“Celebrating Women, Celebrating Bodies,” the biannual nude photo exhibit by and for Bowdoin women, opened last Monday. I circled around the gallery three times at the opening, unwilling to leave. Each photograph moved me to my bones. 

This was my second year participating, and this is my second time writing about it. Last time I was dissatisfied—critical of “empowerment” without focus and feminism without politics. 
I now have a different experience. What I saw in the gallery this week was deeply political. Many participants used their bodies as a canvas, writing how they saw themselves: “Power,” “Strong,” “Bright,” “Radiant.” Some women posed with feminist books. One asserted her right to reproductive autonomy, holding a sign in front of her stomach that read, “Don’t govern my—” with an arrow pointing down. She flipped off the camera for good measure.

 Several seethed. “Fuck the patriarchy,” “Still not asking for it,” “No means no. There’s no excuse.”
 The message that struck me hardest was simple. One word: “MINE.”
 Whether or not the women wrote messages (I didn’t), regardless of their degree of nudity or if their photographs were silly or serious or with a group or solo, they all declared that one word: MINE.

 Late Tuesday night, a group of Bowdoin women were accosted and sexually harassed by two teenage boys. Especially in the wake of the sexual assault and predation that rocked campus last fall, this is a sickening reminder that much of the world does not want women to own their bodies. As a woman, asserting MINE is radical.

 And we’re doing it in more ways than the photo shoot. “Together,” a film by Ali Ragan ’16, tells a powerful stories of sexual assault and survivorship. The office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education is doing important institutional work. NARAL Pro-Choice Bowdoin is doing political activism to protect abortion access and We Need to Talk—the series of events on sexual violence and masculinity—has done a great job including men in the movement to end sexual violence. We are at the close of Consent Week.

 Each of these projects is powerful, and if you want to join, you should. There is room for you. There is, of course, more to do.

 Who is “Celebrating Women, Celebrating Bodies” for? It is for women. If you do not or have not identified as a woman, I hope you can come to the gallery in the spirit of appreciation and learning. It is not for you, but you can get something out of it. Maybe it will feel weird. If it does, consider reading the text posted around the gallery. Before and after the photo shoot, each participant wrote what she was feeling. It might help you get inside the heads of the women—our excitement, anxiety, absurdity, nerves, love, discomfort, liberation. Each person who participated came with intention, and we should honor her on her terms.

 We have a right to proclaim our bodies MINE. There are still (still!) so many people, institutions and ways of thinking that would have it otherwise. They are wrong, and they will not win.