Why do men have nipples?

My youngest daughter is a bit of a nudist.

And now that she’s no longer a toddler, she’s a little (okay, a lot) pissed off at the idea that she has to wear a shirt places that her male counterparts don’t.

After all, she’s just a kid. She doesn’t have breasts any more than her similarly aged male counterparts do.

Because her mother (me) is a historian and cultural anthropologist, she also knows all about the many, many, many cultures around the world and throughout time where children got to run around naked until they reached puberty, at which time they became adults and began wearing clothing. She further knows about the many, many, many cultures where both women and men are expected to cover up – or  both women and men are allowed to be bare-chested.

And she is calling bull-pucky on this whole Western “Civilization” – where women’s breasts are supposed to be covered up at all times, unless they are being used to sell things like cars, alcohol, sunglasses… You know, things you need breasts for.

boobs drive

Because girls can only drive fast if they have sexy boobs.

Even breastfeeding in public is controversial. (I know it’s been controversial for a decades now, that just links to the most recent newsworthy response.)

So my daughter has the message that as a child she has to cover up her breasts because – “sexy private parts” – but then, once she becomes an adult she needs to show them off to get things and stuff and so boys will like/want her (But if she does this, she’ll be a slut because she is using her sexy private parts to get things and stuff and boys.), and then if she has a kid and wants to feed it she needs to cover up because feeding babies is gross.

Meanwhile, boys and men get to run around with their shirts off whenever they want. No one will call them a slut or a tease for doing so. No one will tell them that they are asking to be felt, fondled, molested, assaulted or raped because they are running around with their shirts off. When a male nipple has a wardrobe malfunction, it doesn’t make the news. (For that matter, tabloid journalists are also not running around trying to get “up short” shots of male celebrities, but that is a whole other post.)

No one will buy a car because a man’s chest told them to.

And so here we get to what I think is really the most interesting point.

See, a woman’s breasts serve multiple functions – aside from titillating men and enticing them to buy expensive cars, cologne, sunglasses and booze.

Breasts have also been known to deliver pleasurable sensations to the female owner of the breasts.

AND to nourish and feed infants and toddlers.

Women’s breasts are more than ornamental show pieces. They are more than sexy-time fun bags.

They are one of a woman’s super-powers – and not as a source of flashy bling – but because they can be used to SUSTAIN LIFE!!

Men’s breasts on the other hand…

As a sexual health educator, one of the most common questions we get asked  – at least once per session – is “Why do men have nipples?”

We can go into evolution and science, but that’s not really what they’re asking. They’re asking, “What are these things for? What do they DO?”

Well, the truth is – they feel good. They are an erogenous zone.

Men’s nipples are ONLY for sexy fun times.

And yet in America they get to flash them around willy-nilly whenever the urge to strip down takes them. Not as an invitation to women, or as a way of signaling their sexual availability – but just because they’re feeling hot and want to cool down, or because the tag on their shirt is rubbing them wrong, or just because they like the feel of sun/rain/wind on their chest.

Meanwhile little girls, breast-feeding women, and other women who don’t want their breasts felt up by men are expected to cover them up.

And suddenly, I get it.

Somewhere along the way, someone decided that women’s breasts did not belong to them. They belonged instead to men.

Little girls and breast-feeding women are not advertising their sexual availability. They are having breasts without sexual intention – and that must be hidden. That is shameful and gross and… wrong! How dare those females have non-sexual breasts!?!

And women with sexually available breasts who don’t want to be fondled – how dare they!?! If they’re not on the open market, they shouldn’t be out like that.

Because that’s the only “logical” argument I can see for making a little girl cover herself, or making a breast-feeding woman feel ashamed to nourish her child, or telling a woman living in a world filled with boobvertising to conceal her own breasts.

These women are using their bodies, their breasts, in ways that do not directly benefit heterosexual males. And that’s just wrong!

I’m sure this sounds like male bashing – and I know a lot of you are fine with little girls being kids and with women feeding their children and I’ve heard lots of you say that you’d LOVE it if more non-lactating women would *please* run around topless.

Which brings me to a conversation two male DJs were having on the radio back in Oregon. They were talking about how it was legal for women to be topless in Eugene, OR and they were both wishing and hoping and praying that women all over Eugene would start flinging their shirts off left and right. And then they got to the part where the law was actually about allowing women to nurse in public and both DJs switched gears, got completely squicked out and started mommy-bashing. “Seriously, time and place ladies, I mean, nursing your child – in a restaurant – Please, I’m trying to eat here.”

Ef OFF!!! (I cannot cyber shout that loud enough. Picture me standing on my chair, fist raised, eyes blazing, smoke coming out my ears and you get close to how this makes me feel.)

That child is ALSO trying to eat.

Not to mention 30 seconds ago these guys were asking women to take off their shirts at the park while they had a picnic, so they could clearly eat around naked tits. Both of these men had also done food reviews for the local nudie bars, so again, boobs were not the problem, a woman using them for a purpose other than pleasing these men was the problem.

So yes, the conclusion I have come to is that the problem (some) men have with women’s breasts is that they are WOMEN’S. And these men “let us” get away with having them only as long as we either cover them up, or dedicate them to male pleasure.

And yet, men, whose breasts are ONLY for sexual enjoyment don’t share the same double-edged sword. They are allowed to flash them, flaunt them and display them – without it being considered showing off or taunting us with their blatant sexuality. They’re just taking their shirts off because THEY LIKE TO. It’s not about us. It’s their body and they are allowed to use it as THEY please.

