Admittedly, I'm not sure what to make of Ukraine is Not a Brothel. The premise certainly is compelling; a group of young, passionate woman streak topless in front of important military and political locations in and around Ukraine to protest the status and treatment of women in their country. The general consensus, by these young women and much of their country, is that women in Ukraine are objects of desire, relegated to prostitution, marriage for hire, or the international sex tourism industry.
Since its inception in 2008, FEMEN has garnered a lot of international attention for their topless protests at key strategical locations in and around Ukraine. Their mission is simple: they use their bodies to expose the limitations forced upon them as women by an oppressive patriarchy.
The struggle I find within this documentary is reconciling the way FEMEN is managed with the unwavering, naïvely so, faith of its women. They are strong and passionate, but they are quite clearly at the mercy of the groups leader Viktor. The irony is not lost on them, at least a small handful of them, that their leader is a man. He is overbearing, mean, and verbally cruel and abusive to the women of FEMEN. But their faith in their cause appears to outweigh the verbal abuse from their leader and the physical abuse they so often experience at their protests from government officials.
The documentary is less interested in the effectiveness of their cause and more on the management of the group, however. Rather than going out into the populate to get reactions from Ukrainians on the effectiveness of FEMEN, the focus is entirely on the group. As a self-identifying feminist, I appreciate their message and the empowerment they are capable of for women around the world. But I feel like we never really know if they are reaching anyone or just making people mad. Maybe that's the true struggle with the act of protest? At least they're being noticed.
Perhaps some of this struggle, for me, is that FEMEN is too new and their struggle is ongoing. There isn't a clear end to this narrative, so the film finds itself wrapping rather abruptly as high-profile member Alexandra Shevchenko flees Ukraine for political asylum in Paris, France. Maybe the necessity to flee was a sign of their effectiveness? Or perhaps it was a sign that their battle was only starting and these young women are to find their journey must continue for a very long time before they start seeing true change.
Ultimately the decision on the lesson learned is up to the viewer, but I still have trouble reconciling what I saw with what the group is really trying to accomplish. The fact that FEMEN in France has created a training center for female protestors is intriguing and I'll have to look into it more. For now, I sincerely hope FEMEN and its strong-willed, powerful women find the courage to make their own path and find the right balance of faith and self-preservation to facilitate real, positive, progressive changes in Ukraine and the rest of Europe.
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