PORTLAND — The woman who organized the topless march through downtown Portland earlier this month said she doesn’t regret the demonstration, but the fallout has still been difficult for the 20-year-old Westbrook resident to deal with.

“I’m trying to focus on the positive, but it’s hard when I see all the people who call me a naive feminist,” Ty MacDowell said. “It’s balanced out by the people, especially strangers, saying that day was really transformative to them.”

MacDowell organized the event to promote her belief that a woman walking down the street topless should cause no more of a stir than when a man takes off his shirt in public.

The “naive” label, she said, was attached when she said she was “enraged” by the number of people, mostly young men, who turned out to watch a group of about two dozen topless women, joined by a few topless male sympathizers, march from the base of Longfellow’s statue to Tommy’s Park on April 3.

MacDowell said she should have gone on to say that it was the way the male bystanders were acting — crowding around the marchers and taking pictures — that enraged her, more than the fact that they just showed up.

“I was shocked at the number of people,” she admitted. “I expected that (people would watch), but not to the extent that it was.

“You can still be respectful and back off,” MacDowell added. “It felt to me like those men felt like they had the privilege, the right, to do that.”

MacDowell said she has been interviewed mostly by local media after the march. She declined a radio interview sought by a station in Iowa, and apparently the BBC had turned its attention elsewhere by the time she got back to the network.

The migration of all those photos taken by strangers that day to the Web has taken place, but MacDowell said what most disturbed her was a video accompanied by a notation that not all of it could be shown online.

“They treated it like porn,” she said, the exact opposite of the kind of reaction she hoped to elicit. “It felt like total objectification.”

One incident that still bothers her, she said, was when the marchers passed a woman who was downtown with her niece. The woman covered the young girl’s eyes as they walked by.

“I can’t understand why someone female-bodied would dismiss it as something disgusting,” MacDowell said. “I’m thinking, ‘She has the same parts, and there’s nothing inherently sexual about nudity, and I can’t understand the disgust.’ “

On the other hand, MacDowell said she was contacted by a University of Maine at Farmington student who wants to stage the same type of topless walk there, and that’s supportive.

“There’s definitely things here and there,” she said, referring to other opportunities to push her message. “I’m just trying to be selective.”

In Portland, MacDowell said she and friends have been talking about organizing a topless game day on the city’s East End. But she’ll attempt to avoid the circus atmosphere that the march created by trying to keep any mention of the event off social networking sites, where word about the march spread quickly last month.

“We’ll make it more grass-roots and rely on word of mouth through friends,” she said. 

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

emurphy@pressherald.com