There is a wrong way to do feminism. And Femen is doing it wrong

I was grateful to have been invited to join a conversation about the future of feminism that looked specifically at the tactics of Ukrainian protest group, FEMEN on Al Jazeera English‘s show The Stream last week.

Inna Shevchenko, the leader of Femen International and Chloe Angyal of Feministing.com were guests on the show and the producers invited feminist bloggers Chrissy D, Ariana Tobin, Sara Yasin, (who are all the best, fyi), and myself to bring in critical perspectives and questions.

You can watch the show in it’s entirety here:

The show was pretty packed, discussion-wise, and the producers did a great job of trying to include a wide variety of perspectives on FEMEN’s tactics. That said, there is A LOT more that could be said around some of the issues that came up and comments that made on the show. I personally spent much of my time on the show silently fuming over the, frankly, crazy things Shevchenko was saying.

I’ve written about Femen before, noting that the group seems generally clueless about feminism, past and present, based on statements such as: “We’re the new face of feminism…Classical feminism is dead.” Shevchenko seems to think that FEMEN invented both feminism in the Ukraine as well as the incredibly original, never-been-done-before tactic of women using their naked bodies in order to get people to look at them. They call it ‘sextremism’, I call it the same old shit. What I’ve noted elsewhere is that nude protest, when it comes to women, is a great tactic if your priority is to get media attention, but can be problematic because, often, that is the only way the media will pay attention to women — i.e. if we are performing for the male gaze.

Contrary to popular belief, I am not opposed to boobs. Rather, I am opposed to women’s bodies constantly being objectified and sexualized. I am also opposed to the fact that nobody gives a shit about women or feminism unless women and feminism look like a beer commercial or a burlesque show.

Though Shevchenko claimed that FEMEN’s topless protests are about taking back power over their own bodies, she contradicts her point by saying that which is true — when it comes to women the focus is almost always on the body.

She also believes that the reason people paid attention to them when they took off their tops was because “society was shocked” — but really? Is that why? Or were they just stoked to see boobs? Naked breasts aren’t ‘taboo’ (in the West, in any case) because people think breasts are wrong and bad, but because breasts are sexualized — meaning that we think that breasts should only exist as sexualized objects for male pleasure (which is also why people get all bent out of shape over women who breastfeed in public — BUT THOSE ARE FOR BONERS, NOT BABIES). Feeding your baby is a practical thing to do. Taking off your shirt in order to get the sexist media to take photos of you plays on the sexualization and objectification of female bodies and reinforces the idea that women’s bodies are to-be-looked-at. FEMEN’s tactics aren’t about women controlling their own bodies, they’re about letting the media control women’s bodies – the media says: “we won’t pay attention to you unless you’re hot and naked” and FEMEN obeys. So who’s in control here, again?

Angyal responded to my comment pointing to some of these issues by saying: “I’ve been on the receiving end of the ‘feminism: you’re doing it wrong’ conversation and I don’t find it to be… a productive conversation. Everyone has their own way of doing feminism…” And I get that and would otherwise agree. There are different ways to ‘do feminism’ and there is certainly more than one strategy when it comes to activism. That said, after following FEMEN’s ‘activism’ and particularly after witnessing and hearing Shevchenko’s responses on the show, I am convinced that FEMEN is, in fact, not only ‘doing feminism wrong’ but not ‘doing feminism’ at all.

Shevchenko is completely condescending, disrespectful, and outright rude when it comes to addressing feminists and the feminist movement and uses the same old tired “we’re playing with objectification” crap that the third wave/burlesque/stripping-is-empowering-if-I-choose-to-do-it has been trying to push on us through a veil of postmodernist jargon as of late.

Quoting her is a little crazy-making because her statements either contradict the very points she seems to be trying to make, or are just meaningless smoke and boob-mirrors (and yes, I think we do need to take into account that English isn’t her first language and that it was likely difficult for her to communicate her points as clearly as she would have liked to. That said, her points are still wack), but I still think they’re worth addressing.

To be honest, I’m not sure that even she believes her own words.

Shevchenko claims that “once [men] see us on the protest naked, they realize that it’s not naked woman and they’re bad*, it’s not naked woman in [a] strip club — this naked woman is still looking nice, this naked woman is sexy (because she’s naked, of course) — she can attract, for a second, but once they see us moving, when we are screaming, and when we are showing that we are against them… honestly.”

But honestly, Inna, do you really believe that men think naked women are ‘bad’? Do you think that the media is suddenly covering the feminist movement because they are realizing that they should no longer oppress and objectify women? Or do you think that they’re just enjoying the show and, as she clearly knows — it is a show. The women involved in these ‘protests’ are to-be-looked-at — to attract. The only message is: “look at me”. It isn’t ‘using your body for your own reason[s]’ if you are only using it in order to get male attention and publicity. Call a spade a spade.

Sara Yasin, who blogs at Muslimah Media Watch, made an excellent point to this regard:

“I have absolutely no problem with nudity… The issue with FEMEN is that they have no point. Apart from taking off their tops, I actually have no idea what they’re trying to question… It’s very interesting to call them radical, because they’re actually not radical. They’re just going out and pushing the exact same norms that have been thrown at us for centuries. It’s pretty much like looking at a billboard and having maybe the word feminism cut across it. This leads me to believe that FEMEN is just the PETA of feminism.”

Bam!

The fact that the toplessness that is central to FEMEN’s ‘protests’ is merely a way to derail feminist discourse and the feminist movement was made all too obvious when Shevchenko was pressed to address her comments around the burqa: “better naked than burqa”. She responds vaguely, saying “women’s bodies are [an] indicator of women’s freedom” right before taking off her top.

Riiiight. So the fact that women are only paid attention to when naked and sexualized, as women’s bodies routinely are in a porn culture, has no bearing on the status of women in this world?

And guess what the media got out of this conversation — one that was meant to be about “the future of feminism”? This headline says it all: FEMEN activist takes tops off on live Al Jazeera program. Not, “Hey you guys! Women are being oppressed! Let’s do something about it!” Nope. It’s “Hey look! Boobs!” Which was esesntially Shevchenko’s response when questioned about her comments on the burqa — “What? I don’t know! Hey! Look over there! Boobs!”

If her top came off ‘for her own reasons’, as she claims, one would think that Shevchenko wouldn’t have chosen to do it on live TV. What was she protesting? Feminism?

Not only are Shevchenko’s arguments convoluted, but the animosity and disrespect she conveys about feminists and the feminist movement shows, undeniably, FEMEN’s lack of connection to this movement. She uses every classic, sexist stereotype that’s been used for eons in order to discredit feminists, calling them spoiled, ugly, and ‘unsatisfied’ women; going on to say that “classical feminism looks like [an] old, sick lady.” I’m sorry, who’s ‘spoiled’ again?

She seems to have zero understanding of or interest in the history of feminism or the feminist work that’s being done all around the world and actually seems intent on erasing all of that work, as I point out near the end of the show (at which point I am practically livid).

Chrissy D sums this up nicely in the post she wrote about the show:

The number of objections I have to women walking around with no shirt on is nil, breasts or no breasts, but there’s a sense that radicalising the action of removing clothing for attention detracts from the greater global issue of women’s oppression.

