When laws and culture exist to proliferate power for men, inhabiting a female body is a radical threat to the patriarchy. Several recent protest movements have made use of male discomfort with female bodies to fight for political reform.

SlutWalk

In 2011, while speaking about personal safety at Guelph University in Toronto, Ontario, Constable Michael Sanguinetti advised women to “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” Outraged students organized SlutWalk in protest to draw attention to victim blaming and to co-opt the word slut. “No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault,” states the Toronto SlutWalk Facebook page. One recent protest sign read “Hijabs, hoodies, hot pants. Our bodies, our choices.”

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011 (source: Wikipedia)
SlutWalk Toronto, 2011 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The protest has grown each year and now takes place in cities around the world. Many protesters dress provocatively to point out the ridiculousness of Sanguinetti’s statement, though calls to action online invite participants to wear whatever makes them feel comfortable.

slutwalk protest
SlutWalk New York City, 2011 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

World Topless Day

Last August, fifty cities around the world celebrated the ninth annual Go Topless Day with coordinated protest marches. The event seeks to highlight the absurdity of laws requiring women to cover their breasts while not requiring the same of men. In addition to topless women, marches also include men covering their nipples with bras. The event is held annually on the Sunday closest to Women’s Equality Day which celebrates August 26, 1920, the day women gained the right to vote in the United States.

Periods for Politicians

When Indiana governor, and now Vice Presidential candidate, Mike Pence signed into law restricting pro-life legislation, one woman decided that if the politician was so concerned about her uterus, she would tell him EVERYTHING and encourage others to do the same. What began as Periods for Pence has since morphed into Periods for Politicians, a campaign encouraging women to tweet, Facebook post, and call pro-life politicians to inform them of the status of their reproductive cycle.

NPR has compiled some of the the best tweets and Facebook posts from Periods for Politicians and fans. While willing to overshare about her menstrual cycle anonymously on social media, the woman behind Periods for Pence is choosing to keep her identity a secret.

Cocks Not Glocks

In 2015, amidst a rash of mass shootings in the United States, Texas legislators passed the “campus carry” law allowing licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. Former University of Texas student Jessica Jin found this ludicrous, especially because campus obscenity laws expressly forbid far less harmful items such as dildos. “We’re just gonna normalize sex culture the same way they’re normalizing gun culture, and see how they feel about it,” said Jin.

cocks not glocks protest
Illegal campus dildos (source: Cocks Not Glocks).

Over ten thousand people committed on Facebook to attending the August 24, 2016 protest where the advocacy group gave away 4,500 dildos, many donated by sex toy distributors. “The dildo has proven itself to be interesting fodder for commentary on what our society does and does not consider ‘obscene,’” Jin told the Houston Chronicle.

Femen

Femen is an international feminist protest group that began using bare breasts to fight for “complete victory of patriarchy.” Femen’s first protest began as a way to oppose Ukraine’s booming sex trade, in particular to protest a radio contest winner’s promised prize of a Ukrainian bride of his choosing. Several Femen protesters stood in Kiev’s Independence Square in traditional clothing which they then ripped off to reveal the phrase “Ukraine is not a brothel” written across their bare chests. Since then, bare-chested Femen protesters have fought against the exploitation of women in countries around the world.

Protesting the UK Tampon Tax

Last November, Charlie Edge and Ruth Howarth stood in front of the Houses of Parliament in London and let their menstrual blood bleed through their light-colored pants to protest a luxury tax on tampons. The two identified other items exempt from the tax like exotic crocodile meat, fancy desserts, herbal teas, and houseboat moorings. The Daily Mail quotes Charlie saying, “as a lady, I should look pretty and not let the world know I’m bleeding from the vagina.”

tampon protest
Charlie Edge (left) and Ruth Howard (right) outside the Houses of Parliament (courtesy of Charlie Edge).

All of these protests use the female form and female sexuality to draw attention to unjust policy and provoke thought. These activists have shown that in societies which continually repress female bodies, the body itself can become a powerful weapon for change.

Theodore Carter
Theodore Carter is the author of The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob and Other Matters of Importance. He recently put 100 luminescent duck sculptures in a public lot in Washington, D.C. He'll draw you a sea blob if you ask nicely.
Theodore Carter
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