IMG_8835Twenty-five years ago, a New York court ruled that women have the same right as men do to go bare-chested in public places; ever since then, it has been legal for a woman to take her top off in any city park. Ten days ago, we continued our ongoing celebration of this milestone in equal rights, body freedom, and just plain common sense with a trip down to Nelson Rockefeller Park, barely a hop, skip and a swim away from the Statue of Liberty. A giant statue of a woman enshrining the principle of liberty! What could be more appropriate?

You’d think so. But apparently someone found the sight of our bare chests distressing — think of the children! — and called the police. And rather than just telling the complainer that there was nothing they could do since what we were doing was perfectly legal, the police came out to the park to talk to us. And not just one police officer, or two, or three, or four. Or five. Or six! Or, god help us, seven.

No, it took eight police officers, in full regalia, to investigate the menace posed by our uncovered nipples.

Eight! That’s enough cops to put down a riot, or to patrol eight neighborhoods that could benefit from an actual reduction in, you know. actual crime. But instead of doing what might colloquially be referred to as “their jobs,” these unmerry souls, bearing facial expressions better suited to a funeral than to a lovely summer’s day, came trundling over like the world’s grouchiest welcoming party.

We’ve gotten complaints, this is a public place, there are children around, we’re going to ask you courteously–

We appreciate the courtesy, we told them, but the answer is no. This a public place, as you say, and we have every right to do what we’re doing. And a right you can be pressured into not exercising is no right at all.

We also handed the officers a printout of the internal police memo from a few years back reminding all NYPD personnel that female toplessness is not a crime and that they are not to arrest any woman merely for baring her chest.

IMG_8848The result? Grudgingly, they acknowledged that we were right — and reluctantly, slowly they headed off.

IMG_8863It was a victory, no question about it. But why is it even necessary to have the battle?

From time to time people ask us, sometimes in an irritated tone, why we bother demonstrating for something we already have the legal right to do. What’s the point? You’ve already won! And that’s true. But at the same time, it’s not. It’s not nearly true enough, not yet. What it’ll take to make it true enough is more days out in the park like this one, a lot more, until finally no one casts a second glance in our direction.

The best victory is the one you don’t have to keep winning.

IMG_8703