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Do we free the nipple? That is the wrong question

Do we free the nipple? That is the wrong question

I recently hosted a pool party where I wore a one-piece swim suit. Yeah, I know what you must be thinking, how is this news, right? To me it was. It is. It’s news that the one-piece suit I wore covered everything an olympic swimsuit would cover, except the liner cup of my breast. That’s all. The swimsuit was cut straight down the middle, resting on the waist. The bottom was a lovely mismatch of funky patch work.

I always love the feeling of my breasts released from the confining of a bra. Yet, I am also thankful to cry out for a bra when they ache; like there must be a heavy object lurking inside needing support. I can feel all these things about my body because it’s mine.

Let’s set the scene. I’m sitting in my lovely swimsuit. I love this swimsuit. I’m by the pool and the water is beautifully blue. Enter the patriarchy.

Someone sits down next to me, and asks, “Explain your swimsuit?”

Suddenly I’m looking down at my body and black begins to climb up my legs and over my stomach, like quick sand. Now this isn’t a Stranger Things moment, it’s not a supernatural expression of oppressive powers.

It’s words. Bundles and bundles of words.

Slut. Attention seeker. Attention whore. She can’t be a feminist and wear that.

Sex. Object. She wants it. She’s begging for it.

They overcome my body, filling every inch with filth. More people enter and I’m clouded. All I can see is the words, no individual faces. The words seep into your eyes and fog your view. You see nothing, but black.

So, this is a dramatic re-telling of how it feels for me when my body has labels. When my breasts are half visible in my home, around friends, and that requires explaining.

Next to me a man sits with a bare chest, nipples exposed. Why is this you may wonder?

His body is not a symbol for sexual pleasure.

It can be. But it can also be natural, it can be fit or unhealthy.

A women’s body can only be sexual. That is it. Her body is used to gratify sexual desire, however it’s not her own. It’s a man’s. Prime examples of this is lingerie football (popular in the States) and advertisement using the female body to sell cologne, beer, cars.

My partner found this image on Instagram the other day and was shocked by the comments. 

https://www.fatallynarrow.com/ Fatally Narrow Do we free the niple? That is the wrong question

We see here a dialogue between two women, one believes nipples can only be sexual and one believes they exist outside of sexualisation. That if your nipples are exposed or visible through a shirt whilst you’re working out or at the beach or simply walking to the shops – it’s provocative. Well, it’s not. She’s probably just enjoying the wind on her nipples, and celebrating her release from the bra.

The recent stir of what you might call a 4th wave of feminism, questioning issues of consent, holding sexual predators accountable and listening to women when they tell us their stories – is all a representation of a new bridge we built towards freedom for women. However, we can do better. We can go deeper.

Why at the beach, is a man free to bare his nipples to the world, whereas women are restricted? And this is not a question of whether it’s healthy for society to free the nipple or contain it. It’s about lifting sexual stigma off women’s bodies and allowing them a choice.

To choose, without being held captive by words or phrases like, slut, bitch, attention seeker, I can’t have my children seeing those.

A woman who wears a bra can be a feminist. A woman who doesn’t wear a bra can be a feminist. A woman who wishes to sunbath without a top on can be a feminist. A woman who decides to sunbath wearing a shirt can be a feminist.

There should be no guidelines for feminism, there are no boxes to tick off.

At the moment, I see womankind as if they are in a glass tank. Women observe the world, have opinions about it but all along we are unknowingly fed information from the onlookers. The patriarchy. The other half.

Womankind live off a diet of unwanted sexual advances that are excused depending on how we are dressed or whether we are drunk. We are told that women who don’t wear makeup look “tired” or are in need of a makeover. We are told that women who wear too much makeup are vane and self seeking. We are fed that women’s bodies are something that should be covered and only revealed for sexual pleasure or in one’s own privacy.

Without freedom from these thoughts, how can we ever become capable of making our own decisions? Thinking for ourselves and acting for ourselves is what makes us human. It’s what makes us thriving individuals of society.

