If you just came for the pictures of beautiful topless Ukrainian and French women marching in the streets of Paris, click here.
For the honorable few who are still with me, thank you. This blog post is about the Ukrainian-born feminists movement Femen and its recent move to the French capital. The women kicked off their Parisian sojourn on September 18 in typical form: They marched in high-heeled boots, skin-tight jeans and neat flower crowns, their naked torsos markered-up with simple but provocative slogans.
From a distance the scene could have appeared like a Roman fresco depicting the fair Europa and her maiden friends. The vision broken not by Zeus (disguised as a bull with a hard-on) but the maidens’ own loud chanting: “Liberty, nudity!”
The naked 20-somethings had already put the French media on alert: they were in town to raise an “army of women”; to recruit, train and arm women with the physical and ideological means to combat the dictatorship of man. That’s not me paraphrasing, that is straight Femen talk.
Except the only army that showed up to their first major event in France was the giddy horde of journalists who easily outnumbered the women warriors 10 to 1. A first defeat in the long war for la République?
Not at all.
That’s the kind of treatment the Femen has already learned to expect in their home country. They have found a formula for getting their message across and it works: the next day, the bare-chested bombshells were splashed all over France’s dailies.
The boot camp kicks off next week, we’ve all learned. Twenty-nine-year-old Eloise, one of the movement’s coordinators in France, explained the registration process to the free daily Metro: “If you are interested, it’s not complicated. You just have to take off your t-shirt.”
So, are masses, or even significant numbers, of French women ready to break free from the oppression of their clothing and join the Femen army?
I myself am hopeful, if only for more marches, but seriously doubtful.
First of all, because my wife (who considers herself a feminist), my female friends and coworkers mostly reacted the same way as men to articles in the press: they find it hard to get past the photos.
If you are ready for those photos now, click here.
Still with me? The other reason I expect the Ukrainian Femen to tank is that their twin struggle against political oppression and prostitution will likely be lost in translation here.
The Femen got their start condemning booming sex-tourism in Ukraine, where young women -even those with degrees- find few employment opportunites outside the prostitution sector.
Most feminists in France do not feel politically persecuted or oppressed, and tend to focus on more specific problems, such as domestic abuse and equal pay for equal work. Those are problems that are important to fix, and French Femen members said so at a press conference at the Paris booby march. But those concerns seemed to be almost like luxury grievances for the exiled Ukrainians.
The Femen will also probably come up against two formidable foes in their pays d’accueille. The first is old-school French feminists who will sneer at the skin flashing and say rather than a vehicle to deliver ideas, it’s a gimmick to compensate for the lack of ideas. They’ll say, we didn’t have to show our bums to win the right to vote or to abort, and they’ll have a point.
The second group that the Femen could clash with is not veiled-clad Muslims. It’s French prostitutes’ union STRASS, who have also marched in France to demand the right to legalize their profession and rose up in anger when the French government considered a law to fine and jail sex clients April 2011.
Picture this: an anti-prostitution Femen march comes up against a STRASS march on Place Pigalle. If things get ugly, you guess which of the two groups won’t hesitate to use mace and gouge at eyeballs.
To the Femen, I can only say bienvenue, but I’ll offer some small advice: in France you might want to slip into something less comfortable.