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"My body is not obscene; veiling it is."
March 7, 2012 6:21 PM   Subscribe

[All links NSFW] In solidarity with Egyptian women's rights activist Aliaa Magda Elmahdy (previously), 14 women have posed for the Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar [pdf] for release on International Women's Day. #NudePhotoRevolutionary
posted by troll (44 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
A bunch of westerners posing nude "in solidarity" isn't really all that revolutionary.

The bigger problem for women in Egypt seems to be sexual harassment, not the inability to walk around naked due to legal restrictions.
posted by delmoi at 6:40 PM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is one of those times when I think I should just not say anything.
posted by Legomancer at 6:41 PM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Come for the boobies. Stay for the liberation.
posted by Trurl at 6:43 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


So one of you couldn't wait to make a boobies joke, one of you couldn't wait to say it sucks, and the other couldn't wait to say he had nothing to say. Excellent.

And you wonder why women feel the need to get in your face and say we matter, take us for what we are, accept us as individuals, and stop pigeon-holing us and our [dirty][sexy] bodies that, in shame, we should hide from others' view. It's not too hard to see why Western women support this. I liked it.
posted by heyho at 6:56 PM on March 7, 2012 [30 favorites]


one of you couldn't wait to make a boobies joke

A hazard of relying on tittilation to draw attention to one's message.
posted by Trurl at 7:00 PM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


"My body is not obscene; veiling it is."

So this is a call to join a nudist colony?
posted by Yakuman at 7:00 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


that, in shame, we should hide from others' view.

Were some comments deleted or something?

In any case it wouldn't be much of a social statement if naked bodies (of any gender) were a normal sight.

"Look, a bunch of people posted pictures of themselves. You know, like facebook!"
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:01 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Disappointing to see an International calendar filled with similar looking women.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:20 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Tell Me No Lies, no comments were deleted, and I'm using "we" in the collective sense. I was referring, in part, to this passage in the text of the 3rd link:

"Islamism and the religious right are obsessed with women's bodies," said Namazie. "They demand that we be veiled, bound, and gagged. In the face of this assault, nudity breaks taboos and is an important form of resistance."


Western women joined in solidarity to help make the point. Another passage:

"If it weren't for people who took a strong stand against misogyny and for free-expression, we'd still be in an age where showing your ankles was taboo..."
posted by heyho at 7:27 PM on March 7, 2012


This seems more like random conglomeration glomming onto the Egyptian Revolution to promote themselves. I'm not sure what any of the pictured women have to do with the women's rights in Egypt (other than in a general "we are all concerned about it" way).
posted by Panjandrum at 7:34 PM on March 7, 2012


I would think any attention being focused on the events unfolding in Egypt would be welcome. If the method is unfashionable it is regrettable but irrelevant.
posted by a shrill fucking shitstripe at 7:42 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't understand the nude fireman calendars, and I don't understand this calendar.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:46 PM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I immediately thought of Femen (NSFW, of course), and found them represented on October.
posted by vidur at 7:49 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hmm. A good friend of mine is in this calendar. I think I should probably walk away from this thread before I read shitty things that people say about her.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:50 PM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Related?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:52 PM on March 7, 2012


The bigger problem for women in Egypt seems to be sexual harassment, not the inability to walk around naked due to legal restrictions.
I'm the wrong person to defend this, because it's really not my kind of thing. But this project seems to be loosely affiliated with Slut Walk, and the point of that is that demands for modesty are totally bound up with culture that promotes the sexual harassment of women. When a Toronto cop said that women could protect themselves from sexual assault by not dressing like sluts, he was saying that women, not men, are responsible for men's sexual misconduct. He was saying that women cause themselves to be harassed or assaulted by not dressing modestly enough. And "modestly enough" is a constantly moving target. What is "modestly enough" to earn a woman the right not to be victimized? Are you modest enough if you're wearing a burka? If your arms and legs are covered? If you're wearing a short skirt? If you're naked? And the answer is that we should not have to earn the right to bodily integrity. We should be able to walk around wearing whatever we want, or nothing at all, without anyone saying that we're asking for sexual harassment or assault.
posted by craichead at 7:52 PM on March 7, 2012 [26 favorites]


The photo of Maja Wolna nursing her nude son on the carpet is amazing. I suppose it's just the being-a-dad-thing, but that one hit me.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:55 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Come for the boobies. Stay for the liberation.

