Feminism

Feminism Loses Its Mind Over Boobs

The push to Free the Nipple and private lactating areas show that the movement is a contradictory mess

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Free the Nipple
GoToVan / Foter / CC BY

Women who have tried to breastfeed a screaming infant in public as random men try to sneak a peek at their lady parts know what it feels like to want to stab someone in the eye. But they shouldn't look for sensible solutions from their sisters on Capitol Hill or the activist community, because American feminism has collapsed into total banality.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a 47-year-old Illinois Democrat and a new mom, sponsored a bill this week requiring breastfeeding areas at airports. But public spending won't cure public squeamishness about exposed breasts, the root cause of the problem. Meanwhile, the Free the Nipple movement, which for years now been trying to cure this squeamishness, spews so many juvenile and fanciful theories that it has little appeal for mature women.

The Duckworth bill, dubbed the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act, would require all airports to create lactation rooms—separate from bathrooms—that are fitted with electrical outlets, sinks, and changing counters, and furnished with comfortable chairs for mothers to breastfeed or pump.

But the main problem with the bill is that it offers relief to a small subset of new mothers who frequently travel by air, but at the price of making things more difficult for everyone else. It basically signals to breastfeeding moms that they need to protect their modesty (which is why social conservatives like Rep. Steve Knight, a California Republican, probably are co-sponsoring it), rather than telling men that they need to respect these moms' privacy and avoid subjecting them to lurid glances, which would obviate some of the need for special lactating rooms.

The Free the Nipple movement (which has already become the subject of a 90-minute, yawn-inducing documentary) tries to cure such attitudes, but in such a ham-handed and shock-jocky way that few real women outside of college campuses can relate to it, other than publicity-hungry celebrities. Thanks to the movement, 100 students—men and women—at UC San Diego took off their shirts last month to fight for the equal right of both sexes to go topless. Likewise, Scout Willis, the daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, earned her two minutes of fame some years ago when she went strolling topless in Manhattan to protest Instagram's nudity policies barring pictures of topless women. Not to be outdone, Miley Cyrus, who has never encountered a publicity stunt involving her body parts that is too over-the-top, tweeted a picture of her bare breasts with red stars on the nipples to express her solidarity.

These women should be able to milk their boobs for whatever purpose they want, free from state censorship and violence, to be sure. But does that mean that freeing the nipple is the "civil rights issue" of our time—as some feminists claim—that requires busting all social taboos against female toplessness?

Not really.

For starters, it's not like this kind of thing hasn't been tried before. The "burn the bra" movement was all the rage among feminists in the 1960s. But it didn't go beyond a few symbolic bonfires because going braless is simply too physically uncomfortable for most women with modern lifestyles.

Free the Nipple activists accuse society of a double standard for allowing men to show their breasts but not women. "Why are we more offended and outraged by female nipples than male nipples?" one demands to know.

But the fact is that their movement itself is based on a double standard. Indeed, if they were interested in genuine sexual equality, they wouldn't just fight for the right to go topless, but all laws against indecent exposure. So why don't they? Maybe because they realize that allowing strange men to swing their schlongs in streets would be neither comfortable nor safe for women.

Indeed, this might surprise Jezebel feminists, but female breasts are sexual parts in a way that male breasts are not. To be sure, shirtless men also used to raise eyebrows in America once upon a time—but that had more to do with the rigid standards of sartorial decorum and less to do with the sexuality of male boobs. The male equivalent of the "free the nipple" movement would be a "liberate the balls" movement. But does anyone doubt that many Free the Nipple activists would feel "microagressed" if pictures of men sporting cocksocks—bikinis that cover their Johnson but leave their balls exposed—were to start invading their Facebook feeds? Indeed, can a movement so easily offended that it demands trigger warnings before discussions of sex in lit classes deal with open displays of male sexuality?

