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How The Women Of Iceland Got Together To #FreeTheNipple

More from Shambhavi Saxena

By Shambhavi Saxena

Anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler “told women in Mali that Americans think breasts are sexually arousing, they were horrified.” And amused, “‘You mean men act like babies,’ they shrieked, collapsing in laughter.” says Carolyn Latteier, in Breasts: the Women’s Perspective on an American Obsession.

The women of Iceland have had enough of the sexualisation of breasts and the censoring of women’s bodies when not serving the male gaze. “Breasts are not genitals,” says University of Iceland student, Steinunn Friðriksdóttir, “and are no different from ankles, necks, hands or whatever else one might find sexy on a person. The fact that women are supposed to cover themselves up represents an aspect of rape culture.


Free the Nipple, a campaign to end the policing of women’s bodies, was reignited in Iceland following troll attacks on 17 year old Adda Þóreyjardóttir Smáradóttir on 26th March, 2015. At the core of the campaign is the demand for bodily autonomy. What is happening in Iceland today has a history that stretches all the way back to New York, 1936. It was that very year that the state decided to lift the ban on male toplessness, as men’s nipples were deemed “commonplace and natural”. Exactly half a century later, topless women protestors of Rochester demanded the same right, and in 1992, the toplessness for all genders was decriminalized. #FreeTheNipple seeks to destroy the idea that women’s bodies should “[feed] the ego and pride of misogynist society” (Rupi Kaur), and be censored for existing naturally, without artifice or as objects.

When Sólveig Helga Hjarðar posted a photo to the #FreeTheNipple campaign, she wanted “to shock people that think this is a big deal. I don’t think it should be.” Her younger sister, who works for women’s rights, and both her parents were supportive. “My father simply said ‘I think people should be allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies.’” Sólveig sees the campaign as a success. She says: “We got a lot of attention from abroad. Many girls saw my post and decided to post photos of their nipples as well.” Even Björt Ólafsdottir of Iceland’s Bright Future Party tweeted in support “This is to feed children. Shove it up your patriarchy. #FreeTheNipple


There have been, as is to be expected, negative reactions to such a bold statement. Steinunn mentions a police officer called Biggi lögga (Biggi the cop) who posted on Facebook that these women were in effect giving men what they wanted, “and that he thought young girls were participating because of peer pressure.” She also heard of how “some teenage boys on a bus rating their classmates boobs had made a girl cry saying she didn’t participate because she had no boobs.

Sólveig too encountered some negativity, as folks asked her “why aren’t you fighting for something better, like women being managers of large companies?” As most feminists will argue, she maintains that something as basic as how we display our bodies, or don’t, is inescapably linked to the (in)equality of the sexes. It is no wonder then that artist and poet Rupi Kaur had her instagram photo removed twice, that Shropshire mom Emma Bond’s breast feeding photos were deleted by Facebook, and that Willow Smith was hauled up for a shirt supporting #FreeTheNipple.  And it’s no wonder that Facebook told me I didn’t have permission to post links to Leonard Nimoy’s incredible Full Body Project in memory of the actor and artist.

Yet nothing deters these womens’ spirits. Considering Iceland’s high rank in the gender equality report and its history of strong women’s movements, it seems only natural for the country’s young women to be fighting against negative body image and body-censorship in one sweep.

In 1975,” said Steinunn, “almost all women in the country refused to work for a day and everything just collapsed. We also do the Drusluganga (SlutWalk) every year. But this was the first topless protest I’ve heard of.” The biggest positive aspect, she finds, “is taking away power from those who post pornographic pictures of their exes without their consent. The invasion of privacy and sexual abuse is one of the biggest problems we face today.

The fact that so many women participated in #FreeTheNipple indicates that though “girls here have so many strong role models surrounding them, and Iceland has come a long way, it can always do better,” says Sólveig.

