I thought I would write about some of the inspirational people who I think have done great things. The first of these is Lady God1va. No; that isn’t a typo. Lady God1va is a pen name used by a naturist activist, blogger and a truly inspirational woman. There was already someone in the UK using the name Lady Godiva, which is why she uses the 1 to distinguish herself.
Since there is a natural link to Lady Godiva, it only seems fair to talk about her too, as she has become the archetype for the naked protest and she too was a very remarkable woman.
The basic story is extremely well known. She was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who rode naked through the streets of Coventry in order to make her husband reduce the oppressive taxes on his tenants. But this really needs to be put into context.
Godiva, or Godgifu in Old English, was not a nudist. She did not decide to mount a naked protest and she was not someone for whom nudity was a natural thing. In 11th century Anglo-Saxon society a respectable woman did not go naked. In fact a respectable married woman would not even show her hair in public.
Think about the Muslim tradition of wearing a Hijab. This was not originally a Muslim tradition. It was a Jewish tradition, practiced by Christians, which the Muslims adopted from them. The Jews had a belief that a woman’s hair could inflame a man’s desire and should therefore be covered in public. Since early Christianity was based heavily on Judaism they maintained the same tradition until the late middle ages, or later for women in religious orders. This is why nuns wear wimples.
The Muslim tradition started when Mohammed told his daughters that they should put outer clothes on when around men who were not family. He didn’t want them to be running around in their underwear. Since women in 6th century Arabia tended to be married between the ages of 9-12 I tend to imagine that his daughters were pretty young at the time. Imagine a couple of young children running around in their underwear on a hot day and their father telling them to put some clothes on. I imagine them protesting; “Do I have too?” as children typically do. This may not have been the situation at all. We don’t know. However, this incident was used a few centuries later, when Islamic lawyers were creating the sharia law to require women to wear outer clothing around men other than their family. Although the Qur’an stresses modesty, it does not specifically require women to keep their heads or faces covered. It does tell them to guard their private parts and put a scarf over their bosom in the presence of men.
Over time the Islamic women started to adopt the Christian practice of wearing head scarves, as they thought it demonstrated more modesty. It was also considered a demonstration of wealth. A veiled woman signified that her husband was wealthy enough to keep her idle, not needing to work. Over time this developed into the culture which requires that Islamic women now be veiled.
England in the 11th century was a lot like the fundamentalist Islamic countries are in this day and age with regard to their attitude towards unveiled women. Only a prostitute or a pre-pubescent child would be allowed to have her hair uncovered. To be naked was quite unthinkable. Even male nudity was considered abhorrent. Being shirtless was an offense and grounds for divorce. Anglo-Saxon England was one of the most gymnophobic societies in the history of the world. Nudity in public was a mortal sin. Thus when Lady Godiva asked her husband to lower the taxes, he set a condition which he considered absolutely impossible.
Think a bit more about this woman. Godiva was an aristocrat. Her husband was Leofric, the Earl of Mercia. Before Alfred united England Mercia had been the largest and richest kingdom in England. Her husband was probably the second most powerful man in England, after the King. At the time of the Norman conquest she was a widow and the only woman in the country who was a major landowner in her own right. She was also a very devout Christian and a major religious benefactor. She had endowed several convents and monasteries. This was an extremely powerful, influential woman with a very devout reputation in a culture where reputation was extremely important.
Let’s try to think of a modern analogy. The Anglo-Saxon attitude to nudity was like a fundamentalist Islamic State, such as Iran. Her husband was the second most powerful person in the country, capable of setting and lifting taxes. This is comparable to the Iranian President. The current President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been criticised for his financial lapses and disregard for human rights, which makes him a fairly comparable person to Godiva’s husband, with his harsh taxes, driving the people of Coventry to starvation. So the act of Lady Godiva would be similar to Azam Farahi, Ahmadinejad’s wife, riding naked through Tehran. It would be utterly unthinkable. She would probably be disowned and perhaps even be stoned to death.
The story of Lady Godiva seems to have first been told in the 13th century and is thought to be complete fiction. If it was true, she would have been a truly amazing person.
The Lady God1va that I found inspirational did not ride through the streets of Coventry naked, but she has repeatedly ridden through the streets of London naked. She has also ridden a rocking horse naked on a plinth in the center of London. The photo is from her blog and was taken by @nigelwill2001 on twitter.
When I first began thinking of becoming a naturist I had spent a fair bit of time searching for naturist groups and activities in my area. When reading about the naked bike rides I discovered Lady God1va’s blog. http://ladygod1va.wordpress.com/
She was writing about a lot of things which related to naturism in a very articulate, well thought out way. She was also keen to promote nudity as something natural and healthy which should be more widely accepted. Her blog has a lot of followers, which may be at least partly due her being a very attractive woman, but its enduring popularity with genuine naturists is no doubt down to the questions which she raises and the views which she has expressed.
She has more recently started a second blog dealing with more routine news, photos, events etc. http://ladygod1vadaily.wordpress.com/
The thing which I think made her most stick out in my mind was her appearance on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar square.
The Fourth Plinth was originally intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, but remained bare due to insufficient funds. For over 150 years the fate of the plinth was debated; in 1999, a sequence of three contemporary artworks to be displayed on the plinth were announced.
Between 6 July – 14 October 2009 – over the course of a hundred consecutive days, a total of 2,400 selected members of the public each spent one hour on the plinth. They were allowed to do anything they wished to and could take anything with them that they could carry unaided. There was a live feed of the plinth on the Internet sponsored by TV channel Sky Arts.
Lady God1va took a rocking horse onto the plinth and rode it naked. She also walked around carring plackards with pro naturist messages, encouraging people to accept nudity.
She was not the only person to be naked on the plinth. There were a few man, some of whom had to cover themselves because of protests by members of the public. There was also a pole dancer who performed on the plinth. However Lady God1va’s performance maintained a good level of dignity, whilst being a bit light hearted, and was wonderful publicity for naturism.
She was not at the time an official advocate for any naturist group, but was the head of a London based IT firm. Yet she was willing to be on display in the centre of London, with a live TV broadcast of her for an entire hour. This took a lot of conviction and an absolute belief in the things she had been saying about accepting our bodies ad not being afraid to be naked. This is even more surprising as she is of Indian descent, as their attitude towards nudism is generally far from her own.
It was her promoting of the WNBR that made me decide to participate in their rides. I was unable to attend the London ride, but have been participating in my local ride in Cardiff for the last three years.
The prominence which she gained for herself made her a perfect advocate for naturism in the UK and it is something which she has continued to be doing over the years. I met her once at the abbey house gardens in Malmesbury a couple of years ago and she is perfectly charming in person. Friendly, charismatic and willing to speak her mind. All of which are qualities that a spokesperson should have. This year she was one of the organisers of the London WNBR.
A few years ago, when I felt I was getting nothing out of being a BN member it was Lady God1va who convinced me of the importance of supporting BN. There are things which she has posted that I don’t agree with, but I think that she is one of the best independent advocates that nudism in this country has ever had. For me, she has been inspirational, which is why I consider her to be one of my heroes.
Her blog has not been as active in the last year, which may be because she has covered so many topics so well already, but I know that whenever she writes anything new that it is going to be worth reading.