One of the (many) problems with the modern feminist movement is that it constantly negates its own arguments because it can't decide what serves its cause better: Victorian prudishness or Bacchanalian libertinism. But one of the stated objectives of the Free the Nipple crowd is the first: "Desexualize the nipple and free it of sexual judgment." It seems to want to return to tribal times when breasts and nipples were allegedly utility parts devoid of any sexual content.

It is far from clear if that was ever the case, but if it was, you can return to it sister, but leave me out. I am OK with bearing the burden—and enjoying the payoff—of my sexuality, as I suspect are most other women. At any rate, my guess is that baring nipples won't desexualize them and free women from "judgment." Rather, as some women inevitably defy the feminist orthodoxy and deploy their nipples to attract the despised "male gaze" (nipple makeup and jewelry is already on the market), it will re-sexualize them and foster some new form of judgment.

Be that as it may, feminists need to stop thinking in terms of women's equality and start thinking in terms of women's needs. It is weird that in order to achieve parity with some mythical norms of male sexuality, they seem so willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose their own sexuality. The nipple taboo needs to be loosened, not scrapped, especially if scrapping it would require women—not just men—to pretend like they don't have breasts. Performing a mental mastectomy shouldn't be the price that women have to pay to able to breastfeed in public.

This column originally appeared in The Week.

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  1. Reason puts pictures of naked hippies on it’s front page, and than has the gull to call it’s commentators tasteless.

    1. If they blur or black bar them, they get yelled at for that too. There’s no way to win with you fickle pickles.

      1. of course not, it’s my god given right as an american to bitch about everything.

      2. Quite frankly I would find that more offensive though.

      3. I got no problem with the breasts. Except it makes me concerned about viewing Reason at work. There are non puritan reasons for blacking something out.

        1. We need to stop accommodating the Puritans and neo-Victorians. Throw it in their face and make them confront their greatest fears: the female body! Bwah-ha-ha!

    2. Beltway/University Culture War logic dictates that topless radical lesbians are acceptable, because lesbians are politically correct and probably even superior to heterosexuals.

      A topless Kate Upton on the other hand would of course be a politically incorrect microaggression against the LGBT crowd and thus deeply offensive and unacceptable.

    3. Why do Reason boobs look better with lobsters?

    4. Put it below the freakin’ fold, already, Reason. Jeebus.

    5. …rather than telling men that they need to respect these moms’ privacy and avoid subjecting them to lurid glances…

      What? The author wants to control what men are allowed to look at???

      How is that an improvement?

      If women are ashamed of what they’re doing… maybe they shouldn’t do it.

  2. But does that mean that freeing the nipple is the “civil rights issue” of our time?as some feminists claim?that requires busting all social taboos against female toplessness?

    Wait a minute! Wait a single minute!

    There’s an actual taboo against female toplessness? What are we, barbarians?

    I do concede that there should be is a taboo against grandma toplessness, though.

    1. Situational ethics…it really depends on the top.

    2. But does that mean that freeing the nipple is the “civil rights issue” of our time

      Well, with gay marriage done and dusted, what else is there?

    3. One day you’ll be old and gray, wrinkled, disgusting, and you’ll be flopping on top of a pair of old saggy boobs, grateful for the opportunity, and relieved you can still get erections without medical intervention.

      When that day comes, remember how as a young man you turned up your nose at old boobs. On that day you’ll grow as a person. Warn your grandchildren that any boobs are a privilege, not a right. Teach them to appreciate boobs in all forms. Show them the path to true boob enlightenment.

  3. What does pro-breastfeeding activism have to do with freeing the nipple?

    What do women who don’t want to be stared at for breastfeeding in public have to do with women who want to walk around topless without being charged with indecent exposure?

    What does pro-breastfeeding activism even have to do with feminism? The concerns of maternity are not the concerns of women.

  4. i fully support women’s rights to walk around topless. if i can do that why shouldnt they be able to?

