In an attempt to advance feminism on the University of Redlands campus, students with breasts took to the Hunsaker Plaza to promote the “Free the Nipple”(FTN) movement through a topless demonstration. This was the second FTN event on campus, building off the momentum following last spring’s demonstration.
Last year, Johnston senior Manmit Kaur, came up with the idea of a FTN demonstration after she was catcalled by a group of male students outside of her Brockton apartment. Confronting the group only led to more harassment for Kaur. It became apparent to Kaur that women are often dehumanized and objectified through acts such as cat calling and the rating of women on 10 point scales, which leads to a hyper awareness of their bodies and their perceived imperfections. Therefore, the free the nipple demonstration became an opportunity to tackle both issues of hyper sexualization of female bodies as well as a way to empower students to feel confident in their own bodies.
“I think starting with bodies, starting with something you live with every single day, is a logical place to start, even if there are other issues that might be more severe. Not being able to take off your shirt might not affect your classwork, but constant fear of harassment might,” said Zoe Price, junior and Center for Gender Justice intern. “There is some risk with FTN that people will be like, ‘I just want to see boobs,’ or people think it’s obscene, but we have people without breasts on the volleyball court all the time, and it makes total sense, we live in a hot place.”
This year’s protest was similar to last year’s with the participants walking in a single file line from the Center for Gender Justice to the middle of Hunsaker Plaza. Some decided to take their tops off once they were outside, while others came out topless with written messages on their bodies and some decided to stay anonymous and wore ski masks. People stood around watching the demonstration which lasted around five minutes. Some male volunteers, labeled “creeper patrol,” stood by participants and politely asked people to not take pictures or quiet any potential harassment. Perhaps the most unifying moment of the demonstration was when an unofficial participant ran by exposing her nipples in solidarity.
“We gave people the option of anonymity because there were some people taking pictures there, and for various reasons, you might want to remain anonymous,” Price said. “If it’s for your reputation or if a job finds this photo, but [you are] still able to stand up for equal consideration of bodies.”
An important aspect of the Free the Nipple movement is normalizing toplessness, both in people with and without breasts.
“Last year, when we did it for the first time, people were really shocked, and this year people went by and applauded and were pleased. But it [has] almost become a norm so fast, which I think really shows that people here don’t really care,” said Leela MadhavaRau of Campus Diversity and Inclusion. “I think if we can normalize [toplessness for women] it will be better for all of us.”
Sophomore Zoe Peterson stated her reasoning for participating in the protest as simply a way to avoid restrictions based on her gender.
“I just don’t like my gender limiting me in what I can’t do, can’t wear, can’t be,” Peterson explained.
“I was actually really nervous to do it this year until literally the last second. I wasn’t sure and then just decided to get over my fear because I shouldn’t be scared and that’s what this is all about,” Johnston sophomore Talia Adams said. “I kind of just wanted to do it for myself mostly, just so that I can feel comfortable doing it.”
Peterson said that the recent presidential election has given further inspiration for her and others to stand up for what they believe in.
“When we have a [President Elect] who, it kind of seems, wants to take away or doesn’t agree with these liberties, then I think it is more important to be doing these protests right now.”
Conversations and movements about sexuality are essential, in order to live in a society where everyone feels that their body is respected.
“I think it’s important because we live in a society that doesn’t talk about human sexuality, and therefore it makes anything to do with sexuality a taboo subject,” Madhava Rau said. “That leads to a lack of conversation and that people look differently. People are realizing that human bodies are there and that breasts are there for, literally, nurture. I think it’s empowering for women to be able to feel that as they stand in front of their peers, that this is something that is very natural.”
In addition, she highlighted the double standard of cis-gendered males being able to take off their tops virtually anywhere with impunity, while womyn-identifying individuals, and sometimes trans-males as well, are unable to do so. While this is certainly a global issue, addressing the inequality on college campuses is particularly of importance if all students are to feel comfortable in their living-learning environments.
“People tried to change the policy on campus because the policy doesn’t specifically prohibit female nipples but, indecency is vaguely defined and P-Safe can tell you at any time to change what you’re wearing,” Junior Zoe Price said.
In order to avoid situations like this, participants in the protest have written a “Gender Neutral Topless Policy” proposal which states, “The University of Redlands abides by California Penal Code 314. In areas on campus where wearing a top is optional, this right is accorded to all students. Harassment based on sex or gender is prohibited by virtue of the Policy Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, and Retaliation. This policy does not apply to [those] who engage in partial or full nudity inside buildings or on public streets or sidewalks.”
In regards to this proposal, Price said “I think my number one hope is that we turn the draft …into real policy.”
Certain participants and people involved in the Center for Gender Justice have met with the proper people in the administration and proposed the Gender Neutral Topless Policy to them.
photos courtesy of Redlands Bulldog Photographer Blair Newman