Free the Nipple

Amelia Scharff

Adam Levine, The Super Bowl LIII halftime performer, took off his shirt exposing his nipples during his halftime performance. This act raised anger amongst many viewers, because Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance caused uproar and a damaged career when she suffered from a wardrobe malfunction exposing her own nipple.

During Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime performance with Justin Timberlake, Timberlake pulled her brazier as a dance move causing a wardrobe malfunction and exposing her nipple. This dance move was added during a final rehearsal, and MTV, the host of the halftime show, was unaware of this last minute addition. The malfunction was not intentional but caused many complaints and huge repercussions.

After Jackson’s and Timberlake’s performance, around 200,000 people called the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to express their dissatisfaction with the show. The National Football League (NFL), who was extremely enraged at the mishap, never let MTV produce another show again. Not only did MTV face repercussions, but Jackson was treated horribly for this mishap.

CBS broadcasted the 2004 Grammys that followed the Super Bowl. The network had previously invited Jackson to present a tribune; however, following the incident, they rescinded their invitation to her. Timberlake’s invitation still stood and he even won awards. Clear Channel Communications, which owned MTV and CBS in 2004, refused to show any of Jackson’s music videos and singles, which crippled her album sales and really hurt her career.

Not only was the treatment of Jackson blatantly unfair and sexist, but the fact that the NFL happily lets Adam Levine take off his shirt at the show 15 years later is shocking. Many are angry because Jackson’s mishap was an accident and she faced serious repercussions whereas Levine took his shirt off on purpose, and the NFL was okay with it.

To go deeper into the issue, Jackson was only blacklisted for her nipple being shown because it was deemed obscene, which is completely unfair. In fact, there isn’t a legitimate difference between men and women’s nipples other than feeding children. The difference in our culture merely lies in the stigma around the two and who those nipples are attached to.

According to the FCC, women’s nipples are banned on social media and national television because they are considered obscene and lewd. Women’s and men’s nipples look strikingly similar; you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two. No nipples (no matter whose body they are on) look the same. There is really no difference in the look between male and female nipples as there are so many differences that occur on an individual level. What is especially silly about these laws are that the fattiness of women’s breasts seem to be more sexualized than women’s nipples. So it so illogical that the fattiness and cleavage around the breasts can be shown and even encouraged. It also doesn’t make sense how the breast itself of a woman can be sexualized and applauded yet not deemed obscene but the nipple on the breast is sexualized to the point where they have to be censored. This is seeming like just another example of people telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.

When researching why women’s nipples are censored, the main reason was the avoidance from arousing men. Why do we force women to cover up to prevent men from being aroused instead of teaching men to behave themselves when aroused? Men are perfectly capable of behaving, and this law sends the message that women are sexual objects who are in control of and are responsible for men’s arousal.

Censorship of nipples is is just another example of people in power trying to tell women what to do with their bodies. These small injustices women face every day are being rightfully fought by many organizations and movements, and we should support those organizations for equality of women. One movement specifically related to this issue is #Freethenipple, where women show their nipples with no shame.