I seldom write about the women’s movement FEMEN because as newsmakers they have hardly ever been worth writing about. However, this time around they sent more powerful ripples than their hackneyed and dull strip actions.
As a reminder: the FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko and her associates took a chainsaw to a memorial crucifix in the center of Kyiv. The action was held on August 17, when the Russian punk band Pussy Riot received their verdict.
FEMEN wrote in their Live Journal the following: “As a sign of solidarity with the victims of the Kremlin-clerical regime, the FEMEN girls tore down the memorial cross near the Maidan with a chainsaw.”
This so-called action became perhaps the worst failure in the movement’s entire history. And there is irrefutable logic behind this flop.
No one can say if FEMEN indeed see themselves as a sort of Ukraine’s own Pussy Riot; Anna Hutsol and the Shevchenko sisters are most likely to deny the allegation. Yet the manner of their actions suggests the opposite. By constantly reminding about themselves in the way most usual for them, FEMEN are trying to fill the Ukrainian niche of radical feminist protest, which in Russia has been occupied by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich.
However, if they want to repeat Pussy Riot’s achievement, they need two things first of all: a clear-cut ideology and good education. As far as the former goes, I will repeat what I have already written about FEMEN’s another action: Hutsol-Shevchenko group has no ideology. The first thing that suggests itself is feminism. Feminist organizations have a leftist or liberal-leftist bias. Despite the widespread stereotypes, they advocate human rights in general, and not only women’s rights. They are also engaged in permanent social activities, and direct actions are only a part of this work.
As for FEMEN, so far they have not been noticed to be involved in any struggle for real rather than declarative gender equality. A couple of striptease escapades outside the Cabinet of Ministers office or the railroad station do not count. As to their left-wing or liberal bias, in this case it is even less than pathetic; moreover, some of their performances look like copycatting (hopefully, unconscious) extreme nationalists.
As far as education goes, the situation is even worse. Pussy Riot are actually well-educated, intelligent young women, quite conscious of what they are doing. It is enough to read their final pleas before court to see it. Sadly, our protesters are not always literate in their native Russian tongue. They have no command of Ukrainian, let alone English. It scares me to imagine what would happen if someone tried to discuss, say, the French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault with Sasha Shevchenko. Meanwhile, the subject is quite familiar to Pussy Riot.
No convictions, no background knowledge – at the bottom line it seems that the group’s sole incentive to public actions is the craving for popularity, regardless of the price. FEMEN will always take part in rallies for freedom of speech and assembly, or against the lawlessness of the Party of Region’s regime – yet their participation lasts no longer than it is necessary for the girls to get in the limelight (I have witnessed that multiple times). Then, if they have not been detained by the police by that moment, the girls simply leave the rally without giving a second thought to its outcome. Sometimes their actions look rather like provocations in favor of the regime, just like it was during the Tax Maidan in 2010: when they realized that no one was going to give them the floor, the girls kicked up a stink, accusing the protesters of mercenariness, and presented themselves to the Internet media as innocent victims of brutal violence.
Ignorance produces unscrupulousness. Making vulgar photos and videos (“vulgar” due to a lack of taste and limit of decency rather than to the nude nature) with roguish Russian fashion designers or venal rock musicians, only for the sake of such characters’ doubtful fame, for a truly feminist organization would mean indignity and a reputational suicide. Doing petty commerce selling boob souvenirs is okay when behind those brightly painted mugs and T-shirts there is a philosophy of sorts. Their political credo boils down to the hackneyed “they are all alike.” FEMEN have no real achievements, nor convincing social discourse, nor cooperation with other feminist or political movements – let alone any attempts at presenting a theoretic background to their existence. The potentially necessary activity turns into mere rubbing shoulders, being a newsmaker for that very yellow press which FEMEN so fervently criticized.
All this has brought them to where they are now: free and safe self-promotion at the expense of others. Should the girls be a little bit less ignorant, they would have known that the cross was raised to commemorate the victims of the NKVD, butchered in the 1930s in the execution jail (now Zhovtnevy Palace). They would have known that it was a Catholic cross, so tearing it down actually cheered the sagging spirits of the Kremlin’s petty clergy. Should their beliefs be real, they would have set up a powerful provocation at the Lavra, which has become the stronghold of Muscovite-style obscurantism. This could have earned them real jail terms and trouble with the Black Hundred chauvinists – but at the same time it could have helped unmask the Kremlin church. FEMEN need not spread their petty lies about massive police raids. For them, it is just a game, another go at earning cheap publicity at the others’ expense; a desperate, yet pathetic, attempt to get in the limelight of the Pussy Riot trial.
“FEMEN warn the Putin-Gundiaev tandem that should the [Pussy Riot. – Ed.] activists be sentenced to jail terms, FEMEN will turn their chainsaw personally against the rats responsible for the suffering of these innocent women.”
Ah, both Putin and Gundiaev are scared speechless.
It is pathetic beyond words.
It will be even more pathetic if the Pussy Riot girls are indeed convicted.
P.S. Everyone should get their due. I would sin against myself if I did not voice certain questions, which personally I do not directly link to FEMEN’s act. Asking them, I expect a discussion within the boundaries of decency. What does the ritual symbol of one church do at the place of carnage, where people of various confessions and beliefs were slaughtered, as well as atheists? And does the symbol of Christianity have a right to be a symbol of mercy, given not only the details of the trial in Moscow, but the entire history of this religion?