Femen: The “I told you so” Edition

So, it turns out there is a man controlling Femen. I have yet to find a single feminist who didn’t see this coming. I mean, seriously, young white women who pass the patriarchal fuckability test with their breasts on display? Does this not shriek Hugh Hefner? The deliberately putting young women in danger of sexual violence by police and security forces is the kind of action that misogynists think is hilarious. The co-opting of the struggles of women and speaking over them has never been a feminist act.

Femen have always been about the right of men to wank whilst pretending to be feminists rather than helping women vulnerable to male violence and sexual exploitation. I could rant for hours on this subject but instead I’m sharing some of my favourite blogs and media articles on Femen: 

Femen : This isn’t Feminism

I have been very critical of Femen’s brand of feminist activism. I supported their goals years ago when they were targeting sex traffickers and male violence, although not the methods they employ. Now, Femen seem to be after the media attention rather than supporting women. Femen have moved into colonialist discourse where in white women are the saviours of brown women. The recent protests against the burqha and Islam have been steeped in racism and the othering of women. Whilst I firmly believe that feminism has multiple constructions and that we are all on a journey but at different places on that journey, I find Femen’s activism deeply troubling.

Today, I read a blog at LaLibertineSalon which claims that a Femen activist attacked a woman who works as a stripper on stage. I am really hoping this isn’t true because I can not believe that anyone who labels themselves as a feminist would believe that physically attacking other women was acceptable. 

I am an abolitionist. I believe that all parts of the “sex industry” are harmful to women as a political class. I do understand the arguments about the ‘sex industry’ [from Hooters to lap dance clubs to prostitution] being the only industry in which women living in poverty or who are Othered can survive but I believe that is why we need to destroy the Patriarchy. Poverty and lack of choice are not acceptable reasons to commodify women’s bodies. 

What the Femen activist did isn’t feminist activism. Feminism is a political theory which attacks  political structures. We are critical of women’s behaviour but that criticism can not descend into personal attacks, both physical and emotional. 

Feminism is about sisterhood and solidarity. It is about making the world a better place for all women. We cannot do that whilst engaged in sustained personal attacks.

I am deeply disturbed that a Femen activist would choose to storm a stage and put already vulnerable women in further danger. Women who work in the “sex industry” are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and sexual violence from men that other women. They don’t need other women helping men to hurt them. They don’t need other women physically attacking them.

I am thankful I read the piece at LaLibertineSalon as I had missed this story, however, I am equally disturbed by the personal attacks on Meghan Murphy and Stella Marr at the bottom of the article. The assumption that feminists who campaign against the ‘sex industry’ must be omniscient is harmful. This idea that Murphy and Marr must know every single thing every other feminist on the planet is doing and must write about it is ridiculous. 

It is also wrong. Mainstream feminists have written about the harm caused by Femen. Murphy has written several pieces on the subject. I have not seen anything by Marr but that’s because I have not yet read every word she has ever written. I have read numerous pieces by mainstream feminists from Germaine Greer to Sara Salem. I’ve read criticisms in the Guardian, Al Jazeera and the CBC. If the author of LaLibertineSalon has not, well, I’m assuming it is because she isn’t omniscient either. 

Feminists cannot and must not let personal attacks on other women go unchallenged, whether that is Femen engaged in deeply troubling behaviour to women sniping at other women about their brand of feminism.

We need to move out of this toxic discourse and start focussing on the real problems. 

We need to stop demanding perfection and total obedience from women. None of us are perfect. None of us have all the answers. Pretending that we do is harmful; as is demanding that every woman who self-defines as feminist must agree with everything we say or be booted out. 

We are not the Patriarchy so let’s stop acting like it.

Femen: This Time They’re Burning Crosses

I am not a huge fan of Femen. I find their protests generally offensive, attention-seeking and lacking in any kind of compassion which is actually rather depressing because their original campaigns against sex trafficking were so very important. Now, they seem more interested in media attention from shock tactics than feminist analysis. They are also no strangers to accusations of Islamaphobia and racism with their anti-burkha protests.

Their newest campaign against the Barbie Dreamhouse exhibit surprised even me. I’ve already blogged my intense dislike for the exhibit but the idea of burning a cross with Barbie attached to it just blew my mind. When I think of burning crosses, I think of the Klu Klux Klan in the US and the lynchings of African-Americans. For me, burning crosses are symbols of white supremacist culture. The usage of it by feminists to protest Barbie is deeply offensive to me. 

Perhaps I am reading too much into this because of my cultural heritage as Canadian, but, for me, burning crosses can never be separated from the KKK. They are a symbol of racism and nothing more. 

There is also something deeply ironic about women who pass the patriarchal fuckability test protesting Barbie. But, that could just be me too.

