۱۳۹۳ بهمن ۱۵, چهارشنبه

Body Politics: Nudity/Covering and Power

My answers to Kaveh Tahri's questions:
The recent surge in nudism in feminist protest: regress or progress?

Here is some red meat for thought, as nudist activists say.
On the occasion of the presentation (or Unveiling) of the nude photo of Golshifteh, we would like to take this opportunity to shed light on and evaluate the features of nudist movement.  
Interview with Mahmoud Delkhasteh
By Kaveh Taheri
Naturism (Nudism) is advocating for and defending women rights.  It is also a protest against the abuses of rights and the sexual exploitation of women.
Some people prefer to be nude in the privacy of their home or garden, either alone or with their spouse, while others are often nude in public places, such as pools, beaches, parties or clubs.
We cannot estimate exactly when naturism started as a movement. “Naturism” was used for the first time by Jean Baptiste Luc Planchon in 1778. The earliest naturist club was established in 1891 in British India. A few treatises of nudism are written in co-education and Dr. Heinrich Pudor advocated practicing sport while being free of cumbersome clothes in 1906.
Nudity protests date back to the Doukhobor social movement in 1914. The Freedom to be Yourself (FTBY) was established to promote the right to be naked in public in 1999.
On 10 January 2001 Bethell was [1][2] the first defendant to stand trial naked in a UK court.
Free Body Culture is a German movement to endorse a naturastic approach for sports and community living.
Recently, the protest group FEMEN has been founded in opposition to sex tourists, international marriage agencies, sexism and other social ills in 2008 in Ukraine.
Nudism in Iran
The first nudity actions occurred by Tahirih in June and July of 1848, during the Conference of Badasht, in Iran. Tahirih was a poet and theologian of the Baha’i faith. As a symbolic act, she took off her traditional veil at the conference. She was the first Iranian woman to unveil in public, after the Islamists’ invasion of Iran.
In recent years and after the 1979 Islamic revolution, some Iranian women activists have stripped in order to protest against violations of other women around the world. Naturism is being continued by some women activists after all the various reactions they have undergone. They are criticized by both intellectual and traditional citizens.
Golshifteh Farahani is the one woman activist who has stripped for the second time. Her nude photo was recently published on the cover of 'Egoiste' magazine. The nude photo of the popular Iranian actress had been riled in the Iranian community and polarized many Iranians who are divided on the subject of nudity. Her previous nude photo had been published in Le Figaro magazine in 2012.
Golshifteh, 32, has received many awards, such as the Silver Bear from the Berlin International Film Festival for her Elly movie in 2009, directed by Aghar Farhadi. She has starred in more than fifteen movies including 'There Be Dragons', 'Eden', 'My Sweet Pepperland', 'Body of Lies', and 'M for Mother'.
KT: In your view, what is the reason for the covering and veil in society?
MD: It depends on the natural, social and cultural context. For example, one covers his or her body in response to the possible harm of natural elements like cold or heat. Or we use clothing in order to state social status (as in the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’). Another cultural reason is religion. Almost all religions have sayings about clothing which define clothing in relation to modesty.  It aims to decrease, if not eliminate, the social effect of a body which is seen as sexual.  Although it aims to decrease such an effect of both male and female bodies, its focal point is the removal of the female body from the public. This element is most accentuated in Abrahamite religions (Judasim, Christiantiy and Islam.)
Within the contemporary Iranian context, as the ruling regime tries to draw its legitimacy from Islam it has politicized if not fetishized the veil/hejab. Hence, enforced veiling has become the point at which society faces the power of the state as women and their bodies are taken hostage by the regime in order continue its fragile existence. In other words, one of the main channels through which the regime exercises its power over society is the expropriation of the female body and the imposition of the form of clothing which suits its interest. Here we can see that forceful veiling has a political reason rather than religious one. Otherwise, they would allow open debate about veiling and the history of its emergence and historical interaction with Islam. For example, we know of the extensive research by Amir Torkashvand about the concept of veiling at the time of the prophet. Using primary sources, he demonstrates that not only did such hejab not exist at the time of prophet; furthermore, nudity was a norm for many people even living in homes with no doors. Many Muslim men and women even made their pilgrimage/haj completely naked and most Muslims used to be semi-nude. Torkashvand also shows us that veiling, which we think is intertwined with Islam and written in the DNA of Islam, emerged eight centuries after the prophet. So why does the regime not let such information spread among the people and create a public debate about it? The reason should be sought in relation to power politics rather than religion. 
KT: What is the purpose of the nudist movement and has it succeeded in achieving its goals?
MD: Nudity in itself has no meaning, nor does veiling. Again, it should be interpreted within its socio-political context.  For example, to use nudity as a form of protest among people for whom being nude is a norm (like many tribes in South America or parts of Africa), is completely meaningless. 
There are also different kinds of movements which use nudity as a form of protest or awareness campaign. This includes, for example, some female survivors of breast cancer who lost part or all parts of one or two breasts are publishing topless pictures with the aim of saying “we are here and we are visible” in order to help other survivors overcome the trauma of the loss of their breast, which is seen as one of the main parts of their femininity. 
Another recent example is the group formed by some Ukrainian women called Femen. Initially it was an anti-corruption and anti-prostitution movement, and then it became anti-Islamic and anti-religion in general. Have they achieved their goals? We don’t see any sign of it, but with the help of the mass media they have put their case out there and stirred competing emotions from various groups. I think two main points have either limited their presence or undermined them. The first is that the nature of their protest, which is to become visible through nudity, prevented them from having any effect in Ukraine’s social movement last year, where they were supposed to be most effective. The cold winter prevented them from performing and the protestors in Maidan did not have time for this form of protest, so their role became redundant.
