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.




How Much does Clumsiness Cost?

I wish I had a really great story for how I twisted my ankle last week.  Like I was partying with Mick Jagger or saving a baby from impending death or even I tripped over the cat, but no.  The only reason I twisted my ankle on the stairs is because I am a klutz.

Am I the only one who immediately thinks of this kind of injury in financial terms?  I didn’t hear a snap so it’s probably not broken so at least I won’t need a cast.  Xrays?  Will I need Xrays?  How much is my deductible on Xrays? How many follow up appointments?  How much for painkillers?  Do I really need painkillers? How much time off work?

After looking around to see who had witnessed my graceful decent and finding only Mr. Fluffernutter laughing at me, I took a deep breath.  Hey!  I can walk on it.  Maybe I don’t need to take off work and go to the doctor and get Xrays and crutches and spend the next 6 months trying to pay off this stupid little accident.

It was a stupid little accident, and I am insured.  But like many of us, I am single and I live paycheck to paycheck, and a stupid slightly bigger accident could set me so far back financially I might never recover.  So as I ice my foot and admire the rainbow of colors that make up my bruise, I consider myself lucky.  I take my over the counter medications and wonder what a broken ankle costs.  I realize I cannot just call my insurance company and say, There are doctors’ fees and radiologist fees and cpt codes and deductibles and plans and waiting rooms and pharmacies and paperwork and billing.  There is no comparison shopping for broken bones.  There is only hoping you got the best insurance you could afford and then waiting for the bills to come in and sorting through the paperwork hoping they didn’t overcharge you.

This is an exceptionally imbecilic way to run things.  Health care in the U.S. costs about twice as much per person as in the rest of the developed world: about $10,000 per person per year.  And let’s not even pretend we are getting better health care than everyone else.  Our life expectancy rates 50th among 221 nations.  (Monaco ranks first with a life expectancy of almost 90 years old.  That’s over 10 years longer than in the U.S.) We also rank poorly in measures such as low birth rate, infant mortality, STDs, obesity, heart disease, and COPD (lung disease). Does that sound right?

I am not shy about advocating for Universal Health Care so that everyone has access to health care providers when they need them, but I also expect costs for someone like me to be manageable. A minor accident should not have you running for your calculator, and a major one should not bankrupt you.  If you are unemployed or make too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to pay for ACA, you should not fear going to the doctor for minor problems that only become major when not treated.  Our hospitals should not be closing due to unpaid bills from patients who had no other access to medical care.  We really suck at health care as a country.  And I’m sick of it.  Also, I am voting.  Anyone who wants my vote needs to promise me that next time I fall down the stairs, my first thought won’t be how much it’s going to hurt my bank account.