For five years now radical feminist movement Femen that originated in Ukraine fights for women rights in the world.
During this time the main Femen trademark – protesting topless and with flowers in the hair – became globally recognized symbol against patriarchy, Islamism, fascism, human trafficking and prostitution. Femen calls its ideology sextremism and the main weapon against patriarchy and gender inequality is bare breasts. One of the top objectives of Femen is to bring radicalism back into feminism in the fight for gender, economic, political and social equality.
The world first learned about Femen in 2008 when they protested against sex tourism and prostitution in Ukraine. The main slogan at the time was “Ukraine is not a brothel”. This was Femen’s reaction to one radio show in New Zealand which suggested its listeners to win a trip to Ukraine and pick a wife there. Femen protests managed to get the media attention and the contest was canceled. Femen became known all over the world. Since then Femen has protested against corruption, discrimination and all forms of patriarchy. Femen is now active in nine countries, four continents and has most supporters in France and Germany.
The protests of Femen are usually a surprise to the police and it is kind of funny to watch the whole thing when it happens. The police are trying to catch and hold screaming topless women – it will most probably make a random witness smile. Femen activists have been beaten, arrested and received many deaths threats. However, threats and arrests are not likely to stop this movement from happening and gaining more support. The activists seem not to be threatened either. The founder of Femen Alexandra Shevchenko has been arrested more than 70 times. She was even abducted by the Ukrainian intelligence before the EURO 2012 in Ukraine to stop one of the protests from happening. Other members of Femen have also been abducted and taken to Belarus.
Femen protested in Vatican during the conclave in order to emphasize “the bloody history of the Curch”, next to the European Parliament in Brussels where they defended rights of the homosexual people, during the Berlin Film Festival they protested against female genital mutilation in Africa, in Moscow the protest against Vladimir Putin took place on the election day, and in Paris during Davos Economic Forum Femen protested against economic inequality. The most recent protest was organized in front of the Ministry of Justice in Tunisia where Femen activists objected the imprisonment of one of the members of Tunisian Femen which posted her topless picture on the Internet and was arrested and prosecuted for that. The ones who protested in Tunisia had German and French citizenships because they would get the best diplomatic aid in case of arrests. At the moment four members of Femen are held in prison in Tunisia.
Topless protests are not a new and shocking way of protesting but at the age of the Internet it guaranties more attention and possibilities to be seen and heard by more people. And of course one can get the media attention faster than ever before in the history of the protesting. However, paradoxically Femen has been mostly criticized because of its topless strategy. Critics argue that bare breasts as a form of protest is not the best way to fight against objectification of women. What is more, Femen is criticized for seeking too much of the media attention, wide range of the protest topics and lack of the stable strategic goals, and most recently – greatly negative attitudes towards the Church. The feminists in the western states call Femen “fast-food feminism” and object to topless protesting. Nevertheless, it is important to remember the context that Femen has come from. Femen comes from the post-communist context and the fight against heavily dominating patriarchy may require different means. The problems of gender equality which at least have been institutionally solved in many of the western states are still very big and relevant in the bigger part of the Eastern Europe. Therefore, the topless protests of Femen need to be understood in the context of post-communism. This context in particular creates the controversial and fascinating protesting style of Femen.
Inna Shevchenko, one of the leaders of Femen, says that their topless protests are the way to reclaim women sexuality: “We believe that oppression of women started with oppression and enslavement of women sexuality, therefore, we think that it is appropriate to use this reclaimed sexuality as a symbol of women liberation in the whole world”.