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Nudity or Nudity, That is the Question?!


The following article was written by Azar last year in response to Maryam Namazie’s campaign publishing a nude calendar inspired by Femen. Since the points raised in this article are relevant to the Femen-Gate, we are including it in this issue. 


Azar Majedi


A calendar of some nude women is published. The publisher calls it revolutionary. And we are to believe that this action is revolutionary because the publishers say so. As a veteran women’s right activist, as a Marxist and Worker-communist who has fought for a better world, a world which guarantees freedom. equality and prosperity for all its citizens, regardless of their gender, nationality, ethnicity, their mother tongue, their beliefs, and the family in which they are born, and as a woman who has experienced Islam and political Islam first hand, and was forced to flee its persecution, I see nothing revolutionary in this act. Therefore, I wrote a piece in Persian to state my opinion. As I was going to write a similar statement in English, Maryam Namazie, who proudly calls this calendar her “brain child”, responded to my critique. Here, I state my view on this action and respond to points made by Maryam in defence of her “revolutionary” act.


I clearly made 3 points before stating my views on this calendar. 


1- The Iranian national-Islamists have already published their comments which are nothing but exposing their loutishness based on Islamic and nationalistic ideology. I have exposed this ideology in many occasions, including two radio interviews, in Persian, on Allia Magda Almahdi’s publication of her nude picture as a protest against misogyny and deep rooted male chauvinism dominant in Egyptian society, and Golshifteh Farahani’s, Iranian actress, nudity in a short French film promoting Cezar’s film award. The videos of these two interviews are available in my youtube channel. 


2. I respect unconditional freedom of expression. Everyone is free to express themselves as they please. This is the basic right of anyone. But criticising the content of their expression is also the basic right of everyone, as well. I respect the right of every human being to unconditional freedom of thought, belief and expression. But I do not necessarily respect what they express or believe in. As I wrote in a piece entitled: “Wilders Has a Right ti Express Appalling Views”


3. Even if we believe that what these women have done is breaking taboos, not any taboo-breaking is revolutionary or progressive. As incest is a taboo, and I don’t believe breaking it is to any decent human being a progressive or positive action.


I stated that I cannot see much difference between nude pictures of women in tabloids, e.g. the Sun, and this calendar. The fact that they have written some bombastic slogans under each picture does not change the essence of it.


Maryam responded by saying: “What Azar doesn’t see is that nudity is not the problem; it’s the commodification and objectification of women’s bodies that are. To see the Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar of women showing solidarity with a young Egyptian woman under attack as one and the same as a tabloid that sells dehumanised women’s bodies for profit misses entirely the point of the Calendar and for that matter Aliaa’s own actions. The Calendar is an organised act by women themselves reclaiming a tool used for suppression. It may not be considered courageous by Azar but nudity in this manner is not as easy as it may seem.”


I try to dissect this paragraph. There are many big-sounded concepts thrown here. It is necessary to demystify them. 


1- As it regards “commodification”, I like to ask Maryam, in which context she is using this concept? In Marxian or in the everyday language used on the street and by not only some feminists, but also by some mullahs who state that women have become commodities in the West?


In Marxian term, a commodity is an object which has both use value and exchange value. Has a woman’s body become a commodity? I don’t think so. Women’s bodies, as long as they are not sold are not commodities. But apparently, Maryam thinks  differently. So, may I ask, how is she going to de-commodify it? By taking nude pictures and sell them to fund their cause? This is defying the purpose. If selling nude pictures of women turn their bodies into commodity,they, too, are selling their nude pictures. In essence, their act is the same as the tabloids who are selling women’s nude pictures to increase their profit. The fact that she claims its proceeds go to defend women’s rights, and tabloids put the money in their own pocket, does not change one inch the fact, that their bodies and that of the nude woman on page 3 of the Sun have become commodities. Why? Because they are exchanged for money. They have acquired an exchange-value.


Maryam claims that these nude photos are against political Islam. It mist be stated that Islamists do not commodify women’s bodies. This is too advanced for them. They regard women as slaves, couple of stages behind commodity market!


2- “The Calendar is an organised act by women themselves reclaiming a tool used for suppression.” This statement is nothing but a pompous and empty phrase, which is used to silence the opponent. Under the pressure of a trend in feminist movement, the word “woman” has acquired sanctity. just as religious figures and icons. Woman is the last word. If a woman says it, if a woman does it, then it is irreproachable. And when more women come together and organise an action, then everybody must shut up, otherwise one has offended the saint!


I dare to offend this sanctity, as I have done many more times in my life. An organised action by women in itself does not justify an act, as it does not make it right or revolutionary. The act must be judged on its own merits.


Just for the sake of clarification, and not by any means trying to make any similarities between the two acts, I make an example. If women organise prostitution, would that change the essence of prostitution? Is a brothel that has been organised by women themselves and it is run by women themselves, change the fact that it is organised prostitution? 


