Free the Nipple and the Fallacy of Relative Privation

| October 2, 2015 | 9 Comments

Free the Nipple & Why we’re talking about nipples when there are way bigger problems in society

In the spring 2015 issue of Bitch magazine (a feminist publication), there’s a review of the Free the Nipple movie. Like many other reviews of this film, it questioned some implausible plot points and “bad writing.”

But that’s not all. The author of the article, A.A.I., starts off by dismissing Free the Nipple as a cause worthy of our attention.

She wrote that while she found it “totally unreasonable” that women can’t go topfree wherever men can,

free the nipple poster logo topless equality topfree movie review yna

Free the Nipple Poster

“…it’s unfortunate that Lina Esco’s directorial debut, Free the Nipple, which attempts to champion the power of grassroots activism, has to focus on an issue that is of so little consequence when compared with the violence, poverty and injustice that many face on a daily basis.”

Yeah, why are we talking about nipples when there’s homelessness and police brutality and starving children in 3rd world countries…right?

This line of thinking is so common it has a name — the “Fallacy of Relative Privation.” It’s the argument that since issue “A” is more important than issue “B”, we should therefore forget about “B” entirely and focus on “A” instead.

It’s called a “fallacy” because the argument lacks validity. It’s a thoughtless way of trying to shut down a discussion about a certain topic or issue.

People, including feminists, try to use this argument all the time when it comes to topfree equality. I’ve been a subscriber to Bitch for some time now and while I still think they do great work, I was surprised and disappointed to see this obtuse way of thinking coming from a well-respected feminist publication.

So let’s talk about what’s wrong with the fallacy and why topfree equality and Free the Nipple do matter.

You could apply the fallacy argument to any kind of social issue (feminist or other).

Anyone could argue that sexist dress codes in schools are not as important of an issue as domestic violence against women. Or that women’s representation in the media is not as important as ending female genital mutilation.

But herein lie the false assumptions — that there is some objectively determined hierarchy of feminist issues. And that to bring about change, we have to address certain issues in a chronological order one by one and only when one issue has been remedied can we move on to the next.

The reality is that many people care about or are invested in different causes simultaneously. There is no real or set hierarchy. When people talk about topfree equality, no one is saying that it’s the most important issue facing women right now or that we need to ignore all other causes to achieve it. The reality is that we can all care about small and large issues at the same time.

The other problem with the hierarchy approach is that it assumes that problem A and problem B are mutually exclusive and not connected. But equality issues are oftentimes connected, even when they don’t seem to be.

In the case of topfreedom, it shouldn’t be difficult to see the direct connection this issue has to sexual objectification, street harassment, slut-shaming, issues around public breastfeeding, and how it’s part of a long history of society’s attempt to police women’s bodies and sexuality.

To give women the right to go topfree in public is a powerful statement. It means desexualizing the female body and viewing women as human beings rather than sex objects. It means giving women autonomy over their own bodies as well as their sexuality and how they choose to express it.

It means deconstructing traditional patriarchal gender roles that say women must be modest and chaste. Topfree equality means challenging the idea that a woman’s state of dress or undress determines her consent, sexuality or even her value as a person.

The Free the Nipple movie may have done a less than stellar job of conveying these ideas, but that is no reason to dismiss its entire campaign or message.

Anyone who believes in equality should know that there is value in fighting inequality on every level. One can make a difference in fighting for whatever cause(s) they are passionate about. There is plenty of room for everyone, especially at the gender equality table.

Even if you don’t feel drawn to the cause of topfree equality or don’t care to go topless in public yourself, ever, you can still join the discussion without dismissing others’ ideas, thoughts and feelings.

Free the Nipple also touches upon a variety of other issues. Anyone can use it as a starting point for launching their own discussions about equality.

This article about Free the Nipple and the Fallacy of Relative Privation was published by – Young Naturists & Nudists America

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Category: Felicity's Nudist Blog, Feminism and Women's Issues, Social Activism

About the Author ()

Author of Felicity's Blog. Co-founder of Young Naturists America. 3rd-generation nudie. Avid reader. Feminist. 70% vegan, 30% vegetarian. When I'm not busy eating, I'm writing about naturism, censorship, topfree equality, body image and other fun topics. I like feedback, so plz leave a comment when you've got something to say!
  • Breastsrhealthy Btw, if you were up for it I’d love to interview you for my blog.. If you’re up for it please email me! – youngnaturists [at] gmail .com

  • Breastsrhealthy Aw, thanks! I’m glad we connected here and it’d be great to do a topfree outing with you here in NY! or if I travel to one of these other states, which I sometimes do.
    Thoroughly enjoyed your post about Philly and admire the way you handled the communication with the police dept!
    Let’s keep in touch for sure :)

  • Breastsrhealthy

    FelicityJones Breastsrhealthy Thank you.  I’ve been hoping we could “meet” through our blogs, seeing as we have similar approaches.  Your photos with Andy Golub are beautiful.  Let me know if you would like to get together for a walk or bike ride sometime.  My ride through Philadelphia this weekend was really peaceful and normal.  It was awesome.  DC, Philly, New York are all pretty easy for me to get to with a bit of notice and they are all established as legal places to go bare-chested.  New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine too, but that requires some planning for me to get there.  

