Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Aliaa Magda Elmahdy
November 18, 2011 4:16 AM   Subscribe

Nudity in Islamic countries; the case of the Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy (nsfw). #NudePhotoRevolutionary
posted by - (34 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Her twitter account is here.
posted by - at 4:18 AM on November 18, 2011


Was just reading The Arabist on this:
Seeing things like this is a little bit of a shell-shock, because people are obsessed with the political process and Egypt's flawed transition all this stuff almost seems silly and juvenile in comparison. I love it all the more for it, although I also worry about Alia's safety and society's response. Egypt, to be blunt about it, is a deeply bigoted and narrow-minded place. Some people may even be angry with her for associating secular/liberal values with what many will simply see as debauchery.

I don't want to get into a discussion about cultural sensitivity and all that, but simply note and applaud the sheer brazenness of acts like this: they are so radical in this society they appear as if they are from another dimension. Societies need that kind of jolt every now and then, and it reminds me how the youth bulge in the demographics of Egypt and many Arab countries will inevitably shatter taboos, as the Baby Boomers did in Europe and the US.
posted by Abiezer at 4:21 AM on November 18, 2011


Aliaa Maghda El-Mahdy, a 20-year-old dissident from Cairo, describes herself as a “secular liberal feminist vegetarian individualist Egyptian.”

That's an incredibly brave individual.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:27 AM on November 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


The angels want to wear her red shoes.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:31 AM on November 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


I found this (nsfw) edit contributed by "makhlouf" particularly brilliant.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:59 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why is it women's liberation always involves us taking off our clothes?
posted by looli at 7:15 AM on November 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Why is it women's liberation always involves us taking off our clothes?

You don't want to, you don't have to. I'm fairly sure the point is that you should have a choice.
posted by lumensimus at 7:36 AM on November 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Why is it women's liberation always involves us taking off our clothes?

I'm often skeptical of protests involving nudity in the United States. It reads more as marketing to the usual male gaze than as anything likely to make a substantive point. I'm sure there are exceptions like, say, breastfeeding in public, but in general I hear what you're saying.

But this is completely different. She's not doing it because people will find it sexy and therefore pay attention to her message. She's doing it because people will find it outrageous and shameful; because she is literally risking her life. She's saying, if you have a problem when I take off a burka, or I take off a veil, or I take off a headscarf, that is not my problem. I could be naked and it would still be your job to respect me as a human being, not to punish or control me.

She's saying, you don't own this.

At least, that's how it reads to my American eyes. I'm so ignorant on this stuff it would make your head spin. But from here it seems incredibly courageous, and I wish her all the best.
posted by Honorable John at 7:53 AM on November 18, 2011 [20 favorites]


oh, those baby boomers did a helluva job in the u.s. as a male, i can walk shirtless into a u.s. post office and buy a stamp, but a woman would be arrested for attempting it.
posted by kitchenrat at 9:57 AM on November 18, 2011


WHERE ARE THE MEN???
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:07 AM on November 18, 2011


kitchenrat: "oh, those baby boomers did a helluva job in the u.s. as a male, i can walk shirtless into a u.s. post office and buy a stamp, but a woman would be arrested for attempting it."

Not in New York! I can bare my breasts whenever I want to in this state.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:36 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Egypt's naked blogger is a bomb aimed at the patriarchs in our minds: By posing naked, Aliaa Mahdy has brilliantly challenged the misogyny and sexual hypocrisy of Egypt's leaders
posted by homunculus at 10:36 AM on November 18, 2011


ethnomethodologist: "WHERE ARE THE MEN??"

Actually, if you look at the NSFW link, there's at least one photo of a full frontal male nudity, and two photos of couples (but those aren't particularly revealing).
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:37 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


In a place where sexuality (and especially female sexuality) is as tightly constrained and controlled as Egypt, the act of taking off your clothes and showing everyone your body on your own terms is pretty revolutionary.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2011


I'm curious how much different we are, when Sasha Grey reads to school children (fully clothed) it's a scandal, just because of what she used to do. A friend pointed out that people should be thrilled, someone that the kids could consider cool reads, which would make them see reading as cool. We also fire anyone who posses nude, which is silly. Sure, we don't stone them or kill them, but we still over react to it just the same.

I also wonder if people who scream "male gaze" are just as bad, it seems they also frame nudity and sexuality as something bad. I know it exists, but i've seen people who claim to be enlightened claim the artist is sexist when there is even a hint of breast shape in an image (drawn or photographed).

As a person who is getting tired of seeing all the freak outs about nudity and sexuality, i'm just wishing we as a species would get over it already. We are naked under our clothes, we get naked to clean and to reproduce. It's one of the best ways to get close emotionally to someone, sharing that contact, and we need to stop using it to control or shame others. If you don't like it, don't do it yourself, stop making others conform to your wishes. (heck, that fits almost all of life.)
posted by usagizero at 12:13 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


kitchenrat: "oh, those baby boomers did a helluva job in the u.s. as a male, i can walk shirtless into a u.s. post office and buy a stamp, but a woman would be arrested for attempting it."

ocherdraco: Not in New York!