Talking about ‘nursing tents’ (which hide a mother breastfeeding in public) that are being marketed with a vengeance, Steinunn says it would be “beyond ridiculous to have everybody that eats burgers eat inside a tent because burgers are offensive,” pointing to the arbitrariness of censoring women’s bodies.


There are double standards all over the globe when it comes to how we look at male and female bodies. “Even some men don’t want to show off their bodies because they don’t fit in the ‘norm’ of having muscular bodies as shown in the media,” says Sólveig. “The feminist movement is for both genders, about being equal not only on paper but in how we dress and how we talk about men and women.

I’m reminded of Kat Denning’s interview with Lynn Hirschberg, where she said, “You can show, like, a man having an orgasm, and it can still be PG-13, [the camera] can be on his face, but if you show a woman, it’s [rated] R [for restricted].”

By the powers of social media, the campaign is garnering steady support from all over the globe, including here in India. We are seeing images of women walking bare chested through the streets of Iceland and feeling that sense of power, freedom and confidence through our digital screens. We are seeing these women owning their own bodies in the way we are fighting to own ours.

However, comparing and contrasting the campaign with the Indian context problematizes it a bit. Exposure of the body, chastity, objectification, arguments of ‘asking for it’ and the like are all complexly intertwined. When we think of women with uncovered breasts, we think invariably of lower caste women to whom a dress code is prescribed as a sign of their low status and sexual availability to upper caste men. These are, as Steinunn said earlier, plain manifestations of rape culture, and need to be eliminated, along with caste- and gender-based violence, that are so inexorably connected in our nation.

As Iceland has no laws against bared breasts in public, many young women plan to go topless to pools this summer, like the group at Laugardalslaug in Reykjavík. Images pouring in from the campaign are aimed at normalizing the exposure of the female breast as a non-sexual act and securing for women the world over ownership over their own bodies. This debate is closely related to how women express themselves physically, sexually, exercise their reproductive freedoms, their right to move through public places unmolested and other feminist concerns. The fight for the right to choice, to freedom, to bodily autonomy must go on, in the East, the West, everywhere, until it is won for all people of this planet.

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  1. Ritesh Anan

    The problems of a small sample size and superimposing the results on the general population.

    Often companies create a new product through R&D and before launching the product in the market they test it out/ provide samples/ run tasting sessions. Only when the company gets satisfactory results in this “TRIAL” does it goes ahead and launches it in market. However, a lot of times the product that have shown outstanding results in trials, simply fail. Why?? Think over it. [ I miss my Apple Flavored Miranda (Bring it back Pepsico! 🙂 ]

    How many of isolated (geographically) countries we know with a population that is less that a conventional ‘town’ in India, lets say less than 4 lakhs? Well, Iceland is one. The thing with isolated systems is, they are immune to external factors. So before internet penetrated the world it did, 15-20 years ago, a lot of cultural impact we are witnessing now didn’t used to happen. Their instances where the cultural progress of one country didn’t even reached the shore of its neighbors.

    The world as we think of it (OR AS ‘SOME’ PEOPLE THINK OF IT) looks like a linear problem. However, did deeper and it’s actually quite complicated than that. You can’t have high imbalance on one side and want the other side to be CONSTANT. It doesn’t happen that way!!
    I will rest my arguments there

    Why “shock” and awe doesn’t work in all cases and what happens when it doesn’t, comments section>>

    The difference between how real feminism is getting hijacked by propaganda feminism (extremists) and how it is a self-goal that will make it harder for people fighting for real feminism, comments section >>>

  2. Jigsaw

    This article is exactly why feminists need to see a psychiatrist. Common sense evades them, and it is pointless arguing with such people. Until now I used to detest feminists, now I just feel sorry for them.

    Tell your female family members to free their nipple.

    1. swati

      @Jigsaw Your comment clearly say that you doesn’t read the article .Atleast read the first four lines it will clear your doubt.
      Lets talk about common sense. Tell me what made you think that breast is made for anyother purpose other than feeding the baby. Breast is not a sexual organ. It is made only to feed the baby and nothing else. Whatever you think about breast is filth in your mind and nothing else. In India there is no concept of bra or blouse, even today if you go to village you won’t find women wearing bra or blouse. There was a time in India only 30 years ago when women can feed her baby in crowded bus or train without covering it and people both men and women don’t look at it and even give space to mother to feed her baby properly. Now breast is so sexualise that people look at it like hungry animal even when women are feeding the babies. Its all the filth and dirt in mind of men which made feeding baby in crowd as an opportunity to look at breast of women and masturbate.
      I don’t get it why men get so excited to see breast and nipples when there is nothing sexual about it. I look at my breast like 20 times in a day and i don’t get any excitement. If it really is a sex organ won’t I too get excited like I do when I see or touch my vagina. Nipples and breast are for babies, and they don’t have any erogenous zone because if they do have don’t you think women get excited everytime baby suck their nipples or touch their breast.The concept of men sucking and touching breast like baby is really hilarious like that Mali women say. Any men sucking nipples or touching breast is contaminating the food of his baby.

    2. TempleTwins

      “In a 2000 study of breastfeeding women, 40.5% of the participants reported feeling sexually aroused at some point during infant suckling. 16.7% reported being aroused frequently during breastfeeding. In a more recent paper that reviewed several studies between 33-50% of women described breastfeeding as erotic (and 25% of those women said they felt guilty about it).
      Thats pretty Interesting because it includes the 25% of women that feel Guilty”

      So yes! Breasts are secondary sexual organs socially. That is why groping is considered as a sexual harassment. The only way to desexualize the breasts is by forming some sort of boobshake in par with handshake. Those societies/tribes where women doesn’t cover their breasts doesn’t scream ‘molestation’ when someone touched their breast mistakenly or not. Breasts totally loses its sexual nature in such societies.

      I guess when you come out of your ignorant bubble which constantly blames men or their filthy mind for the current situation, then you would realize, women with their padded bras and their breast implants sexualized breasts more than a perverted guy who stare at a breastfeeding woman.

    3. swati

      I think you should read that article again. If you read you will find that women feel erotic due to hormone oxytocin which help in ejecting milk and it has also other function like contraction of uterus and orgasm. And it also stop after few day. You know if women keep feeding their child in intention to draw sexual pleasure it come under child sexual abuse law and they can go to prison.You said breast are secondary sexual organs socially not biologically. Biologically breast are to produce milk.
      What do you mean by mistakenly or not, if its a mistake then no problem but if not than we can scream molestation.
      Any crime done with the intention of finding sexual pleasure or sexual power is called sexual crime even if any person(male or female) hugs a child with intention of finding sexual pleasure it is come under child sexual abuse law.
      Women wears padded bra so that there nipples will not show over the clothes. And those women who does breast implant are as guilty as those people who finds breast erotic. We all need a society where breast totally loses its sexual nature and that is what these women are fighting for. Hope you get the message.
      Boobshake so you want men and women meet by touching each other boobs. Why not we all just go topless why violate somebody else’s right over his/her body.

    4. TempleTwins

      I look at my breast like 20 times in a day and i don’t get any excitement. If it really is a sex organ won’t I too get excited like I do when I see or touch my vagina.

      I was simply refuting this point, you claimed you didn’t feel any kind of sexual excitement and I showed you an article which quoted the study which showed many breastfeeding women find it arousing when their child was sucking on the nipples. Of course there are women that don’t, for some women it may be temporary, whereas some women like their husbands/lovers to suck on them, to each his/her own. There are some men who likes to do what we call a ‘tittyfuck’ by holding the breast together, that is their wish as well, you shouldn’t project your subjective views objectively.

      Any crime done with the intention of finding sexual pleasure or sexual power is called sexual crime .

      So if I intentionally grope you but get no sexual pleasure out of it or wasn’t intending to get any pleasure, does it mean I haven’t committed a sexual crime/molestation? If someone grabbed your hands without your consent, at best you could call it harassment but when someone grabbed your breast you could call it sexual harassment/molestation. If and when we desexualize breasts your breast would become same as your hands or shoulders and so you shouldn’t scream molestation if you are on the view that breast aren’t considered as a sexual part.

