Protests continue this week in Portland, Oregon in the wake of federal law enforcement being deployed to the city. On Saturday, the protest included the participation of a nude woman who confronted officers wearing nothing but a mask and hat.
Naminata Diabate, professor of comparative literature at Cornell University, is an expert on sexuality and resistance and is the author of “Naked Agency: Genital Cursing and Biopolitics in Africa.” She says that “insurrectionary nakedness” can be an effective form of conflict management.
“The power of naked protest lies in its paradoxes: It is one of the most universal and yet the most context-specific forms of resistance. Although the gesture is the same almost everywhere, its reception and interpretations depend on a host of meanings attached to the body, sexuality, privacy, moral injury and other factors.
“The person who performed naked agency in Portland spoke without saying anything. Paradoxically, not supplementing the language of her nakedness with that of words invited a host of contradictory interpretations. Some suggest the protester was vulnerable, others consider her brave. I call her brave in vulnerability, vulnerable as brave.
“Contrary to popular understandings, insurrectionary nakedness is a form of conflict management at the same time that it disrupts business as usual. The path towards conflict resolution often passes through that of discontinuity.”
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