In the ongoing uphill battle for gender equality, the latest campaign to light the internet on fire is #FreeTheNipple, in which women are fighting censorship of the female nipple via the notion of desexualization.
The campaign holds its origins with Lina Esco’s film “Free the Nipple,” in which she “wanted to do a film about equality and the Trojan Horse issue is the nipple.” The film, which was financed by Demi Moore and shot in 2012, has been facing complications with distribution due to censorship and an NC-17 MPAA rating given only for the bare breasts featured in the film.
Esco makes the point that sexualized images of breasts are perfectly acceptable but when she posted photos of women breastfeeding or of topless breast cancer survivors on her “Free the Nipple” Facebook page, it was shut down.
Similarly on social media, the female nipple is banned when it surfaces. Star power is no deterrent to this censorship — Rihanna, (ugh) Miley Cyrus and (UGH) Chelsea Handler have received backlash for exposing their breasts on their personal social media accounts. Willow Smith had an Instagram post removed for wearing a t-shirt with a pair of breasts screenprinted on them.
Esco’s film and campaign is meant to bring attention to the hypersexualization of the female body, as the nipple is something that both males and females have but only one is seen as something that needs to remain hidden for decency’s sake.
One of the largest demonstrations for the campaign was held at UCSD on May 20, in which over 100 topless students of all genders gathered to protest censorship laws and promote equality.
One of the largest issues the campaign faces is the circular chicken-or-the-egg dilemma; normalization of the female nipple requires any sexualization to be stripped away, but the campaign is running against centuries of ingrained ‘male gaze’ tendencies that affect us all; even I admit to averting my eyes at first when I saw the press photos of the UCSD protest.
#FreeTheNipple can be easily appropriated by men seemingly standing in solidarity in a sexual way, to encourage toplessness for their own gain.
But there’s no way around this, desexualization has to start somewhere. One of the most important aspects of this campaign will be accountability, to be used without hesitation by participating females or female-identifying individuals.
Men who want to stand in solidarity with #FreeTheNipple must be open to criticism, be aware of whether or not they are eclipsing the point and the goal of the campaign and most importantly, they must listen to the women spearheading the campaign. Women taking agency of their own bodies requires, above all, for men to step back when it is asked of them.
#FreeTheNipple is gaining traction across the world because it holds the possibility of dismantling the long-held notion that a woman’s body can be viewed in a salacious manner when it is unwarranted, and the sexualization that results from selective censorship of an ordinary body part shared by genders.
However, the key to the campaign’s success remains entirely with containing the agency exactly where it belongs; with the female nipple.
Shannon Ho is a fourth-year English major. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.