The male nipple pasty was conceived and created by me (Micol Hebron), a Los Angeles-based artist, in 2014 in response to the removal of images of myself and friends as we attended an art exhibition topless. The exhibition, Thanks for the Mammaries, was organized by Bettina Hubby and Klowden Mann Gallery at ForYourArt (owned and operated by Bettina Korek), as a breast cancer fundraiser. Hubby is a breast cancer survivor (and my own mother died from breast cancer). I attended the exhibition topless to celebrate Hubby, breast cancer survivors, breasts, and a person’s right to occupy and present their body however they choose – no matter their gender or sexuality.
Images of my topless attendance at the exhibition were removed from Facebook and Instagram within 24 hours. I was issued the warning that the images had violated the community guidelines which prohibited the exposure of female nipples. Genuinely shocked at the blatantly sexist and transphobic double standard of targeting ‘female nipples’ specifically, my immediate reaction was to present the sarcastic and humorous gesture of taking the implications of the guidelines very literally (“male nipples are ok, female nipples are not”) – and to mask my “female” nipples with a digital pasty of a male nipple. This act of literalizing the stated community guidelines was intended to point out how irrational they were, and hopefully get people – and Facebook and Instagram – to think about how their policies might actually be harming the community, rather than protecting it.
For the next 5 years (from 2014 to the present) I would continue waging a battle with Facebook and Instagram about the censorship of my work and that of other female identifying artists. My posts were banned repeatedly – and each time I would be shut out of my accounts for longer periods of time (24 hours, 3 days, 7 days, 2 weeks, a month). As an artist who has done work about the body politic and gender equity for 25 years, and who has utilized social media as a platform for making art, crowdsourcing, and activism for the last 12 years, to be shut out of my accounts (based on images of my own body) was not only disconcerting, but professionally damaging to my career and livelihood.
I continued activating the male nipple pasty in various ways – by applying it to social media posts of mine; by making buttons and stickers, and handing them out for free anytime I gave lectures or sat on panels or participated in exhibition; by repeatedly engaging in making artworks and participating in projects that addressed different aspects of sexism and gender equity in the art world and beyond. During this time I was also very active in organizing and promoting the Gallery Tally project, which started in 2013 (and is ongoing today). Gallery Tally throws a spotlight on the disproportionate ratios of male artist in the contemporary art world. It is a project in which people from around the world participate to help creating artistic visualizations of the ratios of male, female, and nonbinary artists in the top contemporary galleries. You can see examples of the posters here: Gallerytally.tumblr.com After tallying nearly 600 galleries and over 5000 artists, the statistics still reveal that male artists are represented twice as often as female artists (with an average ratio of 69% male artists in these galleries).