Sunday, July 24, 2005


Last week bare-breasted virgins rampaged through Pietermaritzburg to protest the virginity testing ban and it’s not the first time naked protest has been used in these parts. In 1990, a group of brave Dobsonville women stripped off to protest the destruction of their homes and in Cape Town , 21 women got together to spell out the word peace with their bodies. Naked protest has a long and distinguished history and is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence as a harmless but effective form of peaceful protest. I couldn’t be happier because I want to see Health Minister Manto’s face when 200 naked people show up on her doorstep to collect their ARVs. I want to see Robert Mugabe’s face when 700,000 homeless and naked people set up camp outside his mansion.

Lady Godiva was the first nude protester, she stripped off and rode through Coventry to protest oppressive taxes, an interesting idea for next time the taxman wants an audit. The first recorded naked mass protest took place in Canada in 1903, when a religious sect called the Doukhobors made bonfires of their weapons to protest conscription in the Czar’s army and graduated from pyromania to nudity, seeking to “walk with the simplicity and moral purity of Christ”. Naked protest and the politics of personalism The group was underwritten by the writer Leo Tolstoy, who donated the proceeds from his book Resurrection to their cause.

Ghandi plays a large role in the history of naked protest because he fused the idea of “principled lawbreaking” with mass political action, arguing for moral redemption through uncompromising dissent. Martin Luther King was the first to yoke this movement to the visual media and images of mass anger went out to millions around the world.

Boyd & Duncomb (Souweine) call naked protest “the politics of spectacle” wherein “mediatainment institutions are built around the packaging of the barely clothed female figure”. While this is undeniably true, the coverage of naked protest in the media far outweighs that of any other protest form and it’s hard to argue with success, just ask PETA.

The animal rights group has used the spectacle aspect of naked protest very effectively to bring attention to the suffering of animals in their “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaigns featuring supermodels. Naomi Campbell promptly fell off the wagon (and her platform heels) and modeled fur, as did Cindy Crawford when she abandoned her principles for a bunch of dead skins cunningly called Blackglama. PETA’s annual Running of the Nudes just had it’s fourth outing.

This is a trend that’s got legs because nobody in authority has figured out a way to deal with naked people en masse, the lone streaker is easily overpowered, but a crowd of nude people can pretty much go wherever the hell they want. The very idea of nakedness in public has a mocking edge, because suddenly everyone else looks ridiculously overdressed. It speaks truth to power in the most elemental sense and is safer for the participants because naked people are defenceless, they pose no threat and can’t reach for a weapon from pockets they don’t have.

Now here’s a naked protest I can really get into, organized by PETA, it protested the sorry lack of oral sex enjoyed by the poor suffering women of the world. Where do I leave my clothes?

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