We’re all familiar with the #FreeTheNipple campaign and I’m sure that we’re all as equally familiar with the existing double-standards between men and women in today’s society. If you weren’t, climb back underneath your rock and stay there.
#FreeTheNipple is an international campaign tackling the sexism, hyper-sexualisation and irrationality behind society’s prude scandalization of the female nipple in a visual, interactive and accessible manner. Recently women have appeared online wearing shirts, swimwear and underwear through which the nipple is clearly visible, as well as photoshopping male nipples onto their breasts, to see how severely these images will be policed by social media giants Facebook and Instagram.
The sexualisation of women has become so every-day that I don’t even pay any attention anymore; shame on me. When I get cat-called, when a guy comes right up to me in the street and makes an undesirable, animal-like noise, or when old men hit on me in the bar that I work in, I should defend myself. How dare they treat me like that? Just last week I was tipped for my “cracking arse” and when telling my friend about the incident I described it as “mild sexual harassment”. She looked at me, bewildered, replying, “That’s not mild, that’s serious.” She was right, but women become so accustomed to being sexually harassed that the scale on which we measure the severity of our harassment becomes jaded and we struggle to determine when enough is enough. Please don’t assume that I believe that women are the only victims of sexual harassment, or that we don’t dish out unwanted ‘compliments’ too, but it’s more common for women to be objectified in today’s society. Testament to this is trans-woman, Courtney Demone, who is currently undergoing Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
Courtney Demone has started growing breasts and with the trials of her physical transition she is also witnessing first-hand the hypocritical principles that exist between men and women. She has recently started writing regular posts on Mashable about her experience and has started a campaign called #DoIHaveBoobsNow. In these posts she discusses how her growing femininity has posed problems for her thus far, stating “People treat you much differently when they see you as a trans woman instead of as a cis man. I already have a long list of privileges lost in transition.” She challenges the censorship experienced by women online as well as narrow definitions of feminism posed by the #FreeTheNipple campaign.
Demone tells of how, recently, she was sunbathing topless in her private garden when her roommate asked: “Since you’re a girl now, does that mean I’m not allowed to look at you shirtless anymore?” At what stage does normality cease and aversion begin? The question sparked inquisitiveness and perplexity for Demone whose transitioning experience has involved blockade after blockade. Things that she once freely did as a man are no longer accessible to her. What have become accessible to her are the politics of the female body, harassment, image policing, society’s laws of modesty, and a barrage of sexist, misogynist and repulsive messages on her OKCupid profile.
Demone is by no means searching for a pity party. She admits that she is extremely privileged; an educated white women living in an upper class Canadian neighbourhood with a family who have supported her trans-identity from the outset. What she is trying to do (extremely successfully, might I add) is to spotlight the gender indifferences that still exist in society between men and women, but from a standpoint that’s not accessible to many. When will society decide that Demone is feminine enough to be cat-called? Announcing her #DoIHaveBoobsNow campaign she encourages women to partake with her, stating “When people start to consistently see me as a woman, my privilege to be comfortably topless in public will be gone for good…We can challenge that.”
Unknowingly, #FreeTheNipple has provided the perfect platform for Demone to explore her growing femininity in the eyes of society. Moreover, Demone is challenging the very confines of the #FreeTheNipple campaign’s definitions of femininity. Along with #DoIHaveBoobsNow Demone has started another online campaign called #FreeAllBodies, claiming that #FreeTheNipple is not as inclusive as it should be. Within this campaign Demone invites those with differing bodies to share their nipple posts, to emphasize the diverse ways in which people with differing bodies are sexualized, fetishized and humiliated.
She has recognized the positive impact and effectiveness that the #FreeTheNipple campaign has had, however she asserts that there is space for growth. The aim of her campaign is to “free all bodies from silencing, oppression, and censorship” by emboldening others to use the ever-censoring social media platforms to post and share stories of how society treats their bodies. While the likes of Facebook have shown their progressive nature by allowing users to choose from a long and detailed list of gender identities, the network still decides which nipples must be censored based on gender binaries.
Returning to the context in which Demone has found herself the object of unwated attention, transitioning visibly from male to female Demone noted that, “It’s [her] femininity, not [her] being transgender, that has brought about much of this privilege loss, and it’s misogyny that robs women of these privileges.” She has expressed her concern that she no longer feels comfortable being topless, and at times she feels that her safety is now compromised because she is a woman, “I’ve slowly watched my cisgender male privilege evaporate” adding that that’s all part and parcel of the “sexism that comes from living in a female body.”
We wait with bated breath for the bare-breasted post that Facebook and Instagram deem x-rated and decide to censor. Hopefully Demone’s campaign will have succeeded before then and these social-media powerhouses will realize the error of their censoring ways and #FreeAllBodies for good, but just in case, get your pitchforks sharpened.
Words – Caoilfhionn Rose