Politics of the naked body vs. the Body Politic


In this fascinating post, Andrzej Nowak, our friend and guest blogger for Installing Order, tackles a fascinating case of last resort for marginalized populations — the nakedness of their own bodies as a form of personal suffering and political protest. –Nicholas

Western feminism, especially connected liberal view is often quite paternalistic, when is speaking about women from Third World. Africa nations are our best example where colonial and post-colonial myths are still quite strong.

In particular, I would like to propose a short trip to West Africa. I am interest in very particular phenomenon – when naked body can be used as a tool of political action.

This phenomenon is sometimes called Anasyrma with reference to antic Greeks. But for me here more interesting is political use of so called “curse of nakedness”. Exposing of women naked body is, in West Africa, a strong political weapon, which can be used as a way to change course of politics.

It is interesting how body politic can literally be created out of naked bodies. Let’s look a little closer, what is this phenomenon:

We all come into the world through the vagina. By exposing the vagina, the women are saying: ‘We are hereby taking back the life we gave you,'” Turner says. “It’s about bringing forth life and denying life through social ostracism, which is a kind of social execution. Men who are exposed are viewed as dead. No one will cook for them, marry them, enter into any kind of contract with them or buy anything from them.

Very traditional cultural custom “Curse of nakedness” is often used as a  tool for political and economic  emancipation.

One of the best know example is a mobilization of women against Charles Taylor dictator of Nigeria. More details about this, You can find in this movie:

Other example is protest of Nigerian women against petrol companies in delta of Niger: 

And another example from Ivory Coast, when political women bodies meet body politic with deadly result:

7 thoughts on “Politics of the naked body vs. the Body Politic

  1. @steffishel
    “Femen” is a little more complicated case. Naked body in european context is more sexualized, than in this examples from West Africa. Nakedness in West Africa is connected with motherhood and is a reminder who is really in “chargé of life”. It is connected with division of labor, divorce and marriage rules etc. Femen is quite ambivalent, on one hand is kind of “blackmail” – nakendess can be stronger than police, but on the other is quite “erotic”, and it can be treated as a part o patriarchy and patriarchal media.


  2. Yes! Also, where does FEMEN fit here, Andrzej?
    To add, I think women’s nakedness is an example of productive power in the Foucauldian sense, too. Our bodies are sexualized and controlled and this is an example of taking that power and using it in a different way. Not hearkening back to a time when women had more power, but using the power men have over our bodies against them.


  3. yeah I’m a bit of a broken record, ha I suppose many folks now have never had to actually deal with a broken record I’m officially a grumpy old man now off my lawn you darned kids…


  4. Absolutely. That is one of the points you’ve made many times and one that Jan and I are working on too — “scholars, stop using your theories to finally, once-and-for-all get it right and instead figure out what’s used, what’s useful, and perhaps be daring enough to use them”


  5. cool, one can try in vain to argue/critique people out of their biases or one can can hack them for one’s own purposes.


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