    Let’s keep in touch.

  • Breastsrhealthy Thanks for your comment! Yes, I was so tired of hearing this type of response and had to write this post. I’m hoping it encourages others to challenge people on these arguments against topfree equality.
    I discovered your blog a few days ago by the way and I think what you’re doing is great. :)

  • IvanAkirov

    EricSaumur I think the the difference between the issues we must address to achieve a better society for us all and an emergency -medical, terrorist, whatever, is clear for most of all, so this particular argument is kind of invalid.

  • Breastsrhealthy

    This is a very well written article.  Thank  you for making this eloquent point.  I have been pondering the power of condescension and minimizing when it comes to the topfreedom movement.  I see and hear critics calling the fight to equalize the treatment of female and male breasts boring, a “non-issue”, a waste of time, etc.  They ask why we are debating this when there are so many more important things to worry about.  The Springfield, Missouri City Council just used this language while passing an ordinance banning female bare-chestedness in fact.  What I also notice though is that this comment comes out when there is no other argument with which to rebut the fact that equality means equality.   “But men’s and women’s bodies are different.”  Not under the law.  “Equality doesn’t mean equal rights.”  Yes, it does.  “It will hurt children.”  No, it won’t.  “This is boring.  Why are we even talking about this?”  

    Thanks for writing this article.


  • j238

    War, hunger, poverty, disease, crime all exist in the world today.  They always have.  
    That does not mean we should ignore all the other matters that affect people.  
    Even if the relative privation argument was valid, it should be made to people on both sides of an issue.  If someone is saying “Put your shirt on, literally, there are more important things going on.”  The same person should also be telling the cops, “Put away the handcuffs, there are more important things going on.”

  • EricSaumur

    I am not certain that the fallacy is always a fallacy. In the case of “Free the Nipple” it is a fallacy for certain. There is plenty of band width to discuss the issue and plenty of people for whom it is an important issue. But “the Fallacy of Relative Privation” as described above could be a valid argument if there is limited band width to discuss a package of issues. If someone is having a heart attack and you want to discuss whether you should be compensated for use of your cell phone before an ambulance is called, I think relative privation is a valid argument that might be instantiated something like, “You are being an ass; just make the call! Now!”

  • deucalion30

    I think this was a great article, both in content and form. You
    should be grateful to life for having the mind and background that
    allows you to make your self clear so wisely. As for the topic, I
    totally agree that issues are neither exclusive nor isolated. This said,
    I guess the problem arises when feminists cherry-pick certain causes
    and forget others. For instance, here in Spain feminists complain about
    the views of the Catholic Church on women, but have NOTHING to say about
    what other churches and religions think and do with females. In the
    website that coordinates the networks of feminist groups
    (, there is a number of articles on religion; they are
    about how bigot or sexist the Catholic priests and bishops are. There
    are also articles to defend the right of women to wear hiyab, and how we
    should avoid discrimination against women who wear islamic attire.   
    I´m totally ok with their criticism of the Church, which in Spain in
    particular is controlled by the most backwards groups. But it would also
    be great if the feminist movement had something to say AT ALL about how islam, a rapidly
    growing religion in Spain owing to immigration (the number of mosques
    has multiplied BY FIVE in the last 12 years), treats and regards women. 
    Apparently, feminists in Spain have no problem whatsoever with sharia
    laws regarding women, and the only concern is how “muslim women” (they
    don´t seem to consider that a woman born to Muslims might want to
    experience a different life-style) should be allowed to wear veil and
    long dresses without discrimination.

    Plus, the only
    group in my country that dares to complain about religion in general and the
    situation of women regardless of their origin, Femen España, is NOT in
    the network and the only brief reference to them in the website is not
    very appreciative at all.
    So my point is, it is okay to
    prefer to focus on certain “fights”, as we nudist activists do, and
    it´s also great to care about less skinny models on the catwalk or the
    role-models in the mainstream tv series and so on; as long as we do not forget
    entirely about other major issues. Our focus to be productive in a
    particular cause, should not be used to allow us to become totally oblivious of the other
    concerns, much less to prevent other people to talk about them. As you say in the
    article, there is a continuum in all these things, and I credit Femen
    for taking this approach: they use topless freedom to complain both
    about Western and non Western sexist discourses and abuses. So thumbs up
    for them, and thumbs down for “feminists” who fail to see the bigger
    picture and therefore, the connections.