We, as active thinkers and listeners can move forward to breakdown the prison of patriarchal oppression, and rise as women of freedom and kindness, to forge the path for women to make their own decisions – without internalised stigma – for their body, their appearance and their mind.

editor fatally narrow

Get to know the editor

Sean Bradley is the editor behind the scenes at Fatally Narrow. He is a true literature enthusiast and feminist comrade, who never fails to pick up on my misplaced commas.

7 thoughts on “Do we free the nipple? That is the wrong question”

  • Hey Hannah,
    I think it’s really cool that you are writing about topics that start conversations. I really admire that you speak your mind and are honest about your views 🙂
    I read a few of your articles and came across this one. I thought this was an interesting read and a good topic – I know feminists have a reputation for “burning bras” haha.
    It’s really sad that you where made to feel uncomfortable and objectified about wearing your favourite swimsuit! I definitely agree with you that there are unrealistic beauty standards placed on women these days; what we should wear, makeup, etc. I think this is so unhealthy for young women to feel like they have to live up to those standards.

    However I don’t agree with you that women are living in a “glass tank” and are controlled by the “patriarchy”. In this day and age women have never been more liberated and free, they can choose what ever job they want, even lingerie football. And it’s their choice, no one is forcing them to wear that outfit, if they didn’t want to dress like that then they could just play regular football. I do agree with you that I think it objectifies women but its 100% these women’s choice to do that.
    I also am a bit confused at where you are drawing the line because on one hand you say women who choose to play sport in lingerie is objectification of women BUT women who choose to not wear a bra or cover her chest i.e. at the beach should be totally acceptable and she shouldn’t be objectified or judged? This to me sounds like two conflicting opinions.

    I also agree with you that women are objectified in advertisement and I think it is totally wrong but the sad truth is that sex sells and we live in a consumerist society where people will do anything to make a buck. But I don’t think the way to win this war is by encouraging women to “free the nipple” and dress as provocative as you want because it’s the man’s problem if he cant control his thoughts. I think we should honour women’s bodies, and do that by dressing modestly. If advertisements, media and sports tell people that women should dress a certain way and use a women’s body to sell products why would we want to encourage that by dressing in exactly the way the media says we should? That doesn’t make sense to me. I saw this short video a while ago and I think you would find it very interesting, I would love to know what your thoughts on it are. It’s called: Men and the power of the visual.

    I also don’t believe that it is the patriarch who puts unrealistic beauty standards on women, it’s the fashion industry. The fashion industry is run and controlled by women and gay men – not strait, white, old men. It is women who are putting these unrealistic standards on other women and I don’t know about you but when I put on make up and dress up nice it’s not to impress men (because they don’t know the difference between a dress and a skirt) its to impress the other girls, because I think women are the harshest critics on each other.

    You wrote in the article “We are fed that women’s bodies are something that should be covered and only revealed for sexual pleasure or in one’s own privacy”. I don’t agree with this and I’m confused because I think that you don’t agree with it either as you just explained women’s bodies are objectified all the time in the media, advertising and sports – I think these industries encourage women to take their clothes off and wear as little as possible. You never see an advertisement with women dressed modestly. If the media encouraged women to dress modestly I think that would be a positive thing and would reduce the pressure on young women who feel they have to dress a certain way in order to be liked and acknowledged as beautiful, wouldn’t you agree?

    Hannah, I really enjoyed reading this article. It’s defiantly a conversation starter and I really admire you for talking about important topics. I have loved being challenged and hope to hear back from you about what you think. Keep on writing, its great stuff! 🙂


    • Hey Kezia!

      I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long for me to reply to your message. Most of the comments are weird spam, so I tend to brush over them!
      First off, thank you so much for your comment. This is exactly why I love to write – to start a conversation.

      All your points are really interesting. The discussion on the role of patriarchal values in our thinking is certainly fraught with confusion and questions. Before I dive into your comments, I’ll give you a little framework of my thinking. So, for me personally, despite the dramatic nature of it, I believe that patriarchal values are deeply internalised in everything we do. And that’s what the article tries to point out. On the outside women have a choice – we can wear makeup or not, wear a bra or not. However, these decisions are quite complicated. They are not made based on what we actually want. If I don’t wear makeup to work, my colleagues may say I look tired or hungover (these actual comments from real people). Now I can choose to put up with that or I can just wear the makeup. Here I’m making a choice, but I’m not really free. I’m confined by a patriarchal standard of beauty – that women without makeup are not probably dressed for the day. The boundaries that are in place are oppressive as they limit freedom.

