Nipples! They’re all the rage this week. Lick them, tweak them, FREE THEM, tweet them! Everyone should be able to get out their nipples and walk down the street. Everyone should be able to put photos of their nipples on facebook. Freeing nipples will change the course of women’s equality forever. There will never be another breastfeeding image deleted from social media, women will finally enjoy equality. Or so claim the Free The Nipple movement.
In reality this is such a giant stretch of the imagination it beggars belief. Unfortunately they seem to have it backwards.
Let’s discuss breastfeeding first, it’s the easiest part of the conversation. When a woman is breastfeeding, her nipple is covered. Breast may be exposed, but her nipple is covered. Occasionally a woman may slip a photo of her nipple next to a sleeping, milk drunk baby up, but that’s about it. Removing these photos is ridiculous. It is discriminatory. It highlights the prevalence of misogyny, and in particular online misogyny. That needs to stop, and breastfeeding images need to be left well alone, with or without visible nipple. Period.
Breastfeeding is a separate issue to FREE THE NIPPLE though. Free mothers to feed their baby using their breasts, free babies to feed when they need, free women to share their stories of mothering, and that’s all sorted. Done and dusted. We could leave it there, but FREE THE NIPPLE begs to differ.
The reality is that laws DO permit women to breastfeed wherever, whenever they need to. Social media -with nonsensical laws unto itself – is starting to realise that breastfeeding images are normal, and should be shared. However, laws do not protect women from the social attacks they face for breastfeeding, sometimes in public, sometimes on social media, sometimes in their own homes.
These attitudes are not just attitudes towards breastfeeding though, they are attitudes to women and women’s bodies. Sure we can change the law so that women can go topless tomorrow, but that won’t change social attitudes.
It’s hard to believe, but in the year 2016, defence lawyers are still asking women, and even young girls, what they were wearing at the time they were raped. Police ask that question in interviews with victims. Sometimes to determine whether or not the case is likely to be taken seriously by a prosecutor or a jury, but sometimes because they themselves believe that women “ask for” rape. Women are warned not to wear short skirts, or clothing that is deemed to be “slutty”. In 2016!
Many of us know full well that what a woman is wearing has nothing to do with whether or not she is raped. But the questions keep on coming, the judgements keep on coming. You only need to look at comments on a meme that does the rounds from time to time where a woman appears topless. “STILL NOT ASKING FOR IT” is the slogan written on her skin. It’s a brilliant and bold statement! However the comments make it blatantly obvious that social attitudes are a long, a very long, way from reaching a place where women’s bodies are acceptable.
Take other images of elderly, or larger sized women with their breasts exposed. Every single image in this category will have countless comments telling the woman to cover up. “No one wants to see that” or “Go back to Africa” they sing in chorus. The foul comments about her appearance drown out the accepting ones. Our culture is not ready for bare breasts. Unless they are the bare breasts of eighteen year old models who are thin, and white.
It’s all well and good to demand that women be allowed to dress however they see fit, but it shows an inherent lack of foresight. Before we start, we need to address a few other things. The objectification of women in hyper-sexualised mainstream media, and rape culture, to name a couple.
Look at the average billboard with a half clad woman selling something. It might be a burger, a weight loss product, or a car show. Imagine that same billboard once nipples are free ranging. It will have nipples on it, won’t it. Will that really benefit women? I’m not so sure.
Currently there are laws that require pornographic magazines to be sealed. If exposing nipples becomes legal, how fast will the pornographers argue that their sealed packaging is an unfair financial burden on them, or that it makes it hard for them to sell their product. You can’t stand in the way of progress and all that.
Facebook has some half cocked ban on nipple images. It certainly takes the rules seriously when it comes to breastfeeding …. just not so much porn. To get removed from facebook you have to show your nipple whilst you’re having anal sex and being licked by a horse. I’ve had countless breastfeeding images deleted though, all in the name of making facebook “family friendly”. You wouldn’t want to see a breast anywhere near a baby, that’s just dirty.
Imagine if the “babes pages” can show images of nipples? Facebook would turn into Pornbook overnight, and because nipples are free, no one could argue that pornographic depictions of nipples aren’t actually family friendly.
Do you really want your children viewing hyper-sexualised images of women with sultry looks, beckoning to them? I have no problem with my kids seeing nipples, which is just as well because I’ve been breastfeeding for a decade (literally a decade, no breaks) and believe me, my nipples are pretty free, even in public. All my friends breastfeed, and most have done so in my loungeroom without covering. I do however, have a giant problem with my kids seeing women as objects, and hearing that it’s acceptable to objectify women.
There’s a really big difference between the image of a nipple near a baby, and the image of a woman wearing nothing but a fluoro coloured triangular scrap of fabric over her labia. If you’re in any doubt, ask a man.
I was on a bus the other day when I overheard a teenage boy laughing heartily, proclaiming himself to be a feminist. His supporting argument? “FREE THE NIPPLE”. Somehow I doubt that his laughter will lead him to an acceptance of breasts as functional, baby feeding body parts. I strongly suspect that his interest in feminism, is solely about women wearing less clothing in his presence, and that actually he thinks feminism is absurd. He wants to look at nipples everywhere, so FREE THE NIPPLE and call him a feminist.
Hop onto any social media page where feminism is up for debate. What you see is women discussing feminism, and men trolling and telling us to get back in the kitchen. Hop onto the free the nipple pages, and what you see is men championing the cause. It certainly gets my mental cogs turning.
Personally I think women should be able to wear whatever the hell they want to wear, and share whatever photos they want to share with friends and family, and the online community. But I won’t stand up and support a cause that hasn’t thought through the ramifications of its movement. A cause that puts the cart well before the horse.
Do I want my daughter to be liberated? HELL YEAH! Do I want her to be the first woman taking a rapist to the police after she was dancing topless at a party? Not so much.
I also don’t want her exposed to images of airbrushed, underweight women with their breasts exposed every time she leaves the house. She won’t be liberated by that, she might develop a complex though. Oh wait, she already has one. She’s a teenager.
Does this mean that I think women should be hidden away in shame? No! That’s a patently absurd conclusion to draw here. It means that we need to take this fight all the way to where it began.
We need to fight rape culture, hate speech, violence in the home, and on the streets. Cultural beliefs about women are the root cause of the aforementioned, and until we overthrow the patriarchy, until we are free as humans, we can not safely demand the freedom to expose our nipples. We have an incredibly long way to go before being topless is socially acceptable for anyone but the thinnest, whitest, youngest of women. The fact that men are raising their voices in solidarity with this cause, but not about the wage gap, domestic violence, rape, birth control and abortion, tells me that this one really isn’t top of our list. Let’s get equal pay first, then we won’t be afraid of being topless if ever we can’t afford a shirt.
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