Topless Femen leader: British women need us

The launch of Femen UK means Britain will see a new wave of street protest by
recruits trained in “sextremism”, Femen’s form of topless activism. “It is
not possible to become a Femen activist without going through special
preparation to become a extremist," Shevchenko continues. "Members
spend two to three hours a week training both physically - learning how to
resist, how to scream slogans, how to keep their pose - and ideologically.”

Until now the group has done all of its training in Paris but British women
will be trained on home soil. But what issues do Femen want to tackle in
Britain, a country with no dictatorship or authoritarian rule? “I remember
when I first came to France people said the exact same thing,” Shevchenko
says. “They’d say ‘we love Femen and what you did in Ukraine and Russia, but
here there aren’t so many issues you could tackle.’

"Yet during one of the first actions we did in France, in support of the
legalisation of gay marriage, we were beaten up so brutally that I lost a
tooth. Everyone was shocked; they couldn’t believe this was happening in
modern France. But this is what Femen does, we open the truth. We’re taking
off masks from those wearing masks.”

What will they fight in the UK?

In Britain Femen want to protest against a large range of issues from the full
legalising of prostitution (which the group is firmly against), to the
growth of Islamic extremism on UK shores – as well as the latest immigration
laws – making it more difficult for non EU residents to move here.

“One of the main problems of society is that everyone treats feminism as
specific women’s issues such as abortion or periods. We’re trying to make a
point that feminism is about the participation of women’s opinion in each
political protest and social decision of the country,” Shevchenko notes.

"Many people criticise Femen for fighting broad issues like immigration –
but we want to force the world to accept the fact that women’s opinions will
be everywhere, their political demands will sound in each corner of each
government and each street.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are
confronted by a topless Femen demonstrator in Hanover (EPA/JOCHEN LUEBKE)

Indeed, since the group’s establishment, Femen’s campaigns have consistently
made international headlines. Activists confronted Vladimir Putin at a
German trade fair in Hanover, shouting “f*** you dictator!” (To which Putin
later replied: “I didn’t have time to see if they looked good or not,
whether they were blondes or not”); they bullied Mark Zuckerberg, the
Facebook founder and chief, into reinstating their account on the social
network after it was removed because of all the topless posts; they invaded
the catwalk at Paris fashion week; and most recently, they protested against
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right Front National party, during a
visit to the town of Fougères in Brittany. “Sextremism, not fascism,” the
activists chanted, with “Marine, repent!” painted across their naked torsos.
They were pulled away by Le Pen’s security team.

The most violent reprisal in the history of the movement came in Belarus in
December 2011, where members protested against president Alexander
Lukashenko on the first anniversary of his re-election. They were kidnapped
and tortured by men Shevchenko believes were KGB agents.

A Femen protest in Kyiv, Ukraine (REX)

“We were captured by more than 10 men who gagged us and put us in a minibus,”
she recalls matter-of-factly. “We were interrogated overnight and
threatened. Every 10 minutes someone would remind us that we were going to
be killed. ‘Imagine the faces of your mothers when they receive your dead
bodies’ they’d whisper.” The women were dropped off in a forest where they
were stripped, covered in oil and filmed. “They’d say things like ‘see how
those Ukrainian bitches look now’. Then they left us in the middle of the
forest with only our jackets.”

Under fire from Muslims

Although adamant that they are fighting the cause for all women, Femen - whose
slogans include “nudity is liberty” and “better naked than in a burqa” -
have come under fire from Muslim and non-Muslim women for what they see as
cultural imperialism. In the summer of 2012, the group staged a protest at
London’s City Hall against participation of Islamist regimes in the Olympic
Games, and last summer Tunisian feminist Amina Sboui left the group because
of “Islamophobia”.

“A lot of people use nonsense terms like Islamophobe,” Shevchenko says. “It’s
a term that doesn’t have a right to exist at all. I will never use
politically correct sentences about religion because it is a source of
oppression and violence. Femen is against all monosyllabic religions.

But when in reality, we see that one religion, Islam, is the most active [in
terms of extremism], and I would name it the most violent religion of
nowadays, we are going to attack extremists of that religion more.

"Our attacks are never regarding people who believe in something, I don’t
care how many times you pray during the day, the same way you don’t care if
I believe in pink elephants. We’re against the existence of religion in a
public sphere. I don’t want to live in a world where people who punish
others, beat and stone women and make them cover themselves are named as the
most moral.”

Bad times

Another source of discomfort for Femen was the outing of Victor
Svyatski as its main leader by the film Ukraine is Not a Brothel
Svyatski, a Ukrainian man, allegedly handpicked attractive women in an
attempt to drum up better publicity for the group. “He was quite horrible
with the girls," director Kitty Green told The Independent upon the
film’s release in September, "he would scream at them and call
them bitches."

Shevchenko sighs. “No one named Victor as the founder of the movement. His
aggressive behaviour and wish to lead the movement grew over time, it’s not
like he was dictating to us from the first day. Once he started expressing
aggression we began resisting and in the end we kicked him out.”

Femen are putting all of this behind them, Shevchenko says. The UK branch is
being launched in December and she will come to Britain for some time to set
it up. Nevertheless, the group remain contentious in the eyes of many
Britons, particularly those who note a certain contradiction in the act of
going topless - thereby objectifying their bodies - while protesting against
patriarchy. I ask Shevchenko if they mind the controversy. Her answer is an
abrupt “no”.

“We want to change this view about women’s bodies as being sexual objects.
Being naked does not make me a sex object.

“There are people who are for and against Femen, but not many people who are
ignoring Femen, and this is the most important thing. I don’t want to be
loved by everyone. I don’t want to be loved by Muslim extremists or Catholic

"Femen does not show a smiling, passive body. Femen shows an aggressive,
screaming body, and as a result, we are destroying the trivial, sexist point
of view about naked women everywhere.”


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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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