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Beware the Naked Women!

Originally published by Gillian Schutte on The South African Civil Society Information Service ( under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 South Africa License.

Picture credit: FEMEN protest in France courtesy of Wikimedia
In April 2009 women stripped half naked and took to the streets of Ado-Ekiti (Nigeria) to protest the rerun governorship election. Protesting under the title “Peace rally in support of democracy in Nigeria,” the protesters gathered under the auspices of Ekiti Women for Peace and Development.

Led by a former Commissioner for Women Affairs in the state, Chief Ronke Okusanya, more than 300 women, comprising the young and the elderly, took part in the protest over the delay in announcing the governorship candidate of the AC, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, as the winner of the governorship election.

A male commentator said:

We say we are in a democracy. In the ancient days, a monarch was rejected by a procession, and when all the women decide to go out naked, it means the situation had become unbearable.

He went on to say that when naked women took to the streets, the Monarch stood down without further ado, as this was a sign of no return.

In ancient Britain Lady Godiva is known to have used nudity after she pleaded with her husband to change his harsh governance practices over the people of Coventry. In response, he told her that he would lower his oppressive tolls if she would ride through the streets of the city naked.

She did and this ancient act of nudity led to a change for the better in the lives of the good people of Coventry. Some refer to this as the first act of naturism used as a statement of protest, in the West at least.

The many global revolutionary rumblings and uprisings over the past two years have given rise to a similar phenomenon, as manifestations of nakedness have appeared in the protest lines. Women protestors in particular, have made known their dissatisfaction with the status quo by ripping their tops off, exposing their breasts and sometimes stripping down completely.

Some will be quick to say that this is merely a Western thing afforded by the luxury that women living a more protected and privileged life have access to – but this does not seem to be the case, as naked protest has manifested the world over.

Only this month in Uganda, women protesting the arrest and physical abuse of Ingrid Turinawe, a leading female opposition politician, confronted the police with their tops ripped off and their breasts exposed. In a You Tube video the women say, “If it is breast they want, we’ll use our breasts,” before they defiantly gather outside the police office and demand an explanation for the pinching of the activist’s breasts when she was arrested. This act of defiance sparked media interest and created the pressure for an enquiry.

In the rise of the Arab Spring in 2011 the international focus was on the female Egyptian blogger, Aliaa Magda al-Mahdi after she posted naked pictures of herself on her blog in support of the Egyptian revolutionary movement and called for freedom of expression. Her action attracted the patriarchal fury of Egyptian and Arab Islamic moralists as well as secular members of her own political party and she was brutally assaulted in Tahrir Square after being recognized at a protest.

Later and in solidarity with her, a group of Israeli women holding a sign that proclaimed “Love Without Limits” bared their breasts publicly.

In Cambodia, recently women protesting forced evictions and housing backlogs also ripped off their tops in anger and desperation and were arrested. It is a rare act of defiance for women to tear off their shirts in this reserved society, a clear sign that they had reached the end of their tether.

The Occupy protests have also seen their fair share of nudity as women bare their breasts and use their naked bodies as anti-capitalism canvasses.

And let us not forget the first march on the Noord street taxi ranks, which saw black South African women rip off their shirts in defiance of the men who fought them when they marched onto the rank to demand that they keep their hands off women wearing mini skirts – this after a young woman was brutally abused by a group of men because she was wearing a short skirt.

But Perhaps most famous for Naked Protest is FEMEN, the Ukrainian feminist group. FEMEN has used a bare all strategy very effectively in global protest, mostly to give emphasis to international abuses of women’s rights. FEMEN activists use their bodies to make a feminist statement about the diminution of the female body to an object of lust and to highlight their message that women are not commodities.

Recently in France they stood in solidarity with Iranian women to protest the Islamic oppression of women in Paris.

Utilizing nakedness as a rebellion against detested and repressive social norms or government policies is not new. It’s been with us almost as long as clothing. However, recently it is enjoying a widespread resurgence, which goes to show that despite the collective neurosis around issues of nudity, globally, the stratagem continues to be both feasible and relevant.

Dismiss it; think of it as buffoonery or as playing into the hands of patriarchy. The fact remains that it is here, in our faces, naked female bodies being utilized by individuals, on their own terms, as protest canvasses and placards to speak against the status quo and protest the ongoing violence towards and ownership of women’s bodies – as well as a host of other transgressions against women.

I don’t see how this can be construed as anything other than the rumblings of a revolution based on the wild archetypal freedom that we carry in our human collective consciousness – a communal memory of a time before corporate abuse and environmental destruction, before pervasive violence towards women, before widespread rape and femicide, and before fundamentalist religion, enforced patriarchy and prudishness.

But what is it about feminine naked protest that is so destabilizing to conservative masculinity?

Is it that voluntary feminine nakedness speaks of absolute autonomy over one’s body – that it defies every severe norm that the church and patriarchy put in place when it decreed all native culture, whether paganism, pantheism or animism, profane (outside of the church). And given the control that is exerted over women through clothing, is this perhaps the most defiant and relevant performative political act for the current epoch: to rip off our clothes in total insubordination of this misogynistic stranglehold over our right to be ourselves, our right to our joy and our freedom of expression?

That women are stripping naked in an epoch where clothing and fashion hold so much sway is no coincidence either. In fact, clothes have become central to the patriarchal hold over women in general, whether through the fashion industry which makes demands on women to be childlike and underweight, to the enforcement of religious dress code, to the banning of dress code by one culture over another.

It is all about controlling a woman’s reality through her body and what it wears. Samhita, a blogger from Feministing, had this to say about the ban on veils in France:

Demanding women’s bodies should be covered or uncovered makes their bodies the ground on which battles of culture are fought. She is reduced to only her sex, objectified either in her being covered or in her being exposed. She becomes the stand-in symbol for either the past or the future, for religious anxiety and for nationalism

Could it be then that globally, women are hooking into an ancient primal archetype that harks back to a time when both clothing and nudity were not political, did not make women vulnerable – when women were not sexualized, commodified or judged according to a male dominated standard of beauty or morality? A time when they were not the scapegoats for masculine religious anxiety and nationalism? And in this call for a world that is kinder to women they are stripping off all the fetters that are imposed on them through clothing and patriarchal expectations.

I argue that naked protest is indeed the most radical act of protest one can perform with the female body. I see this contemporary nude protest phenomenon as the ultimate act of civil disobedience in opposition to global misogyny that is currently reaching an alarming all-time high. One only has to look at the war on women that was declared in the US this year, in a democracy, when the state of Texas decided to cut off reproductive and preventative health services to 130,000 low-income women to understand the unbridled nature of misogyny, even in countries that claim to be women-friendly.

Naked protest is an uprising born out of a reaction against the primary motive of the patriarchal belief that women need to be subdued and controlled. Thus when women protest naked, it subverts the patriarchal centrality to woman’s body, this implicit gaze of power, which dictates how a woman should or should not be dressed, how she should or should not give birth, fuck, dance, eat or be.

Naked protest seizes back the autonomy of the female body and becomes the expression of female power, sexuality and pleasure outside the male libidinal experience and economy. It is the ultimate act of defiance and it deconstructs the assumed fixed notion that the patriarchal man has the god-given role to objectify the world, reduce it to his own terms and speak in place of everything and everyone else – especially women.

Feminist writer and philosopher Helene Cixous said in her seminal text Laugh of the Medusa (1976) that through the theories of patriarchal discourse, women have become estranged from their bodies, made to believe that their bodies are incomplete, threatening and sometimes even filthy. She went on to say that because of this, female sexuality has been relegated to the margins.

Well now women are spilling out from those margins, many of them naked, and laying claim to their own bodies in total defiance of the stringent life-sucking rules and regulations that have been imposed on them for over two thousand years.

