You’ve probably heard of the “Free the Nipple” campaign. If you haven’t, the official website states, “Free The Nipple is a film, an equality movement and a mission to empower women across the world. We stand against female oppression and censorship, both in the United States and around the globe.” More or less, Free the Nipple is about equal rights for women and men, specifically the right to be bare chested.
The name probably made you chuckle. I get that—nipple is a funny word anyway, and a nipple battling against some kind of ambiguous imprisonment? That’s really funny. You might have seen Cara Delevigne or Rihanna post about the movement on Twitter and you probably thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have so few problems that you think liberation for areolas is important?” and then you moved on.
But it is important.
And not just so celebrities can post topless pictures of themselves on Instagram. Free the nipple, and similar movements, stand for a kind of female liberation that would benefit everyone.
We live in an undeniable system of double standards. Men are allowed, and even expected, to be sexually promiscuous while women are expected to resist these impulses. Women can be openly emotional, while men are expected to maintain a constant air of masculine indifference. An assertive woman is seen as overbearing, while an assertive man is seen as strong. Men wear what they want without their morality being questioned—women do not have this luxury.
Across the country, young girls are disciplined everyday in school for wearing clothes that break the school’s dress code. The reason why? It distracts the boys. We are not talking about girls showing up to school in outfits that Miley Cyrus might have worn at her latest concert.
We are talking about girls in being sent home for showing their collarbone.
We are talking about girls missing school because they showed up wearing leggings.
We are talking about a 12-year-old child being taken out of class because her bare shoulders may distract her male teachers and peers.
This system is telling girls that their body and mind must be separate. Your mind is for yourself and your body is for men. As a woman, to be intellectually valued, you must hide your body. On the flip side, the prevalent narrative in pop culture is that to be sexually valued, a woman must hide her mind.
With this conflicting input, it's no wonder we have so many girls suffering from eating disorders in an attempt to feel attractive. No wonder so many smart, young women feel that they need to make themselves homely, less womanly, to be taken seriously in the work place.
Shouldn’t we be teaching girls a more holistic kind of self love? Shouldn’t we strive to convince young women that their body and minds can be beautiful in combination?
These gender double standards are not only a women’s issue. This kind of institutionalized sexism is teaching young men that the reigning in of male sexual impulses is a female responsibility. Not only is this a harmful sentiment that gets dangerously close to excusing rape, it’s an insulting one. As a culture, we are assuming that men are too controlled by their baser instincts to be able to function normally in the presence of female body parts. This is condescending to the millions of perfectly sexually healthy men in our country who see past the body of a woman, to the person within.
This "over-sexualization" of the female body does not stop in our schools. We see ads like the ones below all the time and think nothing of them
These women are faceless, but more than that they’re missing any discernible identity at all. A man is considered sexually desirable because the intersection of his mind and body creates an image of masculine intelligence and charm. A woman? In the media, she is her body, she is her looks. Girls are told through the subconscious manipulation of the media that female body parts only serve to satisfy men. People gasp when a woman breastfeeds in public, shocked that she would be displaying such a "sexual" body part in public.
A young girl in shorts shorter than her knees on a hot day is asked if she respects herself, while her shirtless brother plays with his friends, without a care in the world.
On the red carpet, we ask actresses what they’re wearing, we ask actors about their work.
TV show hosts ask Hillary Clinton about her hair style, Bernie Sanders about his ideas.
So, by all means, free the nipple. I’m not saying that school children should all be shirtless, but the ability for women to be shirtless in public, in appropriate settings, would go a long way to end the taboo and over-sexualization of the female body.
It would be an acknowledgement that the breast is not an inherently sexual organ, that a woman is not a sexual object. A woman’s body can be sexy—in fact, often it's fun to feel desirable and attractive. Sex with a trusted, beloved partner is one of life’s greatest joys, but a woman’s body is not for sex. She is not there to be visually pleasing or distracting to you.
The legs of a woman carry her across the finish line of the marathon she's been training for for months.
The rear of a woman supports her while she sits for long hours in uncomfortable chairs and learns how to save lives in an operating room.
The stomach of a woman swells with breath as she prepares to belt the first note of an opera to an enraptured audience.
The shoulders of a woman sometimes feel like they’re holding the weight of the world, whether they’re covered by sleeves or not.
The nipple of a woman nourishes her new-born child.
All of these parts are beautiful; all of these parts are a woman’s, and hers alone.
So, let's end the body shaming, the over-sexualization and the gender double standards. Let's let bodies be bodies. Let's treat and respect them the same whether they're male or female. Cover your body if you want or show it off, but never let anyone tell you your value as a person depends on which you choose.
Originally posted on the Odyssey Online