Unleash it or not: an Uproar From Inside
Gender equality activists advocate braless campaigns for women
by Isabella Lo
People in Hong Kong have seldom talked about women’s bras, until last year when a Hong Kong girl was sentenced to jail for three and a half months for assaulting a police officer with her breasts during a cross-border trading protest, which caused a public uproar doubting the aggressiveness of women’s wares.
Bras have been deemed to be women’s necessity for decades. Bras draw eyeballs globally, especially when sexy models with dazzling underwear walk on the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
According to market research done by the firm Ibis World, lingerie is a $13 billion industry that is growing at a rate of 3.3% each year, with the glamorization of lingerie by manufacturers such as Victoria’s Secret.
The interior wears with rigid wires and straps, are still “painful” to many women. Back in 2013, French professor Jean-Denis Rouillon suggested that breasts gain no benefit in bras medically, physiologically and anatomically, after 15 years’ of investigating the anatomy of 330 women.
Hong Kong ‘Free the Nipple’ Association, founded a year ago, said they hope to promote gender equality, popularise breast-feeding, and say no to commercialism, by encouraging posting photos of breasts on the internet.
Founder of the association, Christine Yu Po-yan, said they have been thinking about turning the campaign from the virtual community into real-life actions.
“Joanna Chan, another founder of our association, will consider running for the next Legislative Council Election in order to bring our voice into the Legislature,” she said.
The association will also apply for a seat to speak in the public consultation session in the coming term of LegCo meetings, said Christine. Over the year, they have gained around two hundred supporters on their Facebook page, with half of the supporters being male netizens.
The 22-year-old activist commented that wearing a bra or not should be freely decided by individuals. “Women’s nipples shouldn’t be censored,” she said, “It is our own right to choose if we want a bra, although stereotypes of standards of femininity proposed by the media can be influential to women’s choices.”
“Only very few people in Hong Kong have participated in the ‘Free the Nipple’ Movement. A considerable proportion does have the impression that posting nipple photos on the internet will provoke sexual thoughts of men,” Christine said.
‘Free the Nipple’, a global campaign which has gone viral, encourages young women to post their own photos of breasts to social media platforms using the hashtag #FreeTheNipple.
On July 9, the National No Bra Day launched by an unknown internet user three years ago, women are encouraged to remove the dreadful bras for 24 hours and wear white or purple t-shirts. This is perhaps the only day when women can let their breasts go free.
The concept of ignoring the social protocol of wearing bras was already promoted in 1997 in Hong Kong. “Ban the Bar” was put forward in a feminism-promoting newspaper published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, but it led to no large impact or follow-ups afterwards.
According to statistics released by the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation, breast cancer is the most commonly seen cancer for women in Hong Kong, with over three thousand people diagnosed and about five hundred who die every year.
However, braless campaigns also sparked a controversy, with the media being sceptical about their intentions, pointing out that freeing the nipple does not promote breast cancer awareness, but only serves to facilitate the spreading of nudity and sexism on the internet.
Dr Charles Cheung Chi-wai, expertising in gender and media research studies, said the idea of the Free the Nipple campaign can be too complex to be promoted on social media platforms. “However, it can somehow raise the awareness of those who have little knowledge and thoughts about the issue,” he said.
Notions of feminism can be explained in different ways, “the second-wave feminism lobbies for equal treatments in genders, while the third-wave accepts certain differences between male and female, focusing on individual’s rational choice, ” said the assistant professor from Hong Kong Baptist University. “And there may be some girls who like bras because it maintains the shape of their breasts, this is their rational choice.”
Dr Cheung felt that promoting gender equality requires serious and thorough discussions. While mass media takes an essential role to facilitate the promotion, “popular culture can be very influential to infiltrate people’s mind and change society’s atmosphere,” he said.
He believes that we will be able to see the change of the media environment in the long run, “but currently, mass media like TVB are not doing a very good job, but promoting only traditional judgements and values,” said Dr Cheung.
Law professor Dr Surya Deva from the City University of Hong Kong said the legality of posting breasts photos will be governed by Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO). “Under the Ordinance, publishing or displaying “obscene” or “indecent” articles is a criminal offence,” he said.
The Obscene Articles Tribunal will decide whether a naked photo is obscene or indecent. “Many factors will be considered in the Tribunal,” professor Deva said, “It will be a good defence if the display of breasts is in the interests of science, literature, art or learning, or any other object of general concern like breast-feeding.”
Online censorship of photos with women’s nipples is perhaps one of the biggest challenges faced by the online-driven campaign. Facebook continues to delete topless photos of women and suspend user accounts who posted such photos, including five Taiwan female activists’ nipples photos which were taken down in 2015.
“Social media companies like Facebook have to comply not only with local laws but also certain international norms. They might have their own internal policies which might stipulate that no user should post pornographic materials on their sites,” said Dr Deva.
(Edited by Catherine Xu)