How often do you see men’s nipples? Pretty regularly right? They’re in advertisement, usually on the buff bod of some stylish model who has been primped and primed for his close-up. His nipples stare out from the billboard, or the magazine ad, oiled to perfection.
But they’re also in our everyday lives. On the men around us who often don’t think twice before ripping their shirts off to show themselves to the world. They might do it because they’re hot, or heading for a swim, or just because they can.
Now, how often do you see women’s nipples? If you’re like me, you’re most likely to see them in the mirror, on yourself. The only other nipples I’ve really seen in my life are my mums (throughout her breastfeeding days), the mothers around me, and on the occasional actress. Now, these actress’ nipples tend to appear in the MA15+ scenes of shows like Orange is the New Black and Game of Thrones, where the writers intend them as ‘must-haves’ for scene and story development.
What’s the trend here?
It seems that, while both are essentially the same to look at, and indeed while women’s breasts are much more functional than men’s’, the women’s nipple is a sexualised object, while the men’s nipple is not. When you stop to think about it, beyond the reality that’s been programmed into you, it really doesn’t make any sense.
And that’s exactly what #FreeTheNipple is about.
This social media campaign, that you’ve likely seen, has been attracting a lot of attention in the past few days. It challenges the public to reconsider their concept of female sexualisation by providing the women of the internet with an ‘acceptable’ digital male nipple stickers that can be easily photoshopped in to make your female nipple shot ready for the web.
This isn’t a standalone idea.
It’s part of something much bigger. The ‘Free The Nipple’ campaign was actually started in December of 2013 by filmmaker Lina Esco. She began the campaign in response to the hypocrisies and inconsistencies in the American legal system, within American culture and in the concept of sexual taboos. The campaign intended to bring attention to the fact that in many places in the US, law states (either explicitly or implicitly) that exposure of the female nipple is an act of indecent exposure, and therefore a criminal offence. But if you’re a man, please, take that shirt off now.
The campaign brought attention to this reality in American laws, as well as in laws the world over, and even in Internet guidelines. For example many social media platforms (including Facebook and Instagram) have what appears to be a blanket ban on all ‘graphic content’. However, the Facebook guidelines specifically note that they ‘restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple’ although they note that breastfeeding photographs are ok. On Instagram, they community guidelines state users should ‘keep your clothes on’, but this rule only applies to women topless, as the image feeds are bursting with men showing off their ‘appropriate’ nipples. And nobody seems to be immune, with celebrities from Miley Cyrus to Rihanna all having images deleted from Instagram for showing their exposed chests earlier during the Free The Nipple campaign. Even Willow Smith had a photograph deleted, despite the nipples in question being printed on the t-shirt she was wearing.
What can women resort to?
Well, if you can’t beat the system straight out, the least you can do is make fun of it for how stupid it is. If that’s your thing, take a beautiful photo of yourself that just happens to show a totally normal and functional part of your anatomy, and cover it with a digital male nipple. Post it on a social network, tag it #FreeTheNipple, and join a legion of people all over the world who aren’t accepting the status quo any more. If you’re not one for photos, share the campaign around and bring attention to those people in your network who are too readily accepting a broken idea. There’s no reason, beyond one that we have created, for the upper body of women to be sexualised while the upper body of men is not.
Women have nipples, this is an undeniable fact. We use them to breastfeed, and occasionally that means taking them out in the public sphere. Yet sometime during the modern age, we have been trained (even by our own mothers and grandmothers) that our nipples aren’t appropriate for public. We’ve been told that we should hide them away, that they might cause lust in the men around us, and put us in danger. Well, I’m not sure I agree with that at all.
*featured image courtesy of Lina Esco’s “Free the Nipple“.
Is #FreeTheNipple going too far? Comment below.