#FreeTheNipple has been trending online for some time now, gaining popularity as stars such as Scout Willis, Miley Cyrus and Alyssa Milano take on various social media platforms (and society as a whole) for their inability to stomach the sight of the female nipple. And while more conservative members of the American society see this as an attempt to advocate for publicly accepted nudity, this is far from the objective of the movement.
As Scout Willis wrote, “I am not trying to argue for mandatory toplessness, or even bralessness. What I am arguing for is a woman’s right to choose how she represents her body—and to make that choice based on personal desire and not a fear of how people will react to her or how society will judge her. No woman should be made to feel ashamed of her body.”
I wholeheartedly agree. In a society that hardly bats an eyelash at the flagrant use of violence in the media, why are we so very appalled at the idea of a woman baring her breasts, even for the purpose of feeding her child? #FreetheNipple has spent the last few years fighting for normalization for breastfeeding mothers, as well as a destigmatization in general towards the concept of toplessness for women in public. This included releasing a movie in 2014 (Free the Nipple), which dealt with extreme controversy during filming, including lengthy legal battles, corporate censorship (their teaser was banned), and even shooting during Hurricane Sandy. They took to the streets with their cameras and “mob of topless activists” to test the limits of the NYC police who had been illegally arresting topless women despite the legalization of the female nipple in 1992.
Why Is This So Controversial?
More importantly, why is the female form so controversial? Every year, millions of dollars are spent on pornography, while PornHub remains free to access, and strip clubs are as popular as ever. This is a society that packages the female body, deems it sexual, and sells it back to us. As Violet Rose is quoted as saying, “It is illegal for women to go topless in most cities, yet you can buy a magazine of a woman without her top on at any 7-Eleven store. So, you can sell breasts, but you cannot wear breasts, in America.”
On the other hand, opposition for this movement say it makes a mockery of the strides made towards gender equality. One blogger wrote, “Though perhaps not the intent of its proponents, #FreeTheNipple is in many ways a socially conservative movement masquerading as a liberal cause. Were it not, it would have long ago encouraged women to charge for their nudity rather than give it away for free, out of respect for all women…”
What Are the Laws?
Though both male and female nipples were vilified and banned back in the day, men fought and received that right once more (starting in 1936 with New York). As of now, it is illegal for women to be topless (breastfeeding or otherwise) in 35 states, and 37 states have been known to arrest a woman for being topless. Among these states, the laws and penalties differ. For instance, in Louisiana an exposed nipple can earn a woman up to three years in jail and $2500 in fines.
Is anyone else confused here? It is not uncommon to discuss decapitations and blatantly portray violence in the media; movies such as Saw and shows like Dexter and Criminal Minds gain notoriety, but mothers who are breastfeeding in public gain notoriety, too. This movement is making efforts for every breast-bearing individual, even if they have no interest in public nudity. #FreeTheNipple is attacking the double standards seen every day, and at the very lowest level they are encouraging conversation.
Cover image courtesy of Decider.