Really. C’mon girls.

 

 

 

 

 

*11/15/2012 – My very astute friend, Baba, has pointed out to me that, while I quoted Shevchenko as saying: “once [men] see us on the protest naked, they realize that it’s not naked woman and they’re bad,” what she actually said was: “they realize that it’s not naked women in their bed…” This doesn’t much change my argument as Shevchenko makes other points to this effect (that men/society views women’s naked bodies as shocking and dangerous and ‘taboo’ and that, as such, FEMEN is somehow subverting dominant representations of the female body as sexualized object), but is, of course, worth correcting for accuracy’s sake. What she was implying, in this particular quote, was that the topless women in the protest had been removed from a sexualized context. Of course, in the next breath she points out that they are sexualized. Because they’re naked. And men like looking at naked ladies.

 

 


 

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • http://bonerkilling.blogspot.ca BK

    What was that phrase of Twisty’s…” if the liberal peen is keen, the result can only demean”
    yah, that applies really well to this group

    • zuzana

      I don’t understand why there is such strident backlash against these women. This is a western view criticising a view from a region where this still is absolutely patriarchy and it makes sense that we should understand where this has begun.

      It’s not constructive to criticise other women. We don’t have to be sisters but we certainly could do with having some respect for women who really are making a stand against forces that have the capacity to easily silence these girls.
      When they come to get these girls and silence their protests, they send armed forces/police who brutalise them. They treat them like animals.

      These are women standing up and creating a huge dialogue in a radical way. I am all for a calm and reasoned debate but you know what this is very much about making a tangible cause.

      The points raised that this is about gender and not sex – not women vs men – are strongest for me because we don’t live in a binary world of heterosexuals who all have an equal choice….

      This is a great forum for debate and it’s saddening that the views are so starkly polarised as either for or against Femen. There is not a right or a wrong way.

      • Meghan Murphy

        I’m not sure I understand why “it’s not constructive” to be critical of actions or behaviours of women?

  • ov

    This is just a joke. Doesn’t even deserve the kind of thoughtful examination you’ve given it. It isn’t appreciated by those involved and isn’t appreciated by those watching. I realize part of your motivation for covering things like this may be for posterity – to record just how stupid and ass backward things are. But sometimes it just seems like you are wasting your talent treading through shit.

  • http://brazenlee.blogspot.com Brazen Lee

    “and uses the same old tired “we’re playing with objectification” crap that the third wave/burlesque/stripping-is-empowering-if-I-choose-to-do-it has been trying to push on us through a veil of postmodernist jargon as of late”

    Seriously? MY feminism is about empowering myself, be it through sex work or self-righteous blogging or babysitting others’ children. Maybe stop trying to define feminism for everyone? The above comment is extremely alienating. What about women’s choices to live their own lives as they please? How is that not empowering?

    • Meghan Murphy

      Feminism is a movement. Not a self-help book. I’m happy you feel empowered as an individual, but that has no impact on the status of women as a whole or the global oppression of women. Individualism works against social movements. Don’t get it twisted.

      • Amanda

        OHHH HELL YEAH GUUURL^^^^

      • http://feminazislut.com Julia Gordon

        Actually I find that individual empowerment can work great for movements when we all connect through social media, etc. The movement is than made up of a number of individual voices. When the movement becomes too tyrannical for the individual to sustain a sense of personal autonomy, it falls apart. I think some of the actions of FEMEN in the past might have been problematic. But I support their current protests of Islamism. It makes total sense to me to protest topless against forces aiming to make women cover up and be modest to “protect their honor.”

        • john wayne

          Their protests of “Islamism” is racist. They dress up like “muslim men” by putting towels around their heads like turbans (which muslim men don’t wear in the first place) and pretending to prey while wearing fake beards.

          Many, many muslim women cover up by choice, or choose not to, and feel perfectly fine about being muslim. In fact, there’s a movement of muslim women telling FEMEN to STFU. Femen’s response was to tell them that the enslaved often don’t realize that they are slaves. Could they be more paternalistic and racist if they tried? Even Amina Tyler, the Tunisian woman who started the whole “movement” you are referring to asked them to stop and told them that their actions were counter-productive.

          Many muslim women dress conservatively for the same reason that many non-muslim women do – they don’t want to be objectified by a sexist society.

          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/05/muslim-women-against-femen_n_3023052.html

          • http://feminazislut.com Julia G

            Actually those statements Amina made denouncing FEMEN were not made of her free will. She was forced to make them while held captive by her family who had kidnapped and tortured her, as evidenced by this video:

            I also advise that you take a look at this Facebook page:
            “Muslim & Exmuslim Women for FEMEN”
            https://www.facebook.com/WomenForFemen?ref=br_tf
            So the idea that “many muslim women dress conservatively for the same reason that many non-muslim women do – they don’t want to be objectified by a sexist society” is utterly naive and ethnocentric – rooted in this idea that the objectifying “male gaze” is the biggest oppression against women. Trust me, there are things more oppressive than Victoria’s Secret ads! Actually, you don’t have to trust me. Just watch the video.

          • stephen m

            Multiculturalist Liberalism and its Harms to Women.

            This is a bit OT but some comments have brought this topic into play.

            I recently discovered this excellent paper and I would like to recommend it to help explain aspects of multiculturalist liberalism and its harms to women. This paper shows fuller understanding to the issue using veil-wearing by Muslim girls and women.

            Excellent read!! Very comprehensive.

            http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID2263035_code86117.pdf?abstractid=2263035&mirid=1

            Abstract:
            In response to recent mandates, prohibitions, or “choices” relating to veil-wearing by Muslim girls and women, this essay raises and responds to the question: “How should civil government treat culture- or religion-based claims of rights that clash with the norm of women’s equality?” – that question being a broadened reformulation of Susan Okin’s 1999 inquiry, “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” The essay identifies social and political developments, as well as legal and theoretical developments – relating to women, religions, and governments – that have occurred in the 21st century and that demand that reformulation. Reviewing theories on the veiling controversies, and characterizing some as reflecting only partial visions, the essay embraces and argues for a re-shaped liberalism that is committedly and simultaneously feminist and anti-racist and secular.

    • http://herbsandhags.blogspot.co.uk/ herbsandhags

      If you want to know if something is genuinely empowering, look at whether the people with power are doing it.

      I don’t see Obama, Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron getting their kit off. Women are told to do things to empower them, which don’t threaten the hold on power men as a caste hold. That’s why men like it when women do stupid things and call it empowering – they’re already sitting there wondering how they can sell us the idea that picking up their dirty socks and laundering them is empowering. As long as we’re satisfied with empowerment, we’ll never wrest back the power they usurped from us.

      • Taylor

        I don’t want a girl who wants to sit around the house while I work my ass off. I want a 50/50 commitment. I want a girl with brains, drive and motivation. Your points are invalid, contradictory, and sexist. I hate Obama because I believe he is a puppet for the corporate elite, but even as someone who dislikes him I at least know how much he’s done for gender equality. As a result, right off the bat, you shot down your own point and made it work against you.