      In regards to the lingerie sports vs wearing no top on the beach that’s an interesting point. Women are of course free to play sports in lingerie, however, that is obviously not how sports are usually played. It’s a sexual spectacle where men set the rules. The same applies to beach setting where men, again, set the rules. Women must cover their nipples, however, men are free to ditch the shirt. Of course every setting in society has different social norms, however, it’s about who’s creating those norms. Spoiler alert: it’s men. Women are only as free as the men around us allow us to be.

      The video you suggested was interesting. I agree that men are clearly visual creatures – many studies suggest that. It’s obvious that men and women have different needs, however, the problem we have is that needs of men are more important than the lives and mental health of women. We sacrifice women’s dignity, intelligence and beauty to satisfy men’s need to be aroused. Why is that? Well, I think it’s back to the good old patriarchy. To me, the patriarchy is like a virus, it seeps its way into everything; movies, tv shows, books, news, entertainment, sports, fashion, body image, identity, politics. Everywhere you turn, there it is.

      “We are fed that women’s bodies are something that should be covered and only revealed for sexual pleasure or in one’s own privacy”. This quote refers to what I was saying before. That man set the boundaries for women bodies. Only they can choose when it’s appropriate for women to reveal their bodies and when to conceal. For example, it’s okay for women to be marketed as purely sexual creatures on ads, however, in real life, we are expected to dress accordingly and if we stray from their expectations we are shut down.

      In my opinion, we shouldn’t be encouraging women to dress in any certain way. Right now, when we dress, we have already internalised 20 years of societal messaging like, “you’re a prude if you wear that” or “you’ll look like a slut.” These consistently bombard our thoughts when we dress for the morning. My encouragement to women is to try and overcome this internalisation through reading and talking about how we feel when we dress a certain way. That’s the idea of a feminist, you can free the nipple or not – that’s your choice. But at the moment there is no real choice. We are confounded by the ideals and rules of the patriarchy.

      As sisters, let’s help create the choice by calling out men who cat call, call other women sluts and b**tches. Don’t support companies that only use a women’s sexuality to see products. Demand to have power over what we wear, and how we dress. Protest how ever you like, whether it’s wearing a full-length skirt or no top at the beach. Protest for the right to create our own rules. Oppressive social stigma only changes when we force it.

      Kezia, again, I loved your comment. I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised by some of the super rude and misogynist comments I’ve had on this article. I admire your courage to speak for what you think is right.
      I would love to keep discussing this. 🙂

      Fatally Narrow

      • Hey Hannah! I’m so exited about your reply 🙂
        It’s so interesting to me how we both view this same world though such different lenses haha.

        You talk about how patriarchal values are ingrained in our society but I honestly don’t see it. Maybe way back in the old days, yes I think you would have a case for that but we are living in a new era, the world has changed so much since that time. For example some of the most powerful people in the world are women; The Queen of England, The Prim Minister of the UK, The Chancellor of Germany, even here in Australia we have already had a female Prim Minister etc. etc. These are Powerful women in control of some of the strongest countries in the world it doesn’t look like a boys club to me. We are living in a time now where women can literally be anything they want and are not help back by their gender.

        As for make up I really cant imagine the “patriarchy” (a bunch of old white men) sitting in a room discussing how women should look (at any era). I honestly think they have more important things to do and frankly don’t actually care what women look like.
        I have also had those comments “you look so tired” by my coworkers when I don’t wear makeup and I can tell you with 100% certainty that it is not the patriarchy talking through them but the fact that I pretty much always wear makeup and I look pretty different when I don’t.
        I think I may have mentioned something about this in my previous comment but the pressures and beauty standards that women face today are pushed on them from the fashion industry which is run by women and gay men, not the patriarchy. I think if you feel uncomfortable without makeup and are concerned about comments that people might say than that probably comes from your own insecurities and not the patriarchy.

