Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Nipple Wars?

Women's breasts are not supposed to have nipples. Did you know that? Nipples are like erect penises, not suitable to be shown on television. Instead, breasts should be portrayed as large round mountain-like objects or like bowling balls (or tennis balls):

The good news is those weapons of mass destruction have finally been found.

The bad news is your mother, sister, aunt, and grandma are all guilty of having them.

Sixteen months after the Super Bowl's tempest in a C-cup, war has been declared on women's breasts. From Desperate House-wives' deployment of digital nipple-erasers to Victoria's Secret's nipple-negating bras, a campaign is under way to conceal one of the natural features of the female breast.

The producers of TV's Desperate Housewives have reportedly spent thousands of dollars digitally removing the nipples from on-screen images of actresses Teri Hatcher and Nicolette Sheridan.

In discussing the show's "nipple problem," series creator Marc Cherry tells the Philadelphia Daily News: "Certain actresses really don't like to wear bras. And we try to accommodate them as much as humanly possible. ... So we've done a lot of blurring."

Jeff Jarvis, founder of and creator of Entertainment Weekly, jokingly calls it "the nipple clause." As in, "I have the right to have them, you have the right to airbrush them."

What is going on here? One academic suggests nasty motives:

Gary Grizzle, an associate professor of sociology at Florida's Barry University, says the trend represents a shift from a way of thinking in which a woman's ambition, not her sexuality, was considered the greater menace.

"For most of the '80s and '90s, the real threat, as far as women go, had to do with their career aspirations," he recalls. "Normally, we assume that when the focus is on women, they'll be very sexual and very submissive. It's the ones in the three-piece suits that scare the hell out of us."

Mr. Grizzle says current anti-nipple sentiments are steeped in the same notions that cause some religions to keep women covered up and out of holy places because a woman's "sexuality disrupts everything that men try to accomplish."

Hmmm. Right now I'm more likely to believe that this nipple fear is related to the fear of right-wing Christians and their power in determining what is acceptable in the media. But the other motives are not dead, so who knows?

Am I allowed one small feminist rant here? Why is it that if something affects some men sexually in women (walking a certain way, showing an earlobe or a nipple, digging your nose) then it is always the women who must cover up or change or be erased? Couldn't the men who are affected try to learn to take responsibility for their own reactions? Couldn't they look elsewhere? The Koran, for example, tells both sexes to dress modestly and not to stare, but how is this interpreted in practice?

There are ways of dressing, for both men and women, which are intended to be sexual, and it's probably advisable to avoid these in the everyday world unless one wishes to be treated as a sexual provocator. But so much of this fuss is about non-sexual aspects of dress and behavior. Nipples are part of our bodies and something a woman can't just leave in the closet when she goes out. Nipples get hard from sexual excitement, true, but they also get hard from cold and even from anger or other feelings. They exist, and some people should just get over it.

Or they could always look away. This may sound like a sacrifice, but it's a lot easier than buying special nipple-containers and then wearing them on hot sweaty summer days.