A few weeks ago, after Slutwalk, I had a conversation with one of my friends about the march, Femen (the Ukranian feminist activists who employ nudity as protest) and the correlation between feminist activists getting into -- or out of -- their knickers.
Using nudity to protest exploitation provokes a few really interesting debates for me. I want to puke all over my mink when I see yet another supermodel babe more than half naked on a PETA advertisement protesting fur, but, hey, people are more likely to pay attention if there are boobs involved. When they appropriated the "narrative" of domestic violence to talk about veganism, it was pretty repulsive and upsetting, but that's their shtick
The PETA website attributes their decision to use controversial advertising to having a small marketing budget and needing to build upon conversation-inspiring campaigns to get their message heard.
Femen look at things from a slightly different angle. Naked protest as employed by their collective is intended as a reappropriation of their own bodies, in contrast to exploitative candid shots or pornography.
This is a movement that I am familiar with, one that I embraced possibly for the wrong reasons when I spent a sustained amount of time refusing to wear a bra under my lace tops, because they're just nipples (but also, look at me! Want me!).
I am not saying that Femen's message is borne from the same confusion that mine was -- I believe that, with authentic and considered motives, reclaiming nudity is a valid and worthwhile ideal. However, founder Alexandra Shevchenko pointed out something a bit miserable -- "We quickly realised that if we took our tops off and screamed loudly it was a good way to get attention."
Sadly, with this, she's right -- I am fairly certain that the reason Slutwalks got so much coverage was because you get to stick a photo of a feminist in a corset and not much else on a front page and people like looking at boobs.
It all definitely brings up something for me, something which I have tried to navigate throughout my re-examination of self over the past couple of years, and that is that sex often gets you what you (think you) want.
Exploring how I exploit my own sexuality for short-lived gain has shaken me more than anything else. Having my penchant for miniskirts and thigh-highs challenged in group therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy, and psycho therapy and movement therapy has been arduous, but helpful.
Because I have more to offer than sex (on a good day), and without adjusting the way in which I present myself, sometimes it is hard to get that message across to other people and, most importantly, myself.
Alexandra said something else that struck me as deeply depressing, that "feminism should be provocative… there's no other way for women to get attention. It's the only action left to us."
As PETA has proven, it's true that provocation garners attention for maligned causes that would otherwise be written off as tedious, stale and distinctly unsexy. I have spent a lot of time trying to hammer home the fact that feminists like to fuck as well as protest, fighting against the stereotype that we're all a bunch of man-hating prudes -- because it's just not true.
But I do wonder if supporting the culturally ascribed notion of sexuality as intrinsically attached to any sort of female nudity just to get column inches is necessarily the way forward. Like I said, though, I am all-too-familiar with using my sexuality to get what I want.
Don't want to queue for my coffee? Forgot to buy a train ticket? Need help getting my luggage up the stairs? Sorted, with only a minor compromise of everything I stand for, a compromise that I am often too willing to make.
Repeatedly using my sexuality for immediate gratification has miserable effects on my wellbeing, though, in that I start to see my sexuality as all I am, sex as all I am worth. It means that if someone doesn't seem to want me sexually, I am completely crushed and left bereft of any understanding of who I am.
It's a funny combination of super high self-esteem and a bit of misandry (of course men want to sleep with me, they want to sleep with anyone) with devastatingly low self worth (I have nothing to offer aside from a vagina).
I immediately eschew any sense of my intelligence, my compassion, any attributes that actually make me a person, because I am accustomed to only quantifying myself on how successful I am at seducing anyone from the train conductor to, well, anyone.
It also gives me a very narrow view of my hetero relationships -- I get really confused by men sustaining an interest in me beyond anything sexual, because I don't really understand what that is. I am accustomed to investing emotionally into deeply sexualised relationships with men, because I feel like, even if they get bored of listening to me whine, they have a reason to hear me out anyway -- sex -- so I am less likely to be abandoned.
It means that developing intimate relationships with women has been a struggle, but one with an unbelievable payoff for my mental health and my understanding of who I am as a person. As I have started to see myself as multi-dimensional, I have started to learn more about what I like and dislike rather than pouring myself into whatever mould appears most convenient for my vested interests.
It means I am more like a real person than, well, just a drug-addled pile of misery.
This is not to say that I don't flash a bit of my thigh to get a cab, or wink at the Starbucks attendant so that he doesn't charge me for my latte, but I am trying to do this stuff less because, for me, the cost of my sanity outweighs that of an overpriced coffee these days.
And this is sort of how I see things within the feminist movement. The more that we exploit our sexuality to get attention for causes which deserve consideration, the more times we employ slogans like, '"Fight breast cancer because you love boobs," the more we devalue the actual fight.
A while back, I was asked to man a stall at an event because I would (and I quote) "sex it up," reeling in the punters with my bodycon. I said no, because I've woken up with enough men who have told me that they aren't feminists in the morning after they vehemently agreed in equal opportunity with me the night before to know that often, the political gains from appropriating raunch culture are short lived.
I don't need to cheapen myself to get short-term benefits, and nor does feminism. Yes, it might take a little longer to queue for my caffeine, and it might take a few more years before we get the equality that we deserve, but it seems worth fighting it right to reap long-term benefits on our own terms, not somebody else's.
I am genuinely interested in what you guys think about this stuff. Have you felt empowered by your nudity in activism? Do you think you would? I really, wholeheartedly want to know.
And I am talking about boobs on Twitter @oliviasinger.