MOMENT | Free The Nipple


When I was putting together the Tomboy Style book, about three years ago now, I remember having a few heated debates with my editor about the inclusion of nudity. She wanted it, I didn't. Her opinion was that it would make the book more artful, and mine was that it might prohibit younger people from buying the book. It's not that I disagreed with her point, it's just that my whole objective was to write the book that I wish existed when I was growing up. I ended up winning the argument, but I'm thinking a lot now about why this argument had to exist at all. With the buzz surrounding the forthcoming film Free The Nipple, protests of the censorship on Instagram (even when it's "artful"), performance artists taking to the streets of NYC in the pursuit of nipple equality, and celebs like artist Shepherd Fairy (pictured above) and Rhianna weighing in, there's a lot to process. It all has me asking why our social custom is so wildly different for men and women when it comes to the public bearing of breasts? I'm not jonesing to go topless in public by any means (even on an Australian or French beach where it's de rigueur), but I certainly don't think it should mean jail time (up to three years and $2500 fine for exposed female breasts in Louisiana). In 35 states it's illegal for a woman to be topless, five of those states even include breastfeeding.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what may be the feminist issue talking point of the year.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Americans God love us still have that crazy Puritanical reasoning that says Nudity = Sex and Sex = Evil so QED Nudity = Evil.
Of course the only solution isn't to become more comfortable with nudity but to instead start having sex with our clothes on.
In all seriousness though I wish the Free the Nipple campaign was a bit more "beaches of St. Tropez" and a bit less "agitprop" esthetics-wise.

Anonymous said...

This is definitely not the feminist issue of the year with women's health clinics closing left and right.

Lizzie said...

@Anon

"of the year" meaning, most talked about, publicized, and timely.

I agree that health clinics closing is a more important on-going issue and that makes this concept seem insignificant and ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

It may be the upper/middle class white feminist issue of the year, but it definitely isn't THE feminist issue of the year. (Granted, upper/middle class white is this blog's core audience.)

It's "sexy" so it gets all the press, but so does Kim Kardashian. There are a lot of more concerning issues about the marginalization of and systematic discrimination against women.

All of that aside, I do not feel that women have the "right" to be topless in public (breastfeeding aside). To me, that's nudity and I do not think men OR women have the right to be nude in public. I don't view it as unequal.

Anonymous said...

RE: my previous comment -- just to clarify, I meant nothing mean by saying this blog has a middle/upper class white woman core audience. I am a middle class white woman!

Lizzie said...

@anon

Good point, I appreciate the feedback. I guess what's frustrating to me is that although you (and many others don't view it as unequal) it IS legally unequal. A man has the right to take off his shirt and a woman doesn't. I'm not saying people should be naked everywhere, I just feel it is unjust that a woman can go to jail for something that a man can do casually. It's a complex issue, but interesting to think about, at least I think so.

In terms of the upper/middle class white feminist issue, I understand that the Free the Nipple Campaign is less urgent, but I'm not sure why it has to be categorized as a class thing. I agree clinics closing, and the treatment of women across the globe in less democratized nations is a much bigger and more important issue, but does that mean we shouldn't talk freely about smaller social issues as well (on a style blog)?

I'm sure this is topic is indeed getting press because it's "sexy", but I also think censorship, especially in the age of social media, is a real issue too, and it illuminates an interesting form of inequality.

Again, not saying it's the most important feminist issue, just the most talked about and unique to this year.

Lizzie said...

To further clarify my point of "of the year", The Equal Rights Amendment may have been the signifying feminist issue of 1980, while I'm sure there were much broader, more dire situations in that year that dealt with the treatment of women and their rights around the world.

Hope that makes sense. :)

Anonymous said...

This is a great talking point. I don't want to walk around topless - and I think it's pointless to have so much censorship around breasts. Primally speaking breasts are sexual initiators. So maybe it's fear that men (speaking heterosexually here) will go literally APE shit if women are topless. It is possible this entire "issue" is wrapped up in the fear of men's lack of control and predatory nature? But then again so much of female repression is male-fear based no? "power of the the nipple" ?

Anonymous said...

I'm honestly sick of hearing about this. I don't see how it is inequality - men don't have breasts. There's a difference because women's breasts are a sexual(ized) part of the body, so a woman baring her breasts is equivalent to a man getting his cock out rather than a man taking his shirt off. The fact that there's a "campaign" around it is ridiculous and frankly insulting given the myriad of more important issues around women's rights all over the world. And I suspect it's largely fuelled by men anyway. What better way to make women keen to embrace porn and sexualized imagery than by turning it into a supposed feminist crusade.

Christina said...

I enjoyed reading everyone's insightful comments. I think the Free the Nipple campaign and the women's health care debate/debacle are both substantive and political. One is external, the other literally goes deeper. We're micromanaging breasts and uteruses. One issue doesn't necessarily negate the other. And the men - those lucky dogs - are running around shirtless with their bodily rights intact and their paychecks immune. There is no parity. We haven't come a long way, baby, and it sucks. Are women and men really so phenomenally dissimilar they're subject to different laws? I don't buy it. Why are we so threatened by the female form? Can we get some guys to weigh in? Thanks, Lizzie and Tomboy Style, for letting me engage in some meaningful social discourse with my shoes. :)

Anonymous said...

