Protesting with your sexuality. Women nuding up for social justice.


If Madonna wants to strip down to her undies, that’s her business. No truly, it’s actually her business. It’s what she does. She sings, she dances, she bares flesh and she defies age. She’s very partial to a bit of a strip-tease. That’s cool, shake it sister.

But Madonna’s latest reason for stripping troubles me.

Have a quick squiz at this video – recorded by an audience member at an LA concert last week. Try and pick the part of her righteous pop-sermon that upsets me the most. (Hint: it’s about 3mins 50secs in).

Madonna dedicated this particular strip dance to Malala Yousafzi. Malala is the extraordinary 14 year old girl who was shot twice by the Taliban, simply because she had blogged about the importance of getting an education. Malala is recovering, and I think that when she wakes the Nobel Peace Prize should be waiting for her.

Take it from the EU, they’re a conglomerate of countries, they don’t need it. This young girl is the most exquisite inspiration we’ve known in a long time, and already her actions have spurred revolution. She’s brave in a way none of us will truly understand.

Madonna strips for Malala

So when Madonna shimmies out of clothes to reveal the letters M-A-L-A-L-A scrawled on her back during her concert, it makes me cringe.

It’s perverse, and tasteless. It sullies her honour, especially because the allegiance Madonna shows is all part of a pre-show warm-up.

Madge is revving up the audience for action, she’s getting them excited for the glitzy, bawdy, no-doubt-totally-fabulous show they paid to see. She’s saying whatever she can to get people screaming, and dancing.

While Malala lies in a hospital bed recovering, Madonna and her legion of fans are out in force celebrating the liberty she will never know. Malala dresses in a burqa, under which she hid her school books. And to honour her, Madonna takes off all her clothes? It reminds me of the scene in Sex & the City The Movie: The Racially Insensitive Sequel, where the glamourous four take to the stage in a ghastly celebration of wealth, girl power and karaoke.

I can’t help thinking that choosing to wear Malala’s name on her skin is Madonna’s latest bid to stay relevant. Couldn’t she have chosen to write a beautiful letter, like Angelina Jolie? Couldn’t she have sent Malala a message of support? Donated some of her concert profits to girls’ education in Pakistan? She has the world’s media on speed dial, she can step in and out of the spotlight at will, and she can choose any moment she pleases to make a comment on social issues.

But to Madonna, the perfect moment to discuss Malala’s courage was mid-strip tease.

I’m not surprised. Madonna thrives on shock factor. Smashing social etiquette is her bread and butter. She’s the long-reigning Queen of Subversive Pop. But her judgment and standards of decency are slipping. Is she provocative now, or just inappropriate? Is she edgy, or tactless?

Remember her woefully timed Sexy Dance With Guns at a concert in Edinburgh in July this year. Just 36 hours after the Colorado shooting, in which 12 people were killed at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, Madonna ignored police requests to cancel choreography that included waving pistols around.


At the time, a rep for Madonna said: “Madonna would rather cancel her show than censor her art. Her entire career, she has fought against people telling her what she can and cannot do. She’s not about to start listening to them now.”

That’s cool, sing it sister. But surely there comes a time, even for Madonna, when cultural sensitivity is more important than being risque for the sake of it.

Madonna’s not the only one Stripping For Justice, she’s just the most famous.

The female activist group FEMEN regularly carry out politically-motivated naked protests throughout Europe to draw attention to everything from domestic violence to abortion rights (pictured in the gallery below).

Getting naked also appeals to people who believe their causes are otherwise invisible.

Like the Battling Bare campaign in the US, started by military wife Ashley Wise to raise awareness for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in returned soldiers. She and many other military wives have posed naked with messages to their husbands, returned from war.

The messages are poignant, even beautiful, and scrawled across their backs in black ink: “Broken by battle, wounded by war. My love is forever, to you this I swore. I will quiet your silent screams, help heal your shattered soul, until once again my love, you are whole.”

See what I mean? Beautiful. I can understand the primal desperation of writing on your skin, if there’s no one to listen to your cries for attention. PTSD is a tragic, misunderstood, serious condition that stays with people who have fought at war often for the rest of their lives. Particularly in America, the level of care afforded to war veterans is notoriously poor – in fact, we know that many veterans become destitute and homeless without adequate support upon their return home. But again, I see this unsettling disconnect, between bare chests, bare backs, and social justice.

Why sexualize an issue that is so very unsexy?

Ruby Rose strips for PETA

The important thing these women are missing, is that the nudity is gratuitous. And it undermines the very tone of the discussion they want to get started. Are we really so stupid and so distracted as a society, that we won’t notice an issue as important as PSTD unless there are naked ladies involved?

And then, where do we go from there? “Please, pop a t-shirt on so we can discuss how to appropriately deal with this debilitating mental illness?”

It’s the same problem I have with sexualizing breast cancer – there’s nothing sexy about a malignant neoplasm, even if it is located in the mammaries. And it’s the same issue I take with PETA’s infamous sexy-naked-lady campaigns – there’s nothing sexy about protesting the slaughter of pigs or the torture of cats.

Why confuse your message, especially when it’s something so important, by taking your kit off?

If you’re trying to raise awareness or demand action for a cause you truly believe in, do me a favour.

Don’t ask yourself, What Would Madonna Do?

Kate is a radio producer, writer and Goon Show enthusiast. You can find her website here, and follow her on Twitter at @Kateileaver.