When I first read about Scout Willis (Bruce Willis and Demi Moore's daughter) posting topless pictures of herself in an effort to shame Instagram's no-nakedness policy, I skimmed and then moved on. Apparently, Willis was aligning her mission due to recent efforts by Instagram that pulled images of Rihanna with similarly exposed lady parts off the site. I assumed this was just a passing fad, but I seem to be wrong.
Little did I know that much of this was started by a film, Free the Nipple, that describes itself as an "equality movement" and "a mission to empower women across the world." Because women across the world are oppressed -- which they certainly are -- pushing for equality through nakedness will help. Presumably. The film mentions that it is illegal in 35 states to be topless, which includes breastfeeding. (I am not quite sure where the filmmakers get this number from, since according to the NCSL, 46 states plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that "specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location." Perhaps this law implies that you must have cover on or one of those backwards cape things, it doesn't say specifically.)
But I digress. This "movement" seems to have titillated others (such a poor pun, I know) into letting it all hang out in the name of gender rights and is now like...a thing. Just last week, model Cara Delevigne joined the movement, along with British model/actress Suki Waterhouse, among other people whom you may or may not know.
As with many movements lacking strong leaders, it's tough to say what they want. The point the film and it supporters seem to be making is why is it okay for men to walk around without shirts and not women? Why are women's bodies still being sexualized while men's are not? If we are okay with letting men walk around shirtless and not women, then we must also be okay with uneven pay scales between the genders, men affecting women's reproductive rights and all the other things that women have been fighting for. This is what I am gathering from the #freethenipple movement, although it's hard to say for sure. I don't know what they are hoping to gain, save exposure for these and other feminist agendas.
I'll say this right off the bat. This is a tough itch to scratch and I am a bit confused by my own feelings. I wanted to hash this out with a tried-and-true feminist, one who just happens not to have boobs such as I, and that person is Jef With One F. Jef is outspoken on this blog on his feelings about women's rights, and I assumed he might have some interesting thoughts. Naturally, he does.
AK: To start on this #freethenipple movement, had you heard of it before I brought it to your attention? Either way, what was your initial reaction?
Jef With One F: Honestly? Sadness and exasperation. You remember the whole bra-burning thing? No, of course you don't because it never really happened. There wasn't this widespread movement of women setting their underwear on fire. It was just a one-time thing where some demonstrators threw a few garments in a trashcan labeled instruments of torture.
The myth endures because, you know, boobs. Sweet, bouncy freedom, and also because it lets men paint women as stupid and emotional and not in control of their own bodies. This whole #freethenipple thing seems like that shtick on steroids.
AK: So, I will freely admit I am less than jazzed about this "movement," if you can call it one. As I mentioned above, I am not sure where they get their facts in terms of breastfeeding in public, which I personally do. It's fine. I have not had anyone call me out on it, but I do put a blanket over my body while it's going on. I don't really see why that is such a cause for alarm. I don't want my boobs hanging out for the world to see, and I doubt anyone at Antidote does, either, but that doesn't stop me from feeding my child, with a cover.
Jef With One F: Breastfeeding is important and it should be protected by law. My wife had to fight with her job not to to be relegated to the public bathroom to pump her breast milk, and yeah, she fed our daughter in public with a blanket covering her. There are people who absolutely do lose their minds when they see public breastfeeding, but there are also people that yell at Muslim women in head scarves in Starbucks. Just ignore them and eventually they'll go away.
AK: I understand this is a part of the ideas that freenipple wants to spread. It's not so much the why can't we, it's the why don't we. We live in a country that finds the naked breast a sexualized body part. And not every country does.
In a few of the articles I read, France was mentioned as a land of freedom that embraces the naked female form. First, it goes without saying that France has a very different culture than the United States. Their entire existence and approach to everyday living is vastly opposed to ours, and that includes a lot of cheese and striped shirts. Regardless, the U.S. is not France, and vice versa. Plus, it is not as if women are walking around the Louvre in the buff. They have topless beaches, which have been waning in popularity.
There are many other countries where women walk around with it all hanging out, such as remote parts of Africa, but I tend to doubt the freenipple feminists would want to trade our freedoms for theirs. Ehh?
Jef With One F: The Unites States actually has a proud history of making breasts obscene. Before Western white people started mucking about in Japan, women went topless there all the time. But when their government started trying to sell the country as civilized to the Western world, they outlawed public nudity and things got...weird. That's how hung up we are on the subject. We actually ruin other countries that aren't.
AK: Interesting, and that ties into another point that may seem unpopular in this day and age of social media back-patting. It's all good and swell that Scout Willis and Rihanna want to show off their boobs; they are no doubt lovely. But, and forgive me for being blunt, I don't want to see most women's breasts. And I don't want them to see mine. No Dove commercial can make me look at a breast and think empowerment and self-assurance. Sorry to be the one to say it. Your breasts don't look like British model Cara Delevigne's. That's why they are models, because they have unreal body features. Am I wrong?
Jef With One F: I think it comes back to the idea that breasts exist for sexual selection instead of for, you know, just being a body part. I do find it a little convenient that all the names in this movement are young, pretty girls with impeccable bodies. A feminist movement that only empowers goddesses isn't much of a movement, is it?Trailer probably NSFW
AK: The movement cites the inequality of men being able to bare all while women cannot. I will say the same thing for shirtless men as I did for women; most of you dudes out there should keep your tops on -- especially you, that guy in yoga who I always end up behind.
I see the point of it being a double standard, men can, women can't; perhaps the movement, then, should be for everyone to cover up? Would this include television and film, where women are much more exposed than men? Are men upset that their junks are so taboo on screen? Again, that contradiction is a slant against women.
Jef With One F: There's no denying it's a double standard. Looking at it logically, there is no difference between men's and women's nipples. As for the junk-on-screen argument... it's funny. I've seen way more penises in TV and movies than I've seen labia or vulva in non-porn. Only Gina McKee in The Borgias comes to mind. I'm not sure what the significance of that is.
This story continues on the next page AK: I think what is really at play is the sexualization of the female figure, and why in 2014 this is still the case. I don't know how you change that. It would take a very long time for a paradigm shift like that to occur. But I also am not sure if our society thinks this should be changed. Women still appreciate their sexualities. Is that so wrong?
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Jef With One F: I can't really comment on what women think of their breasts. All I can say is that while I personally find excessive public nudity to be pointless and not to my taste, it's not like it needs to be shunned. Nipples aren't going to Ark of the Covenant anyone's face off. Who knows, maybe they're right. Maybe if we normalize what was previously sexualized, it will do some good.
AK: It could be. This brings me to the last point I want to make about this "movement." Maybe it intends to bring attention to larger gender inequalities, but I think it is detouring from them. Women still don't make the same wages, they still have to fight to be included at various tables, in various careers, hell, we still fight each other on many issues: Is focusing on our free nipples a good use of our energies?
Jef With One F: It's not my place to judge what another believes to be an important issue. I will say this...career path obstacles, equal pay and access to affordable birth control? Scout Willis does. Not. Have. Those. Problems. Neither does Rihanna. That's why it's hard to take seriously. A single mother working 80 hours a week to feed her kids probably doesn't think too often about how much it sucks she can't go topless.
AK: I concur.