Naked: Repossessing the Power of Language as a Sisterhood
By: Nikki Suarez
The movement of #MeToo and #HeforShe that have come out to play in recent years are a result of the female voice and power that has proven to be essential and dominant in today’s culture. Feminism is a word that many have likened to be akin to simple “man-hating,” however, a prominent figure in our society strived to redefine that definition. Emma Watson, in her #HeforShe campaign back in 2014 stated: “feminism, by definition, is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." Watson’s voice and movement became the pivotal turning point for all women to be seen and heard with her call for action from men to join in on the conversation and provide a new reality for women, one that isn’t harmful and degrading. Moving forward to the year 2018, a new, young, and captivating voice has entered: Anna Cecilia has provided a visual artifact through her incredibly raw, powerful, and brave rhetorical discourse presented in her book, Naked. Through analysis of Sonja Foss and Cindy Griffin’s invitational rhetoric and Adrienne Rich’s “repossession of the power of language,” Naked is the epitome of this new rise in a sisterhood and tribe of women striving to be heard.
Before getting into the much-needed analysis of Naked as a cultural and visual artifact, it is important to define a few terminology and theories voiced by feminists in today’s culture. To begin, Sonja Foss and Cindy Griffin have outlined a new form of rhetoric they have termed invitational rhetoric. Its main intent is not to persuade their audience but instead to be viewed as “an invitation to understanding as a means to create a relationship rooted in equality, immanent value, and self-determination” (Herrick 280). It is an organic and open conversation in which the rhetors (speakers) can offer differing points of view in their “vision of the world and show how it looks and works for them” (Foss and Griffin 2-18). With this sharing, there comes a risk in how their audience will react to what is being said and here is where the conditions of dialogue are created: safety, freedom, and value. These three conditions describe that a safe space must exist or must be created for the rhetor to “receive respect and care” in regards to her “ideas and feelings”, freedom to be “developed […through] no restrictions on an interaction”, and value is determined by the idea that “individuals are allowed to tell of their experiences without the listeners interrupting, comforting, or inserting anything of their own”, basically all undivided attention granted.
Anna Cecilia is a 24-year old entrepreneur focused on creating such an open digital and physical space for all women to be able to share her stories. Before her company, Project Babewas launched in March 2018, Cecilia was in the process of constructing a space that would entail everything that Foss and Griffin laid out in their invitational rhetoric. In her book, Naked, Cecilia details,
I was creating to heal. Project Babe was initially a reflection of my own stark reality […] The community of women built around Project Babe was genuine, compassionate and understanding. Each woman had a story (Cecilia 73).
Her purpose wasn’t to create a shelter but to build an open space that was safe, free, and provided value for these abused women. Cecilia wanted to connect women to others that had gone through the same difficult and heart-wrenching ordeals and were trying to find their peace on this ever-looping journey. Naked, as a title for this book that portrays images designed by Cecilia which are very welcoming and feminine in capturing the essence of the woman, delves much deeper than the concept of being exposed and nude. As John Berger stated in 1972, "To be naked, is to 'be oneself'; but to be nude is to be seen by others 'and yet not recognized for oneself …Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display" (Leppert 10). His concept of the naked connects seamlessly with Cecilia’s purpose of being true and open with yourself. It isn’t the aspect of the body being on display in all of its glory but for you, as a woman, to own your body and fall in love with who you are and everything that makes up that powerful beauty within.
This leads in nicely to Adrienne Rich’s call for a sisterhood and a “repossession of the power of language.” Her dream for a common language stemmed from her observation that “in a world where language and naming are power, silence is oppression, is violence” (Herrick 277). Rich wants to take the power that language has over us in a way where she is conscious of its meaning and the historical context in which it has been used. Put simply, she understands the power of language and wants her audience to be careful in using the words that are at our disposal by acknowledging the full cycle and deciding if it is the best phrase to use in the situation at hand. Rich’s end goal is separatism, where “the premise that words mean no more, no less, than what they have been used to mean in particular contexts” (Hedley 118). Marcia Pointon ties this in with the female gaze and why it has become so important, to "possesses the power to name patriarchy and to demonstrate how its rhetoric operates in representation" (Leppert 13). The reason that the patriarchy has labeled nakedness as this controversial ideal is because the fear of how powerful female bodies can truly be. As women, we possess “the ability […] to satisfy a desire that men cannot satisfy themselves” (Linda Williams qtd. in Leppert 13). In that regard, Naked celebrates exactly that power that women hold by being alive and striving for that voice to be heard. An insane responsibility exists for the feminine: greatness can only come through love and we can’t ever let that be taken away again.
Personally, for me, Naked brought me hope, strength, love, and courage to continue to build my life, to pursue my passions and not allow one man to stand in that way. In this way, it definitely is a visual artifact for it encompasses a piece of soul that is passed on to each of us that purchases the book. We are able to connect and to feel because as women we stand together, we don’t throw each other down as society has conditioned us to. To be a woman is to be a force of nature and we can only make a difference to the patriarchy of our world when we hold hands and march as one. Anna Cecilia’s message of love and the feminine power that we hold with our nakedness is our true selves being seen at the height of our dominance. Once we begin to name and to take that power back into our lives and truly see how much love we have, a sisterhood begins to rise. The platform and space have been established for women and we must take advantage of it as Cecilia and Rich have laid out for us. Foss and Griffin’s invitational rhetoric is the only form to communicate with each other through the strength and confidence that is carefully crafted for our voices to flourish in such a society that is slowly but surely progressing.
“Let’s get naked” (Cecilia 2).
Cecilia, Anna. Naked, Anna Cecilia, 2018, pp. 2, 6, 9-10, 12, 15-16, 68, 80.
Foss, Sonja. & Griffin, Cindy. “Beyond persuasion: A proposal for an invitational rhetoric. Communication Monographs, 1995, pp. 2-18.
Hedley, Jane. "Surviving to Speak New Language: Mary Daly and Adrienne Rich." Language and Liberation: Feminism, Philosophy, and Language, edited by Christina Hendricks and Kelly Oliver, State University of New York Press, 1999, pp. 99-100, 113, 118-119, 121.
Herrick, James A. “Feminism and Rhetoric: Critique and Reform.” The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction, 6th ed., Routledge, 2018, pp. 275-277, 279-280.
Leppert, Richard. "Introduction: The State of Being without Clothes - in Art" The Nude: The Cultural Rhetoric of the Body in the Art of Western Modernity, Westview Press, 2007, pp. 8, 10, 13-14.