Let that nip slip
During the last few weeks you may have noticed more boobs outside of your Incognito window than usual.
Bare breasts have been invading Facebook, Twitter, and even our beloved Tab as women young and old have been fighting back against one of the most entrenched taboos in society: the female nipple.
If you’re only here for the boob pics, before you start scrolling, consider this: before 1936 it was just as much of a taboo and actually illegal for men in the USA to expose their nipples in public. But men brought about a social and legal change, starting in 1930 when four men went to Coney Island shirtless and were arrested in a similar kind of protest.
Male nipples are now no longer viewed as indecent, and a man doesn’t need to think twice about taking his shirt off when it’s hot.
‘But there is a difference between a man’s chest and the voluptuous, perky breast of a woman!’ you may cry.
But is there really such a significant difference? Despite what a lot of people think, chests and nipples are erogoneous zones for both sexes, and nipples grow erect during sexual arousal whether you’re male or female. And I can personally vouch for the attractiveness of the male chest for those that way inclined.
This is an issue of viewing the female body as inappropriate or offensive in contexts that are clearly non-sexual and would be completely fine for men. Seeing a woman’s bare breasts in non-sexual circumstances – be it when she’s breastfeeding, walking down a street, or in a picture on this article – is not the same as seeing them when you’re in an intimate situation. Breasts aren’t sexual in all contexts.
This is something our social networking sites have misunderstood in their policies and something ‘Free the Nipple’ challenges. Instagram’s Community Guidelines read ‘Keep your clothes on’, but any number of sexual images degrading women can be uploaded so long as no offending areola is in sight.
Bare breasts, even in an image that’s not sexual at all, are censored as if pornographic. Nipples are so offensive that photos containing them are quickly removed. What are they trying to protect us from?
We can stop over-sexualising breasts if we stop censoring them. Breasts become a sexual curiosity and taboo because we are shielded from them. In Western history, ankles, bare shoulders, and the nape of the neck have all at some point been sexualized – until they stopped being covered. The breast is not innately sexual and men are quite capable of not sexualising breasts – in cultures where tribal women do not cover their breasts, the men do not walk around with permanent erections.
The only reason we cause such a fuss about breasts is because we’ve been socialised to view them as something naughty, something to keep to yourself. This happens at a young age when little girls have to cover their still completely flat chests whilst boys can run around without shirts on. They’re suddenly taught to feel ashamed of their bodies.
‘Free the Nipple’ is not a campaign about a trivial issue. That is, unless you think robbing women of their bodily autonomy and shaming them if they try to exercise it is trivial. When we can normalise female toplessness and stop censoring nipples, then we can start to end the oppressive attitude that women’s breasts can only be sex objects to be ogled at on Page 3.
Telling women they should cover up in ways men don’t have to hints of victim-blaming, where women’s bodies justify objectification or uncontrolled sexual urges if insufficiently clothed.
We are better than this.
We need to assert the right to own our bodies and our sexuality, without which we only hinder progress towards true equality.
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