    1. I have a better idea. You can’t, they can. MUCH better esthetics.

  5. Not to be outdone, Miley Cyrus, who has never encountered a publicity stunt involving her body parts that is too over-the-top, tweeted a picture of her bare breasts with red stars on the nipples to express her solidarity.

    Do you think they ever realize when they’re actually lending legitimate support to a movement and when they’re just pissing all over it?

    1. Why is she “pissing all over it”?

      1. It is kind of stupid to express your ‘solidarity’ to a bare breast movement by having a picture that deliberately covers up your nipples. It’s basically admitting that yes, there’s a sexual or even an embarassing component to bare breasts that the people in the movement specifically say doesn’t exist.

      2. Really? When you think ‘gravitas’, ‘rational thought’, and ‘political oomph’, Miley Cyrus is who pops into your head?

        Even if you did, she did what exactly in terms of solidarity? Showed her nipples? Alongside everyone else?

        IMO, the only way the gesture could’ve been more nonsensical would be if ‘Carlos Danger’ had sent them a dick pick in solidarity.

  6. […. social conservatives like Rep. Steve Knight, a California Republican, probably are co-sponsoring the bill…] rather than telling men that they need to respect these [breastfeeding] moms’ privacy [at airports] and avoid subjecting them to lurid glances, which would obviate some of the need for special lactating rooms.

    Right. It’s a male issue, all of a sudden.

    I have no problem with new moms breastfeeding their babies. It is normally the 5th-time mom with the size-20 waist breastfeeding her 2-year-old in public that would make me hurl.

  7. Desexualize the nipple

    As I pointed out the first two or three times this article appeared – this is a hopeless cause.

    1. We need to de-taboo and normalize the sexuality of the female nipple. For the children.

  8. This is rich coming from the Hindu goldilocks. Modi too Hindu, Jindal not enough Dahlia’s fifteen eager to emigrate cousins just right.

    1. Not that Dalmia has ever actually said she wanted Jindal to be more Hindu. Since he was a Sikh before anyway.

      1. Since he was a Sikh before anyway.

        That would come as a big surprise to his family.

        1. My bad, I could have sworn I read that about him last week. Must have been Nikki Haley. But I am way sure I read it about Jindal. Was obviously wrong.

  9. . “Why are we more offended and outraged by female nipples than male nipples?” one demands to know.

    First of all, who the fuck is ‘we’?

    I for one welcome our new pan-topless society.

    1. First of all, who the fuck is ‘we’?

      Welcome fellow male. You are outraged, or a rapist, your choice.

    2. Yeah, um, I’m not particularly offended or outraged by female nipples. In fact, I approve of them more than male nipples. This seems like a policy you could pretty easily create if you knew how to sell it.

      1. The reason you approve female nipples more than male ones offends this group. You are not to find them sexually exciting or aesthetically pleasing.

        1. That’s kind of my point, that feminists are so obsessed with their ideology that they make themselves fail. Allow bare female nipples in public? Like I said, if you can sell it that’s not a hard thing to get support. ‘Allow bare female nipples in public, how dare people I don’t like look at them, we must desensitize them and make men feel bad about their basic biological urges’ with a side order of ‘but you’re all just outraged and offended by them’ makes your cause die in the gutter.

          1. I think it the “desexualization” part that is more important to them

  10. sponsored a bill this week requiring breastfeeding areas at airports.

    This is a strangely worded sentence. What are the penalties if a mom or a dad refuses to breastfeed?

    1. or a dad refuses to breastfeed?

      I have breasts Paul can you milk me?

    2. The bad news is only government breastfeeders will be allowed. The good news is anyone can walk in and suck off the government teats.

  11. avoid subjecting them to lurid glances

    They’re the only kind I have.