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 reclaim a tool which is used for suppression.” This phrase especially is brilliantly void of any real content and preposterous. How on earth have you and those women who created a video of their nudity have reclaimed a tool of suppression? Can you please care to explain? It is claimed that women’s bodies have become a tool of suppression of women. How? Apparently, because some use them in pornography, some use them to sell commodities, some use them for joy, and some veil them. So, we women take nude pictures of ourselves and sell them to fight women’s oppression. Isn’t this your argument? I’m sorry, I don’t buy this. Just as I don’t buy this calendar or the tabloids. 


In my opinion you have played in the hands of those you claim to fight against. You have used their method to reclaim your “emancipation.” This is none-sensical. This is nothing but sheer demagogy. 


Maryam claims that “tabloids sell dehumanised women’s bodies.” How does one decide that those women whose nude photos are published in tabloids are dehumanised, but the women in the calendar are emancipated? What is the basis for such judgement? Any offered? NO. This is nothing but arbitrary. “I say so, and I’m a woman, so it is right.” This is no argument. May I ask that if the board of the tabloid were all women, the photographers were also all women, would you still call them dehumanised? Wouldn’t this be considered as an organised action by women, and therefore, revolutionary and emancipatory?


She further claims that her action is an act of international solidarity. Why? Because she has also taken a nude picture of herself and published it, as Allia Magda Almahdi has done in Egypt. I never knew that international solidarity means to do exactly what a protester has done somewhere else under totally different circumstances. Allia’s act of defiance in Egypt is totally different. Taking nude photos and publish them in the west has long been permitted and attracts neither persecution, nor death threats. In fact, by doing copying her act, in this fashion, one trivialises  Allia’s action.


Many workers around the world are being exploited, millions in the worst dehumanised conditions. Are you ready to work under the same conditions in order to show your solidarity? Many young women are being killed or disabled as a result of the working conditions they work under. Are you ready to expose yourself to the same conditions? Many protesters burn themselves, as Ben Zaid did in Tunisia. Are you ready to do the same? Many protesters go on hunger strike, Should all supporters of their cause do the same? No, would be your immediate answer. You would consider this as lunacy. Then, why publishing nude picture of yourself is any different? It is easier. It is a good propaganda. It might bring you to national TV, or be named in a main stream media. This is the reason you have organised this act. I wonder if this was the brain child of a man, you would stop short of calling it misogynic? 



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Mohammad Ala محمد علاء I am a native of Iran and a Professor of Operations Management who has taught at various universities worldwide. Lately, I have produced several films in Iran about its environment and of the creatures in it. چو ایران نباشد تن من مباد

This is a complex subject that it cannot be generalized because it depends on many factors such as religion, culture, age, etc... Nevertheless, thanks for your time to bring up the issue.


Azar Majedi Azar Majedi is a writer, women’s rights activist, a video-blogger, political activist and a free lance lecturer. She is the president of Organisation for Women’s Liberation, and a leading member of Worker-communism

Thanks for your comment. The issue might be complex, but one can analyse it nevertheless, as the article has tried to do. I.m not sure what you mean by generalisation.


Maryam Namazie Maryam Namazie is a rights activist, blogger and campaigner.

Azar is being dishonest; the nude calendar was not inspired by FEMEN but was a defence of Egyptian blogger Alia Magda ElMahdy: Azar's piece itself is a masterpiece in regressive politics. I have responded in full here: 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…


Azar Majedi Azar Majedi is a writer, women’s rights activist, a video-blogger, political activist and a free lance lecturer. She is the president of Organisation for Women’s Liberation, and a leading member of Worker-communism

I am not being dishonest. Maryam and her organisation have been staunch defenders of Femen and have called their actions revolutionary. Maryam herself has appeared with Femen in some of their actions, at least there was one picture on her facebook showing her topless with Femen activists protesting in Paris. But the point of this article is not its inspiration but the act itself and the reasons offered in its defence. "progressive" or "regressive" the article is there and the readers can judge and offer their views. Whether I have disdain for nudity or not, it is not relevant to this article. If asked I can offer my views. Here I copy a link to a roundtable discussion organised by a Persian language Radio about Femen and the so-called nude "revolution" with one of close comrades of Maryam, Mostafa Saber.


Maryam Namazie Maryam Namazie is a rights activist, blogger and campaigner.

Azar, it is better to honestly defend your position than to hide behind FEMEN. I have worked with FEMEN as I have worked with many organisations as campaigners do. We work on issues of mutual concern. I also work with the National Secular Society - doesn't mean I agree with all their positions and actions. They for example do not want a burqa ban. Of course I have worked with FEMEN in many instances but in some ways so have you. Have you not defended Amina who was a FEMEN representative and also Aliaa Magda El Mahdy - a FEMEN activist?

My point is not one's relations with FEMEN - that is yours. What you hope to do is lead readers to a condemnation of nude protest via a condemnation of FEMEN. FEMEN can defend itself. I am not a representative of the organisation. What I object to is your
attempt at scoring cheap political points by hiding behind FEMEN when the real issue is your disdain of nudity as a form of protest. Yes of course people can judge for themselves as I am judging you. From my point of view, your position on nudity is not very different from the Islamist/religious and pornographic view of women. Devoid of humanity and thought and merely a subject for page 3 tabloids. It's a regressive position and one you cannot whitewash for all your criticisms of FEMEN.