Sunday, April 15, 2012

What It Means to Protest Naked: a contribution from Lisa Mason

What It Means to Protest Naked

The Vulnerability Vigil is by no means the only protest that uses nakedness to portray a message. There have been many other successful protests that have taken this form. However, the message behind naked protests is a lot deeper than the initial shock of the bystander. The message behind this tactic is often powerful, important and pure.

Being naked allows people in a position of weakness to show their strength. They don’t use weapons, or violence, or anything else that requires restraining – they just come armed with their bodies in order to make a point. The best thing about naked protests is that it is never the protestor that goes away looking stupid; it is always those over oppressive spectators and authorities that feel the need to bring out armed police forces to “control” the naked protestors that are the ones to look the fool.

Another great thing about naked protests is that they are almost always guaranteed to attract media attention. This is what all protestors want – and is the ultimate aim – to spread the word, gain support and make a difference. Newspapers and photographers follow naked protestors around wherever they go.

Here are two of the most powerful and well- known naked protests that are taking place the world over at present, in order to expose some of the world’s most worrying issues.


Femen is a protest organisation in the Ukraine, consisting of young women. Femen originally used naked protesting as a way of exposing the country’s problems with sex tourism and prostitution. Now, however, they regularly stage naked protests to combat general sexism throughout the country. The organisation uses the slogan and concept ‘bare breasts as weapons' to tackle critics head on and to make a bold stand against abuse, sexism and inequalities aimed at women. Rather different to the Vulnerability Vigil however, Femen uses naked breasts to show strength. Similarly though, their naked tactics portray solidarity and determination to fight for what they so strongly believe in. The protestors at Femen use irony to make their point against prostitution; they use sex appeal to gain attention (as opposed to cash), capitalising on their looks (they are often very attractive women) to maximise the message.

Femen is also well known for its high risk tactics. They use social networking sites to carefully – and often secretively – plan their next protest. On Facebook alone, they have over 33,000 followers so protests can often be on a huge scale, and are often planned without police involvement. Protests, however, are always friendly – this is the point. Women are polite to police officers and authorities, often smiling and waving for them.

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy

In contrast, however, is the protesting tactics of Egyptian art student, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy. She recently posted naked photos of herself on the internet via her blog in order to campaign for freedom of expression in Egypt and to campaign "against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy". Quite predictably, her tactics have been met with outrage from the Islamic community.

This could have dire consequences for Aliaa Magda Elmahdy; it is yet undecided whether and how she will be punished for her actions. She has made her point in terms of exposing and making a fool of the oppressive society she campaigns against. Her images – which were uploaded along with symbolic black bars over her genitals, mouth and eyes – were almost immediately circulated for the world to see. In this digital age, you no longer need newspapers or a courier service to broadcast photos to the world – just a few clicks and the photos went viral over the internet. She certainly achieved her mission of making her point heard, and no doubt the majority of people will agree with the powerful message she is conveying, and the freedom she is fighting for. However, she now faces the turmoil of falling victim to the system – another of its casualties – as her images have since been exploited due to being in such wide circulation.

Whatever the point, naked protests are a powerful way to convey a message – and that is what the Vulnerability Vigil is all about. We are all vulnerable, therefore we must all make a stand.

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