Can we PLEASE, PLEASE work on getting over this? Seriously, can we all please remember this the next time we see a woman having breasts in public? Can we just take a moment to remember all the many, many times that men have similarly been allowed to possess nipples without being shamed or groped for it? And then can we please let the woman go about her business unharassed. Please?

My seven-year old should still be safely running around naked and free as a bird. It’s not sexual, SHE’S not sexual. For that matter, I should still be allowed to run around with my top off without it being seen as a sexual invitation. And women should certainly be allowed to feed their infants/children, wherever, whenever – and however – they want to.

One last ROAR for the road – Dudes, if you can’t handle the site of a woman breast-feeding – you shouldn’t be having sex with women in the first place. That kind of sex has been known to lead to pregnancy, which often leads to babies (In fact, some states are working hard to legally mandate that outcome!) and babies, well, they need to eat… A lot. So, get over it – or keep your penis to yourself.


Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Uncategorized

24 responses to “Why do men have nipples?

  1. We have made little girls sexual objects by making dress as adults. When I was a child there were no such a thing as a bikini for children. Until you reached about ten you never gave it a thought. I blame the fashion people who have taken children’s childhood away from them for the sake of making money. Let children be children .

  2. Couldn’t agree more with Beth e Browning. Not only the fashionistas but society as a whole has let down our children be sexualising them far too early and worse still, the media have fuelled a fear into all of us that just around every corner there is a paedophile lurking ready to pounce on our children.

    • Exactly, on one hand we make them sexual with the little miss beauty pageants and suggestive clothing (I can’t even shop at Target anymore, the only clothes they have for girls look like club wear for 20-somethings, not quite what I want my kids wearing to elementary school!!) and on the other hand we tell parents to be afraid of pedophiles. We tell them to be beautiful and passive and get boy’s attention, and then we tell them to be afraid of boys.
      What a confusing message!

  3. There are places where we can bare our chest. I was a featured speaker at a weekend lesbian conference – topic of child custody issues for women who were fighting to keep their kids. It was delightful to feel so free. For the first time ever, I was part of a shirt vs skin sports game. May your daughter know this freedom more often during her lifetime.

    • Nice!
      And yes – she comes from me, so we make a point of spending time in the National forest where anyone can be naked, any time.
      I remember my daughter hiking and complaining about being hot and being jealous because her dad could take off his shirt. I told her she could too, we were in a safe place. She looked at me, then her face fell and she shrugged and started walking again, so I whipped my shirt off, danced around and said, “See, safe place.”
      She smiled so big, the whole world must have felt it.
      She took off her shirt, her sister followed suite and we all hiked up the mountain feeling the breeze, laughing and joking and just – being.
      She also has a couple of friends who she calls her “naked friends” because they too come from relaxed houses and she and they are allowed to get naked and be kids when they’re together.

  4. omtatjuan

    Classic! You hit it right on the head!

  5. sk8eycat

    I was born in 1939, and went “topless” at the beach where we lived at least until I started school. I really can’t remember how old I was when mother bought me my first one-piece bathing suit. (the Bikini hadn’t been invented then.) 6, probably.

    However, (this is off-topic) I have always wondered why ALL male mammals, cats, dogs, etc. had nipples. (Do horses? I don’t know.) You can’t help but notice them when a male pet rolls over for a tummy-rub. That’s one of my many arguments against the “Intelligent Design-ists. Ask one some time. They won’t be able to give you an answer.

    Back to the main topic – I have lost count of the times I have read articles about a young mother being asked to nurse her infant in a restaurant, or store, bathroom. The same bathroom where people defecate, get sick, spread bacteria…some stores even have shelves where women can change a baby’s diapers. Nursing a baby out on the sidewalk or in a public park would be safer…in good weather.

    In the meantime, how many of you have seen pictures of old-time sailing ships that had bare-breasted figureheads on the bows? They were supposed to bring good luck. So, my friends, all I have to say is:


    • Indeed – By the way, I’m finally reading When God Was a Woman – I believe you recommended it! Such a good book, but also so infuriating that so many people ignore it.
      I was have a degree in Classics – there is so much that my professors skipped over when they taught about those areas, I’m half tempted to go back for my masters so I can become a professor and fill in those gaps for future students.

  6. straight up right!
    that’s how i feel too when my mother says i shouldn’t be acting like this and that just because i’m a girl -,- and she even gives it as an excuse like ..”because you are a girl, it’s not appropriate”

    • I got lucky – my mom was a militant feminist, so I rarely heard that. (Oddly, now that I’m an adult she has gotten a little more stiff in her gender expectations.)
      My kids tend to hear more “Unfortunately, some people will get upset if you do that. If it makes you happy or more comfortable though – I’ve got your back.” Occasionally I have to tell them they aren’t allowed to do something because they’re girls, not because it’s inappropriate but because “ignorant scared people made bad laws.” And then we talk about how to change the laws.
      Progress – one fierce girl at a time!

  7. Reblogged this on Writing While Living and commented:
    This is just straight up right and point on!

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  9. Lauren

    I grew up overseas. I remember going to swimming classes when I was about 10 or 11, and one girl from Sweden only wore a bikini bottom. She still hadn’t hit puberty, so it was no big deal.

    • My parents took my sister and I to France when I was 11 and she was 13. The topless beaches were amazing to me – the freedom that the women had to just… be. And it was so normal that only the tourists stared.
      For the next few years all I could think about was moving to France when I grew up. It seemed so liberating and just.

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