        Either way, by hinting that being a housewife is demeaning and sexist you’re really just insulting them for no good reason. My brother and his wife have 6 kids and let me tell you, she is one of the most amazing people I know and I respect her more than a lot of people I know. And you know what? Yea, maybe she could find a job and they could manage to afford to have someone look after the kids, maybe she could do something other than her families laundry, hell I sure know my mom did! Guess how much I saw her the first half of my life? Once a month if I was lucky. She quit it so she could watch her son grow up. I guess I’m sexist for existing, right?

        It’s fine to want equality. It’s another thing entirely to spout this sexist crap all over the place. You are no better than the oppressors you condemn.

        • Lela

          Oh dear. Taylor, it is very clear that you don’t understand what is being discussed here. I’d suggest reading some feminist theory to start. Best of luck to you.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Yeah. Sorry Taylor, but housewivery isn’t empowering for systematic reasons – i.e. the patriarchy doesn’t value what it deems to be ‘women’s work’. Women who are forced to spend their lives in the private sphere, doing all the domestic chores and childrearing with no compensation are not ’empowered’ – but that’s not their fault, it’s yours (i.e. men’s). You’re misunderstanding feminist arguments.

        • TM

          taylor, i honestly agree with you. i am a young woman with my whole life ahead of me. i may decide to work a job and contribute that way, or stay at home and raise children while doing other things that i enjoy. my partner who is male, wants me to do what i want as long as i am contributing. he believes that either sex can stay at home and raise kids, but that neither sex should be told they have to or that it is expected of them. i agree with that. its not fair that feminists often put down other women for their choices to fill the stereotypical gender roles. they should fight the powers that are trying to tell women they are expected to, not the women themselves who may just be choosing to because it makes sense to them. to tell someone they need to be the opposite of their expected gender role is just as oppressing as telling someone they need to fill their expected gender role. i believe feminism has done a lot for women and i in no way want to put it down and say that its wrong. it is my opinion however that we need to look at human rights as a whole instead of just looking at it from a female perspective. YES women need advocates just as minority groups need them, because they are oppressed groups, but i think the focus should be about making sure everyone has the right to choose their lifestyle without any stigma and that everyone is equal and that everything is fair for everyone. part of that definitely requires that we stop over sexualizing the human body in general, and we need to allow people to choose their place in society and give them the means to do so. if you want to be a housewife, you should be able to without criticism, whether you biologically be a man or a woman. to have to constantly make your cause about biologically being a woman gives in to heteronormativity, which is a much larger problem which encompasses many of the issues women have in society.

    • http://bonerkilling.blogspot.ca BK

      Your feminism? Since when was feminism something you “own”

      :-/

      • Grackle

        Pretty much since all the “feminism is about choice” platitudes showed up. As long as a woman calls herself a feminist, everything she DOES is feminist, the resulting oppression of other women be damned.

    • Melissa Skowron

      “Beware of fascist feminism” -Hannah Wilke

      • Lela

        Yes, that’s right, because *feminists* are totally oppressors. We’re worse than patriarchy! Blah blah blah

      • http://bonerkilling.blogspot.ca BK

        Anyone who puts fascism in the same sentence as feminism is not worth quoting. Also, i am almost positive they don’t know the first thing about women’s liberation.

        • Melissa Skowron

          The difference between ‘almost positive’ and positive is a mere google search.

          Speaking of which, I delved further into the critques of FEMEN on other feminist websites. I also looked at the wider media coverage of this group and I do, in some respects, agree with Meghan’s opinion on the how the activity of this group comtributes to the global perspective of feminist culture.

          That being said, I really don’t feel comfortable telling these women that their behavior is wrong. It has been stated that there are other noted feminist groups in Ukraine, so what is it about these other groups that made FEMEN decided that they should rise up and show the world how they feel how a contemparay feminist should be represented in their country. I believe that provided a constructive critique is neccessary but telling a group of women that what they are doing is wrong is extremely counter productive to any movement. I became a feminism because I was sick of men telling me what do, not because I wanted to transfer that power to other women.
          I’m not arguing with the critque, I just feel icky about the whole wrong vs.right polarization in this article.

          • Meghan Murphy

            There is a difference between “wrong” and “not contributing to the feminist movement in a productive way” — which is the meat of my critique. What made FEMEN decide to “rise up and show the world how they feel how a contemparary feminist should be represented in their country” was ignorance and a desire for media attention. Did you watch the interview?

          • Melissa Skowron

            Yes I did.
            Did you look at the title of your article?

          • Meghan Murphy

            Why yes! I did! And what do you think it means to say that there is a ‘wrong’ way to do feminism?

          • Melissa Skowron

            If you are saying that there is a ‘wrong’ way to do feminism, then there must be ‘right’. I don’t believe that either exist.

            If you think that there is, then fine that is your opinion. I just don’t think that opinion is productive (as stated in the video) to the this particular dialogue.

          • Meghan Murphy

            That’s ridiculous. Of course there are many ‘wrong’ ways to do feminism. That does not mean that there is necessarily one ‘right’ way to do feminism.

          • Melissa Skowron

            Sure. I’m going to refrain from commenting anymore and go back to engaging in productive dialogue.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Best of luck.

    • Missfit

      ‘MY feminism is about empowering myself, be it through sex work or self-righteous blogging or babysitting others’ children.’

      Women blogging about feminism are participating in consciouness-raising, a very important concept in feminism. Women wo babysit other’s children are doing it to help people, not to empower themselves. I never heard a babysitter talking in terms of empowerment. However, I hear a lot about sex work being empowering but still wait for someone to explain how sexually serving men is empowering in and of itself and how it furthers the empowerment of women as a class (a.k.a feminism).

  • Andy

    Groan, I’m not even sympathetic to Femen, but this whole situation makes me feel so angry. I’m tired of Western feminists constantly telling us (Eastern European women) how completely wrong we are at doing feminism and how we’re either too ‘sexualized’ or not ‘liberated’ enough. Conservative Western media is already going out of their way to prove that the bodies of Eastern European women are dangerous and disgusting (e.g. during the EUFA Cup, there were plenty of newspaper articles warning people about Ukrainian prostitutes), I don’t need you on my case as well. As long as your cultures, peoples and governments continue facilitate the widespread exploitation of women in Eastern Europe, your opinions on how ‘appropriate’ our reaction to this exploitation is are entirely unnecessary.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Who is this “us”? Is France in Eastern Europe now? Apparently FEMEN is the new face of feminism worldwide! No one here is saying that the bodies of Eastern European (um, young, white, thin, conventionally attractive women is what I’m seeing, I’m not exactly sure what you mean by ‘Eastern European women’s bodies’) are “dangerous”. We’re saying they’re replicating the exact same, tired old images of the female body as ‘to-be-looked-at’. In case you hadn’t noticed, these images are beloved by the Western media. No one (here) is scared of naked women…

      • http://bonerkilling.blogspot.ca BK

        This whole “men are afraid of white, thin and conventionally attractive women’s bodies and the West just wants to shame them” is the silliest thing I’ve heard in a while. I mean, do people actually think men think women’s conventionally attractive bodies are “bad” or “scary”?

