist through and through, and a whiz on two wheels. If you’re in the mood to discover New York by bicycle, you should totally contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you’re in the mood to discover the pleasure of being topless outdoors while it’s still warm enough to enjoy it, you should totally contact us: email@example.com.
It’s your body. Why not enjoy it?
It’s how we hold our revolution.
It’s how we change the world.