I think Tomboy Style (a style blog) is an ideal forum for this conversation to take place. I admit, I haven’t followed the ‘nipple freedom’ trend all that closely, but am aware just enough to know that sheer, nipple-exposing materials have been in vogue on the runway and that Rihanna (known for a constantly reinvented look) has taken to publicly exposing her breasts. My gut instinct is that this trend/talking point/issue in its most recent formation (breast freedom also occurred in the 1960s, and in the 1990s with the Riot Grrrl movement) began, to some degree, as a style-based concept to induce shock and more so, to sell products, be they clothing or records. Nips as commodity—dumb! But, let’s imagine that with some legitimate reasoning behind the ‘nipple freedom’ trend, a dialogue grows and life, on a larger scale, imitates art. Then perhaps we can forgive the original semi-contrived intent? I totally agree that there are more pressing feminist matters than freedom of nipples, and that, as @Anon suggests, the ears of power become deaf to non-white and underprivileged voices. Bright side given these two things: At least a noteworthy conversation about inequality is taking place (please don’t mistake me for being complacent.) Yes, people are mostly listening because it’s sexy and it’s Rihanna & Scout backing the movement, but this doesn’t mean it can’t grow into something larger and more meaningful.

Lady Moriarty said...

It's absolutely not "de rigueur' to be topless on a french beach ! I'm a 30 years old french woman and I've never been topless at the beach (0_0).

It was ok in the 80's, I remember that, but it was more because everything was very permissive at this time, not in a sexual way at all. Today, everything is more complicated, hatred against women and people in general is everywhere (oh thank you internet by the way)and we will need a lot more of Broad City or Girls to make the women feel free and normal with their body.

But this Free the nipple thing, I just...don't really get it.

I mean, my boobs are my business (and my boyfriend's one sometimes) and that's IT !

Anonymous said...

I'll weigh in as a man. I think that it's an important issue. I think that women should be allowed (by who?) to do the things that men are allowed to do.

-Matt

Anonymous said...

I’ll take my statement further. I think that women should have absolute freedom to do whatever they want, including to and with their own bodies, without having to fear reprisal or condemnation from anyone. Of course without causing harm to others etc. and I know that gets complicated.

-Matt

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your site. I love it! I love your mix. Thank you for bringing up feminist issues and getting people talking.
And thank you for posting empowering things daily as well.
~Canadian reader

Claire said...

Topless on an Australian beach? Not all beaches, and most women keep their tops on, for many reasons but skin cancer is a real issue!
Domestic violence is the real issue, Australian Statistics show that one in six murders are of women by partners or former partners. According to the ABS 1.5million women have experienced sexual or physical violence.
I suspect these type of stats are not limited to Australia.
Freeing the nipple should be seen as a metaphor, that women should have equal rights to those afforded to men, not simply the right to walk around without your shirt on.

Anonymous said...

In order for this movement to be successful, women need to be regarded less as a sexual object. That a woman's topless body is natural and should be accepted in the way that a man's topless body always has. Culture is hard to change. The irony, in my opinion, is that with this campaign beautiful women on instagram are posting topless photos of them, trying to look sexy and cool. It seems a little weird to me. Love the mission but I think it has gotten a little lost and turned into another trend and another way for people to get attention. Hopefully the movie can reveal the honesty a little more.

Julie

Anonymous said...

I wish I could be eloquent or even sound intelligent with regard to this topic but I cannot because my response, or better, my reaction is visceral. I don't want to see your boobs or your nipples. I'm sorry but I just don't. I have boobs. I have nipples. Mine aren't even small, thank you very much. I don't mind my own but I mind yours…with or without a baby attached. I am a scientist and a BIOlogist at heart. I believe wholeheartedly that breasts have a sexual purpose and a life sustaining purpose. Breastfeeding is biologically appropriate but so is urinating, defecating, vomiting, farting, burping and scratching. If you can help it, I don't want to see you doing any of these in the mall. Breastfeeding may be a beautiful experience for you and your child. That is wonderful for the two of you. Love it in the comfort and privacy of your own environment…and I promise not to pee in the mall fountain. As for art, surely. Perhaps, there is something about the stillness of a photo/painting or sculpture. I am sorry to offend anyone but it's how I feel.

Anonymous said...

There have to be standards of decency in any society -- everyone draws lines somewhere. The point is not that lines exist, we want them to exist (i.e. not defecting / not having sex in public is a "line"). The question is simply, where do you draw that line?

I believe women should have equal rights, but as Marilyn Monroe said, "Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition." In other words, men and women are different. Equal, but different. And I am so thankful for that. This doesn't mean my life is governed by restrictions -- I often camp in the mountains alone, I've lived in the Middle East, my life is certainly not dominated by fear or restrictions. Nevertheless, I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to be different than men. I don't to be the same as men. That sounds profoundly unappealing. The ultimate anti-feminist statement is to assume that true equality requires "being like men." How insulting to women!

Men don't have breasts. It's not unequal.

Anonymous said...

some perspective

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiS8q_fifa0