Women from Scout Willis to Miley Cyrus to filmmaker Lina Esco have been “up in breasts” over Facebook’s policy about photographs that include breastfeeding women’s nipples and after several months of protest, the company changed the policy this month. The “Free The Nipple” campaign is a project spearheaded by Lina Esco after Instagram deactivated her account over a photo that included topless women.
Feminist Soraya Chemaly, along with Laura Bates and Jaclyn Friedman, has been pivotal in the campaign to help lift the ban on showing breastfeeding photos. All three women have been writing articles and taking to social media where the aforementioned stars joined the protest. Using the #FreeTheNipple hashtag, thousands have protested that Facebook would show decapitation videos, but not photographs of breastfeeding or post-mastectomy women. When the company changed the policy three weeks ago, Chemaly tweeted out the news with a hashtag of #EverydaySexism. @FreeTheNipple’s Twitter account currently has more than 112 thousand followers.
The stance of stars like Scout Willis, who are baring their breasts to gain notice for the campaign, is that men have been able to take their shirts off publicly for 80 years. Ms Magazine pointed out that the launch of bikinis and the baring of knees caused a similar stir during earlier decades in American history. These women feel that the time of “decriminalizing women’s bodies has come.” There are still laws that these women consider discriminatory in several states nationwide, but the Ms Magazine article specifically called out Utah, Tennessee and Indiana.
Chemaly claimed it took “60 thousand tweets, five days and more than a dozen canceled advertisers before Facebook considered making the change last year.” This is not the first time Facebook has come under fire for their photograph policies and been asked to change guidelines, although this was the first major dispute involving breastfeeding. Currently breastfeeding in public is legal everywhere in the U.S., but public opinion on the “decency” of the practice varies widely. Facebook also owns Instagram, who disabled Rihanna’s accounts a few weeks ago over a controversial photograph.
These interactions and protests demonstrate the power of democracy. On the one hand, the social media giant is allowed to set any policies it wishes – people will use the application or not. On the other, the public has the right to protest these practices.
Scout Willis’ sister, Rumer, has lent her name and image to Free The Nipple’s current public service announcement. Both sisters believe the issue is about female empowerment and gender equality. The video, which is also an ad for Lina Esco’s film on the topic, adopted the slogan that “everybody has gotta eat.” Facebook’s policy change has encouraged breastfeeding advocates who were incensed that the photos fell under the category of “obscene.” With the success of this social media campaign, there are sure to be many more as the fight for gender equality rages on.
Opinion by Jenny Hansen