    • andreeam

      oh, come on. I am from romania, another eastern country and I truly believe that FEMEN are sexualized. do not bring out this old thing called east vs west and do not make it as a statement. if it is you oppinion, fine, but do not make it sound like here in the est we are all boobs-feminists because we are so liberated and so not-unde-western feminists-shoe. it is not the case right now, really.

      • Anna

        I was in Moscow a couple of years ago and the atmosphere is very different there than it is here. They never had a feminist movement over there when we did, gays are not out, and there is an enormous generation gap, in which older people are extremely offended by young people’s (especially women’s) expressions of sexuality or expressions of any type at all. Their brand of patriarchy is much more moralistic than ours is over here. It’s like how it was in the early ’60s here before the sexual revolution. Their culture is not one of compulsory sexuality like we have here. I’s a much more old-fashioned type of culture. What I noticed is that young people seemed to be fomenting a sexual revolution while I was there. There was all the energy of young people finding their sexual expression and sloughing off shame for the first time. So I see FEMEN in that context.

        • Anna

          I also don’t think it’s realistic to expect one type of feminism across all cultures and generations. Women are responding to specific pressures. And of course men will always fight women’s attempts at autonomy with their own sexuality and nudity by re-sexualizing them and punishing them and making it all about boobs, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree with them and say that those women really are just about their boobs. Men are developing more and more hateful and colonizing attitudes towards women because of one thing – the sex industry. So that’s what we should focus on and fight. It’s just as naive to think we can overthrow the patriarchy by getting women not to show their boobs outside of the sex industry as to think that we can overthrow the patriarchy by showing showing our boobs outside the sex industry. There’s no such thing as overthrowing the patriarchy or getting rid of male libido and the male gaze no matter how much we bitch and fight amongst each other. There’s only legislating and prosecuting human rights violations committed by harmful industries.

  • andreeam

    i truly love you for this article. it is the perfect sum of my thoughts about FEMEN and their actions. also, I have another issues related to their „activism”: how come all feminists in Ukraine are god damn smokin hot?! how come I do not see „ugly” women with no-so-perfect-breasts there?! i talked with some young girls, and their „radical feminist action” brings a lot of pressure on them. just like another top model on the cover of a magazine. I am sick of seeing perfect-boobs-feminists and sick of men associating feminism with this kind of sexualized image.

    • Tam

      I had exactly the same thought and that’s why I decided to google “what do real feminists tbink about FEMEN?” (I know the question is kind of silly but I’m just initiating myself in the feminist movement ) and I came across this article.
      Thank you for putting it in such a clear way.

  • Hari B

    Meghan!

    So glad to see you here. I haven’t even read your post yet, but was linked here from another site. After months of camping and little internet, I finally went to visit the F-word last month and you were gone….I was dismayed (and disappointed at what was offered there, haven’t been back). Now I see you’re still at it and this makes me want to do a very happy dance.

    So–yay. As soon as I read this, I’ll be back.

    Hari

    • Meghan Murphy

      Hi Hari!!

      Great to ‘see’ you here! I’m so glad you found me. Yes, unfortunately The F Word (not to be confused with the original F Word UK, for others reading this) took a turn for the yucks and I moved on to greener pastures :)

      Looking forward to your contributions again!

      m

  • Mary

    I agree with Melissa. I usually really enjoy your flair for hyperbole and shutting-down of arguments, Megan. And when I read this article I didn’t know anything about Femen. But after watching that video and reading more about them, it seems to me that you actively tried to not understand their intentions.

    I know there are Mama Grizzlies out there who claim to be feminists, and we have to be careful of the “post-feminist” bullshit. But I think you should also pick your battles more carefully. The best way to remove a taboo (like breast sexualization) is more exposure.

    Your argument begs the question, Can women’s bodies ever be naked and not sexualized? That, I believe, is the very question Femen is addressing. They are naked and not sexually available.

    You accuse Femen of only getting attention because they are young and naked, so it sounds like you think women shouldn’t and can’t be taken seriously if they are hot and topless. Which sounds downright anti-feminist to me.

    With all due respect.

    • Meghan Murphy

      No, I’m pretty sure they’ve made their intentions as (un)clear as possible. They don’t know what they’re doing and they’re reinforcing sexist stereotypes about feminists in the process. Women AREN’T taken seriously, generally, when “hot and topless” because they are sexualized so, like, instead of listening to and respecting women, men objectify them. That’s the problem. Or toplessness and not the existence of boobs.

  • Mary

    BTW if you look at more photos of FEMEN protests you will notice not all the protestors are conventionally attractive. Not that it should matter, if we focus on their intention to use their bodies in a way that patriarchy does not approve of. After all, mens’ chests are also sexualized but no one freaks out over seeing a topless dude. But patriarchy only wants women to be topless if its for the male gaze, not an ironic political protest.

    • Grackle

      When exactly did patriarchy ever “not approve of” a young woman taking her top off, regardless of why she SAYS she’s doing it? To quote a few schmucks on this Buzzfeed article (http://www.buzzfeed.com/gavon/the-best-of-femen-nsfw), which, by the way is full of “ironic” shots of young, thin, conventionally-attractive white women making porn faces, spreading their legs, showing their breasts, and making out with each other while fully-clothed men spank them (as well as whatever the hell is going on in #30):

      -“The problems with boobies and protests is that I tend to notice the boobies and not much about the issue……. but that’s just me.”

      -“What a coincidence, I was about to produce some femen.”

      -“…but seriously.. just looks like an excuse for a bunch of sluts to run around topless”

      -“small boobs are sexxxy;)”

      How very subversive! Clearly the patriarchy cannot handle this much irony!

    • Tam

      Mary, not all protestors are conventionally attractive, only the ones who always appear right in front of the camera. If you look carefully, you will always see the “not conventionally attractive” on the sides. Are they trying to hide them because they do not attract as much attention as the “hot” ones?
      Not that my opinion can change something, but for me this is none but marketing.

  • Shut Up Mary

    With all due respect.

  • Mary

    to Megan: I hear what you’re saying and I disagree. I think your perspective is limited. Try being more respectful for a change.

    @Shut up – I know its easier to be an asshole on the internet than IRL, where you can get punched. Grow up.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Mary, I’m sure you think you have the very best of intentions but don’t come here and demand that people a) respond to you, or b) demand they respond in a fashion that is pleasing to you. If you don’t like my comment section there are many more to choose from out in the interwebs.

    • Grow Up Mary

      With all due respect.

  • Mary

    Megan, I already talked about your points. I am interested to hear what you think of mine. Honestly! I promise! Thats why I am here.

    If you respond in kind we could have whats called a “discussion”.

    • Meghan Murphy

      What a treat that would be!

  • Mary

    You’re right, their intentions are vague. What is their goal or mission statement? I have no clue. That’s a good point. Maybe they will develop one soon.
    Its interesting to try to remove sexuality from breasts by using them for a non-sexual act. If that is what Inna intended, its actually a clever idea.

