This past Friday, 139 years ago, Susan B. Anthony was arrested and charged with casting a vote illegally. Several weeks early, she and her sisters entered a barbershop where voters were being registered and demanded their right to also be registered. Anthony’s argument was apparently compelling and the men did indeed register her to vote. On November 5th, 1872 she cast her ballot for the Republican party, a straight ticket vote because they had promised to consider women’s suffrage. She might have gotten away with it, but for a Democratic poll watcher named Sylvester Lewis. It would take more than four decades to gain the right to vote moved by the thousands of women revolutionaries that stirred the pot over those years and lobbied to be “equal.” Of course, obtaining voting rights didn’t change the bias in the minds of men. It still exists today as does prejudice against race, religion, and socioeconomic standing.
So, I was intrigued when I heard about Egyptian blogger, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, and her recent act of protest that entailed taking a nude photo of herself and posting it on her blog. Who is Aliaa? Aliaa is a 20 year-old student from Cairo, Egypt that was far from well-known activist prior to the posting. Her profile on her Twitter page says, “Secular Liberal Feminist Vegetarian Individualist Egyptian.” In fact, she told CNN International that she was not political at all. But, like it or not, she has sparked a revolution in her home country, with no outward supporters on her side from “fellow Liberals” trying to gain political control.
What appears to have been a lark perhaps or artistic expression, has incited anger and death threats posted on her blog and now it seems an entire global community is listening thanks to the benefits of social media. And, in her quest for artistic freedom, she is instead being pursued for political and religious reasons. Even CNN International’s Mohamed Fadel Fahmy posed political questions, which Aliaa had no problem commenting on, but she doesn’t really tie back to her photo:
CNN: How do you see women in the “New Egypt” and will you leave the country if the ongoing revolution fails?
Elmahdy: I am not positive at all unless a social revolution erupts. Women under Islam will always be objects to use at home. The (sexism) against women in Egypt is unreal, but I am not going anywhere and will battle it ’til the end. Many women wear the veil just to escape the harassment and be able to walk the streets.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with nude activism is people forget the message and only remember the nudity. Take Lady Godiva. Do you remember the legend of her riding through the streets of Coventry? There was a very good reason she did it, but few people remember her sacrifice. Instead, she is depicted in books, stories and statues simply as a lovely woman on a horse with long hair covering her nude body. What she did, according to legend, is relieve the citizens of the burdens of taxes that her husband imposed unfairly.
So, perhaps nudity is not the answer when trying to make a point, although. I will make one observation. Aliaa may be a world away, but she’s not so different than American girls who go off to school and become smarter than their parents. When asked about her parent’s feeling regarding the situation, she says, “I last spoke to them 24 days back. They want to support me and get closer, especially after the photo was released, but they accuse Kareem of manipulating me. He has been my support system and has passed along their text messages to me. I dropped out of AUC (The American University in Cairo where she was a media student) months back after (my parents) attempted to control my life by threatening not to pay the fees.
Life is so much more black and white at 20. I hope the world will give her space for her youthful indiscretion. Life gets so much more complicated at 22.