Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi should take responsibility for the 6.5-magnitude earthquake that hit Taiwan recently. Sedighi said that immodestly-dressed women set off men, who set off extramarital affairs, which set off earthquakes. This statement set off a young blogger in Indiana named Jennifer McCreight, who set off over 50,000 cleavages around the world in a mock-experiment called ‘Boobquake’ on April 26, which set off the Taiwanese earthquake that very day.
No, of course it didn’t. The Taiwanese earthquake was simply a cosmic reminder that no matter how good your joke is, there’s always a better one out there, the butt of which is you. But Sedighi believes it could have, so why shouldn’t Taiwan leverage his imbecility to pass on the bill for re-plastering their cracked walls?
Boobquake reminded me that time and again, around the world, people have partially or fully disrobed in protest. Lady Godiva is an early historical example, who rode naked through Coventry to protest against the excessive taxes her husband levied. Being an 11th-century aristocrat she ordered everyone to stay at home and shutter their windows while she did this, but she did it. (One unfortunate fellow who watched through a hole and was struck with blindness remains with us as ‘peeping Tom’.)
There’s something about a bit of skin that concentrates the human mind wonderfully on things it would rather ignore. Stripping is often a last-resort tactic to embarrass and shame the target into paying attention, and in recent times it has featured on a regular basis. There’s the Bare Witness movement, which began in the UK in 2003 with naked people spelling ‘peace’ with their naked bodies in freezing weather. Three years ago, 600 people without a stitch of clothing got together on the Aletsch glacier in the Swiss Alps to pose for a human art installation calling attention to global warming.
In 2007 an underground Burmese women’s organisation urged women to “post, deliver or fling your panties at the closest Burmese Embassy any day from today. Send early, send often!” to protest the junta’s repression and crimes against women. The so-called Panties for Peace movement encouraged soiled underwear since, culturally speaking, contact with such an item is about the most strength-sapping trauma a man can undergo.
Last year women wearing blood-soiled underwear marched through Johannesburg to protest the privatisation of water, which would limit access to a basic need. In Tel Aviv bicyclists and roller bladers wore next to nothing to demand safe bicycle lanes and protest a bicycle helmet law; semi-naked English pensioners demonstrated against their collapsed pension schemes (‘2009 and still stripped of our pensions’); activists from the Ukrainian women's movement FEMEN wore underwear made from hygienic masks to protest against the government’s manipulation of H1N1 fears ahead of the presidential election.
This year a bunch of flesh-baring Germans invaded Berlin-Tegel airport to protest calls for full-body scanners following the, er, Underwear Bomber’s Christmas Day attack. The Maldivian feminist movement Rehendhi sent panties to Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed on Valentine’s day with messages like ‘Undies for Fundies’, to protest a rather misogynistic speech he’d given. And every year PETA runs starkers through Pamplona to protest the famous bull run, under the slogan ‘Join the human race’.
In India we’ve had our own share of drama: the famous nude protest by Manipuri women in 2004 against alleged rape by the army; courageous Pooja Chauhan, who marched down the streets of Rajkot in 2007 in her bra and panties to protest ill-treatment in her marital home, and of course, the Consortiumn of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women who sent their frilliest knickers to Sri Ram Sena chief Pramod Mutalik to protest the beating up of women in a pub in Mangalore.
Who can blame anyone—there’s just so much in the world that will get your knickers in a twist.