Beyond Our Culture’s Nipple Confusion

A high school girl decides to show up at school without a bra and gets pulled out of class by security and reprimanded. Why?

I used to think that bras were primarily made to support breasts. And secondly to optionally look sexy.

How naïve of me.

It is obvious to me now that their primary purpose is to hide nipples. Female nipples. Why else would girls in middle school get teased into wearing a bra? Why else would teenage girls who have very little breast tissue have parents who insist that they put on a bra before leaving the house? “I would never allow my daughter to leave the house without a bra.” (as seen in the comment section of the above link)

Clearly it’s not about the support. It’s about the way female chests look without a bra. Meaning, it’s about noticing their nipples through their clothes. But why? What is the fear that motivates mothers to force bras on their daughters?

Here are my thoughts as to what those fears might be:

1. Wear a bra or the hint of your nipples will distract the boys from their education. 

Certainly a place of learning is more effective if distractions are minimized. But of course you can’t possibly hope to remove all distractions. Secondly, and more importantly, one of the things that all people have to learn is how to focus on their work, or their studies, or any number of other activities, in spite of distractions, and especially in the company of the type of people they are attracted to. Why aren’t we teaching kids that they are personally responsible for being distracted? That they can train their minds to ignore one thing and deliberately focus on another? If a boy will be hampered in his education by the hint of a girl’s nipples between classes then it’s clear to me that his thoughts are the problem, that he chooses to prioritize thinking about girls’ bodies over his education. That there is a temptation for distraction isn’t the problem. If it is an insurmountable problem for the boy, I would favor questioning what kinds of things he does with his leisure time to be so obsessed with girls’ physiques over putting into question a girl’s morality who chooses to dress for personal comfort. Whatever the reasons, boys who choose to check out girls will do so whether she is wearing a bra or not. The more important question is: where are the people who would teach these boys that respect for others is far more important than their sexual urges?

2. Wear a bra or boys will lose all control of themselves when faced with the mere suggestion of your nipples. 

If this is true, then basically bras are the containment device for nipples’ irresistible, hypnotic, and debasing power over men, reducing men to gaping-mouthed, buggy-eyed, drooling, animalistic cartoon versions of themselves. Right? Which leads us to something even scarier:

3. Wear a bra or you’re asking to get raped. 

In other words: Don’t give boys a reason to rape you. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? A bit melodramatic, perhaps? But there are solid grounds for this fear. The rate of sexual assault perpetrated against women is shocking. And not in some remote savage corner of the world. No, it’s in the not-so-remote but questionably-savage United States of America. This is one of the main reasons why I have trust issues regarding men. We do live in a culture that says that all men need is to be given a reason to mistreat women and they will. If you wear a short skirt, you’re asking to get raped. Show some cleavage, some leg, wear too much make up, high heels, the wrong color, a specific cut, form-fitting, hold eye contact with a man, or worse, flirt with him, or simply find yourself at the wrong place at the wrong time, and you’re inviting him to rape you. Or don’t fight back hard enough. Getting raped is still assumed to be at least in part the woman’s fault, a vast improvement over the previous stance that believed that it was always the woman’s fault. Finally, women are shedding their inherited evil seductress label. But none of these circumstances are the reason they get raped. Women are assaulted by men because those men chose to assault them. And since it happens most often with family members or someone they know, I would suggest that it has very little if anything to do with what the victims choose to wear, and more to do with the opportunity and the desire to rape on the part of the aggressor. Let’s please stop blaming victims for injustices that are done to them at the hand of others. No one asks to get raped. Let’s teach our girls to be strong and to be confident in who they are and their inherent value as people. And let’s teach our boys to be strong and to be confident in who they are and their inherent value as people too. And further, let’s teach them all to see and respect that inherent and full value in other people.

4. Wear a bra or the boys who notice the shadow of your nipples behind your shirt may lose their faith in God. 

This is the one used in certain Christian circles in the conversation about modesty. It implies that the mere sight of the female form is enough for men to struggle with their faith in God. That it is women’s fault that men have lustful thoughts and that lustful thoughts are a sort of unforgivable sin that will doom them to Hell. And the further implication is that God is incapable of helping men overcome this curse, this design flaw, really. So it is up to women to protect men by keeping the feminine distinctions of their bodies hidden from view. Women are men’s Achilles’ heel. They are therefore personally responsible for the faith of all men. First of all, the Bible passage most often used to back this up refers to women showing off their wealth with jewelry, not their feminine wares. Seriously. Context is so under-valued these days. Second, each person is responsible for their own faith (and their own thoughts and actions for that matter). Third, what ever happened to teaching not only a deep respect for others, but integrity? A person of integrity will not say in one moment that abuse is bad and in the next abuse another person simply because they have the opportunity to do so without getting caught. Nor will they blame another person for their own moral failure. They will take responsibility for their thoughts and actions.

This isn’t my personal #freethenipple rant. Nor is it an argument about whether or not women should wear bras. This is about taking a moment to think about why hiding female nipples is such a big deal in our culture. Why the whole female form is still perceived as a threat to men, to other women, and to the very fabric of our culture.

Our culture’s sexual obsession with breasts is completely overblown. Let’s tone it down a bit, shall we?

Men do not become aggressive animals when faced with female nipples.

5 yr olds should not have to wear the top piece of their bathing suit in public.

Men’s nipples can be sexual too and they don’t have to wear bras, or even a shirt. Why is that?

Why do women who don’t need the support for their breasts have to wear a bra?

If it’s primarily about keeping nipples covered, why isn’t there a movement to wear pasties or those rubbery nipple cover things?

Boys should be taught and expected to respect girls, not fear them or think of them purely in terms of their own benefit or pleasure.

There has been some real progress in allowing women to use their breasts in the biologically normal function of breastfeeding, even to the point of permitting them to do so publicly without shame or fear of being reported for indecent exposure (we still have a ways to go). I wonder what would happen if we stopped tying the risk of abuse or the responsibility of other people’s thoughts, actions, and faith to how women clothe their bodies. What if dress codes weren’t based on hiding the female form? What if women were truly free to wear whatever clothes they wanted? I doubt that they would all turn into full-blown nudists. Men have long had that privilege and they haven’t chosen that path. It could be an important step forward in freeing women up to live according to their full human value, on the same level as men.

~ Jeremy

I see a nipple.
I see a nipple.
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