    Grackie, not sure what you mean. Are you saying its impossible for men not to sexualize breasts? And for that reason, we should do what? Or are you saying their opinions are less valid because of their toplessness? I am confused but I think you mean that women can’t be heard if there is a risk of veing sexualized. Can you make this more clear?

    • Grackle

      Mary, did you actually look at the photos in the article I linked to? You keep arguing that Femen is using non-sexual tactics but I can’t believe you’d say that if you saw the pictures. There is nothing even remotely non-sexual about their protests, and it’s not because they’re topless. We aren’t talking about breast feeding or a nude beach or even a woman casually walking topless down the street in a place where it’s legal (and semi-common) to do so–those would be non-sexual “uses” for breasts. We aren’t even talking about topless or semi-nude protests as a rule. We’re talking about Femen specifically, and whether men are able to look at topless women without objectifying them is totally irrelevant in a situation where the women are being EXPLICITLY and INTENTIONALLY sexual.

      Even you said that you don’t know what their mission statement is and that their intentions are vague, and you’re here arguing in their favour. That strikes me as bizarre. What good can you possibly think they’re doing if you aren’t even sure what their message is? Doesn’t that sort of indicate that something has gone wrong? I’ve been involved in plenty of demonstrations and protests for various causes and one of the first rules of that sort of thing is that people should be able to tell very quickly why the hell you’re there.

      • Mary

        Please dont link to articles in lieu of making your own point. I would much more readily listen to what you say than follow a path of links. Given that, I think that what Femen did cannot be discussed in terms of boobs, and to talk about it that way is more than missing a point. It is limiting our perspective to socially acceptable behavior. That is the biggest issue I take with this op-ed article. It is based strictly on opinion (with no real.evidence, unless quotes out of context and opposing opinion is evidence). What I respect is that these women got into some deep police shit for showing tits. It was a risk that likely, Megan, me, or many others have not taken. I think its brave because there is nothing shameful about the body. If it was for porn, they would not get in trouble. Why do we feel like there is a right way to express our feminism? What is right for one culture our place can be misinterpreted by another.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Femen has to be ‘discussed in terms of boobs’ because ‘boobs’ is the whole point of Femen. It’s the entire reason they are being paid any attention. “Real evidence” is in every single thing Inna has stated in the media and on the Al Jazeera show – I’m not sure what more you want, in terms of ‘evidence’ than what has been presented, by Femen, over and over again.

        • Grackle

          The photos I linked to, as well as the millions of other similar photos elsewhere on the web, are a major part of the point and I’ve explained why twice now. How can you possibly judge what Femen does without looking at pictures of their protests? (And if you can’t find the time to click one link–there is no “path of links”, for what it’s worth–how in the world do you have time to comment here over and over again?) That means that contrary to what you’re insisting, you aren’t listening readily at all. You keep discussing Femen as if it’s some sort of abstract concept about the rights of women to show their breasts without repercussions rather than a group of real people who do real things (things which are certainly not just limited to being topless) that have the potential to affect the lives of women in the real world.

          By the way, we might be able to stop discussing Femen in terms of boobs when Femen does. Do you know what’s on the front door of their headquarters? A giant sculpted pair of breasts.

  • Lela

    First Melissa blazes on here calling feminists “fascists,” and now you are going on about the feminists on this thread somehow obstructing the apparent All Time No. 1 Feminist Project of De-Sexualizing Female Nudity. “De-sexualizing female nudity” seems to have become a catchphrase. It seems it would be most helpful, at present, in reality, to pornographers and other mass-media objectifiers in their efforts to derail feminist critique; “Nothing to worry about here, ladies; this situation has been thoroughly de-sexualized, you see!” Sure. And FEMEN have chosen this mode of protest to discourage men from sexualizing breasts. Right.

    Guess what, my breasts are sitting quite non-sexually in my shirt at this very moment. What a revolutionary I am!

    After slamming “classical feminism” (lol!) in such an overt and confrontational way, don’t you think the women of FEMEN ought to provide a clearly-stated agenda?

    • Lela

      (This comment is in response to Mary’s above, entered in the wrong field.)

      • Mary

        Do you mean wrong field because I didnt click reply? You didnt either… whats the big deal?

        Like I already said, I agree they are being too vague. Looking forward to a mission statement or goal. But to write them off? Whats the point of that? They are not hurting the precious movement. Unless they are? That’s what I am asking in all seriousness without the ironic sarcasm.

        • Lela

          MY comment was entered in the wrong field accidentally, i.e., not as a direct response to yours. I wanted to clarify to whom I was speaking. Perhaps you are just interested in construing every last word I’ve said as an attack?

          Where did I say I was “writing off” these women? Also this article was written in an effort to articulate a feminist position on why FEMEN’s protest might actually be counter-productive. What you are “asking” has been answered. FEMEN have openly insulted legions of hard-working feminists, and you are clearly intent on minimizing it.

  • Mary

    Lela, I think you’re on to something but your argument is lacking. Do you have some examples of pornographers exploiting women while using the “catchphrase” of de-sexualization? Is there non-sexual pornography? If so where can I get my hands on some?

    Actually, this naked desexualization topic really interests me because I hadn’t heard about it before. What are some other examples? And why do you think it doesn’t work?

    I’m confused about the argument against it at present because it seems based on a loosely woven notion that men are unable to desexualize breasts (and if thats the case, the old misogynist rapist who “just couldn’t help it” becomes closer to truth, so I refuse to accept it). It also doesn’t make sense, given that breast sexualization is not a cross-cultural holistic phenomenon.

    Or, the other argument seems to be somehow men are profiting off FEMEN, and that’s how FEMEN is hurting the cause (because men can visibly see boobies=hurting feminism?)

    I haven’t seen any valid arguments for how FEMEN is doing feminism “wrong”. What I see is a lot of (dare I say) feminsplain. How can we complain abiut a real social problem like mansplaining, then turn around and do it to other like-minded people? I am not sure quoting the opinions of another blogger counts as a valid argument, either.

    The crux of it (this post) is that using Girls Gone Wild tactics to get media attention is wrong and hurts women. How? Men are not profiting off FEMEN and more people are becoming interested in feminism. The even started an organization in Paris. Using an act that generally hurts women in order to bring attention to that fact itself seems like an intelligent tactic. Can you explain logically how it isn’t, instead of using sarcasm and belittling quips? There’s this attitude here that whoever doesn’t agree with Miss Thang is a moron.

    If Inna really wanted to slam classical feminism, why would she identify with feminism at all? I think its absolutely true that feminism needs a fresher image in the world. For a lot of people, feminism appears to have no fun or sense of humor and I think its possible she was broaching on that by using the word “old”.

    • Lela

      Read the article, Mary. It contains the answers to all of your questions. Or would you like somebody to re-phrase the entire thing for you?

    • Missfit

      ‘The crux of it (this post) is that using Girls Gone Wild tactics to get media attention is wrong and hurts women.’

      How? Because it reinforces the message that to get media attention, to be ‘heard’ (or pretend to be) a woman must expose her standardly attractive body or will likely be ignored. It does not send the message that a woman deserves to be listened to for the sake of her ideas. It mainly attracts the attention of men who just want to see naked women (even my boyfriends who otherwise like listening to my ideas do not care very much about what I have to say once I am naked) and makes women who are already fed up with women’s bodies being exposed for whatever pretend purposes (knowing it is really all about the male gaze) roll their eyes. How does that help further women’s rights? Do men need to show six packs in order for people to pay attention to serious issues affecting them? Anyway, the post explained very well the problem with such tactics. Do you have an argument to make about how it can work to actually make men and women alike care more about women’s rights?

      I understand your questionning about desexualising women’s nakedness. I do not think however that FEMEN’s acts work towards that end. I think that desexualizing women’s nakedness would be something in the likes of showing women’s naked bodies in unsexualized ways, doing ordinary things, not posing and not about using women’s nakedness as something provocative in itself.

      A lot of radical feminists are very humourous in their writings. They often have a way of telling truthts with a ‘in your face’ attitude which can be quite funny. But dealing with misogyny and the oppression of women can not be made all fun, for obvious reasons. Why some people want to make feminism all about fun? And why is it that same people seem to always equate fun with giving men boners and calling it feminism? This can be fun without needing to be called feminism. In a world where standardly attractive women exposing their bodies to give men boners is a patriarchal ideal, I do not see how it is revolutionary or feminist.

    • Lela

      The reason you think I’m “on to something,” Mary, is that I described exactly what you are doing on this thread, i.e., using this vague idea of female nudity being magically de-sexualized in the public sphere in an attempt to derail feminists into endless pointless arguments. Who knows whom you are working for? FEMEN are getting media attention precisely because they are sexualized, and as Meghan and Grackle have said, there is no way that men are ever going to feel threatened by naked women (especially young, beautiful naked women.) It’s extremely naive to think otherwise. Break down women’s collective resistance to media depictions of naked women in our current cultural environment, by way of claiming they are de-sexualized, and you are also breaking down our resistance to things like pornography, which is the whole point, right? That is what I’m talking about, not some absurd notion of “de-sexualized porn.” Sorry to disappoint, but women’s bodies will not be de-sexualized in any context as long as we are living in under patriarchy. Let’s dispose of patriarchy, and then we’ll talk about having a nudist society.

      • Irina

        when women will stop sexualizing female nudity…..men will stop doing it too…sorry for my english…

        • aileen

          oh man, are we fighting against sexuality now ?
          I feel pretty happy with my sexualized breasts. Since they’re private. I feel showing your boobs to get attention is a compromise quite similar to sleeping with your boss to get a promotion : maybe you can do that to achieve feminist goals no matter what. In France femen have now lost all credibility because first they made this big compromise which was said to be necessary : so we were all waiting for the big action. We’re still waiting. If stripping is a sacrifice for a higher cause, it’s time to state your demands. If it’s just for fun, it’s also totally fine ; just don’t pretend it’s political.

          • Candy

            Society and culture has made them private. They aren’t private in some other societies. It’s sexism to say a man’s chest is acceptable to show publicly at a pool (for example) but a woman shouldn’t be topless lest her lumps of fat offend. Yet overweight men can sit around the poolside relatively unscathed. And a woman with a double mastectomy cannot. There is a huge problem when this is happening and I’m sorry you can’t see it. It has nothing to do with fighting against sexuality. The primary function of breasts is a practical one.

  • Mary

    Melissa wasn’t calling feminists fascist, she was calling the tone of this post fascist. Not everything has to be a personal affront. Oh wait yes it does because… this is the internet. ㅠㅠ

    • Meghan Murphy

      HAHAHAAHHA. The POST is a fascist, you guys. Get it?

      • Mary

        Well, that’s not what I said, but if that is how you feel I accept that. As I said before, your views are valid and make sense sometimes. But this seems just spiteful and not backed by any kind of logic that I can see. So I wanted to hear you spit some logic instead of sarcasm.

        • Meghan Murphy

          I know, I know. You’re the only logical one here, Mary. Please forgive the snark but, as Lela points out, you make comments that have already been answered in the post as well as a million times over on this blog. And then demand that people engage in snark-free discussion with you, though you seem entirely uninterested in engaging in a respectful way yourself.

  • Mary

    Why are you being so condescending? Obviously I read the f*ckin article. And ut doesn’t contain any kind of “answers”, just a lot of hipster-inspired sarcastic opinions without any strong arguments. Did you read my comment at all before giving your sarcastic response? And is it impossible to say anything about the points I am asking about? What is the use of even trying to have an adult conversation here? This is exactly the kind of BS that Murphy whines about, but as long as she’s on the giving end of the whole “I’m right and you’re wrong” then its acceptable? Its this kinda shit that gives feminists a bad rep. I may as well say this (since obviously any thing I say is going to be taken as wrong anyway) but Murphy came out looking really bad in that video. Like someone who doesn’t respect or listen to others. Surprise, it turned out to be true.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Awww MAN! Those two minutes that I spoke out of forty did all that? I am literally the worst. Thanks for the #realtalk, Meeeehry.

      • Grackle

        Aw, you’re giving feminists a bad rep, Meghan. Maybe if we all started dancing around in lingerie while making out with each other and sticking frozen chickens up our vaginas like Femen, then men would listen to us when we tell them that women don’t exist for their sexual pleasure.

        • http://feminazislut.com Julia Gordon

          Oh God, you’re just mixing too many things. The chicken thing was not FEMEN! It was a Russian performance group – I forgot the name. Also when did FEMEN make out with each other? Sounds like you get your info from youtube comments.

    • Lela

      And now women are “whining.” That’s a pretty by-the-book infantilizing and sexist thing to say, wouldn’t you agree? Of course I don’t have to lecture you about sexism, you feminist you. 😉

      Anyone who employs irony or sarcasm must be a hipster! Clearly.

    • Xiao Mao

      Wow, “Mary”… way to monopolize a comment thread, condescend and infantilize women… YOU SURE SOUND LIKE A MALE! 😀

  • http://lifeinthepatriarchalmatrix.wordpress.com Bedelia Bloodyknuckle

    This played every time I heard Inna talked. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Et1qBCnv3c&feature=related

  • http://radfemway.blogspot.com The RadFem Way

    Thank you for this post! I also have no problem telling people they’re “doing feminism wrong.” http://radfemway.blogspot.com/2012/11/doing-feminism-wrong.html

  • http://exiledstardust.wordpress.com M.K. Hajdin

    “I’ve been on the receiving end of the ‘feminism: you’re doing it wrong’ conversation and I don’t find it to be… a productive conversation”.

    Well, of course not, if you want to suck up to men and call it feminism and get away with it. Of course you’re not going to think being called out on that is a ‘productive conversation’, if all you want is for everyone else to stand around and cheer you on as you bask in male attention and approval.

    Typical libfem argument, that we can all individuate our own seperate, uniquely special, snowflake-studded paths out of oppression. Um, no.

    If we’re going to make feminism work we need to be on the same page about what feminism is, and we need to act collectively, not lose ourselves in the maze of individualism until we don’t even know what we are doing any more.