  12. Aside from my desperate desire to see Kate Upton walking around topless, in all fairness there are so many problems with the logic on the issue:
    1) A woman pulls it out, I have EVERY right to look (now I may not want to look, but if you put it into the public, it becomes PUBLIC)
    2) A woman’s nipples ARE FUCKING SEXUAL!! Women don’t get excited just seeing men’s nipples. It is just that fucking simple. Men go crazy over tits and nipples. AND THAT IS THE WAY IT SHOULD BE! I don’t want tits to become “desexualized”. And before you argue Channing Tatum, women drool over a whole package of a sexy man. They don’t sit and stare at disembodied male body parts.
    3) There are some things that are better left in private. I am a compete libertine when it comes to consensual, adult sexual behavior (though not at AC’s level yet!). But that doesn’t mean that it needs to be out in public where anyone can (and if enough women are going topless must) see it. Besides it is like nudist colonies, the people who are baring, are the people who shouldn’t!

    1. It is not only men that find women’s nipples sexual areas. Women tend to regard them as an erogenous zone as well. There is ample video documentation available on the internet of women enjoying having their nipples treated as sexual objects and of women enjoying other women’s nipples as sexual objects.

      You can no more change this by progressive decree than you can hold back the tides by royal decree.

      1. Breasts are Secondary Sexual Characteristics and no more erotic than a man’s beard (which some men probably like to be stroked as well). The sexualization of women’s breasts is completely man-made and would vanish if it stopped being a crime to show them.

        1. That explains why peacocks (other foul, reptiles, mammals, amphibians, fish, etc., etc….) free to fan their tails publicly on a whim, stopped carrying them around as sexual characteristics eons ago.

          It also explains in social/legal gray areas, where taboos are free and/or subject to market whims, big breasts are universally frowned upon as being gender-neutral and asexual.

          /seriously?

        2. You have to change the culture first. Breast are sexual because the culture says they are sexual. Women walking around topless doesn’t change the culture, it merely titillates.

          1. Not for long. Take a figure drawing class and see how quickly you become desensitized to nudity. I didn’t believe it either until I experienced it myself.

  13. One of the (many) problems with the modern feminist movement is that it constantly negates its own arguments because it can’t decide what serves its cause better: Victorian prudishness or Bacchanalian libertinism.
    .
    Or it could be that “the feminist movement” is no more monolithic than any other group and you are seeing different individuals within the movement espousing different opinions. Maybe not all feminists think alike – no more so than all gays think alike or all blacks think alike or all Christians think alike or all libertarians think alike – despite the fact that the self-appointed leaders and spokesmen of all these groups insist that whatever viewpoint they’re dishing out is ex cathedra and anybody saying otherwise is a heretic.

    1. Speaking of self-appointed leaders, anybody seen Jesse Jackson lately? I keep seeing this Obama fellow on TV, is he the leader of the Blacks now? (Not that I pay any attention to where Blacks or Gays or Feminists get their opinions, as a White person I get my opinions directly from Edgar Winter and the Queen of England like all the rest of the White people do.)

      1. Obama is more of an Al Sharpton guy than a Jesse Jackson guy.

  14. “Why are we more offended and outraged by female nipples than male nipples?” one demands to know.

    Because you’re more likely to get poked in the eye by a female nipple?

  15. They don’t sit and stare at disembodied male body parts.

    Sure they do. Just different ones.

    1. Someone hasn’t been on reddit porn pages. Holy dick pics, Batman!

  16. “It basically signals to breastfeeding moms that they need to protect their modesty (which is why social conservatives like Rep. Steve Knight, a California Republican, probably are co-sponsoring it), rather than telling men that they need to respect these moms’ privacy and avoid subjecting them to lurid glances, which would obviate some of the need for special lactating rooms.”

    Right. Forcing men to ignore millions of years of evolution. That’s the answer.

    1. So, you think infidelity is human nature in males too? Is monogamy ignoring millions of years of evolution?

      Men have been civilized in other aspects. It’s no different telling guys to not react boorishly to a topless woman than to not rape them or not fight/kill to settle conflicts.

  17. Tempest in a teapot. Unworthy of coverage. Seriously, these are cultural norms that have evolved over eons. They’ll change at about the same rate that mountains form. But sure, use government to make massive cultural and societal transformations. Nothing ever goes wrong with that….

  18. I object to the premise that male toplessness has somehow become socially acceptable. Legal, maybe. Socially acceptable – only in very specific contexts where female toplessness would also be just fine.

    1. I object to the premise that male toplessness has somehow become socially acceptable.

      That whole “no shirt, no shoes, no service” thing really was aimed at topless men.

      There are vast swathes of society where male toplessness is quite unacceptable, like, most to all workplaces and even many public places.

      1. The difference is topless men might be asked to cover up or to leave, whereas topless women get arrested.

        1. Yes, that’s the big difference. At the beach too.

          The irony is that up until 1920’s it was just as criminal to expose male chests. It’s too bad free-the-nipple only applied to men back then. The FCC and subsequent government created regulations and regulatory bodies like Hay’s Code, Comics Code, MPAA and ESRB, etc pretty much cemented the taboo nature of the female nipple in society.

          1. My understanding is that the law against male toplessness finally ended after massive civil disobedience. They couldn’t arrest everyone, so the only recourse was to legalize it. Women need to start banding together and doing the same.

            1. My understanding is that the law against male toplessness finally ended after massive civil disobedience.

              I wouldn’t dismiss it as untrue, but certainly cherry picked. Obviously, tolerance for toplessness in both men and women varies widely throughout Western and even American history and in bizarre ways.

              Lots of the laws are decided at the local municipality level. So, on the one hand, you get a few handfuls of men fined for indecent exposure by female magistrates, on the other hand, you have (e.g.) the County of NY telling the Village of Westchester how they’re gonna run their beach.

              IMO, this is a feminist (and trans) movement (once again) seizing on the opportunity to cram the 14th down everybody’s throats whether they want it or not. Should the Hawaiian Natives been compelled to listen to the missionaries who told them to put clothes on? No. Should the missionaries be able to buy their own little chunk of land and tell the women to put shirts on or leave? Sure.

              I’m dubious that that’s the end game and/or how it will work out.

          2. How’s Europe doing with their loosened standards (at the beach, at least)?
            ..
            Last I checked, there were quite a few countries that let women sunbathe topless or even nude. Of course, that seems ill-fated given the rising numbers of Muslim folks over there.

            1. I can’t understand why would Muslims go to the beach at all. Women have to be completely covered and even men are supposed to (but they don’t always) keep their legs and arms covered.

      2. A local store in this small town printed a sign with that and added No Pants after an obese woman in a G-string and needing a major trim down below walked in through the door.

  19. Is it possible that there are simply different “feminist” movements?

    1. This is definitely true. The word “feminism” is pretty meaningless at this point. Technically everyone for female equality is a feminist, but there is a wide array of what that actually entails where there is disagreement.

  20. The feminists are desperately trying to remain relevant in the First World by taking tiny issues and blowing them up into great crises. For “activists”, the great fear is not defeat; it is victory. To accept victory would mean that the great activist must now become just another average person, and they can’t handle that.

  21. Brilliant!

  22. + dirty pillows

  23. since when has nipples been lady parts? as we both have them and they arent a sex organ, arent they simply a part both genders have? just found that to be poor wording

  24. They need to make pasties that look exactly like real nipples. Then if they get in trouble, they can show that they were indeed covering their real nipple.

  25. What these feminists don’t realize, is that one can’t complain about the objectification of women at the same one parades down Manhattan topless. In another culture, sure, but not in this one.

  26. [quote]One of the (many) problems with the modern feminist movement is that it constantly negates its own arguments because it can’t decide what serves its cause better: Victorian prudishness or Bacchanalian libertinism.[/quote]

    Because they want to have it both ways, of course.

  27. These women should be able to milk their boobs for whatever purpose they want…

    I see what you did there…

  28. You could have stopped after the first four words.

  29. We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!

  30. “I am OK with bearing the burden?and enjoying the payoff?of my sexuality, as I suspect are most other women.”

    Yes, but other women are not so OK with you enjoying the payoff of your sexuality.

    Feminism is to women’s rights what unions are to worker’s rights. Feminists individually are principally concerned with arrogating to themselves power (social, sexual, economic) that in this case (and not unusually) happens to be held by other women.

    Fighting the patriarchy is a convenient common cause around which to rally, but it turns out that since we’re a sexually dimorphic species, there’s quite a lot of fighting to be done over limited resources — such as George Clooney — that tend to be mined across sexual lines.

    None of these student in the prime of their sexuality wants *their* breasts to be de-sexualised. They want yours to be. One-upping you by exposing their own might expedite that. For an older woman, it’s preferable for you to suffer an intrinsic aversion to breastfeeding under the gaze of men, but otherwise the “opportunity” to avail yourself of a special room will have the same outcome. (The freest-of-freedoms to take contraception could have obviated this problem, of course.)

    Victorian prudishness and Bacchanalian libertinism serve the same cause, depending on the circumstances. The cause is simply to maximize a claim on resources, which happen in this case to be held exclusively among individuals of the same sex.

  31. There are retailers in airports. I suppose someone could open a shop that offered privacy to nursing mothers, along with diapers, etc. for sale. Maybe add foot massages. I don’t imagine they’d be able to make much money if that’s all they did…

    The problem is that every few minutes juveniles encounter social situations that are new to them, and they feel awkward (staring or being stared at). The solution to this newly perceived problem is internal, not external, and the awkwardness usually goes away naturally. But because every generation goes through it, we’re never going to be without some complaints.

    It makes me laugh when straight men complain about feeling awkward around gay men (and to feel appalled if they advocate forceful action). Juvenile girls know how it feels to be the object of interest from someone who is bigger and stronger than they; men ought to be able to do the same. We get used to it, without ever needing to gang up on the “perpetrator,” or asking government to be responsible for our (hopefully temporary, immature) feelings, in addition to defending our rights.

  32. “…rather than telling men that they need to respect these moms’ privacy and avoid subjecting them to lurid glances, which would obviate some of the need for special lactating rooms.”

    How do you “respect the privacy” of someone who is openly doing something in public?
    Oh, right, PC magic.

    Fuckwit.

  33. well, you start off by intimating that feminists actually THINK. A questionable premise, at best. First solid clue is that they are demanding “lactating rooms”, spaces where “lactation” can take place. Dontchya know anything about biology? A nursing Mother is lactating all the time as her equipment is constnatnly producing milk, which process is properly called lactation. Whether the milk produced is used or not lactation still occurs it is an ongoing process of the gland producing the milk. Then you buy off on THEIR framework for the issue, that some males will try and “sneak a peek”…. nonsense. And even if they do, so what? Let it be THEIR problem. Further, I’ve known dozens of nursing Mothers who have learned to be so discreet it is difficult to tell whether they are nursing or simply holding their babies in their arms. Can’t see a thing. Special rooms? Nonsense. Its part of life, get over it and get on with it. Oh, and WHY only in airports? Why not in public parks, theatres, restaurants, libraries, playgrounds, swiming pools, courthouses, and every other place Moms MIGHT want or need to take their young ones? Why only nursing Mums who fly? Typical government response…. pass a law, force the public patronising the venues to finance a billion dollar undertaking to fix a problem that is a figment of some female lawmaker’s overactive imagination.

  34. Oh fer GAWD’S sake. OF COURSE the breast is sexual and no one is going to convincingly make it otherwise. If you doubt this, I want to see a woman get as turned on by having her elbow or shin licked as she does when her breast is licked. Oh? That doesn’t turn her on the same way? That’s because breasts are sexual!!!! And your shin or elbow? Depends on your fetish, but by and large most people find the breast sexual for physiological reasons, not merely cultural.

    Furthermore, lobbying to make the breast asexual simply reveals, YET AGAIN, the contempt for human sexuality this nation is steeped in.

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