Sometimes at protests, people let it all hang out.
This is exactly what members of Ukrainian feminist group Femen did on April 4. Femen staged protests outside of mosques and Tunisian embassies throughout Europe – topless, and with provocative statements written across their bare chests.
Why the confrontational nudity? Last month, Tunisian activist Amina Tyler posted naked images of herself online with the words “I own my body; it’s not the source of anyone’s honor” written on her flesh in Arabic (a previous image had the words “Fuck your morals” on her). She was directly challenging the Islamic laws of modesty, and the result was for the head of Tunisia’s “Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” to reportedly call for Amina to be stoned to death.
Although Amina, 19, herself has remained quiet since the incident (and some fear for her safety, although reports indicate that she is safe at home), Femen has taken up the cause with their “topless jihad” (their words) and protested in Sweden, Italy, Ukraine, Belgium and France. Numerous activists were arrested and detained.
While these protests certainly took a lot of bravado on the part of the participants, hopefully the message will not get lost in the novelty of the nudity. Such a display is sure to attract gawkers, and certainly bystanders may have taken a lot of photos with their smartphones for posterity, but perhaps the purity of some of their motives could be called into question. Some people cannot separate casual nudity or nudity with a purpose apart from sexualization.
The issue here is of gender equality, of which the objectification of women is a large part. This is something that takes place in all cultures and countries, not just Islamic ones. Part of this objectification has to do with the exploitation of our bodies in the media, in pornography, in a rape culture. With these things in mind, naked or topless protests may not necessarily be the best way to get the point across. Again, how many bystanders were simply ogling the women instead of understanding their message?
That is a difficult question to answer, and I don’t want to discount the courage of these women or their willingness to stand up for their rights and beliefs. However, in the long run, it may be better to work towards solutions to gender inequality in ways that don’t potentially compromise the integrity of the protesters. Shock value will only get you so far.
Groups like Femen and individuals like Amina have the potential to change their society. They should continue to keep the issue of gender equality in the spotlight, even with their clothes on.
For more photos of the protest, click here.