It’s Femen. Again. This Time They’re Running About the Vatican.

Yep. That’s an image of Femen taken yesterday at their protest in the Vatican in support of gay rights. Because the best way to interact with a homophobic and misogynist patriarchal institution is to have young women bare their breasts  and shout. 

Who precisely were Femen addressing with this protest? This is my fundamental problem with their form of “protest”. I’m not sure who they are actually targeting. Or, what they are targeting. If they are protesting a homophobic march in Paris, why are they in the Vatican? If they are targeting the Catholic Church, well, let’s be honest here, the Vatican doesn’t actually give a shit what women think. They are highly unlikely to change the minds of those visiting the Vatican. Instead, they have put themselves in a situation where they could have been very badly hurt. 

This really isn’t feminism. It is a mockery of it.

Femen Redux: I’m not even sure what to say anymore

It’s farking Femen. Again. This time they are protesting the very brutal gang-rape of a young woman in India who committed suicide rather than being pushed into marrying her rapist. This is the statement from the Facebook page to accompany the image above: 

FEMEN shares the world sorrow of 17-year-old Indian girl, victim of a brutal rape. According to the newspaper La Figaro, the victim took the fatal dose of poison, in response to demands by Indian police to withdraw his statement and to marry one of the rapists!
late on November 13 was raped by two men on their way to a religious festival in the city of Punjab. Within two weeks the police refused to accept the statement about rape.
Unfortunately, the facts of genocide against women in India have become known worldwide only after the case of brutal gang rape the girls in the New Daley on December 16, that shakes all India.
FEMEN has long pointed to the Indian authorities ‘ official policy-misogynistic, religious and caste wildness against women. FEMEN women’s movement demands immediate international intervention in the plight of Indian women, subjected to daily physical and mental abuse, suffering from some pointless authorities, corrupt policemen etc. .In February 2012, the activist of FEMEN dismantled the India flag from the roof of the Indian Embassy, protest against visa rule by chauvinist Indian authorities towards young women from Ukraine. For protection of the rights of Ukrainians before the official Daily on four participants of protest was filed 5 criminal cases, litigation that lasts to this day.

A little bit of self-reflection wouldn’t go amiss with these people. Honestly, do they not get the problem with their imperialist campaigns which alienate the very women they claim to be fighting for? 

I could rant for hours on their hypocrisy but I think Sara Salem’s article Femen’s Neocolonial Feminism: When Nudity Becomes Uniform says it much better than I can. 

Femen Redux: Still Conforming to the Patriarchal Fuckability Test

I’ve blogged about Femen before because I was utterly gobsmacked that a photo of a topless Femen protestor without any political context managed to win a World Press Photo award (and the total lack of understanding of the irony of this photo being called The New Amazons). Supposedly, Femen protests against sex tourism, the legalisation of prostitution and the selling of “brides” internationally. How they quite expect the Patriarchy to take them seriously when they protest using pretty basic anti-woman signifiers is beyond me and that’s without getting into them selling prints of their breasts as a fundraising tactic. In using women’s bodies as a canvas of protest, Femen are conforming to the norms of Patriarchal objectification of women’s bodies. Their message is obscured by the medium of their protest because the medium conforms to the normalised construction of the Patriarchal Fuckability Test. As Exiled Stardust says, getting naked or stripping aren’t acts of Feminist defiance. They are exactly what the Patriarchy  wants after all: 

Doing what men want is appeasement. Feminism is resistance. Appeasement and resistance are opposing forces; the more you do of one, the less you can do of the other. That’s why these groups are insidious; they divert feminist energy into meaningless acts that only serve male interests. Men don’t care if you write incendiary messages of revolt all over your naked body, as long as they get to see that body. 

We all have to appease in one way or another to survive, but let’s not confuse that behavior with feminist activism. It’s not. Let’s do as little of it as we can get away with, and as much resistance as we are capable of.

Femen’s activism is the same old Patriarchal twaddle dressed up as “Fun Feminism”. The objectification of women’s bodies to make a political point isn’t new. It isn’t clever. It’s just the Patriarchy trying out a new hat. After all, PETA’s been doing this shit for years and their supporters are a whose who of celebrities with criminal convictions for Violence against Women.

