Op-Ed: Where Femen Has Gone Wrong

April 7, 2013
By

By Mohadesa Najumi

s_f30_65431623

Femen is a feminist protest group founded in 2008, based in Ukraine. They received international recognition due to their direct and somewhat extreme methods of action. They engage in topless demonstrations, and protests outside of religious institutions and international marriage agencies, while pushing their ideology of the women’s sexual liberation, ‘sextremism’,  to the forefront. Their goal is women’s liberation.

So what’s sextremism? According to Femen, it means “to mobilize every cell of your body on a relentless struggle against centuries of slavery of women!” This I can certainly agree with. The attack on patriarchy warrants an un-relentless physical and mental effort. Yet, what is it about Femen that rattles the cages of so many people across the world? It is the fact that they so erroneously equate “freedom” with “nudity.”

s_f11_65473185This is not to say that you cannot achieve freedom with nudity because after all, feminism is about what is right for each woman. In her pursuit of liberation from patriarchy and its destructive force; she can use whatever methods she requires. As long as she is conscious and aware of the condition of society and the institutionalized bias against women; it is her choice what she does post-consciousness. This is because feminism is not dogmatic.  While there are basic principles within feminism — for example, no one should be treated differently, judged differently, afforded different rights, or forced to do something in society according to their sex – there’s no blueprint on “how to be a feminist.”

For Femen, this has been their greatest shortcoming; approaching feminism in a dogmatic manner and placing a monopoly on what is and isn’t freedom. This has rendered them an isolationist and largely intimidating group, especially for those new to their cause.  Femen chain link themselves into a box that reads: “our way or the high way.”  And if you happen to be a feminist and disagree with them, then you must not be a “real feminist.” And if you are not a feminist and dislike their way of thinking, then you must be oppressed by “Islamism” and in immediate need of a dose of freedom (ointment administered by Femen, of course).

s_f13_65342391If you subscribe to, or even just believe in the principle that I mentioned earlier, there is no group or individual that can effectively exclude you from feminist ideology. As a group that claims to be inclusive, Femen have fallen short in including all women in their movement. If anything, they have further stiffened the already-existing divide between non-religious and religious feminists.

As part of their protest on the arrest of Tunisian feminist Amina Tyler, who posted topless images of herself on the internet, with arabic writing across her chest reading: “My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone’s honour,” Femen called an ‘International Topless Jihad Day’. This began on April 4, 2013 and was followed by staged demonstrations around the world, mostly taking place outside of mosques in Berlin, Franch and Ukraine. These protests included the burning of Salafist flags and scuffles with the police.

s_f28_65431640I agree with their concept of sexual positivity.  In fact, I respect and support their act of claiming their bodies within a largely sexually repressive society.  However, But, I do not agree with their methods.  Muslim women can proclaim freedom for themselves.  Forcing one ideology over another isn’t freedom.  Not only is it wrong to claim that all women under the sweeping brush of “Islamism” (an Orientalist term that I frankly detest) are inherently oppressed, but it is even more thoughtless to claim that they are in need of some sort of saving. Moreover, imposing a specific standard of freedom on un-consenting women is just another form of trivialization and oppression.

Are women outside of Femen not also independent free-thinkers with free will? Or are they defined solely by their choice of faith?  This line of thinking adheres to the neo-colonial idea of the Arab World as some kind of barbaric and uncivilised terrain innately unable to treat the women therein well.  This is dogmatic at best.  And feminism, as I understand it, isn’t dogmatic. Whether or not Islam truly promotes the mis-treatment of women in the Arab World doesn’t really seem to be a concern of Femen.  The latter is a deeply sensitive and complex subject that requires a ton of study and revision…not a clamorous gathering of topless individuals shouting “Topless Jihad,” as though it were some kind of panacea.

_____________________________________________

IMG_3481Mohadesa Najumi, History and Politics Undergraduate, and passionate feminist, originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, living in London. You can follow her on @mohadesareverie.

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48 Responses to Op-Ed: Where Femen Has Gone Wrong

  1. Laura Santos-Bishop on April 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Thank you! I have been arguing for days now with people who claim I am not a true feminist and am upholding the patriarchal sexist system because I dared to say that I think many of Femen’s statements are misplaced and are causing more division than unity among the feminist world. What you have written here is well-put, concise, appropriately critical while still highlighting the aspects of Femen that are, indeed, excellent (for those who choose to fight that way). In a world where so many women have to fight and struggle for equality and a voice, we cannot afford to shout at each other and drown out our arguments in ideological bickering.

