The Free the Nipple campaign is a particularly contentious topic for the millennial generation. According to the official website, Free the Nipple is: “a global campaign of change, focused on the equality, empowerment, and freedom of all human beings.”
This issue is widely debated, with many arguing that the exposure of women’s nipples should not differ to the exposure of men’s nipples. On the other hand, those who disagree with the movement often claim that men’s bodies differ to women’s bodies, so it is right that they are treated differently. I spoke to two writers, Josie (@TuttyJosie) and Joe (@JhTerz), here at Viral Thread. Josie supports the Free the Nipple movement, whilst Joe is against it. Who is most persuasive? You decide.
What does “Free the Nipple” mean to you?
For: The Free the Nipple campaign is all about equality. It questions why men’s bodies aren’t seen as inherently sexual while women’s generally are. If it’s OK for a man’s nipple to be shown in public and on social media, why not a woman’s?
It’s not just about toplessness. The campaign illustrates just one consequence of society’s inherent gender inequality. Underneath the surface, this inequality causes a whole raft of problems for women, from objectification in the workplace to girls as young as 13 being harassed in the street. If female bodies were able to be viewed less sexually and more neutrally, perhaps these consequences wouldn’t happen as often.
Against: The nipple is the one remaining part of a female breast which is deemed unacceptable to show in public. Thus, the Free the Nipple campaign argues against the idea that women’s nipples should be covered. It relies heavily on perceived hypocrisy when it comes to men’s and women’s bodies. It is rarely perceived as a battle against governments or legislators and is instead portrayed as a war on censorship.
Why do you believe the nipple should or shouldn’t be freed?
For: I’m not saying we should all be going around taking our tops off while out for lunch with the work colleagues or at the dentist. What the campaign is asking is that women be allowed the same privileges as men – to sunbathe topless at the beach, post a photo of a nipple on social media without it being immediately removed, and not be judged for the simple act of having a woman’s body. For me, the most important issue is that in some public places, women are still not allowed to openly feed their children.
Against: There are many high-profile campaigners for this movement. But these aren’t hairy nudists. They’re slippery exhibitionists, plucked and preened to (purported) perfection. If the same person telling you to “free the nipple” is also trying to sell you make-up and waist-shapers, I don’t think this is progressive. It doesn’t create positive role models, especially for young girls. If anything, they’re dragging us back to the patriarchy of the past. Clearly, the campaign is being promoted by the wrong people. But men’s and women’s bodies are different so I don’t see that it is wrong to treat them differently.
What do you perceive as the link between the nipple and sexuality?
For: The movement isn’t saying a woman’s nipple should never be sexual, just as it’s not saying a man’s nipple should never be sexual. What it’s saying is that a woman’s nipple shouldn’t be viewed as inherently sexual simply because it’s on a woman’s body.
Against: Women’s nipples are inherently sexual because they’re on a female breast. We’re hard wired to think this way. Women have been covering their beasts for millennia because they are seen as too intimate a place to show to just anyone. Things change and opinions differ. But if there is to be any desexualisation of women’s breasts, it is going to be a long journey.
What is the most flawed part of the argument for or against this campaign?
For: The most flawed part of the argument against the campaign is that there isn’t really one. The best people can come up with is that it’s the law, or it’s the status quo. What would have happened if people had said that about women’s right to vote, or medical marijuana? Sometimes the status quo needs to be changed. However, that’s not to say that the Free the Nipple campaign is the most important issue facing women today. In fact, it’s far from it. The right to equal pay, racial discrimination, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and the right to abortion are clearly more pressing issues. But who says you can’t protest more than one issue at once?
Against: We often hear that a celebrity has done a risqué photoshoot to make a statement about an issue. From body positivity to a “f*ck you to the haters”, it’s horribly transparent. Now, the Free the Nipple campaign is the choice issue, allowing celebrities to strip off – in turn selling magazines and making men money. If Terry Richardson coerces another young woman to go topless in one of his photoshoots under the guise of nipple-emancipating feminism, it gets lapped up for all the wrong reasons. These women are being used – not empowered.
Why are men’s nipples free while women’s aren’t?
For: In many countries, the law about female public toplessness is unclear and often decided on a case by case basis. This has created a perception that women being topless in public is somehow inherently wrong. Increasingly, however, this is changing. In 2005, for example, Phoenix Feeley was wrongly arrested for being topless in New York. It was proven that the law was misapplied, since female toplessness had been legal for nearly 15 years in the state of New York. On many beaches across Europe, female toplessness is the norm. In my eyes, it’s only a matter of time before it’s also the norm in America.
Against: Women’s nipples are on female breasts. That’s why they are deemed unacceptable to show in public. The campaign to cover women’s nipples with men’s nipples in order to avoid censorship was thought-provoking. But my point remains the same. Men’s bodies and women’s bodies are different. This is why they’re treated differently.
Could society ever agree on what a nipple should be seen as?
For: A nipple doesn’t have to be seen as one thing or another. It’s all about context. Biologically speaking, breasts are simply a way for women to feed their children. They can be sexual, but they can also be simply another body part. We don’t need to agree on women’s nipples being anything other than one thing: equal to men’s.
Against: I don’t think things will always stay the same and I don’t think everyone will ever agree. Proponents of the Free the Nipple campaign would argue that it is the one remaining area of a breast which society needs to get over and allow to be free. For those who would argue against the campaign, the nipple is the last stronghold in the fight for common decency.
What would be the consequences of freeing the nipple?
For: Again, the Free the Nipple campaign isn’t about getting naked at any opportunity – it’s about equality. If women’s breasts and nipples were viewed the same as men’s, then perhaps fewer women would be told to stop breastfeeding in public, and even feel less ashamed about their own bodies in general.
Against: Perhaps it is a little odd that men are allowed to bare their nipples in public while women aren’t. However, I’m not sure I’d want my child growing up in a world where women walked around topless. This belief has been learnt but so have many. The age of consent, for instance, is 16 in the UK. That it’s exactly 16 is another societal belief which becomes part of the collective consciousness – and strongly influences what we believe is wrong and right.
As you can see, the arguments for and against the Free the Nipple campaign are strong. On one hand, men’s bodies are different to female bodies. On the other hand, perhaps this is a necessary step in the fight for gender equality.