Protesting Naked: Petty or Powerful?

– by The Shitty Activist

5829226567_462ec5c4a8_oPretty much everyone enjoys looking at unclothed members of the gender(s) to which they’re attracted. We’re all naked beneath our clothes and taking a gander at any bare flesh in vicinity is pure human instinct.

The Doukhobors, a Russian religious movement that migrated to Canada in the early 1900’s, is credited as the first group to use nudity in protest, in response to religious persecution by the Canadian government. Now, more than ever, nudity is a tool in the activist’s toolbox, popularized by environmental, peace, and social justice groups. Perhaps best known in the genre are protests staged by animal rights groups, where nude activists (typically young women) crouch in cages to send a message against eating meat.

There’s no question that people pay more attention to nude protests than fully clothed ones, but does that mean it’s an effective tactic to advance a cause?

Stripping down to protest nudity bans, such as topfreedom advocates fighting for a woman’s right to bear her breasts in public, or women posting topless pictures of themselves with male nipples photoshopped over their own to circumvent Instagram’s boob ban, can be considered a form of civil disobedience. However, does getting naked for an unrelated issue, such as protecting forests or opposing the next bombing campaign in the Middle East, help the cause or trivialize it?

Though we’re entering an age of more and more gender fluidity, the reality is that people’s reaction to nude protest differs whether the protesters are male, female, or a mix of both.

While it’s likely that many women aren’t bothered by the presence of a nude male, or may even enjoy it, a substantial number of women feel uncomfortable around, or even threatened by, random naked dudes. Likewise, a parent of either gender may not be thrilled to have a nude male near their child. Most heterosexual men might not be overly disturbed by another man in the buff, but they’re probably not too excited about it either.

Meanwhile, the majority of men aren’t simply okay with the presence of a nude female, it’s probably the best part of their day. The reality is that the nude protesting that gets the most positive attention and attracts the least negative attention is done by women. And that’s the majority of nude protest that we see, particularly in the media.

So, back to the question at hand: does naked protesting make the world a better place?

There are two aspects we should examine. First, whether nudity demeans a cause by distracting attention away from the underlying issue and degrading it into mere spectacle. And second, whether it harms another cause that people have been fighting against since the dawn of humankind: the sexual objectification of women.

In regards to whether nude protest actually works, let’s take a quick look at the most popular example of it, found in the animal rights movement. Animal advocates believe that meat is murder. That with all the plant-based proteins available these days, the enslavement, torture, rape, and slaughter of thinking, feeling animals who want to live as much as any human does, is unnecessary and immoral.

So, does getting naked and crawling into a cage hammer home the cruelty of raising animals for human consumption or doesn’t it?

My personal take is that getting naked doesn’t hurt a cause. Nor does it advance it. Simply put, I don’t think someone looking at a pair of breasts turns someone off to an issue, such as animal rights, but neither is it enough to trigger compassion and empathy in a person to do anything about it. There’s no doubt that nudity will attract attention to the existence of a cause. But, for instance, in the case of animal rights, is awareness really the issue? People already know that a cow, chicken, or fish has to die before you eat it.

On the other hand, if a particular cause is relatively unknown, such as, say, the imminent development of a pristine stand of forest that the media won’t report on, then the spectacle of naked bodies might be the only way to get people to find out what’s going on. In the case of raising awareness for an obscure cause that people might be hearing about for the first time, bare asses just might work. Of course translating that momentary attention into people actually doing something about it is another issue entirely (see “Doing Good or Feeling Good?”)

But what about those who feel that nude protest promotes the objectification of women, by encouraging men to view the female body as a mere piece of meat? Do they have a point or are they just prudes?

If most men are being honest, they’ll admit that they watch nude protests not because they care about the cause, but because they want to catch an eyeful. And while you can definitely blame men for turning almost everything into sex, whether nudity is involved or not, is that sexual interest an accidental byproduct of nude protesting or is it the whole point? Aren’t protesters stripping down to their birthday suits to take advantage of that instinct to find the nude body sexually attractive? After all, this isn’t practical nudity, such as swimming, where clothes are shed simply because it makes sense to do so. Is nude protest about normalizing and downplaying nudity or making a spectacle of it?

If that’s the case, and nude protest is deliberately using the sensuality of nude bodies (typically young females) to attract attention (typically from males), then couldn’t it be said that even if it’s advancing the cause of the protest, it’s setting back the battle against the sexual objectification of women?

Now, it’s possible that the sexualization of nudity is in the eye of the beholder and that the more flesh revealed at a protest, the closer we’ll come to world peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability.

So, if you’re an activist who believes naked protesting is a benefit to a movement, please post your thoughts in the comments. Oh, and be sure to include a photo of yourself doing your thing.

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