Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand. –Nelson Mandela, 25 May 2000
Oyugis is a town of about 10,000 in a rural part of western Kenya. The vast majority (72%) live in poverty. Only 5.6% of the households have piped water; 3.3% have electricity. HIV/AIDS is rampant: 25.7% of the county (Homa Bay) population is infected (the highest rate in Kenya) and 61,000 households include an orphan. This has a profound impact on the community – 48% of the population is under 15.
The conditions are especially difficult for women and girls. 12% of girls have a live birth before age 15. Most primary schools (K-8) in the region do not have toilets, so when girls reach puberty, most stop attending school. Sanitary products are not available. As the statistics indicate, many of these girls end up pregnant and with HIV/AIDS. What might one hope to do in such circumstances? How is change even conceivable? Soccer.
I met Festus Juma in 2010. He deeply understands the power of sport for community development. Having family in the Oyugis region, he also understands the power of soccer to motivate local youth. Festus directs the Society Empowerment Project (SEP), based in Oyugis, which leverages soccer/football to teach life skills in areas such as HIV/AIDS prevention; health and sanitation; agriculture & nutrition; reproductive health; peace building; and substance abuse. Girls, in particular, gain opportunities to become fit and strong, to build friendships, and have contact with adult role models. The program also prepares them for youth leadership through training in coaching, refereeing and tournament management.
A current goal of the SEP is to register a girls team in the Kenya Premier League. Doing so will enhance their status in the region. Stronger and better educated girls and women will reduce domestic violence, improve reproductive health and well-being, and decrease HIV/AIDS infections. This is a proven strategy for community development and it changes lives.
Together with my son Isaac, I have been working with the SEP since 2011. Isaac played soccer through high school. Seeing a photo of children in Oyugis playing soccer barefoot on dirt patches, he was shocked by the comparison with his teammates who had several pairs of cleats and fancy uniforms. We began to collect used cleats, uniforms, and other equipment to send to Kenya. (The team featured on the SEP facebook page is wearing Boston Blast jerseys!) It is not cheap to send equipment to Kenya. It is not easy to build a sustainable program that empowers girls in a region where not even food and water is easily available. But sport motivates and strengthens those who participate. And it awakens hope.
Sally Haslanger is Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women’s & Gender Studies at MIT. She works on feminist and critical race theory. She is an adoptive mother, a social activist, and recently was client of the month at her gym!
When I was 9 I had a pretty summer dress that my mum bought for me to take on holidays. It was a little sheer and covered in brightly coloured daisies. I loved it. One day a friend of the family scolded my mum for letting me wear it because you could vaguely make out the shape of my nipples. Similar things happened throughout my teenage years. I remember going to my first Blue Light Disco (a police coordinated and supervised event for Melbourne youth) and taping bandaids over my nipples so that no one could see them through my top. I remember buying shirts a few sizes two big so that no one could make out the prepubescent shape of my chest – nipples slightly protruding, big enough to make me uncomfortable, but certainly too small for a bra.
These experiences are common for many women in Western cultures. We are told to cover up, to be ashamed (of our sexuality, of our bodies), and to protect our value and purity…to, among other things, cover up our nipples. Strikingly though, we are simultaneously told not to be prudes, not to be frigid, to embrace our sexuality, to let our hair down, to have fun, to give it up…and sometimes to flaunt our damn nipples!
Like so many things that shape the female experience we are caught in a double bind where playing by the rules of a male dominated framework means that we just can’t win!
But this is nothing new. Feminists have been saying this for years. So, why rehash old arguments? Why are we still trying to burn our bras when we all know what the message is? The fact of the matter is that we don’t all know it. With new generations coming through and movements like this , and this , it is important that we continue to promote and reaffirm the message of equality.
The Free the Nipple movement is one way to do this. The movement was started by filmmaker and activist, Lina Esco. Her aim was to raise awareness of the double standards and hypocrisy regarding the censorship and sexualisation of nipples that is present in American culture and law (on the one hand, men’s nipples–fleshy, often wrinkly, located on the chest–are permissible to expose, and on the other, women’s nipples–fleshy, often wrinkly, located on the chest–are not). Esco’s ultimate aim is to promote the decriminalisation, and normalisation of publically exposed female nipples. She says ”Women should be able to do what they want with their bodies. In some states, women can get jailed or fined for being topless… “Free the nipple” is simply about having the choice’’ (See Should we free the nipple?).