Nakedness is an unfettered and natural state of being. It speaks of wildness and freedom and celebration. It speaks of a time before patriarchy, before fundamentalist masculine religious authority, which deemed most natural human behaviour profane and thus excluded it from normalcy. So it was that women were banned from the church or the mosque or the synagogue along with cussing, sexuality, and nudity.

And since then women have been manipulated, repressed, controlled and very often brutalized because somewhere in the patriarchal unconscious women are deemed profane and substandard to men.

It is more than a distinct possibility that the feminine global consciousness is erupting in anger whilst reclaiming their right to jouissance and using this powerful combination of anger and pleasure to fuel a revolution.

This upsurge of naked protest clearly indicates that the lines are drawn and globally women are fed up with the monolith of patriarchy. A patriarchy that is so out of control that one billion women worldwide at any given time will experience rape or abuse in her lifetime.

Women are outraged and desperate enough to strip themselves naked in a world that has a brutal mind-set towards the female body. By participation in this collective mutiny they destabilize the world’s cultural norms and expectations around female nudity. And, as in ancient African practice, when women reach the stage where they use their nudity as a way to overturn a political order that no longer works for them – they mean business. This is just the beginning of a collective feminine uprising against the control, power, violence and abuse of women’s bodies. It is civil disobedience. It is revolution.

Beware when women strip themselves naked in protest. It means they have finally had enough.

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41 Responses to Beware the Naked Women!

  1. searching June 7, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    it’s a next of of those Bull-Sh-t movements that accomplish nothing ,except diversion and ridicule. How many men ,seeing naked women in front of them are going to think past their “libidial ” mind??
    it is so pathetic.

    • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 1:08 am #

      But try to be objective: you have to hand it to the French–they are all slender and good looking. I shudder to think the Germans might pick Merkel look alikes.

      • searching June 8, 2012 at 2:20 am #

        man are very simple creatures as far as nudity goes.
        A free, midday show, even with Merkel -look -alikes ,would still gather some male public, eager to examine naked boobies.
        Their final comments would be somewhat different, but piercing eyes would be there.

  2. searching June 7, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    This whole article is such an incohernt ,feministic blabber that is a complete waste of time reading it.
    Anohter strategy of Zionists i.e. Feminism.
    Divide and conquer. Make an enemy of men and women.
    So many fall for this cr*p.

  3. Ariadna Theokopoulos June 7, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    There are things I don’t like about this protest:
    1. If that’s a protest in NIgeria, how come they are all white? Racism?
    2. I really, really don’t like this inclusion under the guise of democracy: “comprising the young and THE ELDERLY (emphasis added). It’s more like a blackmail than a protest: give in or we won’t cover up.

    • Roy Bard June 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

      as the picture credit says, it’s the FEMEN protest in Paris – the protest in Uganda was a rather more lively affair…..

      • fool me once... June 8, 2012 at 12:16 am #

        Interesting comments on that link, cheers Roy.

      • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 12:53 am #

        My bad, sorry.

        Incredibly how sensitive I am to spirituality. I SENSED there was something terrible about old women baring their breast but this comment under that linked article conforms it. I am probably a medium.

        “A woman baring her naked breasts in protest of something,ESPECIALLY an elderly woman at that symbolises a curse.And is deeply rooted in spirituality et al.”

  4. searching June 8, 2012 at 12:13 am #

    i don’t understand why deliberation seems to support another, big branch of Zionistic tactic aka feminism.
    Maybe because here it’s presented in a form of Art, rather kitschy art, “using naked woman’s body as a canvass”, but let’s not argue about the taste. “Art is a beauty , beauty is an art”, and that is why it deserves our total attention.
    We should just bow and admire.

    • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 1:10 am #

      No support in evidence. deLiberation is braless on this–just presenting it for discussion.

  5. Jonathon Blakeley June 8, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    it’s interesting to see alternative forms of protest.
    Naked activism is booming in Rushia.

    • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 12:59 am #

      I don’t think they deserve many kuddos until they do it in Chicago, any time between the end of November and March. On the lake front.
      Those winds at -20F that inform you not only that you have many little hairs in your nose you didn’t know about but also that each and every one of them is a huge, solid and painful icicle trying to explode your nose from the inside. Your ears don’t bother you much. In fact you don’t feel them at all and they fall off as soon as you get back in where it’s warm. Naked protests anyone?

      • searching June 8, 2012 at 1:07 am #

        but then …they would be considered a Polar Bear Club memebers ,not a naked women ,who hapen to protest.
        Or maybe those are, who are taking part in those “oh, I am so naked” protests are actually closet exhibitionists. ??

        • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 1:12 am #

          I am with you, searching, only as far as old women are involved. Although, now that I understand it is used as a curse, it makes sense.

          • searching June 8, 2012 at 1:18 am #

            a curse? my ass. It is the only opportunity for some older gals to get much desired ,(or needed) male attention.

    • searching June 8, 2012 at 1:19 am #

      at least something is booming there.

  6. Jonathon Blakeley June 8, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    I Britain they hand sew banners with clever insults on to upset visiting “foreign” performers. In Russia and France naked activsm is on the increase. Tibet they burn themselves. NY they occupy parks.

    • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 1:06 am #

      The Arabs throw shoes.
      I didn’t like the episode of the Iraqi who did it to Bush when he went to Baghdad. I couldn’t understand why Iraqis considered him a hero.
      I thought it was disgraceful that he missed him TWICE.

      • searching June 8, 2012 at 1:12 am #

        I bet Bush would appreciate more a naked woman protesting him than a guy throwing an old shoe at him. Even though he did miss though. Twice.
        He needed some lessons on how to aim well.

  7. who_me June 8, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    “ah, boobies! cool!”

    “but what are they protesting?”

    “i’ve no idea? but look, boobies!”

    unless the nudity relates in some obvious or important way to what is being protested, it’s unlikely most people observing will remember what the protest was about.

    • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 1:56 am #

      You are more right than you think.
      Even though I am a woman, after I read your post I thought back and could not remember what they protested in Paris. I had to scroll back to the picture and read: “Naked truth,” (unless silicone is involved, i suppose), “Naked war” (are they for it?).

      • searching June 8, 2012 at 2:13 am #

        it is an interesting that all those French, naked ladies are so slim and skinny.
        In America it would look somewhat different. More strech marks involved,more flabbiness, more love handles, bigger silicone boobies.
        Still, male attention guaranteed.
        A free, nude show in town, let’s run to see it, brother. Quickly.
        Look at this one on the left……

      • searching June 8, 2012 at 2:15 am #

        “Naked war” (are they for it?).
        I guess, as long as it’s done naked ,they are all for it.

  8. who_me June 8, 2012 at 2:26 am #

    “(are they for it?)”

    probably. from the link about the paris protest:

    look at the arms of the woman in the top photo.

    • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 2:39 am #

      All those women in Paris are Ukrainean. What gives?

      • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 2:40 am #

        and they want muslim women to disrobe….. hmmm, just like Sarkozy… interesting. I wonder how “sponteaneous” this was.

        • searching June 8, 2012 at 2:46 am #

          I think that was a rather State sponsored kind of “sponteaneity”.

      • who_me June 8, 2012 at 2:41 am #

        “What gives?”

        orange revolution, mk. 2.

      • searching June 8, 2012 at 2:41 am #

        and they are against sharia law??
        Who hired them for this free show, I wonder??

        • searching June 8, 2012 at 3:01 am #

          It looks like they are renting themselves (their naked bodies)to a different places and spots to protest.
          Why they don’t protest at the Bilderberg meetings or G-20 summits??

    • Jonathon Blakeley June 8, 2012 at 9:03 am #

      cool all women should go toplesss they would less war

      • who_me June 8, 2012 at 10:24 am #

        “cool all women should go toplesss they would less war”

        i think youue right, considerering the efect they hav on peopl writting.

