Exclusive: 'Male Nipple Template' Takes On Social Media Sexism

As the great English playwright William Congreve once said, "Hell hath no fury like a female nipple scorned." Alright, so the quote is actually a bit different but the message is the same and is painfully relevant this week as another nipple-themed social activist campaign spreads across the internet. The newest tool in the fight against social media nipple censorship is Micol Hebron‘s brilliantly titled Internet Acceptable Male Nipple Template.

The project joins the ranks of celebrity efforts from Petra Collins, Miley Cyrus, Scout Willis, Cara Delevingne, Chelsea Handler, and other female celebrities who have challenged the draconian guidelines on Instagram and other social media websites that ban female nipples. The current ruling on Instragram is that female nipples cannot be shown unless they are of “post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding.” Meanwhile, men are free to flaunt their man nipples as much as they want without consequence. Milk Made‘s Chris Thomas reached out to Hebron for a discussion about nipples, transfeminism, and the illuminating journey women experience while drawing their vaginas.

It’s been a crazy week for you. Just to start could you explain the project you’ve been doing with the male nipple template?

In June 2014, I made a post on Facebook that was a sort of “digital pasty.” I called it the Internet Acceptable Male Nipple Template and provided it as something people could use to put over female nipples. The original post actually came from a performance at Bettina Hubby’s exhibition called “Thanks for the Mammaries,” which was about breast cancer awareness. I had posted on Facebook that I would attend Bettina’s exhibition topless if I received 100 or more ‘likes’ to my post and invited others to join me. Only three friends joined in and images of our performance were posted all over Instagram and were censored almost immediately because of the female nipples.

Images of male nipples weren’t censored and that seemed to be a really sexist double standard. There are also all kinds of other images that were far more sexually explicit, violent and visceral and were allowed online but female nipples weren’t. It’s infuriating.

Definitely. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is to have to fight for the right to simply show your nipples online. I have to ask because the nipple you used in the template is now viral, does that nipple belong to someone you know?

No, it’s a male nipple from Wikimedia and it’s an image in the public domain and has a common use license. When you look up “male nipple” on Wikipedia you come to that image. It’s a young white male nipple that Wikipedia thinks is a good example I guess.

Speaking of that intersectionality and nipples, have you seen the photo series that Nona Faustine did? She poses nude at famous landmark slavery sites in New York City wearing only white shoes. It’s brilliant.

I’m glad you bring that performance up because it’s so important to have a plurality of voices having this conversation about feminism. If it’s just a conversation among women or female-identified people it won’t expand beyond these boundaries. There needs to be a space that’s open and is a platform of equality for all bodies. It’s not equality if it’s just one kind of body.

It also up an interesting point about the #FreeTheNipple movement and how white people have been at the forefront and people with different body types, shapes, and colors haven’t had that same recognition. It’s great that Faustine has been getting more attention for her series.

I totally agree and I was so happy to see that series because it’s a really good example of how women can use their body as an act of political protest rather than a sexualized object. There’s actually a long history of women in Africa and Nigeria in particular using the act of going topless as political protest and is in no way sexualized. I really like seeing these examples of women using their bodies in ways that defy these very superficial sexual notions.

It’s interesting how the nipple has become so taboo that it’s now politicized. You can’t even openly show your nipples as women without there being some kind of political message.

The initial politicization comes from a patriarchal and, frankly, pretty Catholic or Christian or Puritanical perspective that has this implication that the female nipple needs to be censored because there’s something wrong with it or taboo about it. Meanwhile, there’s not something wrong with the male nipple. It builds this culture of fear and fetishization and it’s absurd. Yet, we can go to museums and look at images of nude women and that’s fine?

It’s so ridiculous what situations society has deemed acceptable for viewing female nipples.

There are huge double standards and that ties into the assumptions people make when they simply look at a body. Going back to the ideas of transfeminism, what if you are looking at a male body but this person identifies as female? Would those nipples be censored? Or if you are biologically female but identify as male would your nipples be allowed to stay?

Definitely. I think it’s important to find outlets of liberation not only for yourself but for society as a whole. Considering that most of your art deals with nipples and vaginas, I wanted to ask where you find inspiration for your art?

While I will say it is a combination of biological and social factors, I think our contemporary ideas about gender and sexuality are completely artificial and driven by capitalism. I would love to see everyone deconstruct some of the biases and allow for a more fluid conversation about gender to open up that goes beyond the gender binary. It all comes back to this Puritanical and Judeo-Christian notion of two sexes with the male being the dominant sex while women are valued less. There would be so much more to know and learn about being human and sharing human experiences if we could get beyond this binary.

Maybe I’m too hopeful but I see society moving toward a breakdown of gender roles and the gender binary as more people start to critically examine it. Before we go, do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to discuss?

I’m actually working on a project where I ask women to look at their vaginas, draw it, and send it to me. I’m using the drawing to create giant glitter paintings. It’s open to all genders however people identify but I’m looking specifically for people who identify as female. In my work I really like people to have an experience that generates new thoughts and dialogue. The work is just as much about the experience and the collaboration as it is about the outcome.

I think that ties in with the nipple template as well. The experience is just as important as the outcome, right?

Exactly. I would love for people to understand that these things that seem subtle like censoring an Instagram photograph are contributing to the disempowerment of women and women’s bodies. I’d like for people to be aware of this and to start recognizing other signs of oppression and start questioning them.

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