On the surface the Free the Nipple movement is a light-hearted, fun message (because nipples really are fun, aren’t they?) that invites new audiences into a deeper and important discussion about feminism and equality. This is why I will wear my big hairy man nipples shirt proudly on campus this week, and why I will discuss with my students the importance of equality, respect and, of course, nipples.
Nanette Ryan is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Georgetown University. She is primarily interested in moral and political philosophy, epistemology, and their intersection. When not philosophizing, she enjoys working out, traveling, eating good food, and wearing t-shirts with nipples on them.
Is there a mold that fits every person that tells if he or she is beautiful or not?
Thank God there isn’t, although we have somehow taken it upon ourselves to judge people under false and pretentious standards, to measure the heights and widths of other people’s bodies; impose value upon their skin tone and clothing style.
For once, we’d like you to take a breather and explore the “other beauty” that exists above societal norms. These nine women have taken their insecurities and turned them into their biggest virtues, inspiring other people to feel comfortable in their own skin.
Question: What’s a more unstoppable force than a hundred drunk Santas on a Santacon rampage of your local pubs?
Answer: A shirtless #FreetheNipple team of women in hot pink beanies tearing through New York to reclaim the power of their bodies.
The women fighting to desexualize nipples in Free the Nipple aren’t Instagram celebrities so if you’re here for it, even you can join the battle. It’s garnered big support, and now the cause is going to be big screen-amplified. In the trailer, it’s hard to take the leaders that seriously, but countless women are marshaled to the cause, which is the high point for the movement.
Watch it and just try not to get fired up by the music and the toplessness.
Earlier this month, The Atlantic’s Kriston Capps proposed a curious question: What if Banksy is a woman? In his following analysis, Capps went as far to claim that the cheeky British street artist is “probably” a she, chastising the public for assuming that such a dominant pop cultural force is a man.
Of course, the hypothesis is interesting — we’re certainly supportive of publications pointing out the the lack of diversity in art worlds, one of them being street art. However, Capps claim was based on little real evidence, a factor Animal NY’s Bucky Turco was quick to discuss. Nonetheless, the original essay spawned more than a few speculative treatises: see this one, this one, this one and this one.
We’ve commented on the Banksy hysteria before. Yes, the anonymous graffiti master is probably the most well-known figure in street art — there was “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” and now there’s “Banksy Does New York,” documenting his month-long NYC residence in 2013. But the endless fascination with this one character can sometimes overshadow the rest of the identifiable artists making waves in their medium.
When The Guardian proclaimed Bambi the female Banksy, we responded by highlighting 10 other female street artists worthy of the moniker. Now that Capps has opened the door to more serious talk of women in street art, we’re extending our list. Behold, 24 real women pushing the limits of street art around the globe.
Sam wrote about “Nipple Phobia and Padded Sports Bras” way back in the early days of the blog. There she lamented the ubiquity of the padded sports bra (indeed, the padded bra more generally). Where we used to be able to find lots of unpadded bras and sports bras, nowadays it’s a real search.
Part of the reason for this, hypothesized Sam, is that we are caught in the grips of nipple phobia. We don’t want to see them or show them. As Sam said, they’ve become what the visible panty-line used to be — an unsightly reminder of the natural bodies that actually live under our clothing.
Enter the Tata top. This bikini top got a lot of press last week on-line. From a distance, if you’re a white woman with an average sized chest wearing the light-tone Tata, it looks from afar as if you’re going topless.
I say if you’re a white woman because the medium tone and dark tone Tatas are not yet available. They are expected to ship in mid-August. I say if you’re “average sized” because at present the tops are only available in small (A-B) and medium sizes (B-C). Anything larger than a C-cup is also on backorder, with this apology to larger women from the creators: “LARGE CHESTED LADIES…WE UNDERESTIMATED YOU BUT IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!”
The Tata top is supposed to help fight breast stigma, topless inequality, and nipple phobia. According to this Daily Beast article, it’s meant to help fight gender inequality. That makes it sound like a feminist statement if there ever was one. The article continues:
The underlying goal of the bikini, however, is meant to desexualize the idea of female nipples and eliminate gendered double standards. Why should it be laughable, or even uncomfortable, for a woman to bare her breasts in public?
