Admittedly, even as a Western woman, I still grapple with the role of nudity in the feminist movement–the only real incorporation of it that I understood entirely had been the Slutwalks, and that is because the message wasn’t, “I am free to be sexy!” but, “You can’t rape me if I am, and you can’t rape me if I’m not.” There were, after all, women who attended in burkhas, and in sweaters, and of course women who attended in lingerie, because women are raped in all those things. The purpose was to demonstrate that attire doesn’t matter, not to shed clothing as a symbolic act of liberation.
The latter might have worked (in a Western context) had the demonstration not been gendered.
Now obviously emphasizing that bodily regulations are oppressively more restrictive on women is important, but I don’t believe that any of the protests I have seen really executed this effectively–instead they have repositioned women as the sex class, and that is exactly because they have conflated “sexy” with nudity. It is not that most of the attendees are typically women, but that attention is refocused on the fact that they are. Consequently it is not only that the demonstrations have been gendered; it is that they have been sexualized. It is that getting naked is sensationalized.
And it is that attitude–that nudity is something sensational–that directly defeats the liberating aspect. Because sensationalism is a performance. And nudity, when liberating, is not. It is not a performance: it is not constraining or restrictive.
I know a lot of Islamic feminists discard the suggestion of nude liberation entirely–and with good reason–dismissing it as an affront to women’s dignity and (most understandably) as a device of neocolonialism. I am not ready to dismiss it. There are ways that it works. Natalia Antonova, for example, has written about experiencing nudism from a feminist perspective and the comfort that it provides for body image. There is a context in which it is effective. Nudity becomes a device of neocolonialism when women like FEMEN are involved. And again, note the sensationalism and sexualization.
FEMEN began with sex worker rights, an area in which conflating nudity and sexuality is pretty much inevitable (& an area w/ women I support), but its emphasis on attractive women (on women [Western] men find attractive) is what undermines its purpose of securing women’s rights. Because while it may be inevitable to coincide sexuality and nudity, what FEMEN has done is conflate sexuality with sexiness. And thus the purpose of securing women’s rights is defeated–especially religious women of color, who are perceived as victims of their religion, and thus colonialist feminist rhetoric is employed against, for example, Arab women. The nudity is not, “Everyone is whoever the hell she is–no performances,” but rather, “My Western feminism is better [read: sexier] than yours, according to my own standards of liberation / beauty to which you should abide. Perform accordingly!”
And that is precisely why nudity doesn’t work for Islamic feminism. Take note, FEMEN, and all you other feminists insisting, “Muslim women–take off your clothes!” (I am not kidding that is actually someone’s catchphrase.) There are nuances you do not understand. Believe it or not there are entirely different frames of mind other than yours! And there people who function with these frames of mind, and fashioning feminism to address these nuanced worldviews in particular are more effective, rather than throwing a generalized blanket “solution” over everything. Maybe there had been / will be some time in the past or future when nudity work[ed]/s, based on cultural attitudes and the non-sexualized approach of the protest itself, but it doesn’t now. (No doubt when it does you will all claim that you invented nudity or something and we are just following because you, white feminists, are the MOST INSPIRATIONAL. Like Muslim women didn’t vote before you, because you totes invented feminism. Or something.)
Muslim women have our own ways of protesting, OKAY. Gosh. And you know what, they involve extravagant headpieces. Which are fun. And there is a reason that works. There is a reason Muslim feminists chose that device of liberation. There are cultural and religious reasons that that works and that nudity doesn’t. There are intricacies in religious and cultural approaches that you don’t understand.
So please, please, get the hell out of my way.