Society slips on laws about nips

Malory Henry & Ty Lopez

Let’s nip this one right in the breast: there’s an inequality between men and women when it comes to the nipple. What is a nipple, you might ask? Medical-dictionary defines a nipple as: “the pigmented projection at the tip of each breast; it is smaller in men than women. In women, it gives outlet to the lactiferous ducts.”

So there are two points here (readers be warned, we prefer our puns intended): 1) both men and women have them and 2) for women, the nipples are larger and can produce milk whereas men’s are smaller and incapable of lactating. 

The fundamental differences between a male nipple and a female nipple are the ability to produce milk and the average size. With that said, we have successfully established this as a fact — nothing else is different. Case in point.

Well, hold your breasts, because we’re about to throw you a curveball: scientists have debunked the milking myth. Any mammary is capable of producing milk as long as there is enough of the prolactin hormone. It’s an uncommon situation, but it does happen. 

In Scientific American, Toronto-based doctor Jack Newman states: “If you have no Y chromosome, then certain hormones are released that say, ‘Okay, we’ll set up this child’s breast tissue to develop at puberty so that she will be able to produce milk.’ Men didn’t [secrete those hormones], so we don’t usually have breast tissue,” Newman explained. “A significant number of boys around the age of puberty do develop breasts, so the tissue is there, but it regresses.” 

A man’s nipples are the same as a woman’s nipples — the only difference is the amount of prolactin being secreted? Yes, that’s exactly right.

Here’s a fun fact:  four men were arrested in 1930 for being shirtless in Coney Island, NY and in 1935, forty two moremen were arrested for being topless after a flash mob of topless men in Atlantic City. This, according to writer Robyn Smith, resulted in a protest of the male population. 

According to Smith, men fought and they were heard, changing not only laws but social consciousness: by 1936, men’s bare chests were accepted as the norm and “the male topless ban was subsequently lifted.”

Now, women are trying to accomplish the same thing. But our society considers women who expose their breasts and nipples as immodest, sexual and contrary to social norms.     

In many jurisdictions, a topless woman may be socially and legally harassed or cited for indecent exposure, public indecency or disorderly conduct. 

Now, movements such as “Free the Nipple” and “Topfreedom” are advocating for a change in the way society perceives breasts, instead of seeing themas something sexual that needs to be censored. These movements are paving the way for real conversations about the systematic misogyny this problem is rooted in. 

The issue of censoring female nipples resides not within the female body itself, but within the sexual objectification of the nipple and the stigma that has been placed on it. Pornography is a perfect example: women can pose for a magazine photo shoot of their naked breasts and then an individual can purchase such a magazine from a public store, but if a woman decides not to wear a bra under her shirt, she is looked down on. 

If it looks like a nipple … it’s probably a nipple. It should not matter whether or not the nipple in question is attached to a male or female — they are the same exact thing. 

Men fought for their rights to expose their breasts; women are doing the same. It is an equality issue that needs to be addressed. It is not the responsibility of women to cover up their bodies, but of society to end the sexualization and objectification of women in order to create legal and social change.