“By censoring an image of a woman’s chest and not a man’s it doesn’t end with removing that image from your platform,” Graves and Lytle conclude. “Whether you like it or not you are confirming that YES, a woman’s nipples are indecent and are something that need to be kept covered. You are endorsing that train of thought. You take yourself out of the business of providing a forum for free thinking and place yourself in the position of deciding what is immoral and what isn’t.”
So why, then, is there such an outcry among some feminists about this top? Well, there are a number of reasons. The most common is that the first iteration — marketed to and for women with bodies that are white and slight — sends an unmistakable message about normative bodies.
The Jezebel article ends with this remark: “Like many aspects of modern-day feminism, right now, this one’s only available to women with light skin and disposable income. But the inventors of the Ta Ta Top promise that more colors are coming soon.”
The various attempts on the website to apologize, first to the “large-chested ladies” whom they “underestimated,” and then to women with “medium” or “dark” skintones don’t really succeed in overcoming the oversight. To the women with different skintones, they offered not so much an apology as a promise that the medium and dark tops will arrive and an excuse as to why they aren’t yet available:
Will you have other skin tones?
Absolutely but first we need to prove a market! Investing money and ending up with one TaTa Top is funny. Investing money in three tones and ending up with 2,000 TaTa’s is slightly less so. The more we sell the more tones and more styles we will able to offer. Take our TaTa Top poll to help us decide which direction to take next.
The “What’s Next?” poll on the Tata website focuses on extra small and extra large sizing and the turns to fashion, with four different piercing choices.
I also heard some people raising the usual questions about initiatives that raise their profile by aligning themselves with charities to support the already over-supported cause of breast cancer research. It might sound callous to roll one’s eyes whenever yet another thing promotes itself by raising money for breast cancer research, but the pink ribbon thing has many detractors, who complain about “pinkwashing”:
The term “pinkwashing” was coined by Breast Cancer Action in reference to companies that either promote breast cancer awareness without donating at all, are deceptive or not transparent about where any funds raised go, or put a pink ribbon on a product with known or suspected links to cancer.
By far the most interesting comment came to my from fellow feminist philosopher Kristin Rodier, who took issue with the claim that linked body exposure to freedom, and who very quickly asked about the range of sizes available. In order to further elaborate the point about exposure as freedom, she sent me Kelly Oliver’s paper, “Sexual Freedom as Global Freedom.”
The paper focuses on the Western “rhetoric of liberating ‘women of cover.” Oliver argues that we in the west have reduced women’s freedom “to freedom to to dress (especially in revealing clothes for the eyes of others), governed by market forces of fashion and consumerism.” She further claims that “this view of women’s freedom is used to justify military action elsewhere, and to reassure Western women of their own freedom at home. The rhetoric of liberating women elsewhere conceals women’s oppression here at home while at the same time reassuring us that we are liberated.”
How does the Tata top fit into this picture? By purporting to address the issue of women’s oppression through a top that mimics maximum exposure of women’s upper bodies. We may not (yet) have a achieved full gender equality because men can go topless while (for the most part) women cannot, but the Tata top is here to save the day.
I think the original limited offerings of this item only to light skinned women with pink nipples and A-C sized breasts demonstrates well whose nipple freedom “we” as a society will tolerate. Not everyone’s exposed skin is equally welcome, and when non-normative bodies are exposed, there is a different social meaning, a different kind of statement being made. It’s not just “fun.”
I get the impression from the website and different articles I’ve read that the company is not quite sure how to market the top. The equality card is one angle. But they also claim to be wanting to normalize the breast and nipple so that they’re de-sexualized. Somewhere on the site it talks about normalizing the sight of women breast-feeding in public, which certainly is a worthwhile cause.
But the website isn’t wholly on board with the desexualization of the breast, and in fact when I first went to the website last week it included a “warning” that said: ““Disclaimer: Wearers are cautioned to be prepared for the onslaught of pick up lines it is sure to elicit.” That message, which seems to celebrate the top as an expression of sexuality, has since been removed (or at least I couldn’t find it when I went back).
I also think that the top is likely to have more applications as a novelty item than as an item that plays a huge role in achieving gender equality. I think the size and skintone gaffes, as well as the more pointed perspective expressed in Oliver’s paper about how Westernized this idea of freedom through revealing clothing, raise serious questions about the top’s capacity to promote an inclusive feminist agenda.