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Bodies on the Line

Guest Column by Jake Jacobs

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Eric Blauer’s post from two weeks ago, “The Boobie Bandit Steals Jesus.”  The image he paints of a bare-chested woman snatching the infant Jesus from a creche in St. Peter’s square is captivating. In the rest of the post, he muses about the meaning of bared breasts in public, and wonders what he is supposed to think? What do they mean?

He concludes”I am not sure if I should look, turn away or what? What is the correct male response to this topless tide?”

Given the personal nature of his post, I’m going to assume that he won’t mind if I extend his question to include myself, and rephrase it, “What is the correct human response to this topless tide?”

The first thing to notice, of course, is that breasts, like any other parts of human bodies, don’t just mean one thing. Anyone who has a relationship with their mother and with a lover has probably noticed this. Or what about a doctor?

In the public space of protest, bodies also don’t always mean the same thing either. The open hand and the closed fist are communicating something different.

Blauer is attuned in his post to issues of empowerment, especially of women. But I think one point to draw out in the image of the woman with the baby Jesus at St Peter’s square is the vulnerability of nakedness. Nonviolent protest, in contrast to other forms of resistance, is about putting your body on the line, in all its human vulnerability. Unprotected from whatever means humans usually use to try to coerce each other. We have ready images for this kind of nonviolent protest in living memory: the bridge in Selma, Tiananmen Square.  And for Christians, there is also the image of the open arms of Jesus on the cross (John 12:32).

For all its shock value, I think that’s what makes this protest in St Peter’s square nonviolent – more like an open hand than a closed fist. This woman didn’t just write a letter, or complain to her friends late one night at a bar, or link to some really meaningful posts on Facebook. She showed up, embodying her protest, writing her sentiments on her skin. And she acted, plucking the baby Jesus from the church’s cradle and taking him away.  To safety? Away from the church’s failure to safeguard vulnerable human beings, babies and adults alike? Away from the church’s failure to live up to the incarnation, represented in that creche, to be Christ’s body in the world?

As a member of the body of Christ, that’s what I hear in her protest.  And so when I ask myself Blauer’s question, “What’s a person supposed to do?”, I think of looking for my own vulnerabilities. Where do I feel most vulnerable as some body, and how can I put that vulnerability on the line to protest the injustices done to every body?

About Jake Jacobs

Jake Jacobs is a member of Salem Lutheran Church. She has a master's degree in Biblical Languages from the Graduate Theological Union. Her favorite book of the Bible is Deuteronomy.

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6 comments

  1. These are interesting debates, especially In light of Spokane’s recent ‘No blocking driveway” protest ordinance. The line between free speech and when, where and how you can do it seems to constantly shift depending on the issue. If it’s abortion clinic protest it’s one rule…if it’s stealing baby Jesus off of private property, while nude it’s another.

    • Eh. If the Jesus-stealer broke the law, she broke the law. If I applaud her, so be it. If protestors are on the driveway, they’re breaking the law. If someone other than me applauds them, so be it.

  2. The line is more strict around the nude woman. She broke the law in order to have her voice heard. (As have others who trespass on federal property to pour blood on nuclear warheads, for example.) Protestors outside abortion clinics have legal, protected space to be in. It’s simply not the driveway.

  3. First of all, I recently learned about this campaign in Bust magazine:

    http://www.freethenipple.com/

    Male nipples are fine and dandy to display in public, but it wasn’t always so. Female nipples are part of the wide-scale objectification and sexualization of women’s bodies. If the (still male-dominated) powers that be deigned to allow female nipples to be displayed in public without legal consequence, we might as a society begin to see them as I imagine many nudists do: body parts that can be but don’t have to be sexual. And there go countless millions of dollars in teasing advertisements that show everything but? Sexualization of female bodies serves a capitalist and political purpose, so allowing nipples to be “free” would work against the agendas of many who aim to maintain the systematic oppression of women.

    Or so I’m told.

    • I’ve yet to meet a straight man that doesn’t find women’s breast or bodies sexual. I find all this progressive lingo ridiculous. I am find with calling out misogynists but come on, who gets to just quarantine off bodies and start demonizing those who find them beautiful or arousing in it’s proper place?

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