Tunisian feminist activist Amina Sboui was recently released from jail on August 1, and once again, she’s sparking a liberation movement. This time, she wants to liberate herself from FEMEN.
Yes, this is the very same 19-year-old Tunisian activist whose topless Facebook photos, with the slogan “F*ck your morals” written on her body, sparked massive controversy in mid-March. That act was, in fact, inspired by FEMEN, the Ukraine-based feminist group known for staging topless protests. With her photos, Amina became the catalyst for one of FEMEN’s highest-profile protests, International Topless Jihad Day. Announcing it on their Facebook page, the group wrote, “This day will mark the beginning of a new, genuine Arab Spring, after which true freedom, freedom without mullahs and caliphs, will come to Tunisia! Long live the topless jihad against infidels! Our tits are deadlier than your stones!”
Amina’s response? “I don’t want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organization. I did not appreciate the action taken by the girls shouting 'Amina Akbar, Femen Akbar”' in front of the Tunisian embassy in France, or when they burned the black Tawhid flag in front of a mosque in Paris. These actions offended many Muslims and many of my friends. We must respect everyone’s religion.”
Sometimes the truth is more ironic than fiction.
In her interview with Huffington Post Maghreb, Amina thanked FEMEN protestors for their support but mentioned that they aggravated her case and caused her to be charged with “criminal conspiracy,” in addition to her previous charge of desecrating a cemetery with the word “Femen.”
FEMEN leader Inna Schevchenko in turn condemned Amina’s condemnation, accusing her of “betraying the thousands of women in several countries who undressed to support her during the Free Amina campaign.”
But the real kicker? “My problem is not that I want to wear short skirts,” Amina says in the interview. “I could do it if I wanted to. But I want women to be able to become president if they want to. I want women in rural areas to stop suffering.”
It’s not certain that FEMEN’s protesters have the same objective. In fact, upon reflection, it’s difficult to discern an overall agenda, or point to their protests. We know they like to go topless: “We live under male domination, and nudity is the only way to provoke them, to get their attention,” said Schevchenko in an interview with The Guardian. And while they certainly grab our attention, it’s questionable whether they do much else. By enlisting only young, blond, slim models for their efforts, FEMEN’s often ends up reinforcing patriarchy rather than toppling it.
Furthermore, it’s hard to take this branch of the “women’s liberation” movement seriously when it spends so much effort on arrogantly patronizing the very women it claims to be “saving.” Amina is not the first member from within the group to criticize its efforts. In Germany, FEMEN activists criticized the group's comparisons between the sex industry and fascism, which incorporated Nazi imagery. Many Muslim women across the globe have condemned FEMEN’s “nudity is liberty” doctrine, sometimes even holding counter-protests. And when criticized for their dogmatism, their condescension, and their attempted control of women’s bodies akin to the men they denounce, FEMEN simply states: “We are not going to adapt our discourse to all 10 countries where our group is now present: our message is universal.”
What does this mean in plain English? "Trust us to know what’s best for you better than you do yourself. We will free you from patriarchy but you will never be free from us."
And with the loss of one of its most visible members, we realize what FEMEN’s brand of “feminism” truly is: empty and hollow.