      Women wears padded bra so that there nipples will not show over the clothes.
      Women wear bras for many reason other than to cover the nipples and breast, sometime to make it appear bigger and better shape, to attract with their wonder bras and pushup bra to show massive cleavage, quater-cup bra to show most of their breast, cupless bra mostly worn by stripteasers. So please don’t act naive here.

      Boobshake so you want men and women meet by touching each other boobs.
      If I chest bump my male colleague he doesn’t scream harassment, so lets start the boobshake and free the entire breasts. I am on your side on this! pom..pom!

    5. swati

      Women likes men to suck their lips and ears even their feet. So that mean they all are sex organ. Some people do oral sex does that mean mouth is a sex organ and should be cover.
      If anyone grab breast without consent with no intention to draw sexual pleasure then it comes under violation of human rights. If you hold somebody hands without his permission it is violation of his right over his body. And it is a punishable offence.
      What you have to understand is consent and one’s body. You have no right over others body. You can cut your body, pierce your body but you have no right to violate other body. You can only touch others body with their consent. And I am not supporting boobshake because it is violation of other rights over their body. But we all can go topless because its our body and we can do whatever we want with it.
      All you said about bra is why we need to desexualise breast. If you read the article you will find one para” she also heard of how “some teenage boys on a bus rating their classmates boobs had made a girl cry saying she didn’t participate because she had no boobs.” Like fairness cream make women insecure about their color, these different types of bra make women insecure about their body.
      Before you post any more comments the first thing you must understand about consent, and right of one over one’s body. Don’t comment something which promote violation of others right. Boobshake, holding hands without consent, grabbing breast these all are violation of human rights. Your right of freedom ends where other nose starts.

    6. Jigsaw

      If breasts are only for provision of babies, then the vagina is only for giving birth.

    7. swati

      Really vagina is only for giving birth and how babies are produced. Oh yes, god put them in women tummy. Please have some sex education. A women vagina is more complex than any other body part.
      During sex whole body of men and women react.there are seven erogenous zone in body.Lips, ears, neck , behind knee, back, foots, vagina , buttock, thigh and nipples. Let declare all of them as sexual organ and hide them. No need to eat or hear or walk. cover all of them and put a lock on vagina.

  3. Templetwins

    These YKA staffs are censoring my comments, I guess it triggers them in the wrong way 😉

    1. Ritesh Anan

      In partial agreement there. Although I don’t think they “censor” or “ban” it per se, as that would prove the hypocrisy and Irony (standing for free speech, then banning it or censoring it by citing excuses), I do think they often delay the ‘moderation’ and ‘approving’ of comments which are against their bias, their worldview, their ideologies.

      No problem in that too, as long as you are running a private platform. WHATS WRONG?? Proclaiming to be mouthpiece for youth, mind you not certain youth, not youth of certain ideologies, but just MOUTHPIECE FOR THE YOUTH and then just being mouthpiece for “certain” class of youth.

      Other platforms that are REALLY in alignment with the ideology of free speech go for comment plug-ins like Disqus, where comments are posted in real-time and moderators have the ability to delete something IF IT IS FOUND to be highly offensive.

  4. Jigsaw

    If breasts were not sexual organs, a woman’s nipple would not become erect during sexual arousal – COMMON SENSE. So yes, breasts are sexual organs.

  5. Estwald

    The duct through a man’s penis – Is it for urination or for ejaculation? It is for both. Could breasts have two functions – lactation and sexual?

  6. Estwald

    The duct through a man’s penis – Is it for urination or for ejaculation? It is for both. Could breasts have two functions – lactation and sexual? Why not?

  7. TempleTwins

    These YKA idiots still haven’t approved my comments, looks like it hurt their pheels, censorship is the way to go for the overtly sensitive imbeciles >.<

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