During the halftime show of the 2019 Super Bowl game, Adam Levine of Maroon 5 treated us all to a topless performance that generated a lot of discussion. Reactions were mixed. Some fans loved it, some people hated it, and others wondered why it was okay for him to take his shirt off on the televised stage, but we’re still talking about Janet Jackson’s nip slip 15 years after it transpired. The ‘wardrobe malfunction” of 2004 occurred when Justin Timberlake pulled part of Jackson’s shirt off at the end of his song, resulting in her right breast being exposed for 9/16ths of a second on live TV (her nipple was covered by a decorative shield).
Whether this event was premeditated is still up for debate, but the fallout disproportionately effected the female half of the duo. Both performers apologized, but Jackson received most of the blame and criticism. Weeks after the incident, CBS revoked her invitation to present at that year’s Grammy Awards, but let Timberlake’s invitation stand. Viacom removed Jackson’s music videos from their rotations on MTV and VH1, but not Timberlake’s. Litigation between the FCC and Viacom went on for years.
Not everyone appreciated the bare-chested look that Levine flaunted this year, but the backlash was mostly limited to Twitter outcry and cyber mocking. The lack of substantial blowback in the form of fines, FCC complaints, and blacklists demonstrates the prevalence of a significant double standard. This is just one example of how female nipples are sexualized in our culture, while male nipples are not. Why is that? Who decided?
It was men. Lets just get that out of the way now. Also, side note: when I googled the phrase, “why are female breasts sexualized?”, the first results were explorations as to why men like breasts. I don’t care why men like breasts. I want to know why a body part I have that’s intended use is to nourish babies is considered erotic and private.
The main argument I see for why female breasts should be censored is that they are considered sex organs. Okay, fine. But why are mine sex organs, and my husband’s are not? His literally don’t serve a purpose. Mine have a biological function that, I assure you, is not sexy. So what makes them sexual? The fact that men are attracted to them? There was a point in history where women wouldn’t expose their ankles because someone determined that they were indecent. ANKLES! So I’m sorry, but I don’t think we should base anything off of what men might find erotic. The other part of this argument is that many women find nipple stimulation during sexual activity to be arousing. This is supported by a 2006 study, which found that 82% of the female participants between 17 and 29 years old reported that nipple and/or breast stimulation heightened sexual experience. However, if this is the standard being applied, then male nipples should also be considered sexual, because 52% of participating men claimed to be aroused by having their nipples manipulated. And why stop there? Might as well cover all of the human erogenous zones if the objective is not to expose erotic body parts. From now on, we’re all covering our knees, wrists, ears, necks, and scalps.
Thankfully, all 50 states have passed legislation protecting women’s rights to nurse their babies any and everywhere that they see fit. This is necessary and appropriate; however, it sends an odd message. Essentially, these laws allow that lactating breasts are not sexual. So…breasts are sexual from the time they develop, except when they’re being used for their intended purpose? Okay. Some states, my home state of Ohio included, have passed laws affording women the right to go topless as desired. Unfortunately, many cities, towns, parks, etc. within those states have declared ordinances forbidding toplessness. Personally, I am not bothered by this, provided the ban applies to both sexes. Female breasts are no more sexual than male breasts, and nudity policies should reflect that.
Could someone please ask Facebook to catch up? And Instagram? In both of their nudity policies, they specify that female nipples are allowed only in breastfeeding images or photos of art. You know what there is no mention of? You got it-male nipples. I even tested the policy for kicks. I know from personal experience that female nipples will, in fact, be flagged on Facebook (even if no other user reports them), and the poster will be suspended from interaction. A few weeks ago, I posted a photo of myself, in a private group that I belong to, that showed my breasts (because they’re MINE, and I CAN, and there may have been whiskey involved, but that’s none of your business). Within seconds the image was removed, and I received a 24-hour suspension. Just to see what would happen, I reported a photo of my husband at the beach for nudity that revealed his nipples. The answer is nothing. Not a damn thing. No communication with him or me from Facebook. This is asinine. And unfair.
On behalf of Janet Jackson, and women everywhere, can we drop the pretense that female nipples are more sexual than male nipples? Please?
Kreps, D., & Kreps, D. (2018, June 25). Nipple Ripples: Revisiting Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/nipple-ripples-10-years-of-fallout-from-janet-jacksons-halftime-show-122792/
Levin, R., & Meston, C. (2006, May). Nipple/Breast stimulation and sexual arousal in young men and women. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16681470
Krischer, H. (n.d.). 7 Unexpected Erogenous Zones. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/7-awesome-erogenous-zones#2