By Lina Esco
Jan 8, 2014
In what year did it become legal in the United States for men to go topless on a public beach without being arrested and/or fined by the police?
D) It's always been legal
In a bizarre twist of American history, preachers and clergy in the 1900's vilified not just women's, but men's nipples -- branding them "immoral" and "evil" to the unsuspecting eyes of children and impressionable women. Legislation was passed and all human areola were banned in public places.
Thousands of men protested for their right to shed their oppressive wool tank tops at the beach and free their "man nipples" forever. The revolution ignited in 1930 when four guys were arrested in Coney Island for going shirtless on a hot beach. Then icon Clark Gable stripped off his shirt in It Happened One Night, marking the scandalous debut of a male's uncensored nipples in American cinema. In 1935 New Jersey hit back with a mass arrest of 42 topless men in Atlantic City. After years of protest and outrage New York lifted the male topless ban in 1936, and suddenly a man's nipples were no longer "obscene" in society, but rather commonplace and natural.
Cut to January 7th, 2014, one month after Facebook and a gang of social media platforms deleted my profiles for posting the teaser of my film Free The Nipple and/or for photos exposing the most controversial area of a woman's breast -- the nipple. My last post on Huffington chronicled the censorship challenges we endured while filming in N.Y.C with armies of topless women to challenge the backwards "obscenity" laws firsthand. This is an account of the corporate censorship I have endured in last three weeks.
In one sentence, Free The Nipple is based on the true events of women on the front lines fighting the archaic topless laws in America. Even after the "female nipple" was decriminalized in New York's supreme court in 1992, the NYPD continued to arrest women regardless. Today in the USA -- "land of the free" -- it's only legal in 13 states for women to be topless in public or on a beach. In less tolerant places like Louisiana, a woman exposing her nipples can carry a sentence of up to three years in jail and a $2,500 fine.
One fact that's absolutely certain, it's not the boob, but rather the nipple that really freaks out Facebook, Instagram and the other platforms that banned our film. There's actually a FB page called "Free The Boobs" which is 100% acceptable for their "community standards" as long as not one millimeter of areola is visible. This policy seems odd, as images on "Free The Boobs" are hyper-sexualized, and the topless images on our banned profile "Free The Nipple" were of protest -- baring no sexual context.
After examining Facebook and Instagram's "community standards" to make some sense of my cyber exile, I discovered you can post videos of people being tortured and killed, but a woman's nipple is too obscene for their standards. You can buy guns on Instagram and show a mutilated body, but a female areola in a non-sexual context is a "violation of their terms" (FYI Facebook bought Instagram for a billion in stock and cash back in 2012).
The question is, what do you do when the "gatekeepers" of social media pull the plug on a film that you put years of life force into? I panicked and started calling, texting and emailing every connection I'd ever made from Hollywood to DC. After strip mining years of my contacts, by some sudden grace my blog landed on the front page of Huffington Post. Then "with a little help from my friends" and a few epic tweets, life got interesting.
Rolling Stone, Hollywood Reporter, MTV, Salon, Perez Hilton and Cosmopolitan picked up the story. The press started calling, and our website crashed from an onslaught of traffic. By some dream-like twist of fate, Free The Nipple was defibrillated by the hands of the HuffPost and Twitter Gods.
Suddenly I had a tiny voice to challenge these Goliath social media platforms, who I believe have some very troubling ideas about what is and isn't "obscene" for community standards in America -- and I'm not alone. Literally mobs of fired up journalists condemned Facebook's decisions to ban the nipple, while permitting ultra-violent content like beheadings. Maybe I'm soft or have a hypersensitivity to what are basically snuff films, but this decision by Facebook seems counterintuitive to me on a core DNA level.
Even David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, jumped on Twitter and wrote: "It's irresponsible of Facebook to post beheading videos, especially without warning. They must explain their actions to worried parents." The same day of Cameron's tweet, Facebook shot back this comment:
If Facebook can give the British Prime minister and the international press the big corporate finger, continuing to allow anyone to publish the most gruesome acts to humanity, then I'd like to make a small request. I would like to cordially and officially invite Facebook to offer the same guidelines for posting a woman's nipple... as it does for sawing off a woman's head.
That being said, in concert with the film we are launching a national campaign aimed at decriminalizing the "female nipple" in all 50 states, on Facebook, Instagram and in a perfect world even Network TV, but you know, after 10 pm. If an average teenager in America sees thousands of humans killed on TV shows by the time they're 18 -- not to mention video games where you can torture, defile and murder female characters who scream in horror as you dismember their bodies -- I believe they can handle a nipple.
In the UK and Europe, women's nipples on magazine covers and TV commercials are as normal as cleavage in America, and their cultures don't seem to be imploding at the seams. European film and TV ratings in general have almost diametrically opposite views on "obscenity" as the MPAA and the FCC. Overall their ratings are tougher on violence and far more chill on nudity. I really believe America, as young as it is on the scale of these other countries, is finally mature enough "culturally" to handle the female areola.
Since I began this film, both men and women ask me: with all the serious problems in the world today, is freeing women's nipples really that important of an issue? In response I sometimes quote California Attorney Carol Agate who stated, "The issue is not trivial. The imposition on women is great, the inconvenience real, the stigma pernicious."
It's been over 75 years since the men in this country fought for their basic human right to be topless in public. It wasn't easy. They were battling the church, the government, the status quo -- but they would not back down. In a few short years men recaptured their freedom -- a freedom every man in this country now enjoys. But today there are states in America that are arresting and harassing women for breastfeeding in public. I believe these laws do not reflect the dream on which the United States was founded, and I believe the time is now for the American people to step up and Free The Nipple.
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