Randi Kreiss

Nipping sexism in the bud, all over again


Does the latest sexist outrage mean we have to start burning our bras again? We did that in the ’60s to make a statement of empowerment. I paid $65 for my last Wacoal; I’m not setting it on fire, no matter how egregious the sexist offense.

But I’m tempted. Last week, Lizzy Martinez, 17, a Florida high school student, left her bra at home and went to school in a loose shirt. Apparently, two school administrators decided that her nipples were offensive, and suggested that she cover them with Band-Aids so they wouldn’t show through her shirt, which leads me to suspect that prurient thoughts are sometimes in the head of the beholder.

Specifically, they took her to the nurse’s office and suggested she “X out” her nipples with bandages.

Sometimes a nipple is just a nipple. We all have them. Since the beginning of humankind, they’ve been used to nurse babies, thus perpetuating the human race, which apparently has not evolved very far.

Nipples aren’t necessarily a sexualized body part. For school officers to suggest otherwise, that nipples are provocative or inappropriate, is bizarre. Reportedly, when the problem was bumped up to the superintendent, she said that the “protruding” nipples might be a “distraction.” What’s wrong with these people? To be clear, there is nothing in the Manatee High School dress code about proper nipple attire.

In my day, at Lawrence High School, the vice principal, emphasis on “vice,” regularly dropped Ping-Pong balls down boys’ pants to make sure they weren’t too tight. If the ball got stuck, the student got sent home. We girls had to wear skirts. If they appeared too short, we were told to kneel on the floor, and if the hem didn’t touch the ground, we were suspended. We couldn’t wear metal clips in our hair, and when we did, Ms. Chaffee, the infamous, severely high-strung typing teacher, would rip them out, along with the hair. I can’t imagine any scenario in which a female student would be questioned about her nipples, hidden or not. Appropriate dress was mostly left to parental supervision, and we students pretty much complied.

My husband, a fellow Lawrence High graduate, did get into some trouble for wearing a “Lawrence Drinking Team” sweatshirt to class. Of course, the sweatshirt is basically the only thing he retained from high school.

I just read the rules and regulations for Hewlett High School, and while statements are made about expectations for safety and health and dignity and decorum, there is no specific mention of Ping-Pong balls, hair clips or any other possibly offensive personal wear. That said, I regularly see high school students going to class with shorts that are so short that they seem indecorous to me. But what do I know? As a parent, I looked at how my kids were dressed before they left for Hewlett High. On one memorable occasion, my son and I had a battle over the T-shirt he chose to wear, which said “I win” on the front and “You lose” on the back. I told him he shouldn’t advertise bad attitude. He didn’t agree, but I won. He lost.

To me, the nipple brouhaha is a return to overreach rather than oversight by school administrators. All of the officials who discussed Lizzy Martinez’s allegedly overexposed nipples with her were women. It seems they might have more important issues to negotiate on a typical school day.

The issue is so preposterous, and the response of her school leaders so foolish, that I’m inclined to mock their actions, to make fun. But what happened to Martinez isn’t funny in the least. It’s a classic example of ignorant sexism by people who should know better, adults who ostensibly have been through sensitivity training and taught to respect students’ rights. Beyond the insult to Martinez is the real harm it does to a young woman to be seen as the sum of her body parts. Who was staring at her breasts? Who made the complaint?

Since high school boys are notoriously tumescent, has anyone suggested bandaging their body parts? It gets curiouser and curiouser.

I have questions. Did anyone check out U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s nipples when she wheeled her new baby onto the floor of the Senate recently? Duckworth is the first sitting senator to give birth, and the first to bring a baby into the Senate chamber. If she’s nursing, she actually might have had to expose a breast to facilitate feeding. Would that have been provocative? Distracting? Are we kindergartners?

And what about Capt. Tammie Jo Shults, a former Navy pilot who landed Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 in Philadelphia last week after an engine blew up? Shults saved every one of the 143 passengers and five crew members on board, except for one passenger who was critically injured and later died.

Did anyone check to see if Shults’s nipples were a distraction during the emergency landing?

Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.