Last week, my left nipple got me a 24 hour Facebook ban. The judgement and sentence was delivered swiftly and suddenly: I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye! I had to send SMS messages to people who might miss me or think I was ignoring them. Cruelly, Facebook still lets you see the messages people are sending you, but does not permit you to reply – there should be some kind of out-of-office for when your nipples get you landed in social media jail. Anyway, it’s done. I need to let that shit go.
But seriously. I once wrote (and spoke) about how – in my view, at the time – Femen’s protest tactics were ‘not very feminist’ because they made their plight ‘all about the body’ (my words) which (to my mind, at the time) detracted from their overall message. I get my point, but at the time my head was swimming around in circles in a goldfish bowl, not taking time to look through the glass and see the ocean out of the window. In other words, I wasn’t considering the whole picture – perhaps at the time I didn’t have the capacity to see the wider issue, but since breastfeeding has abated (a little) and my tits have started to retreat back into their regular role as things to be emphasized or played down and, most importantly, covered up, I start to see how topless equality – an equal definition of nudity for every human being – is actually a vital step in the wider issue of equality, and in ending the policing of women’s bodies by our dominant patriarchal clouds of doom. Here are the bullets:
Yes, there are other important things, like equal pay for equal work, the fact that women are STILL doing that fucking triple shift despite being told we now totes have all the same rights as men, FGM, domestic violence, street harassment, rape culture, the constant bombardment of the male gaze, and the many and various hideous ways women are punished and discriminated against for being female all across the world. But can we also consider for a moment that part of equality, or inequality, is that we have different definitions of nudity and explicicity (made that up) for men and women? And that women did not decide which bits of their bodies are and are not publicly acceptable – nay, they were told. And that we still carry those values into our legislation today is quite a problem.
Body inequality is a fundamental inequality. It’s a baseline inequality – our bodies are policed differently: equivalent parts are regarded as obscene on a woman and benign on a man. As Violet Rose asserts, “you can sell breasts, but you cannot wear breasts.
Having different start-points in terms of what constitutes obscenity makes it difficult to call out body policing in other areas. By accepting that there are only certain conditions under which the female nipple is permitted to be on display, we are starting on the back foot.
Breastfeeding tits are not more acceptable than just tits. Using the word ‘tits’ probably doesn’t help, but nobody’s perfect. I’ve argued before about how – despite being a breastfeeding advocate – I don’t believe that lactivism is about breastfeeding being virtuous vs formula feeding being ‘failure’. Similarly, breastfeeding breasts should NOT be considered any more deserving of fresh air and exposure than just tits in general. It’s all just nipples, yo!
Topless inequality facilitates slut shaming and perpetuates the myth that women get raped because their bodies are more obscene and tempting and dangerous than the male body. By keeping breasts hidden as a matter of law, the insinuation is that there is something sinful about them, a remnant of the puritanical belief that women’s bodies were powerful enough to incite a reaction in men if ‘too much’ of it was revealed. A few centuries ago women didn’t show their ankles because some men who happened to be literate and esteemed somehow interpreted that god would not approve. Now our skin has much more cultural freedom to breathe, of course, but it still isn’t equality! The legacy continues.
Despite all we claim to know about a woman’s autonomy over her own body and how she can do what she likes with it and should not be shamed, there is still an undercurrent of feeling that if a woman wants to bare her chest, it somehow carries more meaning than the abstract action in itself. Women’s breasts are loaded with insinuation, suggestion, implication, fucking semiotics of patriarchy – the campaign for topless equality aims to destigmatise the female nipple in an attempt to free it from these imagined attachments.
Free the muthafucking nipple!