The female body can be a weapon rather than a battleground
The most shocking act healthy young women can perpetrate is to take their clothes off in protest
A Femen activist is detained by a security man after staging a protest during a visit by Tunisian prime minister Ali Larayedh near the European Commission in Brussels last month. Photograph: Reuters/Laurent Dubrule
In Ireland the female body is a battleground. Perhaps, as we saw in the Dáil shenanigans last week, providing an opportunity for politicians – not least female politicians – to do a bit of grandstanding, on it and in it, in a most distasteful way. Last week also came more reports of rape and sexual assault on female protestors in Tahrir Square in Cairo. These assaults are perpetrated by the women’s fellow citizens, who do not approve of them appearing in public.
But let us not despair: in other parts of the world that are more developed than Ireland and Egypt the female body is viewed neither as a minefield nor as public property, but rather as a powerful weapon of protest and of fun.
Take Amanda Palmer, for example. The performance of her song Dear Daily Mail went viral (translation: hugely popular) on Friday of last week. Amanda Palmer was understandably put out that the Daily Mail’s coverage of her appearance at the Glastonbury rock festival made no reference to her act, or to how she sang, but instead focussed on the fact that her breast had “escaped” from her clothing. “Like a thief in the night”, she sang indignantly.
Her song is quite funny. Older viewers of it will find her lone voice, clever lyrics and keyboard playing reminiscent of Dilly Keane, to whom God be good. Still older viewers will find Amanda Palmer – or her performance of Dear Daily Mail at any rate – reminiscent of Flanders and Swann. Can that be a bad thing?
It is her material that’s different – or perhaps not that different, particularly to Keane’s work. Keane could have written Dear Daily Mail, but she could not have sung it like this. The song is a well-aimed attack on a newspaper that has made a fetish out of normal female biology, picking over women’s bodies in a forensic way that is quite disturbing and completely addictive. “I’m tired of baby bumps . . .” sings Amanda Palmer, as she lists the female imperfections the Daily Mail has kindly homed in on, magnified and surrounded with helpful circles in order that we, the huddled masses, don’t miss a single flaw.
Of course, the Daily Mail is not alone in this, and women readers drive this market. Women have to face up to the fact that there is something pathological about our incessant competition, and relentless calibration of female beauty. But the thing is that no one expects the victims of this nasty monitoring to strike back. And strike back Amanda Palmer certainly has, by exposing her body shamelessly in a protest against it being spied on and snickered about.