Wake up call. Women should free their nipples.
Contrary to popular belief, men are frequently able to control themselves around exposed nipples and sexualized images; they are not reducible to the dehumanizing and belittling rhetoric of easily distracted and perverted beings. Men are not animals lacking the capability to make rational decisions and to control themselves. Our worry concerning exposure to nudity is laughable. One of the first images a baby sees is their mother’s nipples and they are subsequently attached to them for the next six months. The issue of acceptability has nothing to do with the breast or more specifically–the nipple–itself. The issue lies in the way we sexualize the breast and nipple.
Sexualization should not be confused with sexuality. Sexuality is expression done by the individual, whereas sexualization is attributing a sexual role to another person. Women’s bodies are sexualized, so we view parts of their bodies as sexual objects. This means that when a woman shows her nipples it is perceived as a sexual invitation. I’ve observed men around campus respond to the Free the Nipple movement with a smirk on their face, saying that they would love to see women free the nipple (usually with a sexual innuendo). This is highly offensive, given that the movement is about respecting a woman’s body and NOT sexualizing it. These kinds of responses are exactly what this movement intends to challenge.
And this issue isn’t safe from the U of R campus. My first day back on campus this semester began with the following incident of degradation: I was on Brockton complex walking to my apartment when I noticed a group of three men hanging out on their balcony. As I walked past, I heard one of them shout the number 7.
When I confronted them about having respect for women, they chuckled out a ‘sorry’ as I walked away with tears of frustration in my eyes. Cat calling and reducing women to an arbitrary numerical rating isn’t just humiliating–it’s an act of violence. Being cat called makes us feel sexualized and unsafe. Regardless of what a woman is wearing or not wearing, her body is never for your sexual gaze.
And therein lies the problem–the sexualization of women and their bodies. On TV we watch Carl’s Jr ads of scantily clad women with incredible amounts of cleavage eating hamburgers, because you know, sex sells. Women are sexy and their bodies are great to look at–I get it. However, it is incredibly wrong to hyper-sexualize and objectify a woman’s body for the purpose of selling fast food. How unfair is it that we can show every amount of breast fat as we like in the form of cleavage, but we cannot show our nipples–the only functional part of a woman’s breasts? We fetishize a woman’s fat on her chest, but shame her for any kind of fat anywhere else. And in the middle of all that fat is the peak of sexual desire, a nipple that is meant to be used to feed newborn children.
Nevertheless, when we see nipples we don’t think about it’s vitality, but rather its sexual potential. This is completely different when it comes to thinking about the male nipple; male nippes are just that, nipples. Yet a woman’s nipple can’t just be a nipple, or a part of the body that is used to take care of children, it is something different entirely. Nipples and bodies in general can absolutely be sexy, but the person should be able to decide when they are extending a sexual invitation. As a result of these frustrations, a movement emerged.
In 2014, director and activist Lina Esco came out with her first documentary, Free the Nipple. This film highlights how the Free the Nipple movement began in New York and how she and her team of feminists waged war against the double standard around nipples. As a result, women across the globe have joined the effort to free the nipple. Celebrities have helped to publicize the issue in their own participation, namingly Miley Cyrus and Matt McGorry. Facebook lifted their ban of photos showing women breast feeding, but has yet to lift its prohibition on female nipples. Similarly, Instagram has also refused to free the female nipple. According to different articles, Instagram must follow Apple’s policy on nudity to remain on the Appstore.
This refusal to allow the showing of the nipple has several negative consequences. Without positive images of female nudity, we only see the negative – incredibly sexualized – ones. By censoring we are in turn promoting the sexualization of breasts because we create this notion that they are ‘forbidden’ to the public gaze and by seeing them you now have some sort of power or an experience over others. In short, censorship leads to the sexualization of breasts and nipples and reinforces the male over female power dynamic.
As body positivity week began yesterday, I encourage everyone to fall in love with their own bodies and admire every aspect because we are beautiful all over, not just in the places that media likes to highlight. But as we begin to think about body positivity we are met with another barrier. Can we be body positive without being sexualized or censored?
So this brings me to my point. Free the goddamn nipple. Just let it go. It’s beautiful. Bodies in general are beautiful. It looks just like any other nipple that you see every day, just sometimes it’s piled on more fat. We need to take steps to lessen the sexualization of the female body. We need more responsible representations of female nudity, and we need to allow women to bare their bodies without sexualizing them.
Disclaimer: The Free the Nipple movement is inclusive of all people who want to reclaim their bodies, including those who are outside of the gender binary. I apologize to anyone who didn’t feel included in this article because of my choice in language.
[Image courtesy of Kamal Bial, Redlands Bulldog photographer]