By Geertje Bol
Recently I came across a documentary about Femen, a feminist organization that operates through topless protests. Founded in Ukraine in 2008, the organization has branches in ten different countries and aims to fight “patriarchy in its three manifestations – sexual exploitation of women, dictatorship and religion”.
Women showing their breasts for the cause of feminism – that obviously attracts a lot of media attention. But with that attention comes a lot of criticism. Why do women need to show their breasts in order to get (male) attention for feminism? The Femen activists – or sextremists as they call themselves – are slim, young and attractive, once again showing that in order for feminism to be popular, feminists have to be hot. But is taking your top off really going to achieve anything?
I can understand where they are coming from. Feminism in Ukraine leaves a lot to be desired and shocking and provoking people may be useful. But bare breasts, at least in Western Europe, aren’t shocking anymore, they regularly appear on television and the beach. I’m not saying that in Western Europe feminists are dispensable. There are still things to fight for. But these issues will not get fixed by women taking their tops off.
Recently, something was revealed that might be the kiss of death for Femen: the revelation that the organization is actually led by a man. The new documentary Ukraine Is Not a Brothel by Australian filmmaker Kitty Green claims that Victor Svatsky is the man behind Femen. Does this mean that Femen is completely done for now? Not necessarily. I think the organization needs to move on past this sextremism and focus more on oppressed women and garner media attention in better ways. Only through being more concrete about their goals, will they be able to achieve something new.