Is Milo Moire’s Nude Protest Only a Publicity Stunt?

The question crept in my mind after reading Parul Thakur’s article, What message is Milo Moire’s act sending?

Who is Milo Moire?

Let me first tell you who Milo Moire is. She is a performance artist who graduated in psychology with a focus on cognitive, neuro & perceptual psychology. After graduating, she decided to fully implement the elements of the body and her knowledge of the psyche to her art. Her works are inspired by satirical images of sexuality, and are shaped by the feeling of otherness and the admiration for moral distance.

Milo Moire is indeed famous for her bizarre experiments, like walking undressed in museum and art galleries, taking nude selfies with strangers in front of Eiffel Tower, protesting naked on streets to support crime against women. These are often quoted as her nude stunts.

Once, she travelled to Art Basel naked. Her body was clad only in words, terms such as ‘Bra,’ ‘Shirt,’ etc. stood at the places on her body where usually are garments. It raised many eyebrows worldwide. Most of the people tagged the incidence as publicity stunt.

Is nude protest only a publicity stunt?

I don’t think so. On the other hand, it makes complete sense to me. Becoming victim of a perverted gaze is a common experience with ladies. The continuous intense gaze makes them feel like naked, despite they are properly dressed. One could visualize a female naked in one’s mind if one wants, even when she’s in veil. One could fantasize about a woman and disrobe her in one’s imagination; it doesn’t matter how properly she’s dressed.

In the same way, one could imagine a naked lady as properly dressed. If one could picture a lady in shirt as shirtless, then one could also picture a lady without shirt in shirt. It’s all within one’s mind. This is what Milo wanted to depict, in my opinion, by walking naked with the names of items of clothing marked on her body in paint. Her approach was satirical. The message was loud and clear that she wasn’t ashamed for walking nude but the people who thought that she should be, should feel shame for their own perverted thinking.

Lata Subramanian brilliantly put it in her book, A Dance with the Corporate Ton: Reflections of a Worker’s Ant, “We are back to the puzzling question of why women’s morals are judged not by what they do but how they are seen to dress! Yes, yes, I know it’s to keep male lust under control. But methinks no matter what a woman does, the lust factor will always be there because the male sex is biologically programmed to spread the human seed.”

What is Parul’s post about?

Well, Parul’s article is on Milo Moire’s latest experiment, called the Mirror Box, in which she invited passerby over the age of 18 to touch her private parts for thirty seconds.

What does mirror stand for? Mirror is a symbol of reflection. What does it reflect? It reflects what comes in front of it. In the context of this experiment, it is symbolically saying that your behavior is the reflection of your mindset. Milo’s  Mirror Box is a social reflection of human sexuality.

My interpretation of Milo’s Mirror Box experiment is different from Parul’s interpretation. It doesn’t mean mine is right and hers is wrong or vice versa. It simply means that they are different. Please note that difference doesn’t make one right and other wrong. Difference doesn’t contradict each other but complements. This article isn’t the negation of Parul’s article but an addition to hers. The rejoinder presents a different aspect of the incidence.

Interpretation of Consent

Parul interpreted that Milo’s message was about the Women’s right to not be touched without consent. There’s a lady who commented on it, “I think it would have more of an impact though if she stood there naked and said NO ONE was allowed to touch her. I think then, it sends a louder message about consent.”

I have a different view regarding the interpretation of the word ‘Consent.’ As I see, the word ‘consent’ has a positive connotation. It isn’t about denial, but the permission to do something, especially given by somebody in authority.

Normally, we think denial is the best way to demonstrate our authority. In my opinion, denial isn’t the best way but an easy way. It’s easy to call a Bandh on weekdays but difficult to call an Open on weekends. To make people open their shops on your call on weekends needs real supporters.

Mentality of society

If you listen Milo carefully, you’ll find that her emphasis isn’t on ‘Not to be touched,’ but on ‘Consent whether it’s of touch or not to be touched.’ What’s she telling?

She’s telling, “I am standing here today for women’s rights and sexual self-determination. Women have sexuality, just like men have. However, women decide for themselves when and how they want to be touched, and when they don’t.”

It reminds me of Pretty Woman’s dialogue in which Julia Roberts said, “Are you my pimp now? You think you can pass me around to your friends? I’m not some little toy…….Look, you don’t own me. I decide, okay? I say who, I say when…”

Julia Roberts was playing the role of a hooker in the movie. What she was trying to say is, though she is a hooker, it’s her decision to choose with whom she’d like to sleep in exchange for money. She wasn’t some toy in hands of men who could play with her in any manner they’d like.

It’s this mentality of society which led Milo to choose a Mirror box for her social experiment. According to her, the mirror signifies the cultural representation of a woman’s body as a mirror of male desire. Her experiment makes people participants in the exchange than mere onlookers acting upon her as an object.

Women’s body isn’t for men’s sexual need only

Milo Moire is talking about a larger picture. She’s not only talking about unwanted touch but is seeking to redefine the boundaries of sexuality and consensual sex between willing partners. She’s trying to say that women’s body isn’t meant for satisfying men’s sexual need only but women’s also. She’s advocating to have sex on mutual consent.

Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist & human behavior researcher, who studies gender differences and the evolution of human emotions and is best known as an expert on romantic love. According to Helen, women’s moving into the job market is having a huge impact on sex and romance and family life. Women have started to express their sexuality.

In her Ted Talk, Helen mentioned that she’s always astonished when people came to her and asked, “Why is it that men are so adulterous? Why do you think more men are adulterous than women?” And she used to reply those people, “Who do you think these men are sleeping with?”

Recently, I read a shocking news on India Today’s website that an infuriated wife beat her husband to death with a stick on being denied sex. Well, this is another extreme.

Milo Moire is in favour of showing the feminine desire and is giving women a sexual voice, and at the same time, is defining the boundaries of consensual sex. In her interview with Cosmopolitan, she said, “It’s okay if I want to have sex and that we are equal partners. I want to say that I’m not a feminist, I see myself as humanist because I think my performances and my messages are for both women and men.”

Purpose of the Mirror Box Experiment

Look at the experimental set-up. Milo Moire wears a trapezoidal skirt made of mirrors with an opening at the front covered by a red curtain and she summons people through a megaphone to reach in and caress her intimate body parts for 30 seconds.

Here, she is deciding the terms & conditions and asking others to come and feel her if they agree with her terms. She has fixed the maximum time limit to 30 seconds and has imposed the condition to do it in public in front of a camera and large crowd. It’s about mutual consent.

It’s easy to be a part of crowd and pat on women’s front and back but it’s quite difficult to play with her private parts in front of a large crowd and cameras. In most of the scandalous MMS viral videos, you wouldn’t find the face of the male partner in the video. It’s because they are ashamed of what they’re doing. They don’t have the courage to show their face in public.

Milo not only invited people to touch her private parts but asked them to look into her eyes while doing it. Only those who aren’t feeling guilty and have a clear conscience can make an eye-contact.

In the said interview, Milo also mentioned that exchange of honest feedback was one of her conditions and it was important for her as well as the people to be aware of what they’re doing.

Is marriage a license to have sex?

Look at this verdict of Delhi High Court in which the Hon’ble Court said that willful denial of sex, including that on the first night after wedding, by either of the spouse amounts to cruelty and can be a ground for dissolution of the marriage.

Is marriage only a license to have sex?

It’s natural to feel uncomfortable in having sex with your partner on the first night after wedding because the person was a complete stranger before the marriage. But, if you don’t want to dissolve your marriage on the very first day of your married life, you have to allow your spouse to rape you on that very night!!!

I mean….What kind of justice is this?

There’s a difference between sex and rape. Sex without consent is nothing but rape only. In fact, anything without consent is an offence.

Consent is the key

In the movie, Gangs of Wasseypur, there’s a scene in which Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Huma Qureshi were chatting on a bench beside a lake. Nawazuddin put his hand over Huma’s hand and Huma reacted, “It’s not that you aren’t allowed but you should take permission.”

Some years ago, Emma Holten’s email and facebook account were hacked and her naked pictures were posted online. Thousands viewed them and put nasty comments on it. She became a victim of online harassment. When she sent an email to the site profiting from those pictures pleading to remove them, she got this message in reply, “You shouldn’t have been such a whore in the first place.” What she did after that was she arranged a photographer, posed, and released a new set of pictures of her body with a message, “I did this. Consent is the key.”

Emma in her video message said, “Most of the people who watched her naked picture on some porn site knew that those pictures were posted against her will and her humiliation was part of their thrill.”  

No law on Marital Rape in India

This sadist mentality is the real problem and no law can change it but mass awareness. No rule or law can make you moral but your self-awareness.

I agree with Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, over her statement on Marital Rape given in Rajya Sabha that India is not ready for the change due to factors like poverty, illiteracy and religious beliefs.

Most of the people accused her for taking a u-turn on her previous stand on marital rape. She earlier said, “My opinion is that violence against women shouldn’t be limited to violence by strangers. Very often a marital rape is not always about a man’s need for sex; it is only about his need for power and subjugation. In such case, it should be treated with seriousness.”

As I see, Maneka’s statements aren’t contradictory but complementary. I don’t think forming law and giving punishment is the only way of showing seriousness. Further, I believe that morality cannot be forced. It comes from within. For being moral, introspection is needed. No law can make you morally right. It can only instill fear of punishment in you. The day this fear vanishes, you will go beyond redemption. Transformation happens through love and trust, not from fear and punishment.

Purpose of punishment isn’t retribution but reformation

Have the rape incidences stopped or decreased after making the provision of capital punishment in law for rape culprit?

The purpose of giving punishment is reformation. Punishment is given to make someone realize one’s mistake; and to make someone realize one’s mistake, one has to first feel guilt for doing the mistake; and to feel guilt, one has to first aware of one’s mistake; for awareness, one has to be of sound mind, literate, free from prejudices, and self-damaging beliefs. This is the reason the same punishment is not given to mentally challenged person or juvenile for same nature of crime as given to a normal adult.

I agree with Maneka that marital rape should be treated with seriousness and before declaring it a crime by law, there should be awareness among people that forced sex in marriage is also an offence. If a learned judge says that willful denial of sex, on the first night after wedding amounts to cruelty, then a lot of work has to be done on the mindset of people before forming a law on the subject.

Is capital punishment an effective solution in dealing with rape?

In my opinion, the changes that were brought after Nirbhaya case in laws regarding rape was not a sign of seriousness but hurry. The lowering of juvenile age from 18 years to 16 years in rape case and a provision for capital punishment is not a long-term solution for the problem. In fact, it’s not a solution at all. The whole approach is wrong.

According to Deccan Chronicle news, a few days ago a 14 years old boy raped a 7 years old girl. In other news, an 11 years old boy raped a girl barely 4 years old. What will you do now? Will you further lower the juvenile age to 11 years with a provision for capital punishment of 11 years old child?

I used the word ‘Child’ instead of ‘Boy’ because girls are not the rape victims only but sometimes culprit also. As per Hindutan Times news, 10-year-old boy got injured and was hospitalized after a 16 years old girl tried to force him into having sex with her. Now, will you execute that 16 years old girl for raping a 10 years old boy?

As I see, the provision for capital punishment in rape case doesn’t help in reducing the rape incidences but introduces a new problem for society to deal with. Recently, Delhi Police exposed a woman who alleged gangrape to extort money.

Awareness is more important than making law

The problem is not lack of proper law but lack of proper awareness. No external law can force you to change unless an urge of change arises within you. I think Milo Moire is doing a good job in making people aware.

As the lady in the comment section of Parul’s post suggested that it would have been a louder message if Milo stood there naked and said NO ONE was allowed to touch her. Let me tell you that Milo exactly did the same in Cologne earlier this year as a response to the horrific coordinated attacks where hundreds of women were sexually assaulted on New Year’s Eve. She stood naked in the city holding a sign that read, “Respect Us! We are not fair game even when naked!!!

This time, she went a step further and showed that a woman could decide when and how if she wanted to be touched. I think this is a very broader and louder message. Denial is not only the form of freedom but acceptance also. In fact, denial and acceptance are the two sides of a coin like day and night.

I like the message because it is positive and broad-minded. What Milo is trying to say is: It isn’t that women don’t like sex and men have to apply force to enjoy sex; they do. Just find the right woman who wants to enjoy it with you (like I’m here today to give you a chance to touch me inside the box for 30 seconds). She is saying that it isn’t worth to risk your life for a minute pleasure when the woman isn’t ready. There are many women who are ready. Just look for them. Don’t force, you may get life imprisonment or capital punishment. Her message is clear that respect women’s consent in the matter of sex. 

Is inviting strangers to touch private parts vulgar?

On the question whether inviting strangers on street to touch your private parts is vulgar or not, I feel it’s about individual comfort level and we are no one to judge others on the basis of our comfort level.

Some people are not comfortable in shaking hands. In India, we have a custom of ‘Namaste’ in which, instead of touching other’s hand, we join our hands to greet others. There are also customs of greeting others by kissing in some culture. In some cultures, there’s a tradition of wearing veil.

Salman Khan who is known for his shirtless avatars felt violated while walking out in a langot on the sets of Sultan. He said, “While I was walking from my van to the shooting spot, there were tears in my eyes. I felt violated. You ask me to go shirtless or wear a short, I will never be ashamed but wearing a langot was difficult…..I can now understand how difficult it is for actresses to wear swimsuits and shorts.”

Amanda Palmer is singer, songwriter, activist, director, and author of The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. She is also famous for her nude stunts and sometimes known as Amanda Fucking Palmer.

Amanda used to stand naked in front of their fans after her performance and let them scribble on her naked body. She mentioned in her book that in one such session when she was nude and taking photographs with her fans, one girl slid her hand behind Amanda and thrust her fingers between Amanda’s legs. She felt violated.

It’s not like she hadn’t done naked physical performance art and not involved in lots of sex with lots of people, but this was done without her consent. She wrote, “She’s the extreme exception to the rule, right? I’ve been trusting people for years, and it’s all come to this moment, where I lay myself literally bare and then she sticks her hand in my vadge and breaks my heart.”

Amanda is a broad-minded and positive being. She made a positive note of the incidence that there is no trust without risk. If there isn’t a real risk that someone would cross the line, then it wouldn’t be real trust. She learnt that if you trust people, it’s likely that someone would betray you.

The comfort level of Milo Moire is greater than Amanda. Milo let people to finger her in public.

Morality is a subjective concept and changes with change in culture, religion, and individual’s beliefs. It’s okay if you don’t follow other’s beliefs but it’s not okay to demean other’s beliefs because they are different from yours.

Breaking the taboos

Parul also raised some questions in her post, like: Using a camera to catch actions, what does that mean? Putting the videos up on the website, why?

As I see, it’s done to break the taboos; it’s done to communicate that the time has come to talk about sex openly. It’s to say to rape victims that you don’t have to commit suicide because someone had forced sex with you. It’s not your fault. It’s not a sin when someone touches you against your will.

In the aforementioned interview with Cosmopolitan, Milo was asked, “What was the most surprising feedback that you got from someone during the performance?” She replied, “That’s very intimate, but I think it’s better for society when we don’t have so many taboos, and that’s why I have a camera inside the Mirror Box, to show everything and to talk about it. So I’ll tell you. A young guy told me, ‘Oh, you became moist, you became wet,’ and I said, ‘Oh, OK.’ A lot of female sexuality is subconscious. I was a little bit surprised he said that because I hadn’t realized, but it was OK because I want to show that it’s a normal thing.”

Most of the rape victims commit suicide because they don’t want to live in the body that betrayed them. A rape victim confessed that she had to go through many sessions for chronic depression because she started hating her body. She revealed, “A man forced into me against my will and raped me and I orgasmed from it. My mouth said no but my body said yes and I have had to deal with these two irreconcilable things for years. I cried and told him to stop as I was climaxing. I shouldn’t be like this. I hated my body and wanted to put an end to it.”

I appreciate Milo for sharing that intimate feedback with society because it shows that body also responds to touches when it’s done against your will. It’s normal.

Further, I’d like to see the incidence of making the videos online as a proof of Amanda’s findings that if you trust people, it’s probable that you will be betrayed by some people. You’ll find in the video the different kinds of touch: some were gentle, some were harder, and some put more fingers than necessary.

Difference between erotic and porn    

Parul also asked that asking people to pay if they want to watch an uncensored version not an act of selling porn videos? How is that women’s right?

Anu Aggarwal, the Aashiqui fame star, in her book Anusual stated the difference between the erotic and pornography. She said, “One teases by showing a bit, by concealing, and the other aims at revealing with a vengeance. Let it all hang out. I prefer the erotic. Sensuality in sexuality. Not just sexuality in sexuality.”

Let me tell you that I have watched the uncensored video that I didn’t find it erotic also. Also, the no. of downloads against the no. of click on the page will give a fair idea of the overall mentality of the society and will also tell about how much work is needed to change it. As far as making money is concerned from selling these videos, then for running any movement money is needed and this is a practical idea to collect some fund to run the movement for women’s right.

Lastly, there’s a concern regarding the loss of message and purpose amidst nudity gossips. I observed in comment section that almost everybody showed this concern. It clearly indicates that everybody get the message and purpose right.   

After thinking about all these aspects, I don’t think Milo Moire’s nude protest is a publicity stunt. What do you think? Please do share your views in the comment section.

Ravish Mani is a motivational writer, who believes that men need feminism too, as it is about equal rights and opportunities for both men and women equally.