  • MJ

    So the way to fight patriarchy – which fetishizes women as sexual objects – is to get your boobs out?

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  • scarlett

    Dear Meghan

    I’m so glad someone is saying what I feel. You know, when femen first came out, as a young woman and a feminist I was like – you go girls! Short lived. Perhaps it was the olympics protest where they highlighted ‘sexism in the middle east’ by dressing up as racial stereotypes. Or the general rule that to be a femen member it appears you also have to be young and attractive. On one of their promotional videos, a member actually says, “I’ll only stop when my breasts begin to sag”. Do they just not get it? If femen organised themselves better and included members from every age and walk of life and gender – then they might have a point. As they are, just a quick look on their facebook page that is filled with pictures of their pouting, topless members giving their best feminist smoulder into the camera, to the appreciative cacophony of their mostly male fans, says enough for me.

  • aileen

    if “women’s bodies are [an] indicator of women’s freedom”, why don’t they walk around completely naked ? they’re so totally stuck in their taboos…
    they say being naked is the only way to be paid attention to, which would explain this ultra-conformism ; but they also say being naked is provocative per se. wtf ? this is total non-sense. one thing i know is that if a guy would try to catch my attention for a serious talk waving his dick around, that wouldn’t help me focus on what he has to say.

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  • http://twitter.com/JLOsm JLO@WVoN (@JLOsm)

    ‘On one of their promotional videos, a member actually says, “I’ll only stop when my breasts begin to sag”.

    Yes – this is why FEMEN’s protest methods are not feminist: they don’t seem to understand that saggy boobs shouldn’t matter because one of the issues feminism is working towards is getting the message across that how women look should be irrelevant in relation to their individual and collective agency. As an earlier commentator pointed out, FEMEN try to say that this is what they are doing, but without including a range of women – of all ages, races, gender identities and disabilities – their message has no integrity.

    Recognising that a woman’s looks shouldn’t matter at the same time as realising that they are all that matters in a patriarchal society is a basic tenet of feminism, and from this remark, it is clear that FEMEN are clueless to the extent where all they are doing is sticking two fingers up at the women’s movement, whilst playing to the male gaze for approval.

    • http://feminazislut.com Julia Gordon

      JLO@WVoN: Ok, that’s the first example of valid criticism I’ve seen in this article and thread. They do strike me as a bit naive in their emphasis on youth and beauty. I’m also not in agreement on their views on sex work – they are against it, which doesn’t sit well with their otherwise sex-positive third-wave vibe. However, I wholeheartedly support nude protest as a concept, especially when applied to protesting Islamism and other forces infringing on women’s bodily autonomy and sexual freedom. I do wish they would welcome older women and women of different shapes and sizes more. But I don’t believe they deserve the kind of harsh criticism they get. I really wish feminists would pour more energy into starting their own initiatives rather than viciously tearing down the efforts of others because they are less than perfect or don’t fit somebody’s idea of feminism. Feminism is many things. There is not ONE right way to practice feminism, and no one is really in the position to tell others how to practice theirs. Doing that turns feminism into a religion. Might as well start a war over it arguing over dogma!

      • Meghan Murphy

        Well, feminism isn’t actually ‘many things’ — it’s a movement to end patriarchy and the oppression of women… That involves a lot, but it isn’t accurate to interpret or present feminism as something that is different for every individual — it’s a movement.

        • http://feminazislut.com Julia Gordon

          Right. But there are different ways to define patriarchy and different approaches to ending it. If it were as simple as you say, feminism would not have split in two with the sex-positive and the anti-pornography camp. And we wouldn’t be here on this thread arguing till we’re blue in the face about the “right way to do feminism.” If there is a right way, than who do you believe, is the arbiter of feminism? And how can feminism call itself a grassroots movement if it’s really just based on academia?

          • Meghan Murphy

            Well that division (the “the sex-positive and the anti-pornography camp”), isn’t really a real division. It’s just made up by folks who want to pretend being critical of pornography = ‘anti-sex’.

            Re: who gets to be the arbiter — no one. But having these conversations is useful for that reason — we need to keep shifting focus back onto the ‘movement’ part of the movement.

            And movements need theory and ideology behind them. Hence academia being a very important part of feminism. Advancing feminist thought, debate, theory, critique — so we know what we are doing and why — as well as, of course, the imperative legislative aspects (meaning — we need feminist lawyers).

            We need feminism in as many places as possible but we also need to keep our eye on the prize — meaning that there are, yes, many different things we can and need to be doing as feminists but we need to pay attention to WHY we are doing said things and to what end.

          • http://feminazislut.com Julia Gordon

            I agree with most of the above except for the first part – about anti-porn vs. sex-positive. It’s funny – I can already tell where you stand on that, as anti-porners tend to play down the division. It’s actually a very real division between people who support women doing sex work and adult films and advocate for legitimizing these industries and improving the working conditions and people who demonize it and want it banned, which would only drive it underground and would help no one. Interestingly the anti-porners tend to oppose every sex positive effort, even ones not having to do with pornography, like Slutwalk. I blogged about it here:
            http://feminazislut.com/?p=605
            What do you think of Nina Hartley? Here is a clip:

          • Meghan Murphy

            It isn’t really “funny” that you “can tell” where I stand on it… I’ve been writing about it for years. And it isn’t about “playing down” the division, it’s that it isn’t a real thing. “Pro-sex” doesn’t = pro-sex industry.

    • Candy

      Wow, how absolutely shallow; undermining her position as seemingly to show off her breasts and not to protest and shaming older women or women with saggier breasts in a single sentence. And hypocritical concerning feminism’s body-positivity stance.

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  • Eleonora

    I SO agree with you.
    I’m from Italy, where media is known to be sexistic and full of sexy naked women bodies. A few years ago it was just models, TV stars but now that spot has been occupied by Femen. Every crappy news will show some video from some Femen protest – of course, without saying much about what there’s behind. One f the most sexistic TV show, “Chiambretti night” was the only one to host Femen for an interview.

  • Xia

    I just don’t even understand FEMEN anymore

  • ShineAwake

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with this blog piece. I find the article way too narrow & judgmental. Femen has a point and they raise it with courage and by example. We hold oppression in our bodies; express dissent with our bodies; and express freedom with our bodies too. Seems like femen is making efforts to take back the body from the oppressor by objecting to the oppression itself with that same body the oppressor would like to view as submissive, but now cannot. To me that rocks.

    for sure femen have pushed buttons. The author writes of the taboo of breasts & nude bodies in culture. That’s shame most of us have to some degree which runs very deep and i suspect that’s the hyper-emotional trigger (looking for a justification) to femen; & the comments that just cant fathom femen.

    But to say it’s “wrong” is too simplistic & i disagree.

    • Xia

      So what? Are men going to be afraid of nude breasts? Is that FEMEN’s goal? If a women is topless and running through the streets they only thing people will care about is her breasts. Their breasts and extremism are the only reasons people give them any attention, I’m betting that a good number of people, men included, who have been present at their protests have no idea nor do they care what they protest.

