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Imagine walking through the streets of New York City with the young children that you babysit. You

pass by drag queens, homeless people and a shirtless man. From which do you shield the children

from? Is it the drag queens? The homeless person? Certainly not the shirtless man; they’ve seen that

at the beach, or on a hot day when their dad mows the lawn. But what if the man were replaced with

a woman wearing no shirt? How would your reaction change?

 

In 1992, the New York Court of Appeals declared it legal for women to be topless. Yet, countless

women continue to get arrested in New York for public indecency for doing so. This is what

inspired 29-year-old actress Lina Esco to launch her own movement and movie called “Free the

Nipple.” Esco and her other activists personally star in the movie, which is based on the actual

steps the women took to launch “Free the Nipple” on a national scale.

 

In the film, activist Lola Kirke is unlawfully arrested for running through the streets of New York

City shirtless, so the girls hire a lawyer to sue the NYPD. Next, they tackle the project of

spreading the word, though they have limited money and resources and their only space to

work in is an abandoned pool. Still, they manage to have small fundraising events, design

posters and bumper stickers and meet with a celebrity named “Elle” in the movie.

Though “Elle” doesn’t exist, she represents the celebrity support of “Free the Nipple,” which

allowed it to flourish in the media. According to the “Free the Nipple” website, “Famous graffiti

artists, groups of dedicated women, and influencers such as Miley Cyrus, Liv Tyler, and Lena

Dunham have shown public support which garnered international press.” Even Kendall Jenner,

in celebration of recently gaining 40 million Instagram followers, posted a picture showing her

nipple.

 

In the film, while the women are fighting so hard for the simple freedom to not wear a shirt, the

movie theater shootings in Colorado are meanwhile taking place. Through this, Lina Esco brings

attention to the backwards double standard in America. We allow our children to watch violent

movies such as The Dark Night Rises and then we glorify the shooter so the entire country can

see his image flashed across the T.V screen hundreds of times a day. We fill our children’s

minds with the idea that “good guys” are heroes if they use violence to kill off the bad guys, we

have become immune to guns and deaths in movies, but the sight of one female nipple—a

natural, life giving, body part that is socially acceptable for men—calls for censorship.

To other countries, such as Australia, where nude sunbathing and toplessness is just a part of

everyday life, it seems silly that in America, which is supposed to be the land of the free, seeing

a woman’s breast in public is taboo.

 

Unless of course, the breast is covered in a Victoria’s Secret bombshell bra and used as a sexual

image to sell any and every item that advertisers can dream up. In American society, breasts

are either censored or sexualized.

 

Free the Nipple at Marist

You don’t have to be a filmmaker, celebrity, or model to start your own “Free the Nipple”

movement. In fact, freshman Sara Craft is starting her own club right here at Marist.

Originally called “Free the Nipple” but later changed to FEMME, standing for Feminist

Empowerment Motivating and Managing Education, the club aims to open a conversation not

only about breasts, but about the role of women and gender in our culture.

According to the mission statement, the goal is “…To empower Marist women to contribute

their diverse, authentic, and unique female perspectives to develop the intellect, character, and

skills required for enlightened, ethical, and productive lives in the global community in the 21st

century.”

 

Well, what does that all mean? Is it a bunch of crazy feminists sitting around complaining about

men? Quite the opposite, Craft explains.

 

“I’m not like an insane feminist,” she jokes, “I shave my legs. But yes, I believe in the equality of the

genders.” The main problems, she says are, “The stereotypes of genders—what should be feminine

and what should be masculine, what roles they need to play in relationships…the oppression of

women around us and how our culture views women women as these sexual objects, instead of

sexual beings,” Craft says. “It’s a disgrace. We need to be equalized as genders. A lot of it is how

media is presented to us, how a woman’s body should look.”

 

Craft, a fashion merchandising major with a minor in women studies and pathway in gender

studies, came to Marist knowing she wanted to start a feminist group. Coming from a conservative

high school, she said she never really got the opportunity to do something like this back in her

hometown in Albany New York. Wasting no time after arriving on campus, she now has an advisor

for FEMME, Professor Patrick Bova, and has gathered about 12 people so far.

 

Though she has tried making flyers to advertise, she cannot hang them yet because FEMME is

not recognized by the college as a club. In order to gain recognition, it will have to pass through

the head of clubs and three different boards. Craft is confident, though because Angela Laflen,

Co-director of Women’s Studies, has offered her support, making the club a Women’s Studies

group as well.

 

FEMME meets every other Tuesday in the Henry Hudson room in Fontaine at 7:00 p.m.

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