#FreeTheNipple Iceland-Edition – March 26th 2015

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Feminism / Iceland

iceland_freethenippleIn 2014 the film-comedy “Free the Nipple” was released giving wider publicity to the “Free the Nipple” campaign, which is aimed at ending the criminalisation of female breasts in the US-American public space, which can still get you punished for indecent exposure. In the last days the #FreeTheNipple hashtag experienced a sudden influx of interest on social media, after the feminist Icelandic school organization of the Ver­zlu­narskóli Íslands declared march 26th to be the FreeTheNipple-Day and invited all female students to attend school without a bra. This call for action happened after a girl was mocked for showing a nipple-revealing picture online. The movement quickly spread past the school context as many Icelandic women including parliamentarians and other women of public interest published calls for support and even pictures of their own nipples in solidarity:

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 9.27.28 PMThe public action of breaking gendered taboos, or as Icelandic newspaper the Grapevine called it: “Iceland’s Feminists Fuck Gender Norms With #FreeTheNipple“, is align with the feminist tradition of criticising patriarchal rules and regulations for the female body and sexuality. The idea of reclaiming the public space with radical displays of female nudity and the call for women to define their own sexuality and break with patriarchal expectations is a typical element of third wave feminism. Already the Riot Grrrls in the 90’s tried to subvert the close definitions of female sexuality by calling themselves sluts and ironically undermining societal expectations for decency and proper displays of femininity. In recent years this has been effectively used as a protest strategy during the slut-walks, which also took place in Iceland:

Within the feminist movement there have been ambiguous positions towards the Slut-Walks as well as towards other public displays of female nudity in the context of protests (for example the protest of the FEMEN group), as they can very easily be read as being too much in accordance with patriarchal ideas of sexiness, while intended to ironically undermine exactly those concepts. This critique can also be directed at the #FreeTheNipple campaign, especially when the displays of nipples in the typical Selfie-bathroom-mirror-set, seem to comply very much with rather typical displays of female sexiness. The real radicality of the movement shows in exactly those moments when the participating women defy the norms and conventions of a patriarchal society, by either displaying nudity in non-sexy settings like at the breakfast table or showing powerful gestures clearly defying the norms and conventions that they are confronted with:

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Judging from some of the online comments the most radical images are photos displaying cancer survivors or breastfeeding, pictures that cannot be reframed into accepted modes of sexiness. Essentially reclaiming public space for female nudity seems to be perceived as most subversive when accepted patriarchal standards of youth and beauty are challenged and/or when the female body is not presented as something that can be consumed by a sexist gaze. That is essentially the core of projects like the “A Beautiful Body Project” by photographer JadeBeall, the Icelandic Weird Girls Project, Sophie Spinelles “Shameless Photography” or blog-projects like “The Shape of a Mother.”

Underlining the purpose and necessity of the Icelandic campaign are by the way the typical Facebook censorship rules, which  lead to an immediate block of the #FreeTheNipple photographs:

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