The other reason is that they have always used protestors who fit the ideal type model of beauty within capitalist culture. Hence, women who are old or heavy or have a “wrong body” are pushed out and absent in such protests. Discriminating against these types of women prevents them from playing a role at the front line and keeps them back stage. Tjos can’t be the tactic of a group which claims to stand against discrimination. Because of this method, it seems that most of their audiences are men who appreciate such beauty regardless of whether it appears in striptease clubs or out in the open. So is using female sexuality as a means against female sexual exploitation the right strategy for the specified goal, or is it sheer hypocrisy? The fact that a self-declared patriarch, Victor Svyatski, is the brain for this movement is itself telling. This too exposes and defeats the purpose.
KT: Is the nudist movement real or is it just a tactic of social protest?
MD: It is both real and used as a tactic for social protest. Within patriarchal and macho cultures, such use of the female body as a means to protest (particularly when it is the “right body”) can be seen as another form of sexual exploitation of the female body but this time in the form of protest against objectification. It is just like social revolutions which aim to destroy dictatorship but uses what Audre Lorde called the ‘master’s tools’ in order to destroy the house; it ends up rebuilding the master’s house, this time in much stronger and more solid form.
KT: Many women who have experienced domestic violence denounce the nudist movement. What is their reason for doing so and what role do men playion this issue?
MD: I don’t see any relationship between domestic violence and the nudist movement.  There are many feminist intellectuals and groups who are obviously opposed to domestic violence and struggling against it while being critical of this type of nudist movement as well. Their criticism has both epistemological as well as ontological bases. 
Nudity by itself is not a liberation as clothing by itself is not a form of repression. If mere nudity was liberating, then tribes in which nudity is a norm would be among the most liberating communities, while we know that among most patriarchy is also alive and kicking. 
However, when certain forms of clothing are used as tools for controlling the female body, then we can talk about repression. The same could be said about the tyranny of fashion which forces many women to wear certain clothes since the fashion industry deprives them of real choice through mass production and the monopolization of the market.
KT: What are the differences in attitudes in using nudism as a tool for social protest in the free world verses the third world, and where did this cultural difference originate?
MD: Their contexts are very different. In contemporary western societies, the function of clothing is very different from; let’s say, Islamic societies – even to the extent that they stand in opposition with each other. Why? Before the Renaissance which preceded the enlightenment era, as a whole there were no such differences between these competing cultural spheres in regard to the treatment of body, especially the female body. It had to be kept out of the public to the extent that even, long after, during Victorian times in England the public exposure of female ankles was seen as an act of immodesty. Due to intellectual revolutions combined with the spread of capitalism, the discourse within which the female body was viewed and presented as a source of shame that had to be concealed was transformed into a discourse within which this source of shame and temptation became the manifestation of beauty, sex and sexuality. What had been seen as the cause of the ‘Original Sin’ and therefore something to be repressed and kept private became seen as a positive force which had to brought out from the private into the public sphere. Subsequently, sexiness not only became a value in the west but also had to be made public in order to receive recognition. The saying ‘if you got it, flaunt it’ finds its meaning within this context. 
Within this context, the role of clothing in combination with nakedness was and is to make a person, especially a woman, as “sexy” as possible. In other words, finding the right balance of exposure and concealment makes a person sexy. However, as this combination needs to change constantly in order to remove repetitiveness, the fashion industry finds its place in renewing and creating new forms of combination. This is why professor Masud Eslamilu argues that fashion is based on the philosophy of death; each fashion design emerges only to be replaced with another. Here we might see a reason for the lack of spread of nudity in the west, being partly because the nude body (exposure) leaves no room for imagination (concealment) and thus is not seen as very sexy.
Another reason could be that as the majority of women do not believe that their bodies tick the boxes of ideal beauty which are presented by the media within contemporary western societies, they are embarrassed to expose them. Within such a context, one might understand why a nudist protest movement like Femen only uses protestors with ideal type female bodies and discriminates against those who do not fit such stereotypes.
In contrast to this, in Islamic cultures the function of clothing is as it was during the pre-enlightenment era in Europe. Plus, the many women in these societies are aware of the exploitation of the female body through its subjectivation to the needs of consumerist capitalism (in which the female body is simultaneously the selling point and consumerist point). They therefore have less desire to follow suit, despite the fact that they are in constant dialogue with themselves and others about alternative models of clothing and their relation with the body. This is why, for example, in Iran most women who oppose the imposition of hejab and are pro-choice have strong negative reactions to nudity as a form of social protest and see it as counterproductive.  As much as they are pro-choice, they also don’t want their movement to be hijacked by nudists whom they see as extremists who disrespect their goal of free choice.

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