It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals.—Emma Watson
There is a darling little girl in my life who likes to crawl up in my lap, rest her head against my shoulder, and snuggle. Biologically, she’s not mine, but I love her just as much as I do my boys even when, at this moment, she’s tormenting a cat rather than getting ready for school. Even at the age of five, she is very much her own person. She is fiercely independent and doesn’t like to be told what to do, especially if it is her brother offering the instruction. She prefers to choose her own wardrobe and, on the days when doing so is a viable option, she prefers to go without a shirt. She doesn’t think twice about exposing her nipples because she’s five. There is still an innocence that sees no difference between her body and her brother’s.
Soon enough, that innocence will be gone; it happens every time someone tries to tell her she can’t do something, or has to do something, simply because she’s a girl. Even at five, she knows such instructions are almost always wrong (matters of personal hygiene being the exception). Yet, being only five, she doesn’t have much opportunity to defy authority.
Gender bias is by no means a new issue, but it is one that has gained some steam over the past year as millennials, led by actress and UN Ambassador Emma Watson, have made the cause their own. Ms. Watson’s efforts, most notably, are seen in the HeForShe campaign, which just recently launched a new website aimed at raising awareness and participation on the part of people of every gender against such discrimination. Being under the auspices of UN Women, the campaign takes a global approach to matters of gender discrimination, focusing on major areas such as health, work, education, and politics.
At the same time, however, another equality-motivated campaign popped up last year, again largely motivated and voice by millennials, known as Free The Nipple. To be clear, the root motivation here is exactly the same as it is for HeForShe: gender equality. The approach is quite different, however, and a bit more narrowly focused in its approach. Free The Nipple directly attacks discrimination against women whom, for whatever reason, want or need to expose their breasts, subjecting them to criticism and, in many cases laws, that does not apply to men. The campaign has been especially visible online with social media apps such as Instagram and Facebook that have very gender biased rules regarding whose nipples are acceptable.
Honestly, I never thought of nipples as a political action point, but they have become just that. Nipples are representative not just of a specific area of bias, but of the problem of gender bias as a whole. Where HeForShe is so large and encompassing in scope as to appear daunting, Free The Nipple essentially makes the statement, “let’s start here, with nipples; fix that problem and grow from there.” As a result, Free The Nipple has a more populist following while HeForShe addresses the issues from more of a philosophical and political action point.
Exposing nipples would seem to be a seasonal matter, but apparently that’s not the case. The New York Times ran a video and article yesterday in support of the movement. The video obviously wasn’t shot within the past week. The women who are the subject of Deborah Acosta’s article were comfortable as they sat topless in a Brooklyn park. Something tells me they might choose differently as they attempt to wade through the twenty-something inches of snow covering the city. I was also struck by the fact the video includes a warning that bare nipples are coming. Still, the video addresses the issue well. Take a look:
Both movements continue forward and are likely to gain more energy as weather gets warmer and people are less likely to stay indoors huddled under mounds of blankets. What matters, though, is whether either campaign is actually making a difference. While both are getting plenty of media attention, no rules have been changed on social media, no significant laws have been passed and, outside New York and a few other open-minded locales, it is still illegal for a woman to show her nipples in public. While this is an election year with women running in both major parties, gender equality is still not a major plank in either platform.
We can take pictures and produce videos forever, we can make stirring speeches until we go hoarse, but without any real and substantive change those actions are meaningless. Real and substantive change doesn’t come from making Facebook comments or liking a picture on Instagram. At some point, everyone has to stand up and fight for the nipples, and the gender rights that go along with them. Without every voice, without people making their statements at the ballot box, we still end up exactly where we are now, which is an incredibly biased and male dominated society that doesn’t work.
I know a precious five-year-old who is going to grow up and not want to wear a shirt all the time. Why should she? Let’s get past the talk and make change happen.