Dim-witted idiocy or revolutionary? In defence of nude protest

Azar Majedi of the Organisation of Women’s Liberation – Iran has attacked the Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar and supporting video of Iranian women as being similar to the tabloids (namely the Sun’s page 3), ‘dim-witted idiocy’ and ‘buffoonery’ and Golshifteh Farahani’s nudity as ‘commercial’ whilst supporting Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy’s nudity. In her attacks in Persian and English, she has characterised the calendar and supporting video as ‘absurd caricatures’ of Aliaa’s nudity.

Her attack is a masterpiece in dishonesty, hypocrisy, and regressive politics. Let me explain.

Whilst Islamists often portray their vile politics as a prescription for the debasement of women in western societies (i.e. against the Sun’s page 3), their image of women is very much the same as the pornographic one. Ironically, Azar’s ‘arguments’ against the calendar reveal a deep-seated disdain for female nudity not very different from the tabloids and rooted in the religious/Islamist point of view she claims to oppose.

Her accusation that we are ‘playing into the hands of those [sexists] we claim to fight against’ is disturbingly similar to the accusations that Aliaa’s nudity plays into the hands of Islamists.

Clearly, when you are faced with an Islamic movement that considers you to be worth half of a man and demands that you be bound, gagged, veiled, and segregated, then nudity becomes an important form of resistance and dissent as well as solidarity.

Nudity is the antithesis of veiling. Of course it is not the only way to resist Islamism and the veil but it is a very modern way of doing so. Islamists want us covered up, hidden, and not seen and not heard; we refuse to comply.

But nudity is not just a protest against Islamism and religious misogyny. It is fundamentally a protest against discrimination, the commodification of women, and the religious and chauvinistic culture built upon it – which is why it is on the increase and has been a part of the women’s liberation movement for some time.

Commodification relies on an objectified image that is separate from the reality of women’s bodies, minds and lives. This image is used to regulate, control and suppress. And this is what religion and pornography share, albeit in different forms. The actuality and frankness of women’s bodies as a form of protest challenges and upsets both.

Despite its significance, Azar insists that the calendar is not revolutionary. Whilst the calendar uses the same hashtag Aliaa used to Tweet her nude photo, it is also in and of itself a revolutionary act – not merely because women were involved though that fact is key. It is revolutionary because it challenges the religious/pornographic view of women’s bodies and reclaims a tool used for women’s suppression. Nudity outrages and offends because of this very challenge.

And it is taboo-breaking in the most progressive sense of the word since progress often comes as a result of offending deeply held and misogynist views and sensibilities. What makes nudity radical and progressive is also that it gives a practical response.

Azar says that nudity only matters if done in a place like Egypt, where threats are real, and male chauvinism deeply-rooted though she knows full-well that one does not have to live in the Middle East and North Africa to face Islamist threats and that male-chauvinism and the commodification of women is deeply-rooted everywhere. Even in a majority of western countries, women still cannot appear topless in beaches or parks as can men. Breastfeeding in many public places is considered taboo. This gives the nude protests universal significant. And threats or no threats, in Egypt or the west, isn’t the point of international solidarity to bring people closer despite any differences?

Azar trivialises acts of solidarity in the same way that she trivialises nudity. Occupy Wall Street takes on the form and content of Tahrir Square so why not nude protests? In fact, the material basis of the protests, including nudity, are similar.

Tellingly, Azar compares nudity with going on hunger strike or self-immolating in order to show solidarity with protestors who go on hunger strike and self-immolate. But hunger strikes and self-immolation are negative forms of protest whereas nudity is not.

Azar fails to see the importance of nude protests addressing deep-rooted discrimination against women because she doesn’t see the deep-seated discrimination in the first place. And like the tabloids and Islamists, our ‘veteran’ friend has such disdain for nudity that she cannot begin to understand how deeply humanising, revolutionary and taboo-breaking it is…


  1. smrnda says

    I think the mistake is to believe that nudity in and of itself somehow is inherently sensationalism or that it always inherently commodifies the female body.

    What commodifies the female body is when it’s viewed as something to either be possessed or consumed by men. As far as I can tell, this isn’t the case here – most pornographic images pretty much eradicate the woman’s personality to make her more consumable to men; things that make a woman human (like say, her political opinions) are left out, but here, the whole idea is that the primary focus is on the political views of the women involved.

  2. says

    I joined this ‘scream’ in solidarity with Elmahdy, but not exclusively to raise awareness about Islamists and their relationship to the female body. I joined because many cultures associate the female body with shame and female sexuality is treated as something suspect — most frustratingly for me in the US, the country of my birth.

    The academic David Hermann’s ‘Rumpelstiltskin Hypothesis’ goes some way to explain the power and purpose of Namazie’s calendar. He says “following the fundamental contrarian idea that if there are those ready to be offended, and whose readiness for offence curtails our individual freedom, then we should strive to offend them hard, loud, often, and wherever possible, until they burst.” By standing in solidarity with Elmahdy through this calendar, hopefully we’ll gain a critical mass of attention that will call into question the perception of the female body.

    Only when we can think freely and sanely about the female body will we be able to acheive gender equality. Cultural anxieties about the female body and sexuality have pernicious ripples. Just think of the debates around womens’ healthcare, access to contrception and the right to choose to have an abortion in the US at the moment. This calendar (and the feedback to the calendar) is calling attention to these unproductive attitudes.

    Unlike the context and presentation of a Page 3 girl, the women in this calendar are productive, independent and stand for more than our nudity. Surely the modern media and tech savvy viewer (by this I mean, anyone who has grown up with audio-visual, digital and print media) is equipped with the tools to understand the difference between Page 3 and the Nude Photo Revolutionary calendar. Modern society has made us savvy to so many kinds of images and narratives, sure this and the progress of the women’s movement allows us to see this not as a project that panders to the patriarchy, but for an activist statement meant to raise awareness about an issue that is close to the hearts of the participants. Indeed, the calendar may be tantalizing to some, but it very clearly stands for so much more.

  3. piero says

    Well, this surely must rank in the upper echelons of the best posts ever. Crystal clear, impeccably reasoned, and an effective antidote against stupidity.

  4. says

    As an American nudist and Populist-Libertarian who identifies with the US Republican Party, a right-wing Party, some thoughts and observations:
    In general, in the USA, few organized nudists are leftists. Leftists in general seem to have just as many hang-ups about nudism as the extreme, religious right or Moral Majority morons, here. In general, LIBERTARIAN, INDEPENDENT, ORIGINAL THINKERS AND NONRELIGIOUS RIGHTISTS TEND TO MAKE UP THE MAIN GROUP OF NUDISTS. In the Capital City of Austin, in Texas, the second largest state in the USA, we actually have the only nudist lake in the American Southwest which is part of a park called Hippie Hollow at http://www.hippiehollow.com. I actually spent a weekend day doing an amateur, sociological survey of the political views of folks I observed there and found that the third of the population there who was under 30 was about 60% leftist with the 2/3rds of the older being 60% rightist.
    Congratulations to Maryam Namarazie for turning on her intellectual flashlight to shine the light on the use of nudism in political protest against religious oppression which also leads to intellectual discussion of the nonsexual nature and uses of nudism not often thought about! The religious right can’t handle the light of free expression WITH ISLAM WITHOUT A DOUBT BEING THE MOST IGNORANT AND EXTREME FORM OF RELIGIOUS OPPRESSION THERE IS, DETERMINED TO DARKEN THOSE WHO HAVE A LIGHT THAT SHINES! AS MARYAM IS FINDING OUT, THOUGH, NEITHER DOES THE LEFT!
    As you go on down the road of life creating light, Maryam, remember the light that shines greater is all too often the light that makes those with dimmer lights very jealous! I suspect that before it is all over, YOU WILL FIND THAT SOME OF THOSE YOU THOUGHT WERE FOR FREEDOM WERE ACTUALLY QUITE INVESTED IN THE STATUS QUO OF SLAVERY AND REALLY NOT ALL THAT HAPPY WITH THE THOUGHT OF A DOMINANT WOMAN LIKE YOU HAVING A LOT OF INFLUENCE ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU ARE SMARTER AND BRAVER THAN THEM!
    One’s political ideology is less important than would be readily apparent in deciding their tolerance levels and SINCERITY OF CONVICTION! Talking a rehearsed talk about freedom and breaking barriers is a lot easier than walking the walk of posing nude ESPECIALLY IN A CULTURE CONTROLLED BY A RELIGIOUS BELIEF SYSTEM OF SUCH MISOGYNY AND VIOLENCE AS ISLAM! Truthfully, western, religious rightists are puppies in comparison to Achmenijad’s Sharia believers in the world!

      • says

        I’m sorry that you feel I’m an idiot! I would never call you an idiot. We could agree to disagree without being disagreeable but if that is not possible, I wish you well.
        It surprises me that you would treat someone who was really impressed with you despite some ideological disagreements in such a disrespectful way but, that is your choice. If I offended you, it would have been preferred for you to point out the areas of disagreement with a more intellectual rebuttal but we all have our ways and our days, I suppose.
        Best wishes and thank you for reminding me that the Left and the Right seldom can interact without the Left falling back on simple, up to 5 syllable word insults? My style of writing, while not perfect shows an intellect that is much better than that of an idiot! Fact is, if I’m an idiot than you are a witch with a “b” and I will leave it at that unless you want to insult me some more which is pretty pointless from both our standpoints. Who becomes the idiot then?
        Thank you again for giving me the opportunity for a full rebuttal and if you wish to play the role of your own censor, you can insult me, throw me off your blog and ban me for life! At least you aren’t Achmenijad who would kill me without question and then get down on his knees and pray to the G-d a mean, old Arab trader created to make the masses of his region first and then world, truly miserable!
        I appreciate the calendar and really do wish you well in your efforts which have many admirable aspects to them that go beyond ideological barriers. If I’ve made you angry, remember, anger is a wasted emotion! I have more upsetting things in my life going on than to be angered by you so again, be happy in who you choose to insult without thought of possible, long-term relationships or advantages!
        Remember, as you point your finger at well, tall me, you have four fingers pointed back at shorter you with two forming a V which is the sign in Europe for the American middle finger! I’ve done nothing to you except heap praise and admiration upon you up to this point where I now defend myself with more disappointment than hatred. Granted, I have many faults but I’m certainly not an idiot!
        In my response here, you will see the hints of my dominant ancestry made up of a scattered group of people who had no country for a very long time and then after experiencing the most brutal and murderous treatment took on all your neighbors inspired by the Arab trader AND WON NOT JUST ONCE BUT MANY TIMES IN REGAINING THEIR ANCIENT HOME! Now they tend to stereotype those related to those peoples following the Arab trader as all too often unstable and unreliable.
        My other ancestry comes from right across the Channel from you, love, and was of a more loquacious and kinder hearted sort while really hating a woman’s scorn. Which side do you wish to encourage? It is up to you!

          • says

            A Free American. My apologies for thinking you are the PersianPower neo Nazi (though your views are so close it is hard to distinguish). Of course you are free to have those views and also to mention them here. PersianPower too was allowed but since he was frustrating everyone with his endless comments, I had to restrict him to one post a day. Having received your email I now know you are not him so will remove moderation from your comments. I will however take more time to challenge your views which are racist and inhuman, amongst other things.

        • says

          For someone that is so hateful and racist, it may be best not to give lessons or keep playing the victim. Please don’t admire my efforts because they are just as much against your politics as they are against Islamism.

          • Sophie says

            Dear Maryam — I am puzzled about your comments about “A_Free_American” — there is probably more to this story than I know but how is what he wrote in the blog entry racist and hateful? Would you enlighten me?

  5. F says

    ‘absurd caricatures’ of Aliaa’s nudity.

    Oh. Wow. Your bodies are shameful and your intentions are ridiculous. You terrible, awful, pathetic, silly women.

    After that, I don’t know how much more vile stupidity I can take, but I’m going to read it anyway. I just had to stop right there for a SIWOTI dump.

  6. hammingweight says

    I finally downloaded the calendar; it’s beautiful! I particularly liked Greta Christina’s choice of books.

  7. Catnip, Shameless & Impudent says

    The calendar is beautiful & the message poignant. It’s a pity there are still people who identify as oppressed, who still do not realise they are abetting the oppression.

  8. Gregory in Seattle says

    As I said at PZ Myers’ blog: Sometimes, the best way to fight oppression is to stand up and do the opposite of what the oppressors want. When they see women as shameful things to be kept out of sight, it is legitimate for women to fight by shamelessly standing forth in all their glory.

    More than that, though, is being able to do it. I suspect that women from an anti-woman culture (of whatever basis) have internalized the culture’s attitudes towards women. To do a calendar like this can be very empowering, in exactly the same way as a gay person or atheist coming out.

  9. Corylus says

    In fact, by doing copying her act, in this fation[sic], one trivialises Allia’s action.

    Hmm. Never seen Spartacus, then.

    This is not about men’s reactions to women: this is about freedom of choice.

    Wonderful photography, wonderful human beings and one hell of a statement.

    There is no compulsion here; no pressure (explicit or implied) for anyone to take part; no requirement for standard physical types – therefore there is no objectification.

    There are no objects here: simply people … brave people too.

    • Catnip, Shameless & Impudent says

      And yet, this cuts to the core of the most important issues a person can protest about. Custody over ones own body. From there, everything else that you consider more important follows

  10. piero says

    I have several questions I’ve been unable to answer to my own satisfaction for decades, so I hope Maryam and other posters can help me out.

    Why is there almost no pornography aimed at women? Don’t women react to pornography in the same way as men do? If so, why? Is it because of an innate, biological constitution or is it culturally determined? As far as I can tell, Playmen was intended as a sofcore porn magazine for women, but apparently it ended up being bought mainly by gay men. Was it because women were not really interested or because their social conditioning prevented them from admtting they were aroused by pictures of men with attractive bodies?

    The case is usually made that images of naked women intended for pornographic purposes are demeaning. Yet the same case is not made for, say, football stars (and by football I mean the real one, not the American version. Sorry!)? I watch Lionel Messi play and it’s an aesthetically pleasing and exciting sight. I know nothing about Lionel Messi the man: I don’t know about his politics, or his sentimental life, or his sexual tendencies, or his attitude towards pornography, or… well, I know nothing at all about him, except that he’s an extraordinary footbaler. Am I guilty of objectifying or demeaning him?

    Th naked calendar was obviously intended as a political statement, not as a titillation device. But what about images that are purposely intended to be sexually arousing? Why exactly are they wrong, if that’s the right word?

    Of course, I understand that pornography and exploitation usually go hand in hand, that many performers lead dreaful lives, etc. What I ask myself (and you) is why this should be the case.

    • Catnip, Shameless & Impudent says

      Piero, good luck in understanding this question. You will get a myriad of answers, many with diametrically opposed points of view.

      My humble thoughts:
      Why is there less women oriented porn? First and easier answer is that it’s only recently (in some parts of the world) that women have been accepted as sexual beings at all. (why make porn for women? They don’t need it, they should just submit[/MRAchannelling]) second, I suspect, is that the type of erotica that appeals to women is not quite so obvious as it might be for men. The women that I have known, generally say that the things which turn them on are not usually images, but situations. Ie, romance, more than a nice set of abs, will be more effective. That said, I’ve also seen the same women visibly react to images.

      There is still strong social stigma associated with women enjoying porn, so I suspect that that contributes to the dearth of it.

      On whether porn is “wrong” or not, I’d have to say that in and of itself, it is not wrong. What is wrong is when performers are treated as subhuman and exploited. The difficulty for the viewer will be in determining whether the porn they are viewing has been generated ethically or whether exploitation is involved.

      Even in the “male oriented” porn, there is a huge range of things that turn men on & I’m sure that a similar range would apply to women, if it could be quantified.

      • piero says

        Thank you for your reply, which I found thoughtful and friendly. You can’t imagine the sort of abuse I’been sometimes subject to when asking such questions.

        I have some objections:

        the type of erotica that appeals to women is not quite so obvious as it might be for men

        Actually, explicit porn does nothing for me. I don’t care much about close-ups of genitalia (which, let’s face it, are a bit funny looking. I mean, a vagina looks pretty much like a toothless mouth, and a penis like a stick with a helmet stuck on top of it). Unfortunately (for me) the tendency seems to be heading in the wrong direction, to the point of using medical devices to display the cervix. That I find scientifically interesting, but erotically lame. I’m not more interested in a cervix than I am in an esophagus.

        I also dislike explicit images of bodily fluids being swallowed. I’ve never tasted semen (my scientific curiosity has some limits), but I understand it is pretty disgusting,as it contains some proteins with such appealing names as cadaverine. Why should I find the sight of a woman swallowing a disgusting thing erotic?

        I’m probably in a minority, but I find 99% of porn thoroughly unpleasant and un-erotic. So i think both women and men can find eroticism in situations rather than explicit depictions.

        On the other hand, I’ve seen women react enthusiastically to pictures of attractive men, and I don’t just mean their faces: a large penis seems to be met by women with the same kind of enthusiasm men reserve for large breasts or prominent buttocks.

        What the hell is going on? Are women attracted to men’s bodies in the same way the men are attracted to women’s or not? Is women’s claim to be interested more in relationships, situations, etc. really true or is it a way to hide their carnal desires behind a veil of respectability?

        Please, any woman out there, I need an answer.

        • Catnip, Shameless & Impudent says


          I can imagine the abuse you may have received.

          As to your objections, you might note that I place the differences in inverted commas, and I felt my most important point, which I don’t know if you picked up on, was that there is more variation within the porn available, than ever there is between men and women. I think also you reinforced that point for me.

          I’d also be happy to further expand on your other points, however, not here, as I believe it is a derailment of the much more important topic at hand & I don’t wish this thread to descend into a discussion explicit about pornography. I believe it would be inappropriate

          • piero says

            Point taken. I don’t want to derail the thread either. If you want to make further comments (which I’d welcome), my email addres is pieroforno *at* gmail.com

    • piero says

      What I find somewaht ironic is that many people, including progressive atheists, were opposed to banning the burka in France, yet the reasons for banning miniskirts in Indonesia and the reasons for banning the burka in France are diametrically opposed: in Indonesia, the reason amounts to “men are animals, and they can’t control their impulses. In France, the reason was “we can never be sure whether a woman is wearing a burka as her own free choice or out of fear, an it seem more important to protect the right not to be intimidated than the right to choose your outfit”.

  11. says

    Thanks very much for writing!

    Whilst Islamists often portray their vile politics as a prescription for the debasement of women in western societies (i.e. against the Sun’s page 3), their image of women is very much the same as the pornographic one.

    I very much agree with this point. They resemble that which they claim to detest. They are obsessed with that which they claim to oppose.

    From Azar Majedi’s article:

    I remember that in 1999 Germaine Greer in a meeting lunching her then new book The Whole Woman, claimed that since female genital mutilation (she did not call it that, she used the term female circumcision) is done on girls by women of a given community, therefore, it is OK. I stood up in this meeting and challenged this backward misogynic opinion and was applauded by the crowd in the meeting. I say the same thing here. I listen to reason and am ready to accept any false reflections in the face of solid reason. But no one has ever silenced me by throwing pretentious and demagogical phrases at my face. I have learned to be strong in my long and hard battles against Islamic regime, political Islam and the misogynic ideology.

    To me, this seems the most horrible part of the article, because she’s comparing people mutilating other people to someone choosing to show their own body.

  12. alien says

    Ther is some thing about Mary! :)
    I actually enjoyed your shots. I’d rather though more close up shots. Keep doing good jobs. Go Go Girl!.
    And BTW; Azar is jealous to you. Ignore her. You are far better chicks than she is. Praise lord great calendar.
    Thanks Mary


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