  2. Laura Santos-Bishop on April 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Thank you! I have been arguing for days now with people who claim I am not a true feminist and am upholding the patriarchal sexist system because I dared to say that I think many of Femen’s statements are misplaced and are causing more division than unity among the feminist world. What you have written here is well-put, concise, appropriately critical while still highlighting the aspects of Femen that are, indeed, excellent (for those who choose to fight that way). In a world where so many women have to fight and struggle for equality and a voice, we cannot afford to shout at each other and drown out our arguments in ideological bickering.

  3. Laura Santos-Bishop on April 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Thank you! I have been arguing for days now with people who claim I am not a true feminist and am upholding the patriarchal sexist system because I dared to say that I think many of Femen’s statements are misplaced and are causing more division than unity among the feminist world. What you have written here is well-put, concise, appropriately critical while still highlighting the aspects of Femen that are, indeed, excellent (for those who choose to fight that way). In a world where so many women have to fight and struggle for equality and a voice, we cannot afford to shout at each other and drown out our arguments in ideological bickering.

  4. Laura Santos-Bishop on April 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Thank you! I have been arguing for days now with people who claim I am not a true feminist and am upholding the patriarchal sexist system because I dared to say that I think many of Femen’s statements are misplaced and are causing more division than unity among the feminist world. What you have written here is well-put, concise, appropriately critical while still highlighting the aspects of Femen that are, indeed, excellent (for those who choose to fight that way). In a world where so many women have to fight and struggle for equality and a voice, we cannot afford to shout at each other and drown out our arguments in ideological bickering.

  5. Julia Glassman on April 7, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Thanks for this thoughtful analysis. Could I ask a clarification question? In your article, you state that Femen claims that their brand of feminism is the only legitimate brand–i.e., that they believe you can’t be a feminist unless you agree with them. How exactly do they demonstrate this belief? Have they claimed, for example, that the only way to do feminism is to pose nude?

    Any insight you could share would be appreciated!

    • Kasey on April 10, 2013 at 1:36 am

      I thought I could do some clarification since I think I can see where you are getting at. I cannot find an exact instance where members have explicitly said, “If you do not join us then you are not a feminist,” (maybe they have, maybe they haven’t, but I can’t prove it) however, from their actions it would be easy to deduce that Femen prefers their methods and their ideologies and does not work with other feminists outside of their group. What I think the article is hinting at is that Femen is failing to see Islam women can also be feminists and do not need “saving” which they are literally claiming. The idea of “saving” those of another culture/religion let alone makes me cringe and think of “the white man’s burden” and other very eurocentric views that spawned out of the 19th century. Femen is trying to impose that Islam women must be saved from oppression, however, there are feminist Islamic groups and Femen is not reaching out.
      They are not trying to educate themselves and they have never been known to work with other feminist groups for a common goal. Here is another great blog article with more info: http://abbattoimuri.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/muslimahpride-against-femen-i-dont-need-to-be-freed/

  6. Julia Glassman on April 7, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Thanks for this thoughtful analysis. Could I ask a clarification question? In your article, you state that Femen claims that their brand of feminism is the only legitimate brand–i.e., that they believe you can’t be a feminist unless you agree with them. How exactly do they demonstrate this belief? Have they claimed, for example, that the only way to do feminism is to pose nude?

    Any insight you could share would be appreciated!

    • Kasey on April 10, 2013 at 1:36 am

      I thought I could do some clarification since I think I can see where you are getting at. I cannot find an exact instance where members have explicitly said, “If you do not join us then you are not a feminist,” (maybe they have, maybe they haven’t, but I can’t prove it) however, from their actions it would be easy to deduce that Femen prefers their methods and their ideologies and does not work with other feminists outside of their group. What I think the article is hinting at is that Femen is failing to see Islam women can also be feminists and do not need “saving” which they are literally claiming. The idea of “saving” those of another culture/religion let alone makes me cringe and think of “the white man’s burden” and other very eurocentric views that spawned out of the 19th century. Femen is trying to impose that Islam women must be saved from oppression, however, there are feminist Islamic groups and Femen is not reaching out.
      They are not trying to educate themselves and they have never been known to work with other feminist groups for a common goal. Here is another great blog article with more info: http://abbattoimuri.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/muslimahpride-against-femen-i-dont-need-to-be-freed/

  7. Julia Glassman on April 7, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Thanks for this thoughtful analysis. Could I ask a clarification question? In your article, you state that Femen claims that their brand of feminism is the only legitimate brand–i.e., that they believe you can’t be a feminist unless you agree with them. How exactly do they demonstrate this belief? Have they claimed, for example, that the only way to do feminism is to pose nude?