        Oh girl I am totally with you on that one. I think lingerie football is totally degrading to women, just like I think hookers and strippers work in a job that reduces them to a sex object. But men aren’t the only ones who do that, I totally disagree with male stripers and “Magic Mike” shows and bachelorette parties where they have a “penis” cake and “penis” straws, I think that is so disrespectful to men and treats them like objects. So don’t call out men for treating women as objects if you’re not going to turn around and call out all the women for doing the exact same thing. Equality, am I right??
        When it comes to the beach I don’t know if I’m misunderstanding you but I really don’t know where you’re coming to the conclusion that it is men who set the beach rules. In Spain for example I didn’t find a single beach where at least half the women weren’t topless. In Australia we have our own nude beaches so if you wish to free the nip you can go there. Us Aussies love the beach though and its always full of families with young kids and teenage boys who’s brains haven’t fully developed yet so when the city counsel say’s “hey ladies, please keep your tops on” it’s not to be oppressive but rather to protect the dignity of our women from wondering eyes.

        I completely disagree with you that the needs of men and their mental health are more important than women’s. 56% of the homeless in Australia are male, In 2010 77% of suicides where men, 97% of work place deaths are men, men also get harsher prison sentences than women for the same crime and its almost impossible for a man to win in a custody battle against women. Weirdly enough it doesn’t seem like the patriarchy is looking out for its own.
        And like I pointed out before men aren’t the only one’s who use women to get aroused, women do the same thing to men. I saw a buzz feed article during the Olympics titled, “11 Men’s Luge Bulges That All Deserve Gold Medals” WTF Are you kidding me? Yes, lets look at athletes privets and ogle … Can you imagine the outrage of people if the name of the article was something like, “Women’s breasts that deserve an Olympic medal”? This type of hypocrisy makes me fume. If a man objectifies a woman all hell breaks loose BUT if a woman objectifies a man then its hilarious and not an issue. I saw another article about a young woman who ran across a baseball field during a game and grabbed all the players butts! Thats called sexual harassment but everyone laughed and celebrated her and passed the article around. Again I ask if the roles where reversed what would people be saying? Did you see Katie Perry surprise kiss a young boy who was auditioning for a talent show? She didn’t ask his permission, what if it was a male judge surprise kissing a female contestant? I can tell you now he would lose his job and be vilified.
        I just can’t see any evidence that the western world is run by the patriarchy, and that men are valued more than women. If anything I would actually argue that women are the ones who are looked after better than men.

        About women dressing in accordance to what men say, if you are referring to places like Saudi Arabia then yes I agree. However if you are suggesting that this is happening in the West, I don’t see any evidence for that. Never in the history of the world has there ever been a time where women have been more free to wear what ever the hell they want.

        I’m wondering if this is actually becoming a nature vs nurture scenario? It’s so bizarre to me that you put so much value on the opinions of people who actually have nothing to do with you? Society plays such a huge roll in your life that it’s coming into your own home and your own wardrobe. Maybe I’m a lucky one but I don’t actually have those thoughts; “will I look like a slut or too conservative…?” I feel really comfortable in my own skin and I wear my favourite clothes, I only buy cloths that I think will look good on me etc. From what you are saying it sounds like women are having some real insecurity issues and place too much value on the opinions of others. I would probably point the finger again to the fashion industry. I don’t really know how the patriarchy comes into this one. At what point did these men get together to decide what women should wear? It actually makes me laugh because I know a fair few men (including my own father) who couldn’t tell you the difference between a skirt and a dress! And actually it’s my mother and I who shop for my dad and brothers clothes because they have NO idea about fashion haha so just the thought of some old men discussing the newest fashions for women makes me giggle.

        I’ll call out men for inappropriate behaviour when feminists call out women for sexualising men. No more penis straws! Come on, lets fight for equality, nobody (no matter their gender) should be objectified. It’s a two way street but I only see the finger pointed at men.

        I am not a victim of my circumstance but rather a product of my choices.

        This is such an interesting conversation, and I’m loving being challenged to think about why I believe what I believe. I can see we are both really passionate about this topic and I hope I haven’t come across too aggressive 🙂 I really respect your views even if I don’t always agree! I look forward to hearing back from you!


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