The baring of breasts in public can be unsettling for some and welcomed by others. Indeed, last week there was a local kerfuffle surrounding the issue of breast-feeding in public.
And just Monday, in our own institution of indecorous-propriety, the House of Commons, the baring of breasts stole the show from our elected masters of publicly-displayed political hostility and tomfoolery.
There is no lack of opinion, it would seem, when it comes to the showing off of the female form, especially when the mammalian endowments of the so-called “gentler sex” are the specific objects under public scrutiny.
Sometimes folks trivialize the politics of public displays of breasts, even vapidly attempting the creation of ill-conceived notions of “equality” by purposefully arguing that women, like men, should be free to roam the beaches as they see fit, just like the goons who would leeringly welcome their “empowered” self-conceived flauntings of societal norms.
But others who deploy the bared-breasts tactic are far more serious in their political intentionality. And it is with a brave, bare-breasted woman that I wish to align my solidarity today.
No doubt, many who have seen Monday’s reports from Parliament Hill, will have considered Montreal’s Ms. Neda Topaloski’s critical gesture a “stunt” or “attention-seeking” behaviour and not the finely-focussed act of civil disobedience that I believe it was.
After all, the breasts in question weren’t simply a flashy display to further the febrile fantasies of prurient parliamentarians. Ms. Topaloski had a message inscribed upon her breasts for the world to see: “C-51: State Terrorism FEMEN.”
Now for those of you who haven’t been cowering in closets since earlier this winter, you will know by now that the Harper-led Conservative Party of Canada has tabled Bill C-51, a so-called “anti-terror” bill that would dramatically widen the scope of powers and privileges for Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, ostensibly to further protect Canadians from the heinous threat of “jihadist terror’’ in this country and beyond.
Over the weeks since the bill was tabled, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have expressed grave misgivings about the proposed bill, including criminologists, judges, lawyers, constitutional experts, former Prime Ministers, every activist in the country, and regular Joe and Jane Canadians from coast to coast to coast. As I write these words, there is even a committee that is hearing briefings from informed Canadians, experts if you will, giving further voice to the dissatisfaction with the bill in its current iteration.
But the Harperites do not seem to be listening in good faith to the opinions being expressed by so many Canadians.
In fact, many of us are suspecting that the result of the current consultative process will amount to no more than giving malcontents a voice soon to be disregarded utterly by the bill’s formulators in favour of eventually passing it in its current form because, well, the Harperites are blessed with a numeric majority of seats in the House of Commons and, well, that’s how they play the game, as history has shown with these conservative cats.
And that is why Ms. Topaloski’s protest (and the political-action group that she is associated with, FEMEN) in the House of Commons is so effective and welcome to this fellow-traveller in opposition to totalitarian tactics.
Neda Topaloski shrewdly brought the proceedings in the House to a halt, and for a brief moment brought the government to heel. She effectively gave voice, with her magic-marker-inscribed body, to a message that the government resolutely wishes to ignore, but ultimately cannot ignore when a pair of breasts is shoved in front of its proverbial face.
Parliamentarians would be wise to heed the protest of internationally-positioned dissident groups like FEMEN. They rightly confront the constant subjugation experienced by women the world over as patriarchal-capitalist political-economies like Canada oppress women by paying attention to them only when their bodies are sexualized for the purposes of selling unnecessary shite to an already overly consumption-obsessed country of consumers.
Groups like FEMEN remind us that we are not just idle consumers, but that we are potentially actively-engaged citizens. Citizens who are paying close attention to the menacing machinations of governments that would limit our privacy, or interrupt our constitutionally-enshrined rights to dissent from the values of governments with whom we cannot in good conscience agree.
Sometimes societal patriarchy and the frustrating disenfranchisement of citizens from participating fully in the nation’s political processes must be met with direct confrontation. And this is the brave work undertaken by beautiful and brave women like those that we see in FEMEN.
As Ms. Topaloski put it so eloquently on CBC’s “Power And Politics” after her ejection from the House on Monday: “We are the Voice of Justice and the Voice of the People; and so, for us, we always claim that we are there to say the Truth and give a version of the way the people see it.”
Amen, sister. Amen.
I applaud the Topaloskis and FEMENs of this country. If the exposure of breasts in peaceful protest against a bill that could have draconian consequences for us all is helpful in nipping Bill C-51 in the bud, I’m all for it. And we will all owe FEMEN a debt of gratitude for keeping our eyes on our prized rights and freedoms.
— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer who works at playing music by day and playing politics by night.