The '60s in a nutshell.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:04 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought it was well done, and that all the women looked beautiful. Some of it was titillating, some of it was just honest. That works for me.
posted by dry white toast at 8:07 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a lot of types of bodies in there. It seems honest. I don't know where I'm going to put it up though.
posted by fuq at 8:09 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Totally appreciate women wanting to exercise autonomy over their bodies and how their bodies are received and understood in broader society. However, this particular calendar makes me a bit uncomfortable, and I think that conceptually it's a bit muddy.

The people in this calendar, are white westerners. The discourse of nudity that they experience - and that their nudity experiences - is completely, irrevocably, different to what Alia's does in Egypt. This is not to marginalise their experience of nudity, in their culture, but it's a different one, and one that I think has limited commonality with hers. The existence of the calendar itself is proof of this, in many ways I think.

I also feel a bit uncomfortable from a cross-cultural perspective. Just a few threads down there is the post about the Kony film, and the problems that can occur when westerners try to own a non-western discourse. This is already a very well-trodden path with developed-world feminism and Islamic or indigenous feminisms, and in some ways I feel like a lot of internet-based post-third wave feminism - often communities overlapping with skepticism and new atheist movements - is trying to wind back the clock on these dialogues, taking us back to an unambiguous, more second-wave conceptions of feminism where there is one true way to be a feminist, and little heed is paid to cultural or social or class differences about what being a woman should and could mean.

To me, this calendar feels a bit misguided. The calendar - like the Kony film - threatens to overwhelm its ostensible raison d'etre, with enthusiastic westerners leaping to champion a cause that is not necessarily theirs to champion.

I think it's a symptom of this fan and meme-driven, internet, consumerist age, that the natural response to outrages perpetuated against someone else is to recontextualise them to your own experience, and then broadcast it as a simulacrum of the original - but I think it's pretty flawed. I would have felt a lot more comfortable if the people that cared about this worked more nakedly (heh) on amplifying those feminist voices in Egypt, and letting the varieties and complexities be heard, rather than adopting the voices for and through themselves as mediators.

I also think the stated aim of the calendar is, I don't even know. Naive, I think, certainly, but also, I don't know, somewhat ignorant. So much has been said and thought about the female body and female nudity since the 1950s and before. It's like these guys feel compelled to adopt the ignorance of their perceived audience or something, but I think it's a folly.


‘This calendar hopefully will reach people who are uncomfortable with empowered female nudity, and encourage them to reconsider their feelings about the nude figure.’ Luisa Batista says: ‘I think the calendar is important, because it may help to open people’s eyes and hearts. Women – and men – who are afraid, may find courage and feel supported by the quotes and faces and bodies of the people in the calendar.’

posted by smoke at 8:11 PM on March 7, 2012 [19 favorites]


Are you modest enough if you're wearing a burka?

That's politely couched from the other side by saying that women inflame lust in men and so the protection is for the weakness of the men.

To that end I would send thousands of math, geography, and other large flat books that men could carry on the front part of their waist instead of women wearing burkas.
This completely solved all my problems with women in middle school.
With the added plus that I was not a 'pervert,' I was well-read.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:43 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The people in this calendar, are white westerners.
I don't think all of them are, although I suppose it hinges on the definition of both "white" and "westerner." Maryam Namazie, who organized the calendar and appears in it, was born in Iran. Mallorie Nasrallah identifies herself as "Syrian-American." I googled Cleo Simone Powell and found publicity materials in which she describes herself as "mixed race."
posted by craichead at 8:47 PM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


This seems more like random conglomeration glomming onto the Egyptian Revolution to promote themselves. I'm not sure what any of the pictured women have to do with the women's rights in Egypt (other than in a general "we are all concerned about it" way).

Spearheading the effort, there's Maryam Namazie, a feminist activist Iranian refugee to Britain whose work focuses on Sharia law and equal rights. Atheist erotic photographer Mallorie Nasrallah, who is Syrian, participated as a photographer and a model. Other models include a swack of feminist atheist writers (Greta Christina, Emily Dietle, Nina Sankari, Amanda Brown). I think it's pretty clear what these women have in common with respect to women's rights in constitutional theocracies - they are protesting the absolute control of women in the name of God.

I think the participation of Saskia Vogel, past editor of AVN News Europe, whose MA dissertation was about porn in nineteenth century Vienna, and Sonya JF Barrett, one of the founders of SlutWalk, is a bit different. I think they're involved because of the demonizing of women as sexual beings. Alena Magelat, of Ukrainian feminist organisation FEMEN, which protests, amongst other things, international sex tourism and bride trafficking. I think what they have in common is a feminism the goal of which is to smash patriarchy by laying claim to sex and sexual autonomy as a vital, central part of womanhood, while attacking the hierarchies of sex work and sexual expression that keep women down.

The women involved in this calendar are not "Westerners (trying) to own a non-Western discourse." They're women who feel a very personal identification with the notion that the only way to resist being shamed for feminine sexuality is to own that femininity as concretely as possible. Some of them have lived under sharia law. And considering we have a national discourse in the US right now around whether health insurance for birth control is a reasonable expectation only for sluts, and is an unreasonable thing to ask of religiously affiliated businesses run by men, I don't think the distinction is really that clear.

(Me, I get really tangled up in my head around whether sex-positivity works for or against feminism, especially where sex work is concerned. But I think dismissing this as "a bunch of westerners posing nude" is dismissive and unfair.)
posted by gingerest at 8:55 PM on March 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


(Yes, dismissing is dismissive. Apparently I can rant at length but not edit.)
posted by gingerest at 8:56 PM on March 7, 2012


> Tell Me No Lies, no comments were deleted, and I'm using "we" in the collective sense.

Ah. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:06 PM on March 7, 2012


Mr. Potter saw this calendar and, after considering the importance of the female nude figure, returned the eight thousand dollars.
posted by michaelh at 9:12 PM on March 7, 2012


I think dismissing this as "a bunch of westerners posing nude" is dismissive and unfair.

I agree, and I think that's a pretty uncharitable reading of what I was at least attempting to be a more nuanced critique. I obviously didn't get there!

Thanks for the further info about some of the women involved. They certainly are an interesting an interesting bunch. I think the case could certainly be made - in contradiction to my previous comment - that they are very much part of Alia's milieu and so not as left field as I initially thought. How much in common that milieu has with the average Egyptian woman, I have no idea, but I certainly understand - as part of a community - where the urge to express solidarity has come from, and reading Alia's blog, where she reposts paintings and pastiches made from her initial picture, leaves me with the impression she would probably welcome the support.

I still... feel discomfort around this calendar and the language used with it, though perhaps that's more related to my general discomfort with the skeptic/atheist flavour of feminism that's super dooper popular on the internet. It seems very, inward-looking to me, and very individualistic - as a lot of the militant atheist crowd does to me. When I read posts like this from the photographer - very simplistic, ahistorical, somewhat one-dimensional - it doesn't make me feel that I'm missing another level or something from the calendar promotion.
posted by smoke at 9:37 PM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is there a thing going on with feminism now where women are putting thier sexuality out there as a way to say "this body, my person is the currency that controls the future of our species, and we will control the investment."? I see it as a "nothing about us without us" stance that lays bare the power of human sexuality over every aspect of culture, politics and human interaction.

I'm trying hard to not let my white, privileged self get in the way, yet I still have a long way to go before i fully understand modern feminism.
posted by roboton666 at 10:25 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems very, inward-looking to me, and very individualistic

Without knowing details of the backstory of the people involved (models, photographer, or the original person), this is my reaction. I'm totally open to having my mind not just changed, but blown completely open as I read and learn more, but this is how it looks to me at first glance.
posted by Forktine at 10:28 PM on March 7, 2012


smoke, I was responding to a bunch of comments in one wordy undifferentiated swoop. You were not dismissive.

One of the things about the framing of this discussion is that, based on the solidarity being expressed isn't with Egyptian women only or with the Egyptian revolution - it's solidarity with a specific Egyptian woman, Aliaa Elmahdy, whose nude self-portrait was a protest on behalf of all women living under "political Islam".
A video of (partly nude) Iranian women explaining why they support the calendar.

If you can't view the video because boobs, here is what the English captions say each women says (the women speak in what's likely Persian or Arabic):
"In place of those who want to but can't..."
"I believe in the equality of women and men"
"My nudity is a 'no' to stoning to death"
"My thoughts, my body, my choice"
"My nudity is a 'no' to political Islam"
"Why not?"
"I am a woman..."
posted by gingerest at 10:37 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


If they had clothes on, no one would notice this project or discuss it or give a damn either way about it. With no clothing, we all look and judge and discuss issues, motivations, etc. And at least some of us (and probably lots of us) get to think about this: why do we not discuss it or notice it or give a damn either way until a bunch of women get naked? Why do our eyes linger over the photos and scroll through them all?

