Resistance, in all its forms, is a push-back against status quos. It is not meant to soothe those to whom it is aimed, rather to demonstrate, as creatively, effectively, and shockingly what the resistor intends. The purpose of this article is not to explain why resistances are important, as I am sure, those you know. I want to make a case about why womyn’s nudity specifically, as a form of protest and resistance is an effective tool in challenging the patriarchy. And explain why it seems to piss so many people off.
We continue to use our bodies as tools of protest. All over the world, using theater, marches, demonstrations; chaining ourselves to buildings, going onto hunger strikes, etc. the messages we send in doing this are always clear; our bodies can be effective vehicles for us to convey our political truths. We must therefore begin to see our bodies as political as they are. (I use the word political understanding that “the personal is political”, and thus do not limit it to mean governments and the likes.) Understanding that all the choices we make; what to wear, how to keep our hair, whether to love the body you have, etc. can be acts of resistance or acclimatization is important.
To appreciate why womyn’s nudity as a form of protest seems to rattle the patriarchy so much, we must first understand how differently womyn’s bodies are viewed in society. Feminists have widely critiqued the ways in which womyn’s bodies are symbolically equated with ideas of motherlands, and nations. These ideas carry with them reinforcements about the primary roles of womyn being reproduction, and nurturing. This in turn leads to the paternalistic need to protect this role and with that comes a long list of legislation, moral codes, practices and behaviors that ultimately want to determine what forms of nudity are acceptable for womyn.
Womyn’s nudity therefore carries layered concepts many embedded in sexist notions that draw their histories from cultural and religious beliefs on purity culture, womyn’s roles in societies, amongst others.
The paradox is we have normalized, and widely accepted the sexualization of specific types of womyn’s bodies through different advertisements, films, songs etc. These portrayals are mostly constructed for and by the male gaze. They have used womyn’s naked bodies to sell everything under the sun; cars, real estate, perfumes and alcohol. You can think of anything, and there is a more than likely chance that they have used an overly sexualized image of a womyn as bait for why men should want it.
The idea that womyn’s bodies can be de-sexualized by keeping them hidden, is therefore not accurate. Capitalism continues to profit immensely from womyn’s naked forms, and so the question then is why does nudity suddenly become “unnatural” when used by womyn to stage their political resistances?
Our nudity seems only pleasurable and acceptable depending on who it is intended to serve. It is acceptable; enjoyable even, to bear yourself in videos and movies as long as the message, and the male gazer finds it desirable. However, a womyn disagreeing loudly and claiming her naked body to demand for political regime change, protesting workplace discrimination or sexual violence among others is where we seem to draw the line.
While the sexualization and objectification of womyn’s naked bodies is agreeable, the use of our bodies as forms of resistance often leads to social outrage and violent punishments.
Even more telling are the other abhorrent levels of violence done to womyn’s bodies by the same people who claim to be invested in maintaining their purity. The prevalence of sexual violence is yet another daily reminder that our bodies are not considered to be our own. This removal of agency; the conversion on womyn’s bodies as out of their control, is such a dominant narrative that it affects how we even see and feel about them.
We have internalized the ideas of what kind of bodies are acceptable, what qualifies us as “good”, and by extension, we have embraced a sort of restraint even when it comes to acts of resistance that only seek to keep us caged. The sometimes-subtle manipulation of why and when we can display our bodies is the reason that many people are shocked especially by “should-be acceptable womyn’s” push-back against these set standards.
Nudity as a form of protest upsets the very ideas of what respectable womyn should be. What better way to resist then than to deploy the same tools that have been previously controlled and policed. The belief that womyn’s bodies must be clothed, until decided otherwise, is why womyn’s nudity as a form of resistance is exceptionally remarkable. The reclaiming of our bodies, and the self-determination of what they will be used for, undermines the patriarchal narrative which makes it even more powerful.
This creative way of drawing attention to a particular social issue has been used by womyn for centuries to demand for all sorts of social and political change, and will no doubt continue to be one of the tools many others use. By freeing ourselves from the limits of what is acceptable, we give room to new ways of resisting and ultimately new ways of liberation.
I would challenge us to begin to reimagine what this freedom truly looks like. One of the ways to do this is by reclaiming our bodies and determining for ourselves what we will use them for. This of course is difficult considering the consequences dealt to those who reject the set standards, but perhaps we can begin by unlearning our own biases and internalizations about our bodies. Questioning ourselves, and pushing back against the narratives that take self-determination away from us is a good place to start.