Nor Columbus OH, nor several other increasingly intelligent places. The American "OMG Bewbeez! Da Children Mite See!" mentality is slowly ebbing down.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:31 PM on November 18, 2011


Some see nudity others see a political statement. I think it the latter is more accurate.

I posted elsewhere yesterday that it's a given that the Egyptian political / religious establishm­ent would condemn this but the real question was how long until Facebook requests it get taken down or suspends her account?”

If you go to the link - where the photo was yesterday - the same photo is now covered with a long dress. [Actually there are a number of the same photo with dresses and others that are censor edited for effect]. Did she make this decision on her own or was she pressured to by Facebook or her own family or maybe she just thought she had made her statement and it was now time to cover herself - with a bit of humor? Curious. If anyone knows please comment.
posted by Rashomon at 12:51 PM on November 18, 2011


Why is it women's liberation always involves us taking off our clothes?

When a significant, vocal segment of the population wants to force you to to have every millimeter of body covered at all times, is it really so hard to see how uncovering your body is a powerful statement?

One might as well ask why women's liberation in the U.S. must always involve voting.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:57 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


But this is completely different. She's not doing it because people will find it sexy and therefore pay attention to her message. She's doing it because people will find it outrageous and shameful; because she is literally risking her life. She's saying, if you have a problem when I take off a burka, or I take off a veil, or I take off a headscarf, that is not my problem. I could be naked and it would still be your job to respect me as a human being, not to punish or control me.


No offense, but she is still pandering to somebody's gaze. She is wearing sexy stockings and shoes. Her hair looks wonderful. Her pose is sultry. It is taken from a flattering angle. The image is contrasted so it seems striking. Other images from her blog and Facebook are highly sexualized and even include the Playboy Bunny logo.


Just because somebody does something subversive doesn't mean it's not for attention. I think she likes that we are viewing her body, and that doesn't make what she did any less powerful.
posted by 200burritos at 1:21 PM on November 18, 2011


"Male gaze"? You know, just fuck all the post-modernist, post-feminist; meme-loaded horseshit that is shat out by the post-feminist theorists - loaded as it is with general hostility towards men. Talk about "objectification"? "Male gaze"? good god! Seriously, why don't we just go back to the unisex uniforms of Mao, tempered with the burqa; maybe that will make the post-feminist crowd happy.

Yes, complete equality for women is probably one of the most important - if not THE most important - things we can accomplish, worldwide. Yes, we have a long way to go. Calling attention to nudity in commercial media by saying that that nudity is anything other than the manipulation of natural desire by men and women who work in commercial space, is disingenuous, and tends to generalize scorn to men. This is so ass-backwards in terms of the negative impact it has on getting men to better understand the plight of women, that I hardly where to begin. (but this is a good start)
posted by Vibrissae at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


By the way, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy is one hell of a courageous woman. The tradition of female subjugation in static Islamic societies is THE great shame of that religion. Incidentally, and tragically, Islam is not alone in this shame.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:33 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Having been raised my a hardcore lesbian feminist, I also disagree that "women's liberation always involves us taking off our clothes."

It may seem like that because "Boobies!" gets more press than "Fully clothed aging lesbians and their kids!" but there's a lot more going on in feminism than just titillation.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:56 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't want to, you don't have to. I'm fairly sure the point is that you should have a choice.

And my point is that men don't achieve or retain power by taking off their clothes. The civil rights movement in the US didn't involve African Americans stripping down. Apartheid wasn't undone by Nelson Mandela dropping his drawers. When the Mohawks stood their ground in Kanesatake, they didn't do it in stocking and suspenders. The only time we talk about full frontal nudity being empowering is when it's a woman bearing all.

You know, I don't recall a MeFi post lauding the bravery of Najalaa Harriri, one of the women who are defying the driving ban in Saudi Arabia or the women involved at every level of the Arab Spring. Oh but show us your tits and we'll line up to sing your praises.

Wear clothes, don't wear clothes, I don't give a damn. What galls me is that the woman putting on thigh highs and a hair bow is called heroic while the women who are putting their bodies on the line in the streets are ignored.
posted by looli at 12:06 AM on November 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


tends to generalize scorn to men

You seem bitter about your male advantage in society being called out. It's called "male gaze" for a reason. Maybe you could research it instead of getting upset.
posted by autoclavicle at 2:05 AM on November 19, 2011


Why is it women's liberation always involves us taking off our clothes?
posted by looli at 3:15 PM on November 18


It doesn't, always. But in a world where burkhas exist and are frequently excused by "liberal feminists", it damned well needs to.
posted by Decani at 2:32 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


So you're in effect saying that the denial of civil rights to African-Americans in the southern US and elsewhere had no ties to sexuality or perceived sexual threat (of black men to white women, specifically)? Or that the photos of nude men in Robert Mapplethorpe photos didn't spark any controversy and get labeled as pornographic in the 1980s? Civil rights and liberties movements rarely, and probably never, take place in an asexual universe.
posted by raysmj at 2:33 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Assertions of African-American male sexuality were certainly not a small deal in music and culture of blues (Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy," to give a classic example) and R&B, and in film (Shaft, where Richard Roundtree is seen nude from above, below a mobile art), etc., all concurrent with the Civil Rights Movement. I'm barely scratching the surface here.
posted by raysmj at 2:39 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


In other news: Saudi Arabia's Religious Police Outlaw 'Tempting Eyes'
posted by homunculus at 1:14 PM on November 19, 2011


I'm not asserting anything about African American sexuality and the civil rights movement other than people didn't take their clothes off in an effort to encourage White America get over it.

I'm not knowledgeable enough about the blaxploitation films of the 70s to follow where you're going there, but the reception of Shaft and other films of the genre in black communities was certainly not monolithically positive. And you could argue that the stereotype of the violent, over-sexed black man born of that period (supplanting the step-'n-fetchit trope that preceded it) persists today and isn't doing young black men any favours. Which is kind of what I'm getting here: I'm not sure women sexualizing themselves ultimately serves the project of equality.

I do concede the role of nudity in the LGTBQ history. I tried to find an example before I posted last night, thinking about Stonewall riots and the role of drag queens and trans women, but couldn't articulate it. There's a whole other dynamic with the Mapplethorpe work, though. His photos challenge and threaten masculine hetero-normative sexuality--and were therefore met with revulsion and censorship. Elmahdy's photos post no such challenge to sexist hetero-normative discourse; instead she substitutes one narrative (women's bodies should be hidden and controlled) for another (women's bodies should be exposed, commodified and consumed).

I don't deny the photos cause a certain frisson, nor that they place Elmahdy at risk of arrest. What I question is whether this is an effective way to advance women's rights and why so many are so eager to believe it is.
posted by looli at 1:40 PM on November 19, 2011


I didn't say anything about positive reception or negative. I could have also brought up Josephine Baker, who did play a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement (she was, I believe, the only female to have spoken during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in '63) and if she hadn't gone nude early in her career we'd probably not know of her, or at least it certainly pushed her into international star status. In any case, the idea that this woman alone and her nudity will overthrow governments and bring civil liberties to all in her part of the world was never stated by anyone here in the first place, the very post had something about how this might seem silly compared to the Arab Spring uprisings, etc.

In any case, this is of course serious act of rebellion if you know anything about how the female body is treated in some Islamist or fundamentalist dominated societies. I thought the shot with her hair all strewn about was amazing in itself. (I see you acknowledge at least the danger of it, on preview.)
posted by raysmj at 2:36 PM on November 19, 2011


I only mentioned "Shaft," by the way, because, y'know, nudity was pretty much banned from American movies of wide release during the '50s and '60s, the prime decades of the Civil Rights Movement. You didn't see nudity in magazines either, until Playboy and it didn't have full-frontal competition until Penthouse, which was first published in 1973, and Hustler, in '74. Sending nude photos through the mail could've gotten you arrested and charged with obscenity in most parts of the U.S.
posted by raysmj at 2:41 PM on November 19, 2011


(And I'll leave the rest of the Blaxploitation genre and examination of the Stagger Lee mythology and whatnot. to someone else. "Shaft," as campy as it comes off in parts today--it's also slow and a so-so noir homage--was at least directed by Gordon Parks, who was a campaigner for civil rights for African-Americans and had taken photos of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and others for Life magazine. He had bona fides.)
posted by raysmj at 2:57 PM on November 19, 2011


You know, I don't recall a MeFi post lauding the bravery of Najalaa Harriri, one of the women who are defying the driving ban in Saudi Arabia or the women involved at every level of the Arab Spring.

There wasn't a specific Najalaa Harriri post, but she was discussed in the comments on this post about women's voting rights in Saudi Arabia.

Women's role in the Arab Spring and their rights in the Arab world have been discussed here as well. See these posts, for example: one, two (multiple comments discussing the role of women in the Egyptian protests). Now, maybe they deserved front page posts rather than comments, but they haven't been ignored. Regardless, if you'd like to see more posts about it, then by all means write posts about it. I think a post about the influence (or lack thereof) that women have had in Egypt post-revolution would be very interesting.
posted by jedicus at 8:44 AM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stuff like this is why I got involved in SlutWalk - Muslim culture desexualises women (even when the scripture itself is all about "hey, make sure your sexytimes is equally fun for the both of you") and I resented the idea that me just showing an interest in sexuality made me an evil untrustworthy "slut" while in Western culture I may not be "slutty" enough. Like Honorable John said, it's about saying: nude or not nude, respect me as a human being. Go Aliaa!
posted by divabat at 10:23 AM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older Last year Minnesota Wild prospect Mikael Granlund ...  |  Meme Weaver... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments