By Loubna Flah
By Loubna Flah
Morocco World News
Casablanca, April 4, 2013
The human body is the immediate perceivable manifestation of the individual’s presence in the world. The way humans relate to their physical appearance is a far cry from being plain and simplistic. Psychologists use the German word Korper to refer to the biological body that fulfills vital biological and metabolic functions, including the respiratory, neurological, motor and reproductive systems.
Leib, on the other hand, is the psychological body lived by the individual as an ontological experience and thus subject to questioning, identification and a perpetual redefinition as a result of the interaction with the “Other.” The German expression “Leib sein, Koper haben” best illustrates the bifurcation of the self into two synergic and parallel entities—the former is purely psychological whereas the latter is a tangible being easily perceived in time and space.
The philosophical dimension of the human body is imperatively solicited in the construction of identity. Beyond its aesthetic dimension, the Leib develops several defense mechanisms vis-à-vis any offensive action deemed as intrusive and coercive. The most radical corporal expression of discontent is undisputedly the destruction of the Korper, as was the case for the Japanese Kamikaze in the Second World War or by ETA militants or by radical Islamist groups nowadays.
In these extreme operations, the human body becomes the receptacle of a bomb and the messenger of death. There is no doubt that the surrender of life through the destruction of the self and the other is a perplexing issue. Nonetheless, this adds more evidence to the dialectical relation between the human body both as a Koper and a Leib.
Women have always had a conflicting relation with their own bodies mainly due to the unassailable intrusion of society in the construction of their identities and in the control over their own bodies. It is no secret that the female body is ontologically enmeshed with the construction of male virility. That is to say the emancipation of males into the world of manhood cannot possibly be fully achieved without the involvement of women as the subaltern of the male and her body as the aggregate of what the male body is not and should not be. The female body is construed, invoked and defined in absentia which constitutes an intellectual “expropriation” of the female existence by the “other.”
The affectionate desire for self-assertion has long been propounded by feminists. Their demands varied from a salvation from the patriarchal hegemony to the recuperation of a hypothetical egalitarian state between both sexes. Activists like FEMEN have been using their body as a measure of pressure over decision makers. Their topless protests are highly controversial even in the most liberal countries. FEMEN activists protest against the restrictions on abortion, sex tourism and all forms of religious orthodoxy that impinges on their right to corporal autonomy. For these activities, nudity is no longer an erotic act undertaken to seduce or gain favors. The topless or naked female body becomes an objection and abjection of all forms of coercion and all the conservative rules forced down the throat of women.
The FEMEN movement was initially founded by Ukrainian female activists who used their bodies to direct the attention of the public and politicians onto their concerns and demands. Through their bold actions, FEMEN militants try to usurp society and religious institutions from their self-proclaimed role as the overseers of decency and morality. Women who choose nudity as a strategy of protest instead of traditional demonstrations, fasting, boycott, or sit-in aim primarily at dismantling and humiliating the deep seated hegemony over women bodies in addition to other political advocacies. For them, nudity is a manifest salvation from the confines of patriarchal domination and most importantly an attempt to undermine the moral authority of theological institutions and religious groups. In this sense, the right to nakedness, as it is advanced by FEMEN activists, is a defense mechanism rather than a purely political act.
When Iranian actress and promising talent, Golshifteh Farahani decided to pose naked against a black backdrop with her hands covering her breasts for the French magazine Madame le Figaro, it was not an aesthetically driven posture, but rather an act of over defiance to the Iranian orthodox clergy and the restrictive dressing code imposed on Iranian women. This has further added more strain to her mercurial relations with the Iranian government who banned her from entering Iran. Similarly, the young Egyptian activist Aliaa Magda al Mahdi posted naked pictures on her Facebook page as a defiance to the surge of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy in the Egyptian society. Her behavior has earned her the wrath of conservatives and liberals alike.
We must make it clear that this view is not shared by many feminists who consider the overt display of human body as a consolidation of an over simplistic view of women. The exhibition of the human body is seen as a perpetuation of a reductive view that shrinks the presence of woman into the narrowness of eroticism by deliberately discarding their ontological essence as independent entities. Additionally, most religions and especially the Abrahamic faiths place a premium on corporal modesty. From a religious point of view, nudity is equated to promiscuity, a real threat to the viability of the social fabric.
It is also noteworthy that the understanding of nudity does not enjoy unanimity of judgment in all cultures. How much flesh should be uncovered is discrepant from a culture to another. The Maassai women tend to shave their heads and wrap their bodies in a long colorful Shuka whereas the act of going around topless is tolerated in many other African tribes. In Saudi Arabia, women are compelled to hide faces, while in other Arab countries women wear more bold and westernized attires.
It is easy to decide whether the act of posing naked to voice political demand is a decent or an indecent act when the moral reference and the personal perspective is clear and determined. Nonetheless, the ability to absolve the female body from all previous misconceptions and expectations and the realization of the Lieb by women themselves is a very intricate and bias matter.
 Shuka: sheets wrapped over the body worn by Maassai women
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