    Any insight you could share would be appreciated!

    • Kasey on April 10, 2013 at 1:36 am

      I thought I could do some clarification since I think I can see where you are getting at. I cannot find an exact instance where members have explicitly said, “If you do not join us then you are not a feminist,” (maybe they have, maybe they haven’t, but I can’t prove it) however, from their actions it would be easy to deduce that Femen prefers their methods and their ideologies and does not work with other feminists outside of their group. What I think the article is hinting at is that Femen is failing to see Islam women can also be feminists and do not need “saving” which they are literally claiming. The idea of “saving” those of another culture/religion let alone makes me cringe and think of “the white man’s burden” and other very eurocentric views that spawned out of the 19th century. Femen is trying to impose that Islam women must be saved from oppression, however, there are feminist Islamic groups and Femen is not reaching out.
      They are not trying to educate themselves and they have never been known to work with other feminist groups for a common goal. Here is another great blog article with more info: http://abbattoimuri.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/muslimahpride-against-femen-i-dont-need-to-be-freed/

  8. Julia Glassman on April 7, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Thanks for this thoughtful analysis. Could I ask a clarification question? In your article, you state that Femen claims that their brand of feminism is the only legitimate brand–i.e., that they believe you can’t be a feminist unless you agree with them. How exactly do they demonstrate this belief? Have they claimed, for example, that the only way to do feminism is to pose nude?

    Any insight you could share would be appreciated!

    • Kasey on April 10, 2013 at 1:36 am

      I thought I could do some clarification since I think I can see where you are getting at. I cannot find an exact instance where members have explicitly said, “If you do not join us then you are not a feminist,” (maybe they have, maybe they haven’t, but I can’t prove it) however, from their actions it would be easy to deduce that Femen prefers their methods and their ideologies and does not work with other feminists outside of their group. What I think the article is hinting at is that Femen is failing to see Islam women can also be feminists and do not need “saving” which they are literally claiming. The idea of “saving” those of another culture/religion let alone makes me cringe and think of “the white man’s burden” and other very eurocentric views that spawned out of the 19th century. Femen is trying to impose that Islam women must be saved from oppression, however, there are feminist Islamic groups and Femen is not reaching out.
      They are not trying to educate themselves and they have never been known to work with other feminist groups for a common goal. Here is another great blog article with more info: http://abbattoimuri.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/muslimahpride-against-femen-i-dont-need-to-be-freed/

  9. Amie Newman on April 7, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you for this perspective. I agree with some of what you write but do not agree with the idea that there is no blueprint on how to be a feminist because feminism is not dogmatic. I am not sure that is true. I thnk our movement struggles deeply with what or who is and is not a feminist. This is, in fact, the premise of your whole post. Is Femen a feminist organization? Who gets to make that decision? As a committed feminist for many years I have been a part of situations where women who all call themselves feminists grab hold of an issue from very different perspectives and take very different actions, actions which may clash, as Femen seems to illustrate. In principle, feminism may be boiled down to the simplicity of the ideals you lay out. However, in practice, feminism is a living, breathing organism which must change, grow, adapt in order to be the movement it needs to be for all women, girls, and for a better world.

  10. Amie Newman on April 7, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you for this perspective. I agree with some of what you write but do not agree with the idea that there is no blueprint on how to be a feminist because feminism is not dogmatic. I am not sure that is true. I thnk our movement struggles deeply with what or who is and is not a feminist. This is, in fact, the premise of your whole post. Is Femen a feminist organization? Who gets to make that decision? As a committed feminist for many years I have been a part of situations where women who all call themselves feminists grab hold of an issue from very different perspectives and take very different actions, actions which may clash, as Femen seems to illustrate. In principle, feminism may be boiled down to the simplicity of the ideals you lay out. However, in practice, feminism is a living, breathing organism which must change, grow, adapt in order to be the movement it needs to be for all women, girls, and for a better world.

  11. Amie Newman on April 7, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you for this perspective. I agree with some of what you write but do not agree with the idea that there is no blueprint on how to be a feminist because feminism is not dogmatic. I am not sure that is true. I thnk our movement struggles deeply with what or who is and is not a feminist. This is, in fact, the premise of your whole post. Is Femen a feminist organization? Who gets to make that decision? As a committed feminist for many years I have been a part of situations where women who all call themselves feminists grab hold of an issue from very different perspectives and take very different actions, actions which may clash, as Femen seems to illustrate. In principle, feminism may be boiled down to the simplicity of the ideals you lay out. However, in practice, feminism is a living, breathing organism which must change, grow, adapt in order to be the movement it needs to be for all women, girls, and for a better world.

