Warning: this post contains nipples.
It all started with a simple Facebook post.
Renee Gerber is a 21-year-old Queenslander—and she’s the latest person to get on board with the #FreeTheNipple campaign—in particular, a social media campaign promoting—you guessed it—nipples.
The campaign—set to launch later today—plays a game of “Guess Who?” by editing female and male (as well as transgender) nipples onto male bodies in order to protest the irrational and unequal status of women created by the sexualisation of the female nipple and breast. The goal of the campaign is to grant women the right to legally expose their breasts, as well as to destigmatise breastfeeding in public. In order to promote inclusiveness, the 20 images (with various quotes and captions) will include nipples of all genders, sexualities, races and body types.
“It’s important to understand that they’re simply body parts, and if you constantly sexualise them, that’s your own inappropriate interpretation.” Ms Gerber said.
After viewing an Instagram post last Sunday night about Orange is the New Black star Matthew McGorry doing something similar, Ms Gerber decided to upscale it into a campaign for equality. A simple Facebook post about her frustrations brought the campaign to life—and 29-year-old Clinton Ulfhedinn-Visi into the picture, who too believes it’s an important issue, and that women shouldn’t be shamed for their natural bodies.
“It’s about mother’s breastfeeding, [women] swimming in uncomfortable tops, having to constantly think about what you’re wearing, and if you’re covered up correctly,” he said.
“It’s about the fact I don’t even think about putting a shirt on when it’s hot around the house. It’s the fact that it’s just simply not fair and equal.”
The pair hope the campaign will raise awareness, encourage conversation and eventually lead to parliamentary change with enough support.
“We want it to go viral,” Ms Gerber said.
While some may believe campaigns like this are immoral and useless, they may not realise that in Australia, women can be imprisoned for showing their nipples. According to section 393 of the Crimes Act 1900 ACT, indecent exposure, which is defined as “a person who offends against decency by the exposure of his or her person in a public place”, carries a penalty of up to 12 months imprisonment. The legislation is similar in all other Australian states, with varied terms of imprisonment and in some cases, hefty fines
But really, why do we consider it “indecent”? The primary function of the female breast is to breastfeed—it’s only become sexualised because we as a society believe it to be. And let’s not forget that it was only a few decades ago that it was illegal for men to expose their nipples in public.
In the United States, it’s illegal for women to be topless—even when breastfeeding—in 35 states, with threats of up to 3 years imprisonment, and $2500 in fines. It was only 75 years ago that it was illegal for men—in all states—to be shirtless.
This is why the Free the Nipple campaign—which originated in the US—is so important. It even has a film dedicated towards the movement, which proclaims itself to be a “mission to empower women across the world” by standing against female oppression and censorship.
Ms Gerber said it’s just another form of female oppression—and also points out that women in other countries aren’t even allowed to show their ankles. While this may seem absurd to us, to them, it is normal—it serves as proof that our expectation on what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable for a woman’s body is purely social conditioning.
“Cultures have long controlled women’s bodies, and unfortunately ours is one of them,” Mr Ulfhedinn-Visi said.
Ms Gerber believes Facebook further perpetuates the sexualisation of the female nipple, and that it is important to challenge that.
“With our photos, we’re refusing to reveal if the nipples used are male or female. It’s almost impossible to visually tell the difference,” she said.
“The nipple is a way to feed children. We all start as female in the womb, that’s why men have nipples in the first place,” Mr Ulfhedinn-Visi said.
“This view we as a society have of women’s bodies is really toxic and harmful,”
“We deserve the right to our own bodies—we’re born with them. When that right is taken away, it becomes oppressive,” Ms Gerber said.
“It’s an example of pure female objectification.”
Support for the campaign—even before it’s official release—has been astounding, with many volunteering their nipples as tribute. Australian model JD Gower, as well as model and musician Barnaby Oakley, are involved as well as a few others yet to be confirmed. Ms Gerber hopes to collaborate with the Veronicas, as she’s collaborated with them on similar issues in the past. Miley Cyrus and Cara Delevigne are also strong supporters of the American Free the Nipple campaign.
“People are waking up to the sexist and slut shaming ideologies we’ve been taught, and they’re not happy,” Ms Gerber said.
“It’s time for change.”