PORTLAND – About two dozen women took a walk down Congress Street topless Saturday, attracting a large crowd as they tried to preach that partial female nudity is not worthy of attracting a crowd.

The point of the march was that a topless woman out in public should attract no more attention than a man walking around without a shirt on, said Ty MacDowell, 20, of Westbrook, who organized Saturday’s event and promoted it on Facebook.

But as the event got under way in Longfellow Square, the marchers were soon outnumbered by scores of onlookers — mostly young men eagerly snapping away with cameras and cell phones.

MacDowell said she was surprised by the turnout of those interested less in challenging societal convention than in seeing partially undressed women.

“I’m amazed,” she said, and “enraged (at) the fact that there’s a wall of men watching.”

MacDowell said she understood that for women, going topless in public “is not socially acceptable yet, and obviously there’s going to be a reaction to something that breaks the norm.”

But, she said, the picture-taking was particularly upsetting.

“A lot of people were taking pictures without even asking,” she said. “Even if you’re somewhere where people are fully clothed, you should ask.”

One of the marchers said she wasn’t surprised by all the attention because partially nude women in public “is so taboo.”

But Adrianna Tibkey, who recently moved to Portland, said the march “was really, really fun, and it’s nice to know it (going topless) is legal here.”

Most of the onlookers were men — but not all of them.

Tammy Walker said she shared the marchers’ viewpoint, even if she wasn’t prepared to join them in going topless.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “You (men) can let it all out — why can’t we?”

Some of the men in the crowd thought the marchers were naive to think women going topless would ever be commonplace.

“If they were looking for no reaction — that’s just crazy,” said James Gilley of Gorham.

As the march started toward Tommy’s Park in the Old Port, it picked up more onlookers and the curious. Through Monument Square, there were more than 500 people — a mix of marchers, picture-snappers, oglers and people just out enjoying a sunny, warm day.

Laurie Francis of Livingston, Mont., was enjoying the sun and a cup of coffee in Tommy’s Park with her family, in Maine for a vacation, when the boisterous group swung into view.

She said the event led her to conclude that Maine — where nudity is not illegal as long as genitals aren’t on display — is more progressive than her home state.

“You don’t see this” in Montana, she said. “Everyone’s wearing a lot of layers in Montana at this time of year — including bras.”

But Francis said she thought women promoting the concept of going topless as no big deal “is a nice idea.”

Police said there were no incidents or arrests. Officers said their only concern was that the marchers stay on the sidewalk, since they hadn’t gotten a permit that would allow them to walk in the street.

MacDowell said many of the marchers encouraged her to continue her efforts to promote public toplessness, but she said she will try to avoid a repeat of what occurred Saturday.

“We’ll have a topless adventure,” she said. “Go fly a kite or something.”

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com