Social equality movement brought about by “Free the Nipple”



By Aaron Warnick | Photo Editor

When I think about powerful female role-models, Miley Cyrus is not the first woman that comes to mind.

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With a few tweets in support of the unreleased film Free the Nipple, the Hannah Montana-gone-Jekyll and Hyde actress has acted as a defibrillator to the Topfreedom movement. Topfreedom is a feminist position that advocates that prohibition of female toplessness is a violation of civil liberties. Miley’s support came in like a wrecking ball, swinging this issue of inequality back into the public forum.

To say that the media storm is all thanks to Miley’s tweets is inaccurate. Numerous groups have been tearing their hair out over this issue for years. While we can’t give Miley Cyrus all of the credit for this topless Party in the U.S.A., it is important to understand the platform on which she is tweeting from. Cyrus is tweeting to #freethenipple, a film which has become a movement.

Intentionally or not, Lina Esco has begun a war on censorship. Her film Free the Nipple which follows a fictitious group of women who decide to be super-hero feminists by exercising their right to toplessly charge the streets of New York City, donning nothing but capes, pink ski masks and pants. The film received an NC-17 rating, a distinction generally reserved for pornography, for its copious amounts of female toplessness. Esco and her team then took to the Internet and started a successful campaign to fund distribution of the film and spread awareness of the absurdity of censorship laws in the United States. The argument being that the female nipple is taboo for unknown reasons while violence and other morally offensive content on cable television is accepted without a second thought.

The campaign against absurd censorship laws has perhaps unintentionally married itself to the Topfreedom movement. #freethenipple has become the celebri-charged activism drive of the season. However, this movement touches on an issue that affects roughly half of the U.S. population.

Topfreedom supporters carry a simple message: any right a man has, a woman should also have. Therefore, any situation in which it is legal for a man to be topless, a woman should also be allowed to be topless.

If you are confused about why a woman would want to be topless in public, think of your own experience. You may be too modest, self-conscious or shy to want be topless in public, some women feel the same way and some do not. If you’re a man, you may be comfortable or proud of your body and appreciate the cool breeze across your chest on a hot summer day. There are some women who would really like to feel that breeze too instead of having to sweat through a bra and shirt. Maybe you’re shy, maybe you’re proud, but even men who aren’t comfortable with their physique will shed their tops at the beach or at the pool.

The point being: wear a top if you’d like to, but not because it’s illegal not to.

The argument against that position is that revealing the female nipple in public is lewd. That the female nipple is somehow different than that of the nipple of a man. It is important to understand that there is very little difference between male and female breasts. Aesthetically and functionally, very little separate the two.

According to an article in Scientific American by Nikhil Swaminathan, breasts are formed during puberty, hormones are released that will either develop the breasts or not.  Boys in puberty will sometimes develop enlarged breasts, though they will regress with time. Further, men beyond puberty can indeed lactate under the right circumstances. Tampering with the hormone prolactin will give men the ability to produce lactic fluid. Men can see enlargement in their breasts by hormonal therapy or by simply gaining weight.

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Lewdness is a matter of personal taste. That position is likely derived from the reality that heterosexual males find female breasts sexually attractive. It is unclear why, however. Many will attribute the fascination to biology. One popular explanation comes from Dr. Frank Marlowe, a professor at Cambridge, and his Nubility Hypothesis. He suggests that the permanent enlargement of female breasts serves as a biological indicator to the male of female age and fertility.

It’s a tiny stronghold.Even if one accepts that male attraction to the female breast is entirely biological, that is not sufficient reason for the public prohibition of the female nipple. Just because female breasts may have some biological indication of fertility, so do widened hips, and they are not verboten and morally reprehensible. The strangest part of this all being that it is not complete exposure of the breast that is considered lewd, it is just the nipple. Cleavage and “side-boob” are legal. So, why the female nipple? What is so special about that little bit of flesh?

Inch by inch, somewhat literally, the modern woman has fought to shed the notion that by merely existing, she is a sexual temptation. In the not so distant past, a woman revealing her ankle to a man was considered a sexual act. Over time, those heavy floor-length dresses became yoga pants (which I have been told are the height of all comfort). North of the highwaisted shorts, you wouldn’t look twice at a woman wearing a crop top. However, there has been resistance every step of the way.

Modesty is the social code that it is the personal responsibility of an individual to deflect sexual attraction. In the United States, prohibiting the female nipple is the final relic of modesty enforced by law that discriminates between sexes.

These laws may have a detrimental effect on social growth. This legal discrimination has bled onto social interactions between men and women. Forcing women to be modest, while not placing any restraints on men, creates a clear social divide.

Bringing the nipple to the open on the national level could go a long way to eliminate the illogical gap between men and women. When things become legalized, there is increased social acceptance. We are seeing it now with record-high support of recreational marijuana and increased support of gay marriage as state by state they become legal. We need to see the increased social acceptance of women as equals to men. Though we have made enormous strides over the past 100 years, we are not quite there yet.

The idea of prohibiting the female nipple is ludicrous. There is no defensible reason for it. If topless women become as commonplace as topless men, we will become desensitized to them and it would have the potential to curve the hyper-sexualization of women. To claim that a nipple is morally offensive is the result of a lingering hangover from the standards of a puritanical society and it’s about time we all had some orange juice and toast.

Photo Courtesy of Free the Nipple – Lina Esco Director of “Free the Nipple” poses for a promotional photo in Times Square. In the state of New York, it is legal for women to be topless in public.

Aaron Warnick is a senior multimedia journalism major and can be reached at

4 Responses to "Social equality movement brought about by “Free the Nipple”"

  1. Natalia Hacerola  February 3, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Nipple equality!

  2. Phil  February 1, 2014 at 11:58 am

    A well-written, beautifully articulated article.

  3. Pingback: Free the Nipple Aims to Topple Inequality in America | Entertainment News

  4. Kagehi  January 27, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Of course, its not just nipples, its the whole obsession with nudity = sex. If nipples are a problem, never mind nudity, then dressing the “wrong way” can be too, and both somehow justify sexual harassment and even rape. Don’t believe me? Then just look at the so called “defense” that is ***always***, far too often successfully, used by every single person that ever commits sexual assault or rape. Look at the “advice” given. Even campuses pull it. half the entire population of a campus can be “dresses provocatively”, by some arbitrary standard, and there is this “study” showing that you are more likely to be attacked by stupid idiots, on a campus, when dressed that way.

    What is always missing from the argument, ironically, is the bold, blindingly stupid, assumption that a guy can’t control this. That, despite thousands of nudists all over the world, and even in the US, the woman is providing a “temptation” to some group of other humans, who are “incapable” of getting their heads out of their backsides, and behaving themselves. That they are unable, not just unwilling, or mistaught, to see provocation, at the least example of femininity. That the way to fix the problem is not to address their behavior, and the insane, entrenched, assumptions that cause it, but by “fixing what the woman did/said/dressed in”.

    I mean, its just so blindingly obvious, from verifiable facts, which includes even primitive cultures, that it doesn’t have to work that way. That its a stupid artifact of an even stupider attempt to not teach morals, but to teach shame, and hide bodies, in the theory that this can somehow prevent what was, in the past, uncommon, and only got worse, when people started obsessing over it. Even the people defending it know this is true, to some extent, hence the absolute hatred of the so called “drug war”, the failure of prohibition, and numerous other disasters. The solution always seems to be to ban a thing, rather than teach people to be safe, when/if they do something, respect each other, instead of fearing each other, and themselves, or finding ways to control when something happens, instead of trying to stop it from happening in the first place.

    And, there are always, on the sidelines, the “moralists”, who don’t want to learn to be moral, don’t want to find solutions, don’t want their own actions to be a personal failure, who desire for such things to be banned, not controlled, because, even if you fail, well.. at least you tried to stop it, and its just somehow a human failing to desire a thing. The inability to control yourself, to think before acting, to do things safely, to respect each other, instead of condemning, for silly things like taking a shirt off… those things run contrary to the narrative. So, we get from the “moralists” rules about how much of a breast can be shown, and “abstinence education”, and, for our “moral well being”, we are taught, at the same time, by them, disrespect for each other, fear of our selves, that *actual* moral behavior and choices are beyond our ability to achieve, and that we can only prevent bad things by, “Just not doing anything, ever!”

    They teach us hate and fear, and immorality, as a defense against the very things they are actually promoting, by making them things to fear, instead of respect and control. And, yes, some things, like alcohol, or drugs, can’t be “controlled”, by more than a small percentage of people (who are resistant to their effects, especially addiction), but then.. again, the solution is knowledge, and figuring out how to break addiction (not just get the person off the drug), to replace the drugs with something that won’t cause the same harm, etc. We have a guy, right now, working on the “biological” process in the brain that alcohol effects, in an attempt to find something non-toxic, which triggers the same result, and can be wiped away in minutes, with a simple pill. Will this “synthahol” solve, entirely, the drinking problem? Perhaps not, but it would solve the liver damage, brain cell death, and provide a “means” to create safe conditions, in which someone could get the high, but, instead of taking the guys keys, and calling a cab, you hand them a pill, and make them sit until the high goes away. Only… this is too logical to the “moralists”, the problem, to them, is the existence of a high at all. As we see with condoms, and contraception, anything that makes something “safer” in their madness, promotes it instead. And, no evidence to the contrary, not even statistics from their own states, which show that, in places where these things are not available, the problems they seek to solve are vastly worse, will sway them from engendering chaos, in the name of order. I’ll bet, if this guy is successful, real alcohol will remain 100% legal, and his safe, non-toxic, synthahol, will be banned, and not just at the behest of alcohol manufacturers, so fast the ink on the patent won’t even be dry before its illegal to sell it.

    FSM save us from those seeking to “protect” us.


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