These women know exactly what they're doing and bravo to them.
posted by loosemouth at 2:41 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nudity: like a library filled with Bernie Madoff biographies, it is all about the context. Well done, naked women.
posted by jwhite1979 at 3:36 AM on March 8, 2012


Gingerest, thank you. I can't view the video and appreciate the transcript.
posted by zarq at 4:35 AM on March 8, 2012


I'm conflicted about this as well. Unfortunately I don't think it will "open anyone's eyes" or cause anyone to change their mind or lead to any great strides in women's rights. Here's a thought experiment: What if once a year every woman on earth walked around naked all day. Would anything change?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:16 AM on March 8, 2012


Gingerest, thanks very much for the info on the participants. It really helped clarify the purpose and context of the calendar.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:02 AM on March 8, 2012


I think the point is missed. Rules that stem from abstract religious or philosophical beliefs lead, by their very nature, to unjustified repression. Subverting rules, whether or not you change anything, is in itself an expression of dignity. Did these women express their dignity correctly? Who is vain enough to answer that one?
posted by jwhite1979 at 7:04 AM on March 8, 2012


jwhite1979: " Rules that stem from abstract religious or philosophical beliefs lead, by their very nature, to unjustified repression."

They may lead to repression. But they don't always. Plus, rules within both strictly- and loosely-structured religious beliefs can and often are adapted to fit modernity as a given religion changes with cultural norms. Lived religions are rarely static.
posted by zarq at 7:24 AM on March 8, 2012


Secret Life of Gravy: "What if once a year every woman on earth walked around naked all day. Would anything change?"

In this hypothetical situation, is the 'day of nudity' enforced or by choice? Obviously, that would change the way we viewed it. Whether empowering or dehumanizing.

I could be wrong, but personally, I don't think that a movement in which all women are naked but men are not (an unequal imbalance) would go very far toward reducing objectivization and sexualization of women.

But to be honest, I feel that way about the slut walk movement, too. I think it's a fantastic concept. Am completely in favor of making it absolutely clear to everyone that that women as individuals deserve respect and acceptance as human beings (and no degradation of any kind) no matter how they are dressed or any other superficial factors. But are the slut walks having a concrete measurable and most importantly positive effect on how women are treated? I'd like to think so. But that's harder to quantify.
posted by zarq at 7:40 AM on March 8, 2012


They may lead to repression. But they don't always.

Seems like we're using words differently. Having to internalize imaginary reasons to refrain from natural behavior is the essence of repression.
posted by jwhite1979 at 11:09 AM on March 8, 2012


jwhite1979: " Seems like we're using words differently. Having to internalize imaginary reasons to refrain from natural behavior is the essence of repression."

So you're now reducing your definition of 'repression' to 'self-repression,' then? Or simply to 'internalized repression'?
posted by zarq at 11:23 AM on March 8, 2012


So one of you couldn't wait to make a boobies joke, one of you couldn't wait to say it sucks, and the other couldn't wait to say he had nothing to say. Excellent.

I guess we're reading different forums, heyho; no one posting prior to you described it as 'sucking'. Or maybe it's just easier to generalize.

--

The calendar is cool, wonderful, and - yes, whether you like it or not - titillating. (insert snicker) Nudes of women have an inherent sexuality to men.

It's also part of the message: a woman's sexuality should be hers and hers alone to control. If she chooses to use it to titillate, or make a political statement, or ... anything at all... it should be her call. Not the government's. Not the local church's. Not society's.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:22 PM on March 8, 2012


Nudes of women have an inherent sexuality to men.

But an important distinction that's a critical piece of the message is that women's bodies are NOT inherently sexualized - they are bodies, and what should motivate their sexualization is the intent of the woman, but what actually does in the repressive regimes under which they live is the male gaze. (I hear a bunch of people flinching and knee-jerking in response to that term, but damn it, it's the whole point of this exercise.)

Where I get confused about all this - SlutWalk and this calendar alike - is that it's preaching to the converted. Displaying your body to make the point that you control the sexualization of your own body only works with the agreement of the viewer, and there will be viewers who look on and impose their own idea of what you are rather than agreeing you have the control. But ultimately I guarantee you each participant in this has thought that through and decided the tradeoff is worth it to her, that it's more important that she makes the statement than that it's heard and understood by the maximum audience.
posted by gingerest at 2:50 PM on March 8, 2012


Where I get confused about all this - SlutWalk and this calendar alike - is that it's preaching to the converted. Displaying your body to make the point that you control the sexualization of your own body only works with the agreement of the viewer, and there will be viewers who look on and impose their own idea of what you are rather than agreeing you have the control.

Wow, good points, gingerest. In fact, that's exactly what lives at the core of the back-and-forth going on in this thread: those who are seeing the empowerment first and foremost, and those who are seeing the nudity first and foremost.

It's perhaps not the best way to bridge empathy for those who are suffering, but even so it remains an honest attempt to display fraternity sisterhood, one-ness, and support. Also, it forces many who casually graze both groups (like myself) to reconsider their actions, and the unintended consequences.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:46 AM on March 9, 2012


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