The famous philosopher and theologian Friedric Nietzsche once said “One must give value to their existence by behaving as if one’s very existence were a work of art” (Nietzsche). This idea that the human body is a work of art in itself has continued through the ages. From Michelangelo’s David sculpture, to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, to Rembrandt’s Danaë, these are all magnificent works of art attempting to recreate the most primordial work of art, the human body. With these beautiful and intricate depictions of the body, why has it become literally and socially illegal to show our naked bodies in America, especially for women?
Many European women, for decades, have walked topless on beaches without prejudice or over-sexualization. What has caused America to have such legal and social repercussions of sexual violence and prejudice for women being topless or dressed “risqué” in public? This system is oppressive and was created to dominate women’s bodies and expression. However, in recent years women nationally and internationally have been rising up against these misogynistic ideals and have protested against the sexualization of the female body and sexual violence through topless and naked performance art activism.
Women have become fed up with the continual inequality for men and women and the patriarchal legal structure that allows men to be shirtless in public but not women, and the obscenity it is viewed as for women. This movement is growing within America and other oppressive countries. The organization at the head of this performance art activism and protests are FEMEN. These women have taken on the task of dismantling all forms of oppression, sadism, and domination of women and their bodies. These women have used their voice, art across their naked bodies, and social media photography as tools to get their message to the world.
FEMEN, while its purpose is to free women of oppression and the constraints of religion through sextremism and artistic protest expression, some may argue their message can get lost through radical vulgarity. This may be true in some aspects, but I was reminded recently of a quote by Albert Einstein, “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it” (Einstein). This absurdism and vulgarity are startling to many, but so is the number 68 seconds, which is how often someone is sexually assaulted in America according to RAINN. Art is an expression and these women are using their bodies and bare breasts as a form of art to take back their power and to speak for those who can’t.
“2018 Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault.” Stop Street Harassment, 26 Apr. 2019, stopstreetharassment.org/our-work/nationalstudy/2018-national-sexual-abuse-report/.
“Femen USA.” FEMEN, 10 Apr. 2018, femen.org/tag/femen-usa/.
“Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics.” RAINN, http://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence.