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Nudity and Protest

Nude for a Cause
In late 2002, with war looming, a small group of Californian women took off their clothes and wrote the words NO BUSH with their bodies, to protest against the coming war in Iraq. A few months later over 700 women did the same thing at Byron Bay in NSW to make their feelings known. Before long, nude anti-war protests were happening regularly.

In Chile, 300 people got nude in a city park for the same reason, before getting a little emotional and running naked towards the parliament with police in hot pursuit. Those South Americans can’t help but be exhibitionists, can they?

But war isn't the only reason people are getting naked. Taking your clothes off for a cause is not new. It seems that people have been protesting through nudity for quite some time. The reason is, of course, that nude equals news. Widespread media coverage is the best way to get your point across, even if you’ve got to show the whole world your naughty bits in the process.

Thus, in the last few years we’ve seen 3 women strip and cover themselves with fake blood outside the Sydney meeting of the World Trade Organisation, a group of pagans cavorting topless at a G8 meeting in Calgary Canada, a couple of anti-fur protesters getting nude in Beijing, and animal liberationists marching naked during the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

Interestingly, African women have a tradition of protesting through nudity. In Nigeria last year, 600 women invaded the headquarters of oil multinational Texaco to demand jobs for their sons and better facilities in their communities. To get their point across they threatened to strip naked. In Nigeria and other African nations, public female nudity is seen as ill-omened, and a source of shame for the men who witness it. After 10 days, the oil company agreed to help out and the women emerged victorious (and clothed).

In Zambia, women paraded topless to protest against the government’s new rules which outlawed miniskirts and tight pants. Baring one’s breasts also has a history in that country, where 40 years earlier it was used as a protest against the British colonists, and became a badge of freedom and independence. Faced with so many bare bosoms, the strait-laced Brits had no choice but to bail out.

In Kenya in 2001, a team of scientists were driven away from a nature reserve by a band of 300 naked women who ran into their research camp. The women were using their nudity to invoke a curse on the men, and thus prevent them from extending the nature reserve onto tribal land. The poor blokes were just trying to research colobus monkeys, but they made for the hills quick smart.

And that same year in Johannesburg 8 women squatters stripped naked in front of police who were preventing them from returning to their shacks and removing their belongings. This sort of nude action also had a history in apartheid South Africa, when government removal of squatters was common. “While there were a few red faces among the police officers, a number of them could be seen enjoying the unusual spectacle,” a witness commented.

Then there are those who protest naked in public… for the right to be naked in public. A group called Freedom to be Human regularly appears nude in London (although only in summer), determined to repeal indecent exposure laws. In 1999 Vincent Bethell, the founder of the group, was arrested for scaling a lamp-post outside the Royal Courts of Justice. “Our campaign is about being alive, being human,” Bethell has said. “Why do people have such a strange reaction to the human form?” His protests also draw attention to body image issues, and what he sees as the sexualization of the human body. He says people are rarely offended by his actions, more often smiling and offering encouragement.

So all this leads one to wonder what new forms of nude protest we’ll see in the future. Will unions opt for a mass streak rather than a strike? Will pro-censorship campaigners get naked to promote their fight against porn? Will the sporting shooters get out their weapons in order to protect their guns?

And next time the neighbour’s dog barks all night, will banging on their door naked make any difference? Can road rage be enhanced by some subtle mooning? If someone cuts into the queue at the bank, will you immediately strip off to make your anger known? And if your child is being treated unfairly at school, will a quick flash in the principal’s office help at all?

Yes, it would seem the future of protesting could be very, very interesting.

By the way, if this article has been in any way offensive to you, please send all nude photos care of this site.

A version of this article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. They didn't pay me for it and I didn't agree to give them the rights to it :( They also don't own the electronic rights, so it shouldn't be available on the web here.

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