Nudity has long been a part of female empowerment and feminist protests. Attractive, bare women are absolutely a way for a cause to gain attention, but it has also been used under the banner of taking back female self possession and pride in the female form.
The Times of India journalist Parinatha Sampath debates whether adding nudity to a protest communicates the message effectively or if it is just an attention garnering tactic.
One group which has received a lot of attention for nudity in the name of basic rights is Ukrainian-based FEMEN, which pitches “sextremism” as a mode of protest against the patriarchy. A self-proclaimed global women’s group, FEMEN fights legally imposed “modesty” and promotes pride and self ownership for women.
Slutwalk claims to fight rape culture and slut shaming through nudity as well, as explained on the Boston Slutwalk blog, but do nudity and shock protests really achieve awareness of these important issues?
Using nudity as a protest method is not limited to feminism, which makes its effectiveness as a tool of female empowerment questionable. For example, this PETA (NSFW) ad, which uses sexuality and semi-nude woman to promote veganism. Change the voiceover, and the same clip could be used by an anti-abuse group, or a group fighting for women to take back their bodies.
While naked and partially naked women absolutely bring publicity to a cause, these same tactics can also result in the purpose of the protest being entirely overlooked. Nudity, at its heart, is a shock tactic.
Yes, it is true that women should be able to reclaim their bodies in the media. However, topless women are possibly not the best medium for fighting rape culture, abuse, or “the patriarchy”.
Women should be able to wear mini-skirts and corsets in public without fear of physical harm, catcalling and other forms of abuse and harassment. But while a topless protest draws the cameras, what is most important is the educational materials which are presented once the cameras get there.
When media swarms semi-nude protests, women are not taking back their bodies. They are being objectified. They are supporting the very system they are trying to fight against, because nudity shocks. Nudity will sell papers, and get hits on online sites and draw the interest of people who might never think feminism is the right path for them.
Will this change as these protests become more commonplace? Maybe. But it is important to balance shock-protests with real, informative seminars and other educational materials to ensure that the message is passed along.
If the group is best-known as a bunch of naked feminists, they will be afforded less respect and therefore hold less sway than a group which takes a more educational approach.
Women should be allowed to wear what they want without fear of abuse, but in the same vein, appearances matter. It is important to dress appropriately for the environment you are trying to effect. Trying to change laws and social culture about nudity, rape and women’s rights means that protestors are addressing lawmakers and ordinary citizens.
While it is important to protest in a manner that feels right to you, it is more important to make a change. Being taken seriously is the second step in the process for change. The word is already out- rape culture is a problem, women don’t have equal rights.
Now that the word is out, shock-protest tactics like FEMEN’s become less effective at making lasting change. Instead of taking back their bodies, nude protestors open themselves up to objectification by the press, and lose the respect of their potential allies, the lawmakers and ordinary citizens who vote for and support “patriarchy”. Without these important allies, change will stagnate.