Last Saturday, STAGE attended an all-female production of The Tempest in Prospect Park. The catch? It was an almost entirely nude production! In the words of the theater company, Torn Out Theater, “the production celebrates body freedom and uses storytelling to normalize the nude female form.” In a society saturated with nude images in ads, TV and porn, we’re accustomed to equating nudity with sex. This production aims to break this connection and present the female body as something more than a sexual object. In this regard, I think the play was successful. The play begins with about twenty minutes of a single woman, completely naked except for her hiking boots, gathering wood around the park. Throughout this part of the play, passersby were leering and occasionally trying to take pictures of the actress. The presence of spectators explicitly sexualizing her was a constant reminder of the difficulty for women to be nude without being treated like an object for the enjoyment of others. But even as the outside watchers dwindled, it took me a while to see the nudity as non-sexual.
I went into the play skeptical. Although I thought it was an interesting and provocative idea, I think too often the centering of “body liberation” as the main frontier of feminism is emblematic of white feminism. I didn’t actually get the impression from the play that the message they were sending was racially exclusive but I still think it’s important to consider some of these different perspectives:
“As I tumbled through, I landed on the same images and topics: body hair growth, sexual liberation, pastel-coloured hair, flowers photoshopped onto women’s bodies—they all seemed to be at the forefront of feminism. Topless protests were the ultimate key to freedom…As I absorbed it all, I began to realize many of these women weren’t just interested in leg hair and periods. They were interested in saving a certain kind of woman: me.
…I’m a Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslim woman of colour who can, apparently, only find liberation through the West. I am part of a misunderstood, over-exotified culture, part of the mystical backwards Orient where women are subservient and trapped.
These ideas are both true and untrue. I am a woman facing oppression, from my own culture and from Western culture. But what saved me and liberated me wasn’t the topless protests of FEMEN, or white feminists in flower crowns, but rather other women of colour, who showed, despite all the ideas put forth by white feminism, that they did not need saving from the West. They had saved themselves.” – Hana Shafi
Another flaw with the body liberation issue is that all women are not subjected to the same body expectations and therefore “liberation” does not look the same for everyone.
“Black feminists seek emancipation from the norms and expectations of typical white women. In a society where the Black female body is appropriated, Black feminists are clamoring to be seen as an everyday type of beauty rather than exotic.” -Georgina Class-Peters http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lindsay-hoffman/black-woman-white-movemen_b_8569540.html
These are just two voices, but I think that it’s important for STAGE as a club to continue to consider what the place of “body liberation” is in the feminist movement. In the past, many of our meetings have dealt with body politics, yet focused more on the pressures of western beauty ideals and how this affects white women. While body politics is a worthy issue to think about in the club, it must be addressed with a variety of perspectives in mind. A conversation about body liberation must take into account all of the ways in which different women are oppressed in this regard (for example through fetishization, hyper-sexualization, desexualization, etc.) We look forward to discussing these issues in the coming year!
More info about The Tempest: http://www.thefreetempest.com/