      They’re nude women running and crying through the streets that’s bound to garner attention and news stories. Nothing else. They don’t raise it with courage, they raise it with mindless extremism. Extremism hurts EVERYBODY involved.

  • Meeeehry

    I read this blog today and was reminded of you.

    “10 signs that feminism may not be for you”
    http://theoutliercollective.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/the-belle-jar/

    <<>>

  • http://beaumontjones.wordpress.com barbara

    Hi, I just found this article while researching a story. I am one of those “old, sick lady” feminists, so-called. I understand young women must find their own form of feminism; each generation does so and it is necessary and to be applauded. And an aspect of new generations finding their own modes of political expression is knocking down the authority of the previous one.

    However, I have to agree with the author, FEMEN is not feminism by any stretch. By all means wear stilettos and bikinis; go topless and pose for the cameras; self-select for young, conventionally-attractive, thin, white women for your group frolics. But please call it something other than feminism. Like ‘Having a Good Time’ or ‘Getting Naked in Public and in the Media’.

    Many feminist artists have used their bodies to articulate their beliefs in effective and powerful ways. Personally I am not a fan of this type of feminist art as I believe that the female body is such a loaded site of sexual contention and ambiguity. But I do think the female body CAN be and has been successfully used as a site and a synecdoche for feminist protest and the expression of feminist beliefs.

    I am not sure how FEMEN activists reason that their activities qualify as protests against FGM, prostitution, trafficking, the wearing of the hijab, abortion, or any other of their stated causes. Waving placards in the nude hardly seems adequate to the task. Notably, all their feminist causes revolve around the body. While their form of protest is unsubtle, this is not in itself a problem – Pussy Riot are pretty unsubtle too; but their political force is undeniable. But there is no intellectual/ political content to their actions.

    For me, FEMEN’s mode of expression reinforces the tyrrany of the patriarchal demand(and, it must be said, with the collusion of women)for women’s bodies in actuality and symbolically to be skewed and moulded, to be exploited for financial gain and for subjugation.

    I have read that FEMEN was established by a man; that he selects for conventionally attractive women for the movement; if this is true – who is he selecting for? Any guesses?

  • Hafsa

    FEMEN exists because western societies think that feminism and women’s freedom means to show their bodies, give them freedom to show their bodies. In other words, FEMEN is a micro element that reproduces what macro structure (society as a whole) believe. And of course, the major part of feminist movement fight against this wrong believe,a believe that reduces woman to her body, to materialism and mercantilization of her body. In fact, women’s body is a strong industry that moves millions. And because of this industry, means of socialization are controlled to preserve this believe. If someone critices FEMEN, people think that it means a criticism of women and feminism. However FEMEN has nothing to do with femenism.

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  • zhina

    I didn’t interpret her comment about men thinking naked women are “bad” in the same way that you did. Maybe she meant that men think naked/sexy women are worthless and nothing more than an object. These women are naked and have something to say. Those two things aren’t seen together. Usually sexy women don’t talk, and women that talk aren’t sexy! I don’t know much about femen, and I agree that this girl’s tone was condescending. But I think that it’s a worthy endeavour to destroy the image of the compliant, taciturn beautiful woman. I think “beautiful” women aren’t favoured by the media for the sum of their physical parts, but because conventionally “beautiful” women are portrayed as having no will of their own: they’re quiet and they never criticize. You can do anything to them and they won’t say no. The consumer demand for so-called beautiful women will decrease when the sick fantasy that they are JUST sex toys to use and abuse is destroyed.

    • zhina

      and that would be a good thing because it will turn up the volume on what all women have to SAY and what they need and think and individuals!

      • morag

        “Usually sexy women don’t talk, and women that talk aren’t sexy!”
        I see what you’re trying to say with regards to your whole comment, but I think you’re going about it the wrong way. Are you trying to say that all vocal feminists are ugly and to rev up the movement we need more sexy women talking about feminism? Or are you saying that men find women who speak up unsexy, so we need more sexy women talking to get our point across?

        I find the liberal feminist focus on “beautiful” women unproductive (speaking generally, I don’t mean it as an accusation against you.) I’ve seen countless articles recently about how we need to acknowledge that women like Kate Upton are, like, sexy *and* smart! And she totally felt bad about being objectified in Sports Illustrated but still loves to talk about her breasts and butt! Why so much focus on the objectification of rich conventionally beautiful women, and not on the marginalized women who will *never* have any of the privileges awarded to women who, frankly, sell out to the male establishment and throw other women under the bus? What about the lesbian women who get violently harassed for not performing femininity? All women face oppression for being women, but it’s not antifeminist to point out that women who perform femininity and profit off of their self-objectification (and who have other choices available to them-I’m not talking about single mothers who have to become strippers to pay the bills here) are given privileges to aid in their basic survival that not all women can access.

        I would love to see a liberal feminist blog devote some kind of attention to women who actually accomplish something; like Phd candidates, or animal rescuers, or anyone in a grass roots organization for women’s rights. But in liberal land, any woman trying to make something of herself is a privileged academic oppressor, and all our energy should be focused on the Paris Hiltons of the world like always.

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  • Sagar

    I think so this is a great article. Even I am skeptical about the ways of FEMENs because they are fighting against sexual objectification and sex trade and on other hand they are trying to sexualize the movement to get media attention. I think so it is contradictory and hypocritical. But personally I respect these women because there are very less feminists who are standing against prostitution and sex tourism. I know I am a male feminist and when I see men talking about why they want to go ukraine or eastern europe- is to have sex, that’s so horrible and hurts me and that’s why I respect these women.

  • DefenderofThemyscira

    I’m a Muslim woman and I regularly encounter a lot of BS from these FEMEN type women. They tell me I’M oppressed when in reality I cover myself for my religion and like every Muslim feminist,I very strongly believe that gender equality is a part of Islam, and that the religion has just been abused by patriarchal men. These FEMEN women are just another product of Western imperialism that covers its xenophobia with ‘concerns’ about ‘the poor oppressed Muslim woman.’ Now I’m not going to deny that Muslim women do encounter oppression, but this oppression of ours is not endorsed by our religion Islam, but by the culture that we live in. I think it’s very important to differentiate religion from culture. What may be acceptable in our culture may not be allowed in our religion. Yes, there are many Muslim women who are forced to wear Hijab, but this forced covering is NOT a product of Islam, rather it’s the result of culturally endorsed misogyny and harmful myths about women’s bodies and sexuality. FEMEN assumes that all Muslim are forced to wear the veil, yet they don’t realise that in Westernised countries female objectification is a rampant phenomenon fulled by pornography and prostitution and strip clubs. They(FEMEN) assume that liberation can only come if you take your clothes off, when in reality the picture is very different and that wearing more clothes could just simply be a matter of preference and that’s it. This image of the ‘oppressed Muslim woman’ has been partly the excuse for Western countries like the USA to pillage and plunder and ‘bring democracy'(HA!) to our countries.

    • Sagar

      I agree with you 100%. I am an anti porn feminist, I agree that in western world objectification of women body is on the rise. Have u read “Female chauvinist pigs”I am sure u will like it, it talks about rampant raunch culture and hypersexualized society.