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I’m a feminist. And I'm not just your “I believe the sexes are equal” feminist, but I’m an activist-y feminist. I work in digital advertising for progressive causes, I donate to Planned Parenthood on the reg, I vote for progressive women whenever possible, and I’ll throw down in a Facebook comment thread or Twitter chain for the sake of #YesAllWomen. I’m a progressive feminist and damn proud of it.
That being said, I cannot with #FreeTheNipple.
#FreeTheNipple began as a marketing hashtag for a film by American filmmaker, Lina Esco, called Free The Nipple. The film was created to highlight the hypocrisy of New York’s nudity laws, and apparently wasn’t that good. The hashtag really got going when Scout Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis, had a photo removed from Instagram for showing some areola, so she decided to document a topless walk through New York City on Twitter to highlight Instagram’s policy, which she felt was unfair.
Since then, other female celebrities have hopped on the bandwagon, calling out Instagram’s nipple policy. Rihanna, Cara Delvigne, Miley Cyrus, Chrissy Teigen, and Willow Smith are some notable celebrities who have all called on Instagram to let their nipples fly free because: #equality, and #art, and #feminism and whatever. Even newly-realized feminist Matt McGorry has jumped on the bandwagon in defense of Freeing the Nipple.
I can easily follow the logic behind this perspective, but here’s the thing: attacking a private company’s content guidelines actually does nothing substantive for women. Absolutely nothing. From the content guidelines, it’s pretty clear that Instagram is trying to create a platform for fun, meaningful, and diverse photo and video content, that is also free of porn. As a result, the company needs a way to regulate the porn that users share on the platform. This results in a carefully worded policy that allows for them to regulate this type of content at their discretion.
To be clear: I’m not saying that images of women’s nipples are porn. Rather, based on Instagram’s goals, they need a way to regulate nude content to easily remove porn. Nipples come with nudity, so they are going to be a part of that equation. Even then, Instagram’s policy does nothing to indicate that women’s nipples are porn-y or second-class. Here’s the actual language of their content guidelines:
We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.
So why should the average woman care about whether or not Instagram will let her nipples be free? We shouldn’t. If any group or population of women are to benefit from the uplifting of areola on the platform, it’s women in the porn industry, and none of these celebrities and #FreeTheNipple activists are openly campaigning for the improved acceptance of casual sex workers in our society through Instagram opening up their platform to full pornographic content. Even then, Instagram’s content policy simply isn’t the solution, or even a right step towards a solution. #FreeTheNipple simply isn’t drawing attention to any substantive issues, except, maybe, very broadly, #feminism.
This is why #FreeTheNipple is absolutely stupid in its current form: it gives no voice to the issues that plague women daily. 42 million women are one misfortune away from poverty. Hispanic women make 54 cents of what a white man makes, Black women make 64 cents of what a white man makes, the United States still does not have any policy for paid maternity leave, paid sick leave still isn’t available for every woman in the United States, our education system is being bankrupted by private corporate interests, trans women are being killed at an astounding clip, and people are being implored to give a damn about #FreeTheNipple?
#FreeTheNipple feminism is exclusively for the privileged.
This campaign is one more instance of how a wealthy, and often white, brand of feminism has detached itself from those who need the movement most. It’s great that more and more young celebrities are starting to identify themselves as feminists, and are highlighting imbalances in our culture, but we need these women to do better. Exclusively speaking on #FreeTheNipple as a measure of your feminist street cred simply isn’t enough. If you’re famous and sport the title “feminist,” it’s time to speak on the issues that actually affect women and girls, in addition to the issues that may only affect you and your #girlsquad (you can’t read it, but I’m rolling my eyes as I type “#girlsquad”).
Every day women are facing struggles that they just shouldn’t have to because of institutional gender and racial bias, and we don’t have time to waste fighting Instagram. If you can take the time to carefully set-up and light your artsy #FreeTheNipple photo in hopes it will pass Instagram’s content policy, you most certainly have the time to #SpeakHerName or #StandWithPP, if you haven’t already. Honestly, let’s quit this mess and get back to work.