Whilst I’m willing to concede that there might be a reason why using women’s naked bodies as a platform of political protest in the Ukraine is an interesting tactic because I know nothing of the their Feminist movement, it isn’t a new or even interesting tactic in Western Europe. More importantly, I think it’s a tactic deliberately chosen in order to get recognition in the western media because appealing to horny men is really the only way women get any attention. I think Femen are more interested in the attention than they are in achieving specific Feminist goals. They are hopping on far too many bandwagons, such as the Free Pussy Riot movement. Frankly, there are very few attention-seekers who haven’t hopped on the Free Pussy Riot bandwagon. It’s proving to be quite a profitable one for everyone but the two women currently being transported to a penal colony in Russia. Inna Shevchenko demonstrated her “support” for Pussy Riot by destroying a crucifix in Kiev with a chainsaw. This stunt coincided exactly with the court in Moscow finding Pussy Riot guilty of hooliganism; make of that what you will.  Femen also occupied the Louvre to protest the rape of a young woman called Mariam by two Tunisian police officers. This article seems to imply that the Femen protest in Paris was more important than the woman in Tunis who protested outside the courtroom. Maybe I’m over-thinking things here, but I think the women of Tunis taking to the streets despite the crackdown on women in Tunisia is a shitload more important and so much braver than a bunch of topless women running around the Louvre. Thing is, which protest got more coverage? And, which one really deserved the media attention?

Femen’s anti-burkha protests are equally offensive. Regardless of what I, as an individual, think of burkhas, the fact of the matter is that many Muslim wear them. It is utterly arrogant for a group of non-Muslim women to tell Muslim women what they can and can not do. The debate over whether or not the burkha is anti-feminist or whether or not it should be banned is a debate that needs to involve the voices of Muslim women. This does not mean that others can not have opinions. I think the burkhas use as a tool of oppression for all Muslim women in some countries supercedes its use as a tool for freedom for a small number of women in “western” countries. However, Muslim women’s voices need to be central in this discussion. In this case, Femen are attacking an easy target; one which has very little access to mass media. Veiled Muslim women are some of the most frequently silenced of women’s voices. Femen aren’t really doing anything really radical here. They are just doing exactly what western neoliberal men do: attack a visible target with no power. A radical approach would have been for members of Femen to approach Muslim women’s groups and ask them how to support them. Running about in front of the Eiffel Tower stripping off burkhas to reveal young, thin white women in their underwear isn’t radical. It’s not even very interesting. Setting up a “bootcamp” in Paris to teach French feminists how to tackle the Patriarchy using tactics developed in the Ukraine is also not very clever. It’s a reversal of the normal imperialism but, nonetheless, it shows a rather incredible lack of self-awareness.

I would not have bothered to write another blogpost on Femen had I not caught the discussion on Femen live-streamed on AlJazeera called the “Future of Feminism”. I knew from the beginning that the discussion was going to piss me off when the host got herself confused between Radical Feminism, the political theory, and radical forms of protest. Femen are not a Radical Feminist group. Femen’s idea of “sextremism” is not Radical Feminist. This is not to say that they aren’t feminists. Femen clearly defines that way. They just aren’t Radical Feminists. That said, I agree with Chloe Angyal from Feministing that we should be having discussions about the role of women’s bodies in the public sphere but it isn’t Femen starting these conversations. These conversations have been started recently by the Everyday Sexism project, the Turn Your Back on 3 campaigns, the publication of nude photos of Kate Middleton, and the unmasking of violent, predatory internet trolls. Femen are getting media attention for being naked; not for their message. They are just like PETA: equally tedious and utterly incapable of listening to others. And, this is the problem. The issues Femen claims to want to discuss are important. They are so very, very important, particularly the issue of sex trafficking and prostitution in Eastern Europe. The sexual exploitation of vulnerable and poor women is increasing at astronomical rates. But, this isn’t what the media is discussing. Femen’s insistence on baring their breasts, regardless of what they are actually protesting, just reinforces Patriarchal norms. They have become objects for men to wank to rather than feminist protestors. Whatever message they had, is obfuscated. Instead, their breasts are what is deemed important. 

We won’t destroy the Patriarchy by reinforcing it’s constructions of “acceptable” women. We won’t destroy the Patriarchy by targeting one small group of women and demanding that they remove their veil, without even considering the political and cultural structures in which they are either forced or, in some cases, choose to wear the veil. We can not demand the government of Tunisia tackle the issue of rape by police officers by running about art galleries naked. We won’t change the control that the Church has by chopping down crosses half-naked. Protest needs to be vibrant, engaging and culturally specific. Suffragettes marching on Parliament this week was truly beautiful but it would have been a stupid protest in somewhere like Zimbabwe where the symbol of the Suffragette does not have the same political meaning. Femen’s protests lack the imagery that Pussy Riot managed. We will not smash the Patriarchy by reinforcing its belief that the only women who matter are those who conform to the Patriarchal Fuckability Test.

As many a wise feminist has said: if the penis is keen, it probably demeans. And, that’s the problem with Femen. Men aren’t listening to the message. They are wanking to the image.