​#freethenipple: why did it attract a 72% male audience?

It is a phenomenon. It’s hashtag activism at its most contagious. It has become the equality movement’s most viral voice in its scream for censorship change. But who is listening?

by Steve Salter and Tish Weinstock
30 March 2015, 3:50pm

Having swept through international feeds and sparked debate far beyond the streets of New York that conceived it, #freethenipple has captured the imagination of influencers (Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevingne and Lena Dunham to name just a few), and girls-next-door alike, but it has its critics too. Yes, it's been mocked via #ladbanter but it has also been met with looks of disapproval from some factions within feminism. From introductory think pieces to rolling news coverage, we have followed its rise with interest and it's clear that #freethenipple is as divisive as it is infectious. Each mention has provoked debate on i-D.co.

However, few features have garnered the reaction that last week's news story on Iceland #freeingthenipple en masse did. Both on social media and our website's comments sections, wave after wave of tit trolls crashed into the mass of supportive well wishers. A battle of misogynistic comments and collective calls-for-change ensued. Days later as the arguments continue to rage, we decided to investigate the #freethenipple audience and were a bit shocked to learn that only 29% were female.

Considering i-D's usual reader demographics are 60/40 in female favor, not to mention the movement's focus, that is a significant shift. Who were these boys and why were they interested? Were they just ogling an assortment of areolas or were they joining the cause and spreading its message? If not for themselves then for their mothers, sisters, daughters, granddaughters or friends. We hope it's the latter, but given the streams of angry and ignorant consciousness we've had to sift through, we're fearful that lads may have just added i-D.co's nipple coverage to their infinite scroll of titillation, pouring fuel on the wildfire that is everyday sexism.

One year on and millions of tags later, what do you think about #FreeTheNipple? Is it hashtag hyperbole or focussed feminist fury? It might reveal the nipple but does it free them? Does #freethenipple just throw a transparent veil over the everyday sexism it longs to combat? Join the discussion below…

Read our original coverage here.

Last night Soko joined in too, staging a #freethenipple stage invasion at her sold out London gig.

Read our Free the Nipple thinkpiece

Read our thinkpiece on how celebrities embraced nudity.


Free the Nipple