Censorship is an ongoing problem with the female body. Men’s bodies, specifically their chests are not censored. Society accepts a man’s bare chest, but if a woman is bare chested, she is considered nude. In Instagram’s nudity policy, women’s nipples cannot be shown (but mastectomy scaring and breastfeeding is allowed). In Facebook’s nudity policy it says that “we also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple” and then also says that mastectomy and breastfeeding pictures are allowed. Why is it that the rest of the breast is allowed to be shown, but showing the nipple is considered nudity? What makes a female’s nipple so much different than a male nipple? There is no mention of men’s nipples and why they are not censored. I believe this is simply a societal construct that has historically treated women as unequal, and historically they are taught to hide their sexuality. Currently there is a campaign entitled “Free The Nipple” which is where I got my title. The whole campaign supports this idea that female breasts should not be oppressed, and women should not be ashamed of their bodies.
I decided to design a project entirely based off of this inequality specifically in men and women bodies, focusing specifically on male and female nipples. I want to address this dominant sexualized stare at women’s breasts and nipples, and point out the discrepancies with the policies towards male and female nudity. In the book Staring: How We Look by Rosmarie Garland-Thompson, she states, “Even though breasts entice stares, the border between what can and cannot be seen gets cautiously negotiated.”
As an example, in 2004, at the Super Bowl halftime show, Justin Timberlake accidentally caused a wardrobe malfunction on Janet Jackson’s outfit, causing her nipple to become exposed, and forever having that moment go infamously down in history known as “Nipplegate.“ Janet Jackson even had to publicly apologize for her wardrobe malfunction as a result of America’s objection, and as Garland-Thompson said, “Jackson’s apology reassured the public that nipples should remain a private resource in the patriarchal family, not a titillating girly show.” I don’t think many people would have objected if Justin Timberlake performed on stage with his shirt off.
In my project, I took pictures of both male and female nipples and put these images together in a collage. Side by side, it is exceptionally hard to make a concrete decision, which nipple is male, and which nipple is female. To convince people to let me take a picture of their nipple was a harder task than I originally imagined. Even though the models could remain entirely anonymous, the reluctantness from women to show me their nipples further enforced this idea that their nipples are nudity, they should remain hidden, and society would judge them for having photographs of their breasts.
I decided to put together an online quiz. In this quiz, there would be 20 simple questions: each question with a picture of a nipple and simply an option between “man” or “woman.” I sent this quiz out to a lot of my friends, and I posted it on Tumblr and asked everyone to send me in their scores and responses. Not a single person who took my quiz and sent me their score got a perfect 20/20. The highest score someone achieved was 18/20, and the lowest score I received was 5/20. People’s comments in reaction to the quiz were probably the most interesting part.
- Male: 14/20 “It kind of made me grossed out though seeing nipples without the context of the body. After seeing a few of them they stopped looking like a part of a human and just fleshy bumpy hairy things”
- Male: 11/20 “This is disgusting. You’ve ruined nipples for me.”
- Female: 13/20 “It’s really hard to tell. I got some wrong that I really thought were the opposite sex”
- Male: 18/20 “This is nuts. If given any other context, the ones that protruded a lot were women, and the ones that were flat were men. And that idea just shattered for me”
- Male 18/20 “There was one that I convinced myself that it was the other gender and I was wrong. But that’s just a testament to how ambiguous that nipple was.”
- Female: 17/20 “This is hard.”
Overall, the general consensus from the people who took the test was that the quiz was more challenging than they thought it would be. I wondered which gender would do better on the quiz over the other, but they were about the same. The average score for women who took the quiz was 15.8 and the average score for men was 14.4. I related this concept back to Daniel Segal’s article, “Can You Tell a Jew When You See One?” Can you tell a male nipple apart from a female nipple? While there might be some typifications towards a male’s nipple (being more flat, not as large, hairier) and a female’s nipple (protrudes more, larger, not as much hair), these typifications do not always necessarily mean that they align to one sex over the other, and the quiz results support that.
The main point here is that women’s nipples are not neccesarily all that different from men’s nipples, and with that being the case, women’s nipples are censored for no real reason other than society’s set sexualization of women’s bodies and the historical context that women should cover their breasts.
Let’s change that.
Free the Nipple.
- Grace Hill
Take the quiz here:
“Community Standards | Facebook.” Community Standards | Facebook. Facebook, n.d. Web. Apr. 2015.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
“Instagram Help Center.” Community Guidelines. Instagram, n.d. Web. Apr. 2015.
Segal, Daniel A. “Can You Tell A Jew When You See One? or Thoughts on Meeting Barbra/Barbie at the Museum” 1999. Web.