[hr gap=””]The Redlands Bulldog has opted to remove certain photographs originally published in this article.[hr gap=””]
At 12:30 p.m on Wednesday Nov. 18 a group of 30 students walked hand in hand, some wearing masks and some not, from the Women’s Center to the Hunsaker Plaza. The Commons was booming; students and faculty alike were eating their lunches outside and enjoying the sunshine. Within a few seconds, the students created a single file line, alternating facing the Hunsaker Center and the Irvine Commons. As bystanders began to realize that something big was about to happen, chatter began to subside and people congregated towards the line of individuals.
At 12:35 p.m, the line of students gave each other looks of excitement, and nodded their heads. In unison, they stripped their shirts off, proudly exposing their breasts for everyone to see. Dead silence followed. And after a minute, cheering and applause ensued from everyone around them, and the line of proudly topless students strutted back into the Women’s Center.
The Free the Nipple campaign serves to eliminate the sexualization of breasts, and to point out the social and legal hypocrisies that exist between the female and male upper body. In many states it is illegal for women to be topless in public, even in the case of breastfeeding, where it is legal in all 50 states for men to be topless in public. Women’s advocates across the University of Redlands campus wanted to voice their opposition to this double standard between women and men and to redefine their bodies. In order to stand up for this injustice, University of Redlands juniors Manmit Kaur and Crystal Marshall and seniors Sarah Grimley and Bre Gannis worked to organize a Free the Nipple Demonstration on campus.
“I feel like the sexualization and commodification of breasts is a big issue,” said Marshall. “You can literally buy breasts in this day and age, from porn to implants. I feel it’s a form of sexism and censorship when females get harassed for showing their breasts.”
Sexualization of female breasts proved to be particularly relevant when female students got in trouble with Public Safety for being topless. It should be noted that it is legal in the state of California to be topless in public.
“A few of my female friends were sunbathing at the pool topless this weekend, and a male–and I think it’s important to note his sex–lifeguard called P-Safe and they were written up by all four officers,” said an anonymous student at the University of Redlands. “This is so unfair. We have sexual predators on campus, and P-Safe is concerned about topless women, just lying there, minding their own business? Like, don’t they have anything better to do than harass women in their natural state? Why are breasts only okay when they’re sexualized? It’s gross.”
Participators in the Free the Nipple demonstration said that there are contradictions in the laws both at school and across the nation that sexualize and constrict the female upper body.
“P-Safe said that female top nudity was okay at the protest, but not at the pool. Well, normalizing breasts is what the whole protest was about! I feel they completely missed the point,” said the anonymous student. “Point 11 of letter C [in the University of Redlands Student Code of Conduct] states that ‘indecent or obscene’ behavior won’t be tolerated, but I don’t see how nipples that happen to have fat under them is either indecent or obscene.”
Participators in the event made it clear that everybody has nipples and there shouldn’t be such a stigma behind them. In order to convey this point, many student participators wrote phrases on their chests such as “my body is not yours to be ashamed of,” “my body, my choice,” and “don’t sexualize me”. University of Redlands sophomore Dominic Ravina is transgender, and recently had his breast removed. On his chest, he wrote “Why can I be topless now?” to make the point that there is an unjust dichotomy between the sexualization of men and women bodies.
“Seeing somebody with top surgery up there, with ‘Why can I take off my top now?’ written on his chest, was my favorite sign,” said Lana Ludovico, University of Redlands junior. “Because a demonstration like this can break down so many different barriers.”
Most people who witnessed the demonstration felt empowered by the courage of the men and women who participated, and felt that it made an important point.
“This school is very traditional, let’s be honest, being a liberal arts school it’s very traditional,” said Ludovico. “Like that could have gone completely wrong. People could have been screaming and taking pictures and guys trying to do things, but it was very respectful. It was reaffirming to me and empowering as well to see that there are girls who had the guts to do this, but also the community’s response.”
Although the majority of the response was positive, not everyone was comfortable with what they saw.
“Overheard a conversation ‘I can’t believe they did that, I wouldn’t do it and I wouldn’t want to see it!’”, University of Redlands student Alison Anders posted on the event Facebook page. “I asked her why she was so uncomfortable with seeing nipples and she didn’t know why. It makes me very sad that society makes us think our bodies are unfit to be seen and I’m so glad we did this!”
The Free the Nipple demonstration didn’t just serve to broaden the perspectives of those who witnessed the event, but also to empower the women and men who participated in it.
“The participants gained so much confidence and pride in themselves,” Marshall said. “We all had to be brave and strong. Since the event, I’ve been topless on the quad just doing homework, and I’ve received nothing but positive feedback, but most people who passed me didn’t seem to care, or even notice. I take that as a positive sign. I think that just being topless can serve as an empowering example.”
The Free the Nipple demonstration was an important step in the women’s rights movement on the University of Redlands campus. Equality has not yet been achieved, but we can thank the brave men and women who participated in events for furthering the feminist movement and refusing to stop until progress has been made.
“Demonstrations like this are important because it provides a place for females to bravely take back their bodies and show the world that they are not ashamed of themselves, and that they realize their bodies are so much more than sexualized bits and pieces that are so often sold back to us in advertisements, media, and adult entertainment.,” Marshall said. “The participants showed that no matter how a person is dressed, they still deserve respect. We took off our shirts to show that female nipples aren’t anything scary or scandalous. They are nothing to be sensationalized. The only thing that separates male and female nipples is the amount of fat behind them. In the 1930’s, men weren’t even allowed to be topless at the beach. They had to fight for their rights then, and we’re fighting for ours now.”
[Images courtesy of Sky Ung, Redlands Bulldog photographer]