The word revolutionary is likly to bring to mind faded khakis, bandanas — just about anything, in fact, but a woman in the buff. But Aliaa Magdy Elmahdy, a young Egyptian student and activist, really did spark a small revolution in October when she posted a nude photo of herself (along with several artistic nudes) on her blog, and tweeted about the post using the hashtag #NudePhotoRevolutionary. Soon others were following suit, using the hashtag to announce their own nudity, in a show of support for a very brave woman in a historically uncompromising Middle Eastern country.
The original post is here (warning: definitely not safe for work). In that post, Elmahdy wrote the following, dare I call it a manifesto?
Put on trial the artists’ models who posed nude for art schools until the early 70s, hide the art books and destroy the nude statues of antiquity, then undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid yourselves of your sexual hangups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression.
The message was written in Arabic and then in English, like most of her posts. After a few months of Twitter activity on the #NudePhotoRevolutionary hashtag, the movement has coalesced into a calendar. Maryam Namazie, who I believe is an Iranian immigrant to Britain, and another outspoken advocate of women’s rights in Muslim countries (especially those practicing Sharia Law), put it all together. She describes the calendar and its goals here (warning: mildly unsafe for work), where she also includes links to donate or download the calendar (neither of which action requires the other).
Namazie says: ‘What with Islamism and the religious right being obsessed with women’s bodies and demanding that we be veiled, bound, and gagged, nudity breaks taboos and is an important form of resistance.’
The calendar is designed by SlutWalk Co-founder Toronto, Sonya JF Barnett who says: ‘I felt that women needed to stand in solidarity with Aliaa. It takes a lot of guts to do what she did, and the backlash is always expected and can quite hurtful. She needed to know that there are others like her, willing to push the envelope to express outrage.’
Both Elmahdy and the movement she started have provoked outrage amongst Egyptian officials, not to mention elsewhere in the Middle East. Asserting the right not to be censored was important enough for some of these women to risk definite social, and possible political pushback.
One might well ask, how does getting naked empower women? In the West, isn’t it quite the opposite? That may well be, but neither nudity nor modesty is automatically exploitational. It’s the idea of having the decision of how women may behave, dress, or express themselves taken away by men. Reasserting this right is, I think, the point. Thus, the reason the calendar is being released on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day.
Proceeds from the calendar go towards women’s right and freedom of expression.
Photo credit: Aliaa Magdy Elmahdy