The battle over breasts

Sunday 18 October, 14.00 until 15.30, Frobisher Auditorium 1, Barbican Feminism and Its Discontents

Breasts seem to be the focal point for numerous contemporary controversies. Some argue that women’s position in society is adversely affected by the objectification of breasts and by images of certain breasts in public spaces, for example in the Sun’s Page 3 or in advertising and entertainment. For decades, feminists have campaigned against photographs of topless female models. More recently, students’ unions have banned the Sun from campus shops to maintain the campus as a ‘safe space’ for female students. After pressure from advocacy groups, some supermarkets and newsagents have introduced ‘modesty sleeves’ to cover up pictures of breasts on the covers of certain magazines. In these instances, the presence of ‘sexualised’ naked breasts in public view is said to be offensive and even harmful to women and children and to contribute to an unhealthy social climate for all.

Conversely, pro­breastfeeding activists regularly stage ‘feed­ins’ or ‘flash mobs’ in public places to assert the right of mothers to breastfeed wherever necessary and the ‘Free the Nipple’ campaign calls for ‘equality’ in the way male and female nipples are treated in legislation and on social media. Even more confusingly, feminist campaigners such as FEMEN have taken to baring their breasts in public in protest against what they see as the misogyny of institutions like the church. And so it seems, some breasts are good and some breasts are bad.

All of which raises the question, who decides? Why have breasts become such a focus for contemporary advocacy and campaigning and is it really possible or desirable to ‘desexualise’ breasts? 

Watch the debate

Speakers
Linda Blum
associate professor of sociology, Northeastern University, Boston

Amy Brown
associate professor in public health, Swansea University; researcher into breastfeeding

Laura Dodsworth
photographer; author, Bare Reality: 100 women, their breasts, their stories

Dr Jan Macvarish
associate lecturer and researcher, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent; author, Neuroparenting: The Expert Invasion of Family Life

Chair
Dr Ellie Lee
reader in social policy, University of Kent, Canterbury; director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies

Produced by
Dr Ellie Lee reader in social policy, University of Kent, Canterbury; director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies
Dr Jan Macvarish associate lecturer and researcher, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent; author, Neuroparenting: The Expert Invasion of Family Life
Recommended readings
Good boobs, Bad boobs: how feminists police women’s bodies

Middle-class breasts on Instagram – good. Big tits in the Sun – bad.

Ella Whelan, spiked, 9 April 2015

Why I Made a Film Called Free the Nipple and Why I'm Being Censored in America

Is it possible with some cultural engineering, a little

Lina Esco, Huffington Post, 2 August 2014

Free The Nipple: why on earth do women want to walk around topless in public?

Free The Nipple, a movement which fights for women to be allowed to go topless in public, has gained popularity after Bruce Willis's daughter, Scout, walked half-naked through New York.

Radhika Sanghani, Telegraph, 6 June 2014

Why Female Nudity Isn't Obscene, But Is Threatening to a Sexist Status Quo

The real question about female nudity isn't why anyone would want to show or see women's breasts if they're not titillating. The real question is about who has the right to say what they're for, where and when they can be seen and by whom.

Soraya Chemaly, Huffington Post, 22 April 2014

If You Don't Support Breastfeeding in Public, You Don't Support Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding whenever, wherever a child is hungry is an integral component of breastfeeding success. To take that away is to inhibit mothers who only want to do right by their child.

Katharine McKinney, Huffington Post, 4 January 2014

The new feminism is just snobbery Tim Black, spiked, 12 August 2013

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