Around the World, Protesters Bare All for a Cause


The young women from Femen are more willing to take risks. Their performances are organized like guerrilla gigs. They don't always plan on the intervention of the police and authorities, but when that happens it functions well as an element. The women expose their naked breasts and smile at the cops, posing for the cameras. Sex sells -- even if the result is not cash but attention. Publicity is guaranteed, the risks are manageable and the distribution channels are obvious. Few newspapers would fail to print a picture of an attractive blonde Ukrainian woman who is naked for a good cause. Again, it's a win-win situation.

Potentially Serious Consequences

Internationally, however, this formula doesn't always work. It is unclear what will happen to the brave nude protesters in China. Equally uncertain is the fate of Egyptian art student Elmahdy. Will the Chinese government and the Islamic moral guardians allow themselves to be made fools of, or will the bare protests have serious consequences for the protagonists?

In one sense, Elmahdy has already lost her battle. Her open and brave nude portrait, which she posted online with symbolic bars in front of her eyes, mouth and genitals, went viral on the Internet. But her self-declared mission to protest "against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy" has become watered down as a result of the endless distribution on the Internet. She is in danger of becoming a victim of the hated hypocrisy herself, insofar as some online sites and other media are cynically exploiting her image as free titillation.

Indeed, ever since they began, nude protests have been commercialized. The model Uschi Obermaier and her fellow members of the Berlin commune Kommune 1 who posed naked were at least smart enough to get the magazine Stern to pay them 20,000 deutsche marks for the picture. The photograph went on to become an iconic image of 1960s German counterculture. And some of the political pin-ups of the time went on to get involved in the entertainment business, such as Rainer Langhans, who was a contestant in the German version of "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!" in 2011.

If only we could be sure that the protests of Egyptian art student Aliaa Magda Elmahdy will end so happily.

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