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The Wardrobe Malfunction 20 Years On


At the time of this writing we are a little more than 20 years on from what is, rather pathetically, still considered as one of the major scandals of broadcast television. This is of course the time Justin Timberlake ripped off part of Janet Jackson's costume to reveal (gasp, shock, horror) her nipple. Twenty thousand died, millions more were hospitalized and everyone who watched lives with the trauma to this day. Of course, none of the things in that last sentence happened, because it was just a fucking nipple, but you would have thought it was the case at the time. And sadly, to this day it continues to be treated in much the same way. The inspiration to write this comes from listening to an episode of the podcast Hit Parade by  Chris Molanphy. While he rightly points out the inequity of the reaction against Janet Jackson as opposed to Justin Timberlake, he does treat the incident as a legitimate scandal and not as a complete overreaction by a handful of noisy people who wield way too much influence over what the rest of us see, hear and enjoy. 

To begin with, why is the female nipple even considered such a big deal? To this day on social media, pictures that show a female nipple are either disallowed, or have to be flagged as "adult content". Male nipples, keep those bad boys coming all day long. Some would say that this is because the female nipple is more sexual than the male nipple. I would counter that these are likely men who've never had their nipples sucked. (Seriously guys, if you haven't tried it you should.) Besides, why should sexual and erotic be labelled as "bad". None of us would be here if our parents hadn't enjoyed an occasional foray into the sexual and erotic.  

I'm not saying that we parade topless women around at every public event. I'm just saying that if someone shows a nipple it's not the end of the world. It is not going to lead to the collapse of society. In fact, I would argue that it's part of a mindset that is meant to keep women in their place. As a culture we have always slut shamed women, made them feel impure for perfectly natural desires that we praise men for having and indulging in. Maybe this was due to heritage passing down through the male line. If you were an important muckety muck, you wanted to be sure the kid inheriting your title, position and power were yours, and not some bastard offspring resulting from your woman fucking around on you. Therefor you found it imperative to control her sex drive. 

That would explain why Janet Jackson was suddenly blacklisted from media, while Justin Timberlake issued an apology and then went on with his career largely as if nothing had happened. And it's not just Janet, we slut shame any female performer who taps into their sexuality too much, like Madonna, Britney Spears, and Miley Cyrus. But here's the thing, women like sex too. This is not unnatural, it is not indecent, and it is not shameful any more than it is for men. Women's bodies are also not shameful or indecent. As a heterosexual male I find them to be one of the most beautiful things in nature, even putting eroticism aside. So why do we continue to insist that their bodies must not be seen when a man's is fine? It's that need to keep them in their place. If we relegate women showing their bodies to the darkest corners of the internet we reinforce that doing so is wrong. We can use societal pressure to make sure that our women know that fucking is bad for them, but somehow good for men. (One thing that I find highly confusing about this mindset is who are the men supposed to fuck? The same people who perpetuate this nonsense are also on a crusade against gay sex.)

Now the truth about the "malfunction" is beginning to come out, that maybe it was more intentional than was let on. Obviously it was intended for Justin to rip the top (as he sang the line "Bet I'll have you naked by the end of this song", not incidentally), but the story was that Janet was supposed to be wearing a red lace bra underneath. But if that was the case why was Janet wearing the little piece of nipple jewelry that she had on? I point this out not to shame her, but so that she can finally get the credit she is long overdue for trying to break down the ridiculous double standards we had and continue to have regarding sex. I also understand why she backed off, because instead of appreciating the artistry of the moment, and they beauty which she shared with us, the people "in charge" reacted with outrage that would have had their Puritan forbears proud. She was lucky not to be stoned in the streets. But while we have progressed a little (acknowledging that it was unfair for Janet to take all the blame) we haven't progressed enough (assuming that there was blame to take).

Incidentally other countries where religious zealots hold less sway did not have the reaction we did to the incident. In fact, we were made fun of for the reaction we had. See, in some parts of the world people realize that a nipple is just a nipple. I don't think we can ever consider ourselves to be a "mature" culture until we get over this weird idea that our bodies are shameful. Even for the Christians, who largely seem to drive this mindset, it makes zero sense. After all, God first realized that Adam and Eve had sinned because they covered their nakedness. Before that they had felt no shame. So does it not follow that shame of our bodies is sinful? So let's stop casting blame at Janet Jackson and start celebrating her as the women who tried to lead us out of the sins of slut shaming and controlling female sexuality. (Hopefully you'll notice the irony that I had to use a picture from the performance from before the incident, because showing the nipple in question would keep this post from being sharable on social media. A built in example of how we haven't really moved forward in 20 years.)


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