FARMINGTON — About two dozen bare-chested women marched in public Friday to promote gender equality as a crowd of more than 100 people, mostly men, watched and snapped photos.
Before the march, organizer Andrea Simoneau, 22, of Farmington, arrived topless at Meetinghouse Park wearing a short plaid skirt with a cell phone tucked into the waistband. She was swarmed by people, mostly men, with cameras of all sorts as she made her way to the gazebo.
She jumped up onto a half-wall to speak to the crowd. Her skirt blew up, showing a glimpse of her undergarment. Oops, even Marilyn Monroe had that problem, she joked, holding her skirt down with her hand.
“I’m so happy to see so many people here, for or against” she said, adding that the demonstration was about women’s rights and equal rights and that it’s legal for women in Maine to go topless in public.
More women took their tops off and a few men joined them as they crossed to the sidewalk to begin the march through a crowd of onlookers on the sidewalks, in their vehicles and hanging out windows of downtown apartments.
One woman’s bare back bore the words, “Sexuality is what you make it.”
Standing in the park before the march began, Erin Simoneau, 19, of Searsport, the younger sister of Andrea Simoneau, said, “I’m a little nervous. I am ready. I think it’s great what we’re doing for gender equality.”
The girls’ father, Duke Simoneau of Brooks, said he brought sunblock.
“College kids don’t think of those things,” he said. “All my daughters were taught to think for themselves and speak out when they think they should.”
“I think she’s doing a good thing for women,” said Deborah Stubbs, Duke Simoneau’s girlfriend. “I personally don’t see any problem with baring a breast in public. It think it’s the culture we created.”
Others seemed to be there for a different reason.
“We came all the way from Waterville,” Anthony Grenier of Vassalboro said. “I want to take some pictures. I just want to see what’s going on. I talked to my wife about it; she didn’t have a problem.”
Some men had two cameras hung from their necks and a cell phone camera in their hands.
Frenchie Colt of Farmington, who sat with his wife on another bench, said he was there to watch.
“They have nudist camps in Florida. My wife and I are both nudists,” Colt said. “It’s about equal rights. You don’t look at a woman’s ass. You look at their face. You may glance down at first but once you’ve seen them, it’s done.”
Tiffany Kennison, 21, of Farmington sat in the sun doing homework.
“Personally, I don’t want to see it,” Kennison said. “I think that personally their point is not going to change the way people think. It’s our values.”
Heather Grover, 22, of Gardiner stood next to her father, Dave Grover.
“I think it’s good. I think it’s fun. I think people are way too uptight,” Heather Grover said. She and her father drove up to support the women but she wasn’t participating.
“People need to relax,” Dave Grover said. “I don’t think this is harming anything. In Europe it’s accepted. God put beautiful women on this Earth to enjoy.”
Angela Sweenhart, 39, of Farmington, walked around topless, a pink feather boa around her neck.
“I think it’s a great cause,” Sweenhart said. “That’s why I am here.”
Some days are better than others, C.W. Ames said, as he admired the sights.
“I’ve never saw anything like it in my life,” Ames said. “I hope I see it again. It’s just flesh.”
“I’m proud of what they’re doing,” Candace Minkowsky, 18, of Monmouth said. “I could never do anything like this. It’s so courageous. I support equality, and this will make history.”
Elaine Graham, a Christian conservative, walked the route beside Andrea Simoneau with a large blue blanket spread at arms’ length, trying to shield Simoneau’s breasts from the public.
Traffic was backed up through downtown for miles but police said there were no incidents.
Simoneau walked across the bridge to Abbott Park to stand on a hill above the crowd. She thanked everyone for coming as Graham still tried to shield her with the blanket.
“I am so glad it went down peacefully and safely for everyone,” Simoneau said.
Vietnam veteran Charles Bennett of Farmington, the District 4 commander of the American Legion, passed out American flags from the back of his pickup on Main Street.
“I thought it was ridiculous,” he said. “I would rather see a half-dozen or dozen young ladies walking down the sidewalk with skimpy bikinis on than naked, to let my imagination run wild. When they’re naked, there goes my imagination.”