British Newspapers Completely Missed The Point Of A “Free The Nipple Protest”
‘Tis the season of the Free the Nipple protest, with temperatures on the rise and archaic cultural norms that enable only males to roam the streets topless without social and legal repercussions. To support the movement and fight the sexist societal standards, public nudity laws, and social media policies that either discourage or outright ban female but not male nipples, women around the world have staged topless protests with the purpose of calling attention to an everyday double standard and demonstrating autonomy over their own bodies. But as is so often the case in patriarchal society, women who dare to declare that no, their bodies aren’t just sex objects, continue to be treated precisely as sex objects. Case in point: the media’s reaction to the Free the Nipple protest at Brighton Beach in England.
Hundreds of women assembled topless on Brighton Beach earlier this month for the protest organized by comedian Samantha Pressdee, whose shows regularly address nudity and sexuality according to The Daily Mail. Many women had feminist taglines such as “Not Asking For It,” “Stop Sexualizing Us,” and “Equality” written across their chests. Still, British newspapers opted to sexualize and trivialize the protest with crass headlines and commentary rather than acknowledge its political implications.
The Daily Star ran an article on the event headlined, “Topless women flash boobs on British beach for ‘Free the Nipple’ protest,” with the subtitle, “HUNDREDS of girls stripped off in public in a bid to make breasts more acceptable.” Even in the context of women literally demanding that society cease to hypersexualize their bodies, it will apparently respond by doing just that, and reducing a powerful political statement about gender and hypocrisy to a childish, negative portrayal of brave and opinionated women as strippers.
It’s also worth noting how the headline casts female nipples as profane body parts to be scandalously “flashed” — I strongly doubt handfuls of men congregating topless on a beach would be accused of flashing the public. I also strongly doubt this would receive coverage at all considering men bearing their nipples is pretty much the most everyday, mundane phenomenon out there.
The Sunday Express took things a step further with a gross, slut-shaming headline that identified the movement as counterproductive to feminism: “Nude Brighton: As sun comes out 200 women get boobs out to strike blow for feminism” and the outraged subtitle, “FAMILIES taking a leisurely stroll along the seafront were shocked after hundreds of topless women stormed the beach as part of a bizarre ‘free the nipple’ campaign.”
Not only did it completely ignore the double standard being called out by protesters in portraying female nipples as nudity, but it also served as just another example of how rigid, dated standards for “family values” consistently work against women. By teaching children that female nipples are perverted and to be seen exclusively in sexual, intimate contexts while the sight of male nipples is no big deal, we’re teaching them that women aren’t entitled to make the same lifestyle choices as men and don’t deserve the same respect and acceptance society accords men.
It’s worth noting that, as Indy 100 points out, neither outlet is “exactly salubrious about boobs on certain other pages,” and boobs only become something to gawk at and criticize when placed in the context of women expressing an opinion. Most lawmakers who have pushed for stricter public nudity laws in recent months don’t have any objections when it comes to adult entertainment, pornography, or any other context meant to cater to the male gaze. The taboo here clearly isn’t female nipples but women having the right to make choices about their bodies.
At any rate, this is hardly the first time Free the Nipple has been cast as counterproductive to feminism by overlooking more immediately concerning issues like sexual assault, the wage gap, or abortion rights. But feminism is all about supporting women’s autonomy over their bodies and the right to make their own lifestyle choices, as well as stomping the idea that women who dress (or don’t dress) and behave in a certain way are “asking for it” (whether “it” is harassment or sexual assault), which Free the Nipple protesters at Brighton were explicitly bringing attention to.
“There wasn’t any negativity or aggression, all we got was a lot of smiles and a lot of support and cheering … I joined the campaign to challenge the way women’s breasts were perceived,” Pressdee told The Daily Mail of the protest. “Breasts have been sexualized and the point of this campaign is that they don’t have to [be] sexual.”
And indeed, female nipples don’t have to be sexual, but they don’t have to be flaunted, either. The whole point of the movement is that, just as it’s up to men to show what they please from the waist up without consequences, it should also be up to women.