Honey, we need to talk: Criminalizing the female body

By The GlimmerGlass Editorial Board

It is a right that people have battled for with weapons and with words, with bullets and with books. Though it is not in the preamble of the Constitution, it is most certainly deemed an inalienable right.

The desire for safety is innate within all beings and all beings have created systems to ensure their own. As an intelligent species, people understand that we face threats that exist beyond the realm of physical harm – there are mental, emotional, and psychological inflictions that can be endured as well. One of the biggest implemented systems designed to neutralize this problem is censorship.

Censorship is the act of suppressing public information that is deemed unacceptable or that threatens the well-being of certain peoples. Television networks censor violence as to not negatively influence impressionable minds. Radio stations censor hate-speech in music to protect the integrity of minority groups. But most commonly censored are images of one of nature’s most basic creations: the human body.

Most seem to agree that there are parts of the human body that just don’t need to be seen by the general population.

However, it seems that for women that list runs quite long. Certainly longer than their male counterparts, and written with a heavier hand.  Under no circumstance is it deemed appropriate for a woman to bare her chest, but for men the action is not only accepted, but also celebrated.

“Free the Nipple,” is a movement that addresses this double standard. It gained popularity after filmmaker Lina Esco premiered her documentary under the same name last year.

The movement’s objective is to strip away the taboo of exposed female breasts.

Those in support of the movement’s cause believe that women’s breasts are censored and concealed because they have been unjustly sexualized by society.

Bringing the campaign further into the limelight are celebrity endorsements from the likes of comedian Chelsea Handler, model Cara Delevinge, and singer Rihanna, who had her Instagram account terminated after she posted photos of herself from a topless shoot for French magazine, Lui .

The Internet imploded when 14-year-old actress and songstress Willow Smith posted a photo wearing a sweater with a woman’s naked torso emblazoned on the front. Smith’s caption read, “ When did the [woman’s] body start being something to hide? #freethenipple”

Some online users felt that the image walked the line of child pornography, while others felt the post to be a tame photograph with a powerful message: girl power.  Lauren Nostro, author for complex.com, wrote sarcastically, “…even though she’s fully clothed, women have to apparently reach a certain age to join the fight against censorship. Right.”

The heated controversy succeeded in further propelling the movement into popular media, with the story being picked up by noted news stations and publications.

Now, topless women are the proverbial talk of the town. Any twitter user can scroll down their timeline and at any moment see singer Miley Cyrus in nothing but a pair of swimsuit bottoms, frolicking gleefully in the ocean with another companion.

Of course, not everyone is in support of this agenda. Some reject the idea purely based on the idea of traditionalism – the idea that men and women’s bodies are different and therefore have different rules. Others feel that the campaign is simply another piece of evidence of the diminishing morality of the nation.

But the campaign addresses much more than the woman’s right to be free sexual agents. In fact, the movement is less about promiscuity, as some might assume, and more about removing sexual stigmas from the female body.

Though being topless is only illegal in three states – Utah, Indiana, and Tennessee – women are commonly arrested for public indecency after baring their breasts in all 51.

Policing women’s bodies – literally and figuratively – teaches them that there is something diabolical in the nature of their form. It creates a culture of shame, a culture that believes that the amount of respect a woman deserves has to be earned through their apparel.

We have sexualized women and their breasts to such an extent that they can barely be recognized for their intended used without being chastised. Though it is legal in the US to breastfeed in public, mothers who do are often looked at with disgust. Some are asked to leave whatever facility they are occupying at the time of feeding.  Others are the subjects of scornful glances and grumbling words.

Social media sites have suspended and removed user accounts due to photos of breastfeeding mothers with exposed nipples or areola.

Why the discomfort? Those who are off-put by public breastfeeding might not even realize the reason.

The dissonance emerges from the fact that they are seeing breasts in a non-sexual situation. The western world is one of few cultures that consider a woman’s chest to be a private area. In fact, most every other culture finds nothing titillating about the female breast at all.  Non-westerners are able to recognize that there is no biological difference between a man’s nipples and a woman’s nipples.

Americans, on the other hand, have made a centuries long habit of sexualizing, then demonizing, women’s bodies. We don’t like women to own their own bodies. Women’s sexuality belongs to men. Women’s breasts belong to men; they serve no purpose other than to spark arousal in the opposite sex.

A breastfeeding mother is the antithesis of this deeply seeded ideology. A topless woman is the same.

Because of the rules we place on women’s livelihood, there is more room to fail, more room for shame, and the more room to feel that they have to earn that which is due to them by merit of being a human being – respect, freedom of choice, self-love.

The female form wasn’t created to be a source of temptation, but a source of life. Women’s’ bodies are not a crime.

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