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When Mary Frees The Nipple

"Cover this breast which I cannot behold: Such a sight can offend one's soul. And it brings forth guilty thoughts." Tartuffe, Molière (1664)

"Women’s breasts, don’t we know, are supposed to belong to her lover or any man who desires her." Andrea List, speaking about breasfeeding. Feminist Art and the Maternal (2008)

This article was written in January 2023 before the nipple ban was removed from IG

As I am currently writing these words, 2023 has been off to a strange start. It seems as though as soon as one social boundary crumbles, a fierce resistance appears. Breastfeeding is a constant reminder of these waves of popular and institutional opinions - its moral status going from barely noticed to highly frowned upon, if not worse. Examples are legion, every one shaped by centuries of male dominance and fear of the feminine. Hence, to every female characteristic its own form of oppression - excision, birth control, notions of acceptability, and so on. At the root of the unnecessary controversy around breastfeeding is the breast, in this case found on a traditionally identifiable woman's body part, aka nipple sitting on top of a cushion of flesh. The buildup of breast as pornography is a whole story in its own right, the context in which a breast should or should not be exposed varies - different cultures, different nurtures, etc. In Western countries, the status of this body part is at the moment subject to such complexities that it becomes almost impossible to navigate. The World Health Organisation recommends that babies be solely breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives, this recommendation enforced by most public health systems (NHS in the UK, for instance). The practicability of such a choice (leaving to the side the pains and guilts of not doing/doing wrong/aches pains of breastfeeding) either means that a newborn be kept indoors with their mother for six months, or that the mother be able to feed her baby anywhere she damn well pleases. That being said, the acceptance of breastfeeding in public places is not sufficient to alleviate the breast from its pornographic weight. A breast is considered - by default - pornographic, which means that any other breast-showing situation is an exception to that rule. Therefore, what defines an exception is the desirability of the woman's body. As the artist (and unfortunate victim of Insta policies*) Lina Scheynius points out: "Instagram does currently make some exceptions to where they allow nudity. And this I believe is dangerous in its own way too. When we give birth or breast feed or protest we are allowed to show our nipples. This gives the message that in those moments we are not sexy, but only in those moments." Nipple in, nipple out, the male gaze** decides. “Indeed, no body is more cruelly posed at the intersection of the visible and the invisible, the public and the intimate, than the maternal body.” Andrea List If you think this whole discourse is unnecessary, think again. Women are constantly told what to show, what to hide, and how to hide it. I wish for nipple equality between all genders. I wish freeing the nipple would free women from objectification. It probably won't, though it might be a good start...

* Instagram is currently under pressure to #freethenipple. At the moment, any AI identified picture or photograph of a female breast can lead to an account being deleted, and the owner being banned from the app. ** What is defined here as the male gaze is the representation of women as sexual objects to please the heterosexual male viewer. As any such concept, it does not define all men, but a social phenomenon creating visual and cultural points of reference.

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