Femen eyes US branch as relevance fades

Main activist of Ukrainian feminist protest group Femen Ukraine's Inna Shevchenko (R) and an unidentified Femen activist raise their fists as they walks toward the courtroom prior to their hearing, along with seven other activists, on charges of damaging Notre Dame cathedral during a demonstration earlier this year, on September 13, 2013 at Paris courthouse.

Femen leader Inna Shevchenko (R) and an unidentified Femen activist at a Paris courthouse. AFP/ LIONEL BONAVENTURE

The Ukraine-born leader of the radical feminist organization Femen, famous for its topless protests around the world, is planning to open an American branch. Inna Shevchenko’s announcement comes as the group’s reception in France, where the Femen leader sought and received political asylum in 2013, has cooled considerably.

Shevchenko and eight fellow Femenites were called before a Paris tribunal Wednesday on charges of damaging bells and religious articles at the Notre Dame Cathedral last year to mark the resignation of Pope Benoit XVI; the trial will formally begin on July 9. Another Femen activist will go on trial March 14 for simulating abortion in the famed Eglise de la Madeleine. The pending trials mark the end to a brief period of adulation, which saw France welcome Femen’s move from its headquarters in Kyiv to Paris. Fascination with the charismatic Shevchenko extended even to the country’s national stamp – the Femen leader played the muse for the newest depiction of France’s cultural symbolic Marianne, which was approved by President Francois Hollande. Now, conservative lawmakers are calling for Femen to be labeled a sect (and thereby illegal).

Amidst growing ill will in France – and the high-profile February defections of two French Femenites disillusioned with the movement — little wonder that Femen is mulling a trans-Atlantic change of scenery. But while Shevchenko has led Femen’s charge across Western Europe, where the group has established outposts in several countries, efforts to expand any further have stalled. Take Tunisia, where the feminist group hoped to build off the steam of a local Femen activist’s high-profile arrest for public indecency and assert a North African presence. While Femen drew considerable attention to Amina Sboui’s plight – and to its own movement via a solidarity protest in Tunis, which saw three Femen members arrested – the move backfired when Sboui announced she was leaving the group because of its ‘anti-Islam’ politics.

But Femen’s at times single-minded attacks on religion – Catholicism and Islam being its main targets – are not the only aspect of the feminist group to come under fire. In September, the revelation that a male Svengali was pulling the strings called the group’s very raison d’être into question – a criticism strengthened by Femen’s relative impotence on the ground. Namely in Ukraine, where a grassroots, unorganized movement has forced the government into a deadly stalemate, whereas Femen made little more than noise railing against the reigning patriarchy. Yes, a strong female voice has emerged from the crisis – but it’s that of Ukrainian pop singer and political activist Ruslana Lyzhychko. As for Femen, apart from an isolated protest in Paris (i.e., public urination on a portrait of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych) the group has been M.I.A.

The feminist movement’s absence from the battle lines in Kyiv is especially conspicuous when compared to the resurgence of Russia’s Pussy Riot, whose leading members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were briefly detained at the Sochi Olympics, violently attacked by Cossack security forces and released a new music video lambasting President Vladimir Putin – mere weeks after being released from jail, where they were serving sentences for “hooliganism.” Though Pussy Riot’s tactics have been questioned as well – including from within the group, which disowned Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina for forgetting “about the aspirations and ideals of our group” – the band has cultivated a high-profile following. (See its recent New York concert in partnership with Amnesty International.)

Shevchenko has shrugged off Femen’s recent bad press, noting, “We are not a rock band. We’re a bunch of angry women.”  But with Pussy Riot still making waves two years after its infamous “punk prayer” – minus the questions of credibility and relevance plaguing Femen – Shevchenko’s feminist group would be well served to take a cue from Russia’s most notorious “rock band.”

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Via: blogs.blouinnews.com


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About FEMEN

The mission of the "FEMEN" movement is to create the most favourable conditions for the young women to join up into a social group with the general idea of the mutual support and social responsibility, helping to reveal the talents of each member of the movement.

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