Last week a blessedly defunct and thoroughly ill-conceived social media campaign, #freethenipple, was resurrected by 17-year old-Icelandic student, Þóreyjardóttir Smáradóttir, after she posted a photo of her breasts online to promote “Free the Nipple” day; a local feminist initiative at her school.
Social media exploded with hoards of women posting nipple-baring selfies in a show of solidarity with the young student, after she removed a post of her breast from Twitter due to alleged backlash from other users.
#freethenipple, like many feminist social media campaigns, is ill-formed and nonsensical, blending ineffectual activism with vaguely defined messages of self empowerment. Among such an incoherent mixture, two primary campaign messages stand out: participating women believe they ought to be allowed to show breast nudity on social media, and they demand equality in the capacity to bare their nipples in public spaces.
There’s a glistening plethora of inane bullshit spread across this entire premise so allow me to carefully unpack for you the staggering nonsensical nature of this campaign.
Social Media Is Privately Owned
First, let us address the social media issue. In my experience, women, wholly irrationally, often view social media as something which they personally own. They wrongly interpret the tools they use as extensions of themselves; something over which they are entitled to a degree of agency. This is incorrect. This entire perception of injustice stems from an inability to appreciate the rights of a private business entity.
Unless a woman is a majority shareholder in Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, she has no right to dictate the policies of such companies. These are profit-driven entities with a large and diverse user base. Their policies are inextricably influenced by the tastes of the consumers that use them.
If Facebook deems that allowing what is legally considered nudity on its user-created ads would be detrimental to its public image and ultimately its bottom line; then it is perfectly within its rights to restrict such content.
This fundamentally reflects the entitlement of young, particularly female social media users. They suggest that they ought to have absolute control over a service and tool, one which they use free of charge and almost without any other restrictions. The catalyst for this campaign was a woman receiving criticism online! I can guarantee it wasn’t a thoughtful dissertation on the merits of public modesty, but rather a simple declaration resembling; “Your boobs are gross and I don’t want to see this shit,” which drove Þóreyjardóttir Smáradóttir to remove her nipple-baring photo. Shaming works.
The inability of young women to cope with immutable aesthetic criticism is a driving tenet of many modern feminist initiatives, and is the reason the second mandate of the #freethenipple will ultimately fail to produce tangible change.
Public Nudity Is Created Equal
It’s considered appropriate for men to bare their chests in a number of public environments such as sites of physical labour, in public parks, and in places of recreation where water is present. Beyond such venues, society is generally self-regulating and public nudity is not tolerated. For example, a shirtless man will not be permitted into most businesses, places of worship, or public venues of education.
Within the confines of such appropriate venues, social pressures regulate the behavior of men. A grossly overweight pale male, exercising in a public space such as a park, must fundamentally understand the social nature of such a space and accept the possibility that other patrons may, and often will, make derisive comments regarding his appearance.
Where, then, does a woman require the freedom to expose herself that she currently lacks: in jobs of manual labor? I challenge any feminist to find me one female construction worker who would enjoy exposing herself in front of her predominately male coworkers. In spaces of public activity such as parks? I encourage women everywhere to start attending such venues topless if they understand they will be equally subjected to the same aesthetic criticisms as males.
Therefore, a potential activist need only recognize that such nude restrictions are the policies of a private business. If a woman’s local pool or beachhead doesn’t allow topless swimming, I encourage her to get off of her cell phone and publicly demonstrate her commitment to such practices by actively protesting the policies of the pertinent establishments.
Furthermore, I’d like to address the profoundly backward grumbling in the #freethenipple camp, which maintains that a woman publicly exposing her body somehow empowers her to prevent her own objectification. Nudity is not regular public attire for men or women. By exposing herself, a woman will inevitably draw attention to her own nakedness, fundamentally affecting the way in which she is perceived. Nudity, by virtue of being uncommon, necessitates that any casual observer define a naked individual by such a trait. Being defined as naked, and by extension, as a sexual object, is the definition of objectification.
I don’t disagree with the right to protest; I think groups ought to have the right to lobby to change something they feel is affecting their quality of life. “Activists” of #freethenipple tend to point out that prior to the early 20th century, men were subject to similar laws prohibiting upper body nudity in public (including public beaches). Omitted, of course, is the fact that those men actively protested such laws by continuing to demonstrate topless in public. Activists were often arrested and prosecuted, until 1936 when the US amended its laws to allow men to be bare-chested in public.
It’s one thing for a young woman to frivolously post topless pictures of her breasts, carefully crafted and sufficiently edited, from within the private, non-threatening environment of her own home; it’s quite another to actively protest perceived oppression by baring her breasts in public.
I challenge the women supporting #freethenipple, a fundamentally frivolous campaign of baseless self-congratulation, to actively engage their communities and demonstrate their commitment to equality by publicly exposing themselves in protest. I encourage them to seek arrest and prosecution as means to achieving their purported goals because, somehow, posting lazy boob selfies and demanding equality from the living room sofa just isn’t working.