Femen’s breast bearing: firebrand feminism or foolish fad?

Femen has attracted worldwide attention for its ‘topless’ approach to the feminist cause.

While its provocative protests have certainly won it the media spotlight, some argue that this self styled ‘sextremism’ is counter productive and naive.

For this edition of I-talk our guest is a founder of the group, Inna Shevchenko.

euronews: “Inna, Femen is now an internationally recognised brand, but are you not concerned that people remember you going topless, but don’t necessarily hear the message?”

Inna Shevchenko: “You can look at our breasts as long as you want. But, while watching our breasts you cannot ignore the message written there. Our breasts are talking, our breasts are screaming, we have transformed our naked bodies into a political instrument. We have given the world a new meaning of women’s nudity. And now this is a political instrument, this is my political weapon, and on my breasts I have written a message I want you to hear.”

euronews: “OK, but then at one point, I guess that message, your instrument, is going to become mundane, because people are going to start saying ‘Oh there’s Femen, they are taking their tops off again’. Is that not a concern?”

Shevchenko: “I think sometimes people expect more from Femen than our mission is. Our mission is to create a discussion, to reveal the problem, to show the truth, to take the masks off those who are wearing masks. This is our mission. We’re not a political party, we don’t see ourselves as politicians. We are street activists. What we are doing is we attack our enemies, we attack those who believe in patriarchy, those who have a patriarchal opinion about women and the position of women. We face up to them in their own backyard, where they don’t expect us to be, and in this way we are breaking the rules of patriarchy. What we are saying now is we are fighting and we are women.”

euronews: “We’ll you’ve certainly provoked a lot of interest, and we’re going to go to our first question.”

Alex: “Hello, I’m Alex and I’m from England, and I was wondering why feminism and the religious tradition can’t work together in parallel?”

euronews: “Are you against all religions?”

Shevchenko: “Yes. Where religion starts, feminism ends. We are definitely an atheist movement, we are an anti-religious movement, but I don’t want anyone to think we are anti-faith. I don’t care how many times people pray during the day. But I do care when they tell me how I should live my life.”

euronews: “Three activists from Femen have been jailed in Tunisia. Euronews does not in any way condone their imprisonment, but do you not think that you are going to have to adapt your message to the culture you are conveying that message in?”

Shevchenko: “I think that anyone should understand, the point about Femen is, it doesn’t have anything to do with different cultures. It’s not about that, we’re talking about universal human rights. What we are doing is we are saying to the world that there are no different human rights for Arab women, and a different type for European, and a third type for America, for example. What we do is, we spread universalism, we say we have the right to control our own bodies, everywhere, in any culture, but it doesn’t have anything to do with cultural differences.”

euronews: “But then, you know, some people want to control their body differently, some time ago you said ‘better naked than the burka’, but, you know, some people actually choose to wear the burka, do you respect that?”

Shevchenko: “I would say that, we are not calling on everyone to take their tops off. What we are doing is we are asking the world, if we, being women, have the right to do it if we want to. And how does the world respond? They put us in jail. They arrest us. They kidnap us. Your question regarding the burka – I will accept, we always accept – you have a choice. But, up to now, in this world there are women who are obliged to cover themselves, like in Iran, in Afghanistan. Tradition means up to now they have to. We are going to point that this religion was nothing because they are trying to cover women they are trying to hide them.”

euronews: “But the ones who choose to, it’s fine, you will say OK, so you’ll respect women’s choice to wear the burka. Even nowadays.”

Shevchenko: “Definitely, yes, of course. But it’s a question as to whether it’s a choice or not.”

euronews: OK. We go now to our next question.

“Hello, my name is Yasmina, I am Belgian, and I have a question for you. Femen women who appear in the media are often blond, thin and good looking. I wanted to know whether there are some specific criteria to be part of Femen, to convey your message of freedom.”

euronews: “This is a question we got again and again. Is it a criteria, do you have to be good looking, do you have to be young?”

Shevchenko: “I think you will never find an ex or current Femen member who will tell you ‘yes I went through casting’ or something like that. It’s nothing to do with appearance. It’s about physical and moral preparation. Femen accepts anyone. Any woman can join Femen. You have to be trained – we are trained very well – we are trained physically, trained morally, and if we do one of the actions we have to train before the event. But it doesn’t have anything to do with colour of your hair, or the size of your ass, (I’m sorry).”

euronews: “So who are your oldest members then?”

Shevchenko: “Our oldest member is 64 years old, she’s Ukrainian and she does topless actions.”

euronews: “OK. So a lot of feminists are saying that your message is very exclusive, and anti feminist.”

Shevchenko: “The Femen form of feminism doesn’t exclude other forms of feminism. We are not saying ‘yes this is the only way’. We are saying that, for us, this is the way. For those who are doing actions, for those who call themselves Femen. This is how we arrived at this idea. We worked for two years in Ukraine, practicing the classical form of feminism – including me. And what we realised was, no one wanted to talk to us. They just ignored us. And we got to the point where we had to act. Because, for example, look today at feminism. We have a strong theoretical side, but what about the street, what about the practical side? We are trying to add this to feminism. This is where the place of Femen in feminism is. But it doesn’t exclude other forms.”

euronews: “Our next question is from Ireland.”

“My name is Lucy, I am from Ireland, and I would like to know why the attacks on Femen have become more frequent lately.”

euronews: “Has Femen been attacked more recently?”

Shevchenko: “Every time that we find we have a new enemy, of women in general, of women’s liberation, of course we get attacked more and more. For example today I woke up because of an SMS [text message] that I got. It said ‘die’. And I thought to myself ‘good morning Inna’.”

euronews: “Are you frightened?”

Shevchenko: “I’m not sure if this is the right question. I just forget about it.”

euronews: “Really? You are not frightened for your own safety?”

Shevchenko: “You know I would say that everything that we do is always a personal choice. And fear is a choice as well.”

e*uronews:* “You are a courageous group, but you’ve also been in situations that have been quite frightening, for example in Belarus, can you tell us a little bit about that?”

Shevchenko: “Yes that’s true. It was the first time we were nearly killed doing a Femen activity. It happened at the end of 2011, in Belarus. Three activists – I was one of them – were participating in a demonstration against the dictatorship in Belarus, against [President] Lukashenko. After the demonstration, we were kidnapped, and for the next 24 hours we were in the hands of real killers. They took us into a forest, we were tortured there, they cut my hair, they put oil on us, they they were playing with fire around us, they tried to imply they are going to kill us. And for 24 hours we were in a situation where we did not know minute by minute if we were going to die. And in that situation, yes, you ask yourself, ‘what does this really mean?’. It’s not about being a martyr, it’s not about being prepared for anything, even death. But I would say that although we were nearly killed, I still didn’t see myself as a victim. Because I was analysing the situation I was in, those men they were doing those crazy things to us… why ? Because we told the world the truth. That’s it.”

euronews: “Inna Shevchenko, Many thanks for joining us.”

You can check on our website, or follow us on social media to find out who the next guest on I-talk will be.

Then send us your question, on video or written format, and we’ll try to pass them on to our guests.

More about: Activism, FEMEN, Freedom of speech, Protest, Ukraine, Violence against women

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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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