Free the Nipple (from Shame)

This is a follow-up to my previous post: I left my Fig Leaf in my other Gym Bag.

To recap, I have recently discovered that nudity is strongly discouraged in the women’s locker room of my local Y.  From what I’ve heard, in contrast, the men’s locker room is a let it all hang out kind of place.   Apparently some men’s locker rooms are a bit more modest than others, but I’ll bet my best brassiere none of them require men to wear a shirt.

The root of the discrepancy here is the sexualization of the female body– or perhaps even worse, the sexualization of certain arbitrary female body parts.  The ownership of breasts does not make you a sex object 24/7.  If you are really lucky, you might manage 21/6, but even so you should take some time for yourself to hit the gym.

Having to cover myself in the locker room is a minor inconvenience, but it’s a pretty annoying minor inconvenience when men are not subjected to the same standards.

Which leads me to Free the Nipple, which if you are living under a blanket is a movement declaring female nipples should not be treated any differently than male nipples and should be allowed to be displayed anywhere male nipples enjoy sunshine and fresh air.  Laws vary by state as to whether or not you can get thrown in jail for owning a free female nipple. I gotta wonder if that’s constitutional under equal protection rights, but I live in a state where I cannot hold public office, so who knows?

I admit I’ve always considered this fairly ridiculous.  I don’t really want to walk around topless in public.  What kind of attention seeker do you have to be to insist on baring your chest for all the world to see? Have you no modesty? No.  No modesty. And that’s the point.  Modesty is what…exactly?  Modesty is nothing more than the successful ploy to convince women their bodies belong to the men who control them. This is insidiously labeled as self respect, but it’s not.  It’s self shame.  Modesty is a creation of the patriarchy. That almost makes me want to walk around Walmart topless.  Almost. Forgive me for my prudish American ways.

For the record, I did go topless for about 7 minutes on the beach in Barcelona once until it occurred to me that I might run into someone I knew..  Also, do nipples sunburn?  That’s probably  the first and last time I’m ever going  topless in public since I’ve already ruined the rest of my lily white skin with sun damage, so I figured Free the Nipple needn’t really concern me.  But upon further reflection inspired by the draconian dress code at the Y, it absolutely concerns me.  It concerns all women and the people who love them.

As a feminist, I really feel like I should have unpacked this before now.  The fact that topless beaches are not my thing does not mean I don’t have a tit in this tussle. We should all take a moment to consider the consequences of sexualizing the female breast.

First, there is the public breastfeeding issue.  I do have some experience with this.  I had a whole system of nursing bras, tank tops with slits cut in them covered by camp shirts, and blankets to cover my babies’ heads, and I’m sure I still flashed a couple of people.  I was also asked to feed my babies in the bathroom several times and once to leave a restaurant.  Mostly, though, I sat alone in my car so I could feed my child without the terrible risk that someone else might feel uncomfortable witnessing a completely normal function of the female breast.  I banished myself just in case someone might think they were witnessing a sexual act in the middle of Burdines.   My boob is not a dildo, people.  The hassle of public breastfeeding leads to some women switching to bottles of formula  or avoiding the nursing experience altogether .  As a culture, we should be ashamed.

It’s not just breastfeeding that is compromised by the sexualization of the breast. Consider that even though a woman’s risk of breast cancer is as high as 1 in 8, fewer than 70% of women get the mammograms recommended by health professionals.  Plenty of women avoid breast exams and mammograms because they require revealing a “private part” to a stranger.  Some women are especially uncomfortable with a male gynecologist, and I think it’s great to have the option of visiting a female practitioner, but I’ve also heard women say they don’t want another woman touching their breasts as if this is somehow a homosexual act.  It’s not a homosexual act, of course; it’s not a sexual act at all, but women who believe their breasts serve no purpose other than providing a man with pleasure are not getting the best healthcare they deserve.  Breast cancer goes undetected. There are women in this country who die of shame.

If you’re still not convinced that Free the Nipple is a perfectly sensible step in the advancement of women, consider this: To get around censorship rules on FB, I could take a picture of myself topless and Photoshop a man’s nipples over my own.  In theory, at least.  I believe it’s been done.  How ridiculous is that?

So Free the Nipple!  I really want a T shirt that says that.  As long as it covers everything.

 

 

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