  12. Amie Newman on April 7, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you for this perspective. I agree with some of what you write but do not agree with the idea that there is no blueprint on how to be a feminist because feminism is not dogmatic. I am not sure that is true. I thnk our movement struggles deeply with what or who is and is not a feminist. This is, in fact, the premise of your whole post. Is Femen a feminist organization? Who gets to make that decision? As a committed feminist for many years I have been a part of situations where women who all call themselves feminists grab hold of an issue from very different perspectives and take very different actions, actions which may clash, as Femen seems to illustrate. In principle, feminism may be boiled down to the simplicity of the ideals you lay out. However, in practice, feminism is a living, breathing organism which must change, grow, adapt in order to be the movement it needs to be for all women, girls, and for a better world.

  13. Sophia Azeb on April 9, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Wonderful piece, but a note on the term Islamism:

    While widely misused by Orientalists and those who propagate Orientalist ideologies in the interest of Western hegemony over the so-called ‘Muslim world,’ Islamism in fact means only “political Islam.” That is, FEMEN and others have *misused* the term to denote fanatics or fundamentalists, when the term means anything but.

    Islamism itself is therefore not an Orientalist term, but you would be very correct in noting that the mainstream application of the term (most especially in the Western world) has assumed Orientalist qualities.

  14. Sophia Azeb on April 9, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Wonderful piece, but a note on the term Islamism:

    While widely misused by Orientalists and those who propagate Orientalist ideologies in the interest of Western hegemony over the so-called ‘Muslim world,’ Islamism in fact means only “political Islam.” That is, FEMEN and others have *misused* the term to denote fanatics or fundamentalists, when the term means anything but.

    Islamism itself is therefore not an Orientalist term, but you would be very correct in noting that the mainstream application of the term (most especially in the Western world) has assumed Orientalist qualities.

  15. Sophia Azeb on April 9, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Wonderful piece, but a note on the term Islamism:

    While widely misused by Orientalists and those who propagate Orientalist ideologies in the interest of Western hegemony over the so-called ‘Muslim world,’ Islamism in fact means only “political Islam.” That is, FEMEN and others have *misused* the term to denote fanatics or fundamentalists, when the term means anything but.

    Islamism itself is therefore not an Orientalist term, but you would be very correct in noting that the mainstream application of the term (most especially in the Western world) has assumed Orientalist qualities.

  16. Sophia Azeb on April 9, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Wonderful piece, but a note on the term Islamism:

    While widely misused by Orientalists and those who propagate Orientalist ideologies in the interest of Western hegemony over the so-called ‘Muslim world,’ Islamism in fact means only “political Islam.” That is, FEMEN and others have *misused* the term to denote fanatics or fundamentalists, when the term means anything but.

    Islamism itself is therefore not an Orientalist term, but you would be very correct in noting that the mainstream application of the term (most especially in the Western world) has assumed Orientalist qualities.

  17. Owlish on April 9, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Yes! Thank you for your eloquent response to this event.

  18. Owlish on April 9, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Yes! Thank you for your eloquent response to this event.

  19. Owlish on April 9, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Yes! Thank you for your eloquent response to this event.

  20. Owlish on April 9, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Yes! Thank you for your eloquent response to this event.

  21. carolyne gagné on April 9, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Femen are only making men happy, cause they’re showing everything! I’ve heard many men claim to be happy the Femen are doing what they’re doing, and they are giving men what they want again… men never had to go naked to be respected… we just need to unite and things will change… I know I won’t go naked to be respected!

    • pique17 on April 10, 2013 at 8:51 pm

      You should take a look at their latest “protest” in Hannover. Putin had the cheesiest smile on his face the moment FEMEN activist approached him :D Later he said , he LIKED the protest! What’s not to like?
      Might sound a little harsh, but FEMEN are just clowns.

    • Karina on April 24, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      Well our bodies were not built for them, but for the person wearing it, and vice versa, so you should know as Helen Mirren said, “there’s a difference between being nude and being naked.” Nude is when profited and exploited, while naked is at a physically natural state. The whole point of feminism is to allow women to express themselves, and many groups have their own way of dealing with the same issue, so judging appearance furthers the divide. We can’t exactly protest as nuns either.

  22. carolyne gagné on April 9, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Femen are only making men happy, cause they’re showing everything! I’ve heard many men claim to be happy the Femen are doing what they’re doