Anna Breslaw’s 600-Word Sprint: Nude Protests, Stripped Down

Are you taking your clothes off for a cause or because you want to take your clothes off?

A nude man carries a sign at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, California

A nude man carries a sign at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, California. Nudists converged on City Hall to protest city Supervisor Scott Wiener’s proposal to restrict public nudity in the city. (Photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

TakePart presents “Anna Breslaw’s 600-Word Sprint,” a weekly column of pop culture analysis and social justice insight. Look for Anna’s Sprint every week on the homepage of TakePart.


The naked HIV activists who descended on House Speaker John Boehner’s office last week, chanting, “Boehner, Boehner, don't be a dick, budget cuts will make us sick,” may not be the most original protesters on Earth, but they were thought-provoking.

If I may get imaginative for a moment, the long worldwide tradition of being nude for a cause could have its highest expression in 19th-century Europe, where hookers, mistresses and madams unselfconsciously posed for expat artists, back when one had to go to Europe for that sort of clandestine life drawing. The men who used the female form became famous, and their models remained anonymous—in many cases, undoubtedly, dying in poverty.

Jump cut to now: Wendy Williams posing naked for PETA seems like a warped evolutionary process. Still, the myriad ways in which women use their bodies to make political or social statements are at once brave and inherently problematic.

MORE: Spanish Protest Gallery: The Naked Side of Austerity

The less troubling form of the naked statement, to me, are the nude protests of public nudity bans, like the nudists-with-a-cause currently hanging out by San Francisco’s City Hall in response to the motion by Supervisor Scott Wiener (oh, the irony) to make it illegal for anyone over the age of five to expose their genitals or perineum on public streets, sidewalks, street medians, parks, plazas or while riding public transit.

That’s nudity for nudity’s sake. Sure! Makes sense to me. (Although one beleaguered San Francisco resident sighed in New York Magazine, “I just want to be able to walk down the street and get a carton of milk without seeing someone’s penis. That’s all.”)

While both sexes often use nudity in the social justice arena, naked women still garner a different reaction from the public: One that might even undermine the original cause.

I’m no conservative. Whatever.

Nevertheless, it’s an undeniable fact that while both sexes often use nudity in the social justice arena, naked women still garner a different reaction from the public: One that might even undermine the original cause.

It is impossible to have this conversation without bringing up Femen, Ukraine’s militant feminist group that amplified its notoriety during topless protests on behalf of Pussy Riot. Self-described as the storozhevyye suki demokratii (the “watch-bitches of democracy”), Femen brands itself as a “new wave of third-millennium feminism” here to “defend with their chests sexual and civic equality throughout the world.”

There’s something kind of absurdist about that statement. Civic equality throughout the world is a worthy cause, but is there nothing better to defend it with? Is using the shock/titillation value of their bodies really proving their point, or is it an inadvertent red herring that actually distracts from their manifesto?

One member of Femen, 24-year-old Yana Zhdanova, feels no qualms about continuing to work as a stripper even as that career undermines Femen’s pledge to undermine the patriarchal sex industry. Explain that one.

And then there’s the “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” PETA campaign. Which—call me cynical—has always seemed to me an excuse for female celebrities to release a widely circulated nude shot under the flimsy guise of “activism” and minus the déclassé Playboy element. (Unless you’re naïve enough to think that, say, Khloe Kardashian’s sole motive for dropping trou for the shoot was to save the whales.) Again, a well-intentioned idea has some basic issues. The women in the campaigns are primarily models or model-actresses (problem 1), some whom have or will model fur items on the runway (problem 2). The campaign typifies the values of our culture in this yoga-doing, organic-grocery age—yep, animals have rights, and women take off their clothes to prove it.

If this sounds like a militant feminist reaction to you, I apologize. For keeping my shirt on.

What cause would you take your clothes off for? Leave your issues in COMMENTS.

These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.

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