  9. searching June 8, 2012 at 2:30 am #

    this kind of reminded me of John Lennon staying in bed with his wife ,Yoko Ono, for days,
    as a protest for more peace in the world.

  10. who_me June 8, 2012 at 3:34 am #

    remember these protests back around the beginning of the iraq war?

    “Over 300 nude women protesters spell out “no war” during an anti-war demonstration in Sydney on Sunday. The women bared all to protest Australia’s involvement in a possible US-led war on Iraq. — Reuters”

    these were happening around the world then, even in the usa. one remembers the message in these nude protests.

  11. Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 4:00 am #

    I find it odd that ALL Paris protesters are from the Ukraine. Could they be ‘working girls’ hired for this?

    Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation



    Ukraine is currently one of the largest exporters of women to the international sex industry. (“Ukraine Film Warns of Forcible Prostitution Abroad,” Russia Today, 1 July 1998)

    More than 100,000 Ukrainian women, many of them minors, have been trapped and enslaved as prostitutes in the West. (International Organization for Migration, Piotr Bazylko “Poland, Ukraine to fight sex slave industry” Reuters, 16 July 1998)

    Ukraine is currently one of the largest “exporters” of women who enter the international sex industry either under false pretenses or for economic survival. Many women are fooled by false advertisements offering well-paying work as housekeepers, dancers or models. Later, their passports are taken from them and they are forced, often violently, to into prostitution. (Lily Hyde, “Ukraine: Film Warns Of Forcible Prostitution Abroad from,” RFE/RL, 8 July 1998)

    Of 500,000 Ukrainian women who migrated to Western Europe over the past few years, more than 100,000 end up in the sex industry. (Nina Karpacheva, human rights commissioner of the Ukrainian parliament, “Ukrainian women – victims of sex industry,” ITAR/TASS, 30 June 1998)

    80 percent of women who go abroad for a better chance of work have no idea that they will be forced into prostitution. (“Ukrainian women – victims of sex industry,” ITAR/TASS, 30 June 1998)

    500,000 Ukrainian women have been trafficked under false pretenses to the West since 1991. At least 100,000 have been trapped and enslaved in the sex industry. (Steve Cook of the International Organization for Migration, Chris Blrd, “100,000 Ukrainians slaves of West’s sex industry,” Reuters, 6 July 1998)

    Ukranian and Russian women are the most valuable commodities in the sex trade. (Michael Specter, “Traffickers’ New Cargo: Naive Slavic Women,” New York Times, 11 January 1998)

  12. Deadbeat June 8, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    I argue that naked protest is indeed the most radical act of protest one can perform with the female body

    This is such crap. Here’s the most RADICAL act that one can perform with the female body …

    • Deadbeat June 8, 2012 at 10:57 am #

      Drat. That didn’t work. I’ll try again this way…

      Here’s the most RADICAL act that one can perform with the female body …

      Patrica McAlister

      • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

        Makes you wonder…. this woman has family and friends who think alike, who in turn have family and friends, who also…. etc.
        So the “pool of, not just discontent, but CLEAR-EYED discontent may be an untapped ocean.
        All it would take could be a voice that gets through to articulate it and move it all. Ron Paul was the only one that touched the issue but he could not go far enough. After all not only is he old but he has binding ties–a son, who just threw his support to Romney…
        If someone cast in the mold of a leader would manage to break through the BS and disinformation noise to call out and be heard, he would be surely pilloried for it, which in itself could create a huge backlash.
        Dreaming here…

    • who_me June 8, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      “Here’s the most RADICAL act that one can perform with the female body …”

      put that little thing away! this is a family oriented website! sheesh, next thing you know, they’ll be posting photos of topless men.

  13. Jay Knott June 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    According to the Daily Star, the topless Ukrainian feminists are going to try to disrupt England’s game in Kiev:

    “England’s footballers face a ‘sex attack’ from a bevy of topless babes during tonight’s crunch Euro 2012 clash with Sweden”