23 February 2009

A conversation between Farah, a TBNYU! organizer and occupier, and Keri Ninja

hi keri,
i agree with banu, i think you should do the interviews - esp to correct the misuse of your protest, because that's important regardless of what we did. but also thanks for keeping the main focus on our action, and of course thanks so much for your solidarity and support (it was cold out there!).

i had a personal question i wanted to ask, though. as a self-styled super militant feminist, i totally love your name, but i definitely had some issues with the form of your protest. watching from the window, as soon as your shirts were off, everyone took their cellphones out and were snapping pictures (including asshole guys in the so-called "activist" crowd). also, within the room, a couple of guys made some really stupid comments (something to the effect of, oh awesome, boobs!) - again, so-called "activist" guys. these things made me feel very angry, as well as alienated and disrespected by the guys i thought were on my side. of course, a lot of blame falls on them for being misogynist assholes who can talk all day long about class privilege but refuse to address their own sexism.

but i have to ask, given that you *know* how people are going to react and interpret your strategic nudity as nothing more than super-hot boobs, don't you think that your choice of protest is playing right into the hands of the patriarchy? to put it another way - i have no problem with nudity in and of itself, but is it really "agency" when you're using the same methods (female nudity) that the patriarchy uses to oppress women?

those were my thoughts, and the reason why i wasn't entirely happy with your actions. i'd love to hear your response, and to have a dialogue with you (and the other feminist ninjas?) about this - and possibly meet up with you all at some point soon, because i would really love to become a feminist ninja (does it require any martial arts skills? because i have none whatsoever).

Hey! I just want to say that I'm really glad to be having these conversations, and I'm happy that people are asking me these questions and giving these criticisms. It's been challenging me to really examine my actions and my intent, and I think that's CRUCIAL for any activist. I'll try to address your questions the best I can.
Here goes!
I don't find nudity inherently sexual, which is maybe my mistake. Nor do I believe it has to become a sexual act just because certain people have superscribed their opinions onto our actions. I stand by that choice because even if people are seeing boobs first, there is no way to claim that this particular show of nudity was just two girls running around topless. Ultimately, it was two girls topless in an act of protest. I think there is a difference there. Even the most misogynistic comments are linking back to Feminist Ninjas (which links everyone to TBNYU!) or to other information about the occupation.
Really, I never feel NOT objectified in New York City. Regardless of how much I do or do not cover myself, a sexualization of my body is forced on me by a lot of people. It has taken a long time for me to just embrace the love I have for my body and understand that no matter what I do, because I am a woman who looks a certain way, I am going to be perceived sexually by a lot of people. This does not mean I will not use my body with force. The papers were commenting on the appearances of everyone, including the occupiers. Had we done the protest in another, more covered way, people still would have said "and there was a mass of cute/hot/ugly/hippie/whatever protesters."
We did just do an interview with a woman last night who asked a similar question. Basically, at that point of the rally y'all were in Kimmel, using your bodies to physically occupy that space at great risk to yourselves. We wanted to use our bodies to express our solidarity. Protests with voice, fliers, signs, are all pretty fantastic, but a protest really becomes radical when bodies are involved (occupations, die ins, chaining yourself things, and nudity).
Also, the fact that it was just women was a fluke. The Ninjas have a bunch of male supporters. One of them was actually on the way to the rally, but got there after we stopped. Don't quite know what he would have done, but that would have been up to him.
Feminists reappropriate their own nudity all the time, in art, in film, in protest. Sometimes I think it'd be a hell of a lot easier for me to be a feminist if I didn't have a body (body hatred is definitely something that I deal with in an ongoing way), but I figure that as long as I've got one, I'm going to use it, and I'm going to use it fucking loudly.
I do think a big part of the way our protest was perceived was that people have a really really hard time digesting female nudity when it doesn't exist to get some guy's dick hard. I think it's very confusing to people. We were topless, not asking for sexual attention, not asking for comment on our appearance, not asking for people to find us attractive. We were asking them to pay attention.
Nadia and I both plan on posting personal reflections on the blog by the end of the day. I hope this addressed some of your questions, even if you still don't agree with our actions. And the Ninjas would be ecstatic to have you! No martial arts skills necessary (except martial arts ... of the brain...)
I'm thinking about posting your email and my response to the blog. Would you be ok with that?
Thanks for your email! As always, support and love for TBNYU!

hey keri,
thanks so much for your response! i really enjoy these conversations, because i dont think we have enough of them, and it's so important to keep feminism(s) moving forward. your reasoning makes a lot of sense, and i'm currently digesting it all - there's a lot of murky areas surrounding the use of women's sexuality/bodies in subversive ways, and i have very mixed and confused feelings about it.

i'd love to join! do you have regular meetings or is it more of an informal ninja-ing? either way please let me know next time you're doing anything.

of course, feel free to post our conversation. also, i'm currently talking to three other girls who are moderators on our tbnyu website, and if you'd like, we would love to post yours and nadia's reflections/responses on the website. i think it would be great to put up there.
love & (feminist) rage,

1 comment:

  1. >We were topless, not asking for sexual attention,
    >not asking for comment on our appearance, not
    >asking for people to find us attractive. We were
    >asking them to pay attention.

    It never occured to you that the attention would be of a sexual nature? Really?

    I do not find nudity inherently erotic as well (years of drawing classes did it) but the majority of society regards it as such; it seems a bit naive to think that people would NOT objectify you and not take the whole thing seriously.