segunda-feira, 18 de maio de 2015

Free Nipple

MIS's security guards were impeccable in their understanding of the code of conduct that society considers acceptable for men and women. These codes normalize differential treatment for different genders, even though it contradicts the Brazilian Federal Constitution, which states that "men and women have equal rights and obligations". The rule the museum assimilated and reproduced could be stated more or less like this: "Men have the right to display their nipples in public. Women don't". Obviously, this second rule's value overrides that of Brazil's major law. And let us not be naive: to tear the Constitution in order to secure values ​​that underpin the status quo is not a new trend, but rather a local standard. Another daily violated excerpt of the Brazilian Constitution to that purpose is: "no one will be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment".
It's painful to accept, but sometimes our Constitution seems to be worth less than a penny. That said, it seems to me that the path to set female nipples free requires an analysis of our customs and habits. But there is something we need to discuss first.

People often ask me why the hell am I so eager to defend female topfree - most widely known as topless. "You want that much to show your breasts?", they say. "Why so much hassle for such a silly cause, Leticia?". My personal will to take off my shirt is irrelevant to that matter. We cannot discuss people's rights starting from an individual's will to exercise them, and only then validate it. You have, for instance, the right to come and go. Whether you will exercise this right or choose to shut yourself in front of the TV for your entire life is completely up to you. Rights have this beautiful characteristic: they are available for everyone. The individual's choice is what determines when one will exercise its right - now, soon or never - and we can't call it a right if it's not always available.

I myself defend some rights of which I'll never benefit. I believe all men should have access to diagnostic procedures and treatment for prostate cancer. I believe black people should have the same rights as white people. Don't you?

To discuss the cause's devaluation (a posture as common as hasty), we must understand the sense of the prohibition. As is the case of 99% of humanity's taboos, this too bumps into sexuality. We all have mammary glands, although female’s are generally (but with exceptions) larger than male’s. It turns out that, due to quantum mystery, the male torso is usually seen as something as ordinary as an arm or an ear - parts of human anatomy that usually have no sexual connotation, although this may occasionally occur here and there. But breasts are different. Breasts are always erotic, always sexual. How can a straight man not light up when facing a nice pair of boobs?

Photos: Jared Polin and Patrick Demarchelier
This is the picture today, but it is with great pleasure that I tell you that it hasn't always been so. I'm just about to tell you how it used to be, but first we must open a bottle of champagne because when we attest behavioural changes we certify, by extension, its cultural nature. If it may change then it's not a biological trace, it's not printed in human DNA. And that is wonderful news, because it means that the prohibition of female nipples can be overcome! I'm thrilled here - focus, Leticia!

In her book Intimate Stories - sexuality and eroticism in the history of Brazil, Mary Del Priore says that nudity in colonial Brazil did not have the erotic sense it does nowadays. In fact, nudity was associated with Indians and slaves, figures that were worth even less than Brazilian Constitution is today. Let us hear from the historian:

"Foreign travellers passing through Brazil used to get shocked by the nudity of slaves on the streets. The few shirts that slipped by their shoulders, bare, thin and sagging breasts, dripping chest down. And unlike today, there was no part of the female body less erotic or attractive than the breasts. At that time called "tits" and described in medical treatises as spongy members near the heart, they had only one function: to produce food. Milk was believed to be the mother's blood cooked with the heat of the heart, making it white and milky. Breasts were never considered sexy, but working tools of a gender doomed to pudency and maternity. The pale cervix, the neck sung by poets as "ivory tower", gradually begins to be covered up. That happened even in sacred images. Baroque statues of the Virgin Mary, low-cut before, or even sculptures of the Virgin of Milk (wich in the Renaissance used to show her nipples) disappeared from oratories and churches. " (P.12)

Madonna del latte, Antonio Alegri Correggio (1523)
A holly woman showing her nipple, now that was a surprise! At that time, as in ours, it was decided that breasts had to be covered. However, the reason for this conduct - almost a repulsion back then! - is diametrically opposed to the reason why I can't go to the beach topfree. It is true, then, that the world goes round...

But this is not enough to set the nipples free. Our codes of conduct are socially built, but that doesn't mean at all that they don't have grounding, even if limited to specific times and places. Let's return to the present day, when female breasts need to be hidden because of its inherently sexual appeal. Okay, Del Priore proved that this feature is not timeless, but it's how things work today. The important question to move forward then is: for whom breasts are sexual?

When patriarchy listens to this question it starts to whistle and make a poker face, sensing that the moment is coming when we'll point our fingers at it. There's no way out: it's for men that our breasts are sexual. And don't even try to talk about lesbians here, because oppressed minorities don't build status quo (although they may cooperate in maintaining it). The male point of view then becomes totalitarian, and I, as a woman, also begin to perceive breasts as erotic, although their are not erotic for myself. The symbolic place occupied by the female nipple - and all the behaviours that come from it - are defined by the perception and desire of others. The rules that dictate what is and what's not appropriate for the female body are guided by the way men perceive it. It's the most didactic expression of male oppression you can get: half of the world doesn't have breasts, and that half defines how the half that does have breasts will deal with it. And it is so effective that we blindly obey.

Robyn, Michelle and The Tata Top

Actually, we used to blindly obey. Thanks to feminist groups pressure, Facebook now allows photos of recent mastectomies and breastfeeding. Free the Nipple movement grows more and more, and last December founder of the movement Lina Esco released a film with the same name directed by and starring her. Also in the US, Robyn and Michelle Lytle have created The Tata Top, that disguises our nipples as nipples. So what's missing? Time. We need to spend time with exposed breasts, because no one sustains a sexual conduct infinitely. You may feel embarrassed when stepping foot on a nude beach, but try spending the day there. Have a picnic, go for a swim, watch the sunset and you'll see that pudency doesn't stand. It's paradoxal, but the cure for the disease and its causal agent are the same. We need more nipples, more breasts, more tits, more boobs. We must understand that eroticising them is just one of many things we can do with them, and that is not healthy to do that out of contexts that are effectively - and consensually! - sexual. Above all, men and women must start rejecting these definitions about women that don't come from women themselves.

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