A Stormont event at which a young woman went “barefoot and bare-chested” was blasted last night as “shameful” by unionists.
But Cara Park (32) — one of 25 women speakers marking International Women’s Day at Parliament Buildings — said she couldn’t understand how a nipple could be seen as offensive.
The Londonderry feminist’s breasts were clearly visible in side profile during the Alternative Ms Ulster event in the Great Hall.
TUV leader Jim Allister called for the Assembly Commission “to hold to account those who sponsored an event which permitted such unseemly behaviour”.
“I do not think Stormont should be the stage for such indecent exhibitionism,” he said.
The DUP’s Jonathan Craig called the incident a “cheap publicity stunt”, adding: “While I do support women’s equality, I just really wonder what statement this young woman was really trying to make. It smacks of a cheap publicity stunt.”
DUP colleague Tom Buchanan added: “This is just shameful and I think that these social events need to be more closely vetted by the organisers to ensure that this does not happen again.”
An unrepentant Ms Park said before she spoke she was aware of the possibility her breasts may have been seen, despite the large feather necklace she wore in front.
“My nudity was a statement, it was a very considered thing. It was to do with my freedom to be a feminist and to express myself physically as a woman without being discriminated against.
“I think women should be allowed to be barechested, I don’t think that other women have a problem with it. My breasts are my own, that’s me in my natural state and I think I should be allowed to be in my natural state.”
Ms Park added that she planned her presentation to be thought-provoking but “tongue in cheek”.
“I just thought, ‘when am I ever going to get an opportunity to stand barefoot and bare-chested in Stormont, while other women elsewhere in the world would be stoned to death for that?’
“I honestly can’t understand how a nipple can be offensive.”
The Alternative Ms Ulster event was hosted by the Green Party’s Steven Agnew MLA and compered by comedienne Nuala McKeever.
He said: “I certainly don’t find the female form offensive. There’s exploitative pornography, that’s one thing but an empowered female choosing how she dresses is very much up to that woman.”
The event was attended by more than 150 women and designed as a parody of the Miss Ulster beauty contest, cancelled at Stormont last autumn due to claims it was “sexist” and outdated.
Miss Ulster organiser Michelle McTiernan said that the incident failed to give Stormont “the respect it deserves.”
“This was obviously a publicity stunt and it’s worked. But I do find it distasteful and I think it may have backfired on the organisers,” she said.
Mr Agnew called the event “very lively”, with “a party atmosphere” and said Ms Park was one of the best speakers to take part.
Cara Park (32) is an Irish language actress and performance artist from Londonderry. She was one of 25 women who presented thoughts on a wide-ranging list of issues at the Alternative Ms Ulster contest at Stormont on Saturday night. She broadcasts for Blas on Radio Ulster and appeared in a suffragette film broadcast on Irish language station TG4.