“Free the Nipple”: An Equality Issue?

by Hannah Sweet

The Star Tribune’s editorial board said it best, “To say men’s chests are acceptable in a way that women’s are not is an offense to logic, to equality.” Women have nipples and men have nipples. Women have breasts and even some men have breasts, yet only one of their bodies is regulated by the government.

The “Free the Nipple” campaign was started in 2014 following the Netflix release of the drama-documentary, “Free the Nipple.” The movement originated in New York City with a small group of young women. While true to its audacious name, the movement was started to legalize public nudity, protesting the criminalization of female breasts, but has since become a part of a larger campaign to reclaim women’s bodies.

The Netflix drama-documentary that spurred the movement, points out an intriguing paradox when it comes to how women’s breasts are viewed in the media. Sex, specifically sexual depiction of women, sells. Women’s bodies are used as marketing tactics, meant to drive consumerism. It is fully acceptable to pay to see women topless in porn videos or at strip clubs, but as soon as a woman wants to take ownership of her body and for example go to the beach topless like the women most recently arrested in Minneapolis, it’s considered shameful.

This contradiction brings about two really key issues. Firstly, the sexualization of the female body. When the media utilizes women’s bodies to sell things, it dehumanizes women. These tactics signal that women’s bodies are not their own but merely objects meant to be looked at. Therefore, when a woman treats their breasts as not sexual, simply features of bodily function, it is simply too radical because to the rest of the world that is not what the breasts are intended for. Secondly, even when women try to own their sexuality, by choosing to be a sex worker or start an only fans account, for example, they are shamed. The hypocrisy is hard to miss. The media is free to fetishize and exploit women’s bodies yet women are unable to cash in the check. Ultimately, the female body is only acceptable through the male gaze.

         In the end, the Star Tribune is right in saying that “Free the Nipple” is an equality issue. It’s about more than fighting for public nudity. It is about women having the freedom to reclaim their bodies by rebranding the nipple. 

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