Baring Witness

                                                                                                                                             Photo: Kirsten Michel

Donna Sheehan & Paul Reffell - A Partnership

Baring Witness - The Vision
By Donna Sheehan

It is no accident that Baring Witness began with women. From Nigeria to Nepal to the United States, women are impatient with the endless cycle of violence and war between people, between nations, between human beings and the earth itself.

It is no accident either that women would choose to get naked for the sake of peace and justice. For Baring Witness is about using the greatest weapon women have, the power of the feminine, the power of our beauty and nakedness to awaken our male leaders and stop them in their tracks. In this way Baring Witness is about heightening the awareness of human vulnerability.

 By risking with our nakedness - our charm and beauty and vulnerability - in service of peace we are exposing the flesh all humans share. We are casting off the old dominant paradigm of aggression and restoring the power of the feminine to its rightful place as the protector of life. It is time for women to deter the men in their lives from violent acts, as nurturers, as guardians of our families and as voices of reason.

War seems to be a masculine invention. For thousands of years men have been conditioned to respond to threat and confrontation with violence first. Whereas the feminine way is to resolve difficulty and conflict through dialogue and negotiation, through compromise and kindness, not acts of violence.

Of course the feminine principle is not exclusive to women and I am delighted to see so many men joining in the Baring Witness movement and asserting their own feminine power. There have always been evolved, sensitive and intelligent men who are revolted by violence. Men like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the millions of men today who are for the peace process. Conversely, there are women who have become intoxicated by the same craving for power that afflicts most of our male leaders. Rather than using their own power, the power of the feminine, they resort to the strategies that men use.

But in our greater society, largely dominated by male leaders, war has become a habit and habits can be broken. That is where the feminine responsibility lies: breaking the war habit and revealing the truth; our human vulnerability. As women, when we see the bloodlust rising, we must sit down with our men and say, "Honey, we need to talk."

Important as this is, Baring Witness is not just a means to protest against war. It is giving women permission to initiate change. It is encouraging them to step into equal partnership with men and to take equal responsibility for what happens in our lives and in our world. What if the American cultural norm of men initiating everything from courtship to war were replaced with awareness of the frailty of humans and the planet? My vision is a partnership society instead of the  existing patriarchal society of aggression.

The Baring Witness actions have the potential to make a long-term difference in the way we relate to each other, women to men, nation to nation and to the rest of life - the Earth and all its creatures. By restoring the feminine principles of beauty, kindness and nurturing we are bringing the world back into balance. Truly, life depends upon it.

Baring Witness is a force in favor of change in the world. As more peace photographs are created and publicized, the power of the images grows and it might just cause the critical shift of consciousness that will save us all.


By Paul Reffell
December 2002

PEACE - it's such a simple word, but it has many connotations in the current political climate. "You're either with us or against us" has become official national policy, and when the "us" involved is bent on bombing somebody - anybody - to make them pay for September 11, talking about peace could be an act of treason.

 So, it takes a certain amount of courage to speak out against war these days. To speak out publicly, stripped of anonymity and clothing takes even more courage.  

On November 12th, forty-five women in West Marin County, Northern California dared and bared all in protest against impending war. Lying down naked on a field in the rain, they formed the word PEACE with their bodies, spelling out their convictions for all to see.  

The photograph of their protest became the shot seen around the world, once it hit the news wires and the Internet. It has aroused passion and inspired women and men nationwide to take action, speak their minds and express their frustrations at not being heard by those in power.  Many of these new activists have never taken part in a protest before. Some have never written an e-mail to anyone about a political issue. Such is the persuasive power of the vulnerability of the naked female body.  

That power is seduction and it may be the deciding factor in creating support for peace.  

When the image of the PEACE photo was shown on CBS Sunday Morning as a segue between "news" items, Charles Osgood's voice-over was a respectful statement of the facts, but when he came on camera, he said, "Talk about a body of work." Then he turned to introduce Bob Schieffer, who said, "I was hoping for a close-up." Many women were offended by these typical male responses, but what do they really convey?

 These are the kind of stock responses that men express when they get together. They form a mask of bravado, which is a survival tactic for men among men. What they really show is the embarrassment most sober men feel when confronted by public female nudity. Bob Schiefferšs body language - grinning, his eyes down and head slightly bowed - revealed not leering priapism but self-conscious uncertainty, even as he spoke the words that he was 'expected' to say. That is part of the dilemma of appearing 'manly' in America.

That uncertainty is a cultural, and possibly genetic, behavior, which could be very useful in the continuing peace movement. If men are publicly confronted by large numbers of naked women protesting the distinctly male phenomenon of war, it could begin a shift of consciousness, a re-examination of motives and behavior. That just might tip the scale of public opinion against continued international aggression as a substitute for rational foreign policy.

That is the goal of the new peace movement; to gather large numbers of women so that they can express how exhausted and frustrated they are by the state of the world in menšs hands. If that means standing naked and unprotected, unarmed in a violent world, they are ready to do it. No symbol of life is more potent than the female body.  

It is time for collaboration, for a more balanced implementation of male and female energies. The male striving for knowledge and invention has transformed the world for the better and the worse. Our comforts are greater, but so are our effects on the world that supports our very existence. The needs of the modern world create greed for the raw materials from which our needs are satisfied. Wars are fought under other pretexts to satisfy those needs. It is time for the nurturing influence of women to be felt more strongly.  

As simplistic as it sounds, the movement can make our rulers stop and listen, even if only for a second. That one second could be the difference between their pushing the button and listening to their hearts. They are still human. They are still men. They have other ways of perception than women, but they are not monsters. They have got carried away with having their own way for so long. They are like spoilt, squabbling boys with dangerous toys.  

It is woman's role to give life, to nurture and protect their men and their children. When men are at war, either between themselves or with Nature, they are unhealthy, unhappy and in danger. That is the time for women to step in. That is when it is time to shock men, stop them in their tracks, turn them into embarrassed schoolboys, remind them of how they all came into this world and make them listen to words of consolation, healing and peace.  

That is the time for Baring Witness.


Baring Witness
   Vision   Genesis   Photo Album   How to Do It Yourself   Donate   Order Baring Witness Products  
Press Clips 
Press Releases   Info on Iraq   Anti-war Activism    Volunteer opportunities   Contact Us
Upcoming Baring Witness Actions