COLUMBIA — As Virgina Collier stood on the corner of Seventh and Elm streets waiting for marchers to return to Peace Park, a car with young men inside drove by and shouted, "Nice breasts."
But Collier, an MU senior studying psychology, didn't mind the comment. She said it's a part of the process and she'd taken her shirt off for a reason.
In fact, she was one of many women going topless to celebrate Women's Equality Day and participate in Sunday afternoon's GoTopless event in Peace Park. The rally and subsequent march was one of 30 such events held throughout the U.S., in addition to international protests in cities such as Toronto, London, Geneva and Paris.
This is the fifth year GoTopless has hosted these rallies, but the first time the group has held an event in Columbia.
As rain drizzled, Collier roamed the park, wearing only a denim Abercrombie-Fitch skirt and flip-flops. Throughout the event, dozens of men walked up — some ran — and took pictures of her exposed breasts.
The belief within the GoTopless movement is that if men have the right to go topless, women should too and that men are underexposed to breasts, which allows them to objectify women with ease, said Donna Newman, spokesperson for GoTopless. She believes it's a woman's job to help expose men to breasts to stop objectification.
Collier said she believes people should strive for the right to be able to do what they want.
A Columbia citizen for the last 20 years, Jeffery Frey, said he suffered from what he called "the breast obsession," which is one motivation for his participation in Sunday's event. He also believes that other cities' indecent exposure laws are oppressive to women.
"It's well past time to make some progress on this," Frey said.
To the crowd gathered before Sunday's march Frey read a GoTopless manifesto, which discussed women's rights throughout the past century, from suffrage in 1920 to the right, in this case, to bare breasts today.
GoTopless was founded by spiritual leader Raël in 2007 in response to the criminalization of topless women. The GoTopless movement seeks to have a legally topless nation by the 100-year anniversary of women's suffrage, Aug. 26, 2020.
According to the Raëlian website, Raël said, "As long as men are allowed to be topless in public, women should have the same constitutional right. Or else men should have to wear something to hide their chests."
Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.