Femen — Victoria Gibson

It is always difficult for women to get their voices heard. The radical European group, Femen, is seeking publicity for their cause by baring their breasts, even stripping completely, and painting slogans on their skin. This attention seeking action, they call “sextremism” is working to attract attentions and spread the news that there is a problem, but is their message getting through?
The photos I have seen, such as the one accompanying the quote below, have the writing blurred out, so the message cannot be read.

‘Russia has urged German authorities to punish the protesters. “This is ordinary hooliganism and unfortunately it happens all over the world, in any city. One needs to punish (them),” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/9978447/Bemused-Vladimir-Putin-and-Angela-Merkel-confronted-by-topless-Femen-protester-in-Hanover.html]’

The protesters were not quoted directly, but excerpts from their facebook page were used to suggest possibilities of what issue they were protesting. Most of the comments printed are from government leaders, who are the target of the protests. They do not take a serious view, but rather try to make a joke of the demonstration. The overall effect of the story was to minimize the cause of the protest and make it seem amusing, while the women protesting were arrested and restrained.
A look at the Femen facebook page to find information, showed a lot of protest activity receiving media attention, but Amines Tyler, a Tunisian Femen protester, is listed as missing. The photo of her on the page shows she has been beaten, but I could not tell exactly what happened. Another photo showed a topless woman with “Kill Kirill . ..” written on her back. I am not sure what this means, but I do not support the promotion of killing or violence to change social attitudes.

Other protests by Femen have included nudity and recall the protests of the Doukhobor social movement in 1914 [Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudity_and_protest] The Doukhobor group has roots in the Ukraine, but Doukobor community members settled in Canada after being exiled from their native country. This form of protest then surfaced in Canadian courts, when the collective religious law clashed with Canadian policies. The passive resistance of naked farmers is very different from the active protest of the Femen group, but I wonder if there is some historical connection?

In contrast to the solid Doukobor farmers, the young Femen protesters have bodies that attract sexist comments and media reports. Do the protesters hope to highlight sexism by attracting comments that reveal sexist attitudes towards young women? Or are they merely using the sensationalist trajectory of contemporary press reporting to attract attention? 
The actions of these women are dangerous and they are risking their personal safety to make their point. As a feminist, I am supportive of the idea of free expression, equal economic opportunity, reproductive choice and freedom from religious suppression, but I worry about these young women putting themselves in danger for such general goals.
The Femen “topless jihad” has taken on some daunting opponents in organized religion, national governments and social attitudes towards women’s bodies. These are brave young women and it may be the right time to move these issues into a media forum and spark discussion. I know that nothing will change if we all sit by passively and watch oppression by church and state, but I question the effectiveness of Femen’s tactics. They are, like Pussy Riot, seeking a media spotlight that they can shine on the current injustices that affect their lives.
If this trend continues, many more young women will be imprisoned, beaten and even killed trying to create change in the world. Is this a price we are willing to pay to have a few amusing stories in the press? It may be possible to create change without endangering these young women, but the tactics would have to be less extreme and the attention would not be so immediate. Real change is needed and the Femen protestors, Pussy Riot and others throughout the world are risking their lives to make it happen. We must respect their decision to do so, but still look for alternative means.

One comment

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Whenever I read about FEMEN I feel like I’m missing something. I’m an American and not familiar with the details of European politics, and I suppose there are some cultural differences that amplify that.

    I’m also a pragmatist at heart and I don’t get what the next step is. Ok, so you ran around covered in body paint and got on the news…now what? I’m not offended, it just seems kind of silly to me.

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