Feminists, topless, in Paris

Abi Samuels thinks that just stripping off isn’t the most effective way of advancing the feminist movement

‘Let’s get naked,’ reads one of many campaign slogans plastered on the walls of a former public washhouse in a run-down district of northern Paris. On closer inspection, the Ukrainian-based feminist group Femen’s first international boot camp seems to mirror its decor: bold and brash, yet essentially meaningless.

This new generation of feminists, famous for topless demonstration, trains members to protest while avoiding security forces by way of a very physical induction process. What message is central to such a seemingly ironic campaign? Alexandra Shevchenko, one of Femen’s founders, told The Guardian, “There is an ideology behind protesting topless, but we quickly realised that if we took our tops off and screamed and shouted loudly it was a good way to get attention.”

And scream and shout they do. In August, a semi-naked Shevchenko wielded a chainsaw and chopped down a large wooden Orthodox cross in Ukraine, in support of the jailed Russian feminists Pussy Riot, and only last week Femen activists staged a topless demonstration under the Venus de Milo statue inside Paris’s Louvre in an anti-rape protest.

Stripping off has certainly ensured a constant stream of publicity, but to what avail? Using nudity to rail against female exploitation appears somewhat inconsistent. In the weeks that have seen photographs of a topless Duchess of Cambridge being banned, such protests were certainly topical, yet they have failed to advance the feminist cause.

Few women’s rights movements make their way into The Sun, but it is no surprise that Femen was an obvious exception. Getting naked to show they have no weapons except their bodies seems a rather demeaning attempt to gain any serious publicity. What they call a campaign of ‘peaceful terrorism’ comes across as attention-seeking for all the wrong reasons, a slapdash attempt at best. The group’s tactics reinforce the idea that women are sex objects whose only value and means of getting attention lies in their appearance. This touches on a serious issue in Ukraine, the movement’s birthplace, where the prime minister, Mykola Azarov, felt he could defend his all-male cabinet by saying, “Conducting reforms is not women’s business.”

As one of the world leaders in sex tourism and prostitution, being rooted in Ukraine places Femen in an extremely powerful position. And yet, while its members can (and do) scream and shout all they want, the movement is ultimately a poor attempt to confront one of Europe’s biggest open secrets.

It is not the tastelessness of the Femen mantra that is its main flaw, but its lack of meaning and its obvious inconsistencies. Sexual exploitation, dictatorship and religion are deemed the three major evils of a ‘patriarchal society’ by Femen activists. However, for a movement so opposed to the methods of such a patriarch, adopting warrior tactics and the language of combat seem an unusual means to go about their mission. Their recent protest during the London Olympics against ‘bloody Islamist regimes’, featuring women dressed as Muslim men and the chanting of ‘No Sharia’, seemed equally trivial. Sure, for a feminist campaign to be taken seriously is a rare occurrence. However, it seems impossible for Femen to earn any sort of respect if it continues to pursue a confused policy that is controversial for the sake of controversy.

Femen’s goals are “to shake women in Ukraine, making them socially active” culminating in what they hope will be a 21st century Women’s Revolution.The means by which this admirable end is achieved has proved to be vastly more important. Femen must start to make headlines for the right reasons and stop taking all publicity to be good publicity.  Its cause is admirable, but if the movement continues to pursue a policy of screaming and shouting it may never truly be heard.

Via: studentnewspaper.org

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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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