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Opinion || FEMEN – Naked Aggression

Alexandra Shevchenko of FEMEN

The assaults are not so much on the senses as they are on our sensibilities that prompt ‘classical’ feminists to raise a scandalous hue and cry over the breast-baring antics of the French (who never say ‘no’ to nudity) in response to the staging of a conference on ‘Women and Islam’ in Paris that delved into the cushy subject of ‘How Men should Manage their Wives’.

It is quite understandable how the aforementioned champions of women’s rights view the neo-feminists who crashed the Paris sausage fest to register their disapproval by using their ‘bodies’ as a canvas of expression since the classical view has been to protest the male gaze and objectification by largely subtracting the natural facets of a woman’s physical inheritance.

That nudity has become a brave new method to stoke and counter the patriarchal burden of concealing one’s ‘assets’ is evident in the myriad acts of mainstreaming menstruation, glorifying breastfeeding and other ‘unconventional’ expressions of nudity in popular culture.

Of course, the most popular form of nakedness in our hallowed culture being pornography, it was hilariously noted that men (and women) of nearly all ranks and ages outweighed the call for the blanket ban on internet smut that was recently implemented and subsequently repealed by the Indian Government.

So even as nudity is vehemently defended for personal enjoyment on private screens in the name of ‘Human Rights’, it appears that accepting its contribution to anything that is not graphically sexual in nature is beyond the capability of many, including a significant number of those who proudly call themselves ‘feminists’.

A PETA Advertisement

It is futile to blame opinionated mindsets instead of delving into the very roots of feminism that advocated the denial of essentially feminine attributes in order to gain an elusive ‘equal footing’ with our male counterparts.

Curiously labelled ‘lipstick feminism’ by naysayers, the seeds of this adverse attitude had been embedded in the seminal work of a certain individual who (rightfully) becomes even more relevant in this day and age as women all around the globe become conscious of the injustices meted and the innate rights that have been denied.

Simone de Beauvoir, the author of The Second Sex (Le Deuxième Sexe, 1949), in an interview with Alice Jardine, emphatically declares, “I consider it almost antifeminist to say that there is a feminine nature which expresses itself differently, that a woman speaks her body more than a man.”

Consequently, the neo-feminist literary theorist Luce Irigaray, in her defence of Écriture Feminine (The Feminine Language) simply says, “Woman simply equal to men would be like them and therefore not women”.

The necessity for the abolition of phallocentricism (the prioritisation of the masculine) is inherent to the cause of both waves of feminism, be it the suffragette, who strove to seek equal property and voting rights in order to constitute a ‘true’ democracy, to the second wave neo-feminists of the 1960s whose agenda featured a range of issues such as sexuality, the concept of ‘family’, workplace and reproductive rights and other de facto inequalities including marital rape.

Thus it is confounding to pinpoint exactly what provokes a group of individuals to condemn the efforts of another while both seek to find solace and are working under the umbrella keyword ‘feminism’ to initiate a global change. The often misquoted Machiavelli comes to mind as he writes (interestingly, about men), “In the actions of all men, & especially of princes, where there is no court to appeal to, one looks to the end. So let prince win & maintain his state – the means will always be judged honourable, and will be praised by everyone.”

Manipur, India

A lifetime is often too little to witness or engineer a true revolution that stands the test of time; to witness the proverbial ‘end’ that is being worked towards. But that, historically, has never stopped mere mortals from trying to make an indelible mark all the same.

As gimmicky as the PETA Ads are that promote the cause of the co-habitants of our planet, it is judiciously defended by the Animal Rights outfit in its manifest in words that serve as a clear justification of the means they tend to adapt at times: “Like Lady Godival, who rode naked on a horse to protest taxes on the poor in the 11th century, PETA knows that provocative, attention grabbing actions are sometimes necessary to get people talking about issues that they would otherwise prefer not to think about.”

World Naked Bike Ride

Nudity as a means of protest or raising a pertinent issue is not restricted to feminism or animal rights activism. The method has been extensively utilised in anti-war demonstrations including ‘Breast not Bombs’ and ‘Bare Witness’. The largely political bicycle rallies organised by ‘Critical Mass’ have gradually gained a worldwide appeal and is even a feature of the Annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada, United States.

Nudity has been used as a veritable weapon by Ugandan women protesting their loss of land, to those in Manipur, India, who hit the streets to bring to national attention the allegations of rape against certain elements of the Indian Army.

The operation by activists of FEMEN during the Paris conference on ‘How Men should Manage their Wives’ is the latest in a series of similar demonstrations by the organisation that was founded in 2008 in Ukraine by Anna Hutsol. The group, forced to relocate to Western Europe, was instrumental in exposing rackets promoting sex tourism in the Eastern European nation and also provided valuable momentum to the Euromaidan movement (Ukrainian revolution) in 2014 that overthrew the Viktor Yanukovych regime.

Simone de Beauvoir

The methology of FEMEN, perceived to be ‘crude’ as worst and ‘controversial’ at best, pulled precious mainstream media attention towards the causes they were fighting for. The official ‘explanation’ was framed thus:

“This is the only way to be heard in this  country. If we staged simple protests with banners, then our claims would not have been noticed.”

It is alleged that the dire desire to be ‘noticed’ and the ‘quick limelight’ is what prompts a section of women to become visual objects to satiate the male gaze. The items of overt sexuality have admittedly assumed connotations that are far from the use that these ‘others’ are vying for.

Let us say it is the final resort of those who have been stripped of all hope. Whereas millennia can appear insignificant in a concept as   macrocosmic as the universe itself, it is infuriatingly frustrating that even after nearly 70 years of the publication of Beauvoir’s feminist manifesto, women are segregated and oppressed still, struggling to voice themselves under the tyranny of a patriarchal stronghold that advocates ‘concealing’ what it conspires to plunder as night falls.

It is the very act of hiding that envelops us in fear, stoking the murderous curiosity of the tactfully deranged. It is by embracing and celebrating what is natural that can help humankind take that crucial step towards emancipation of the feminine soul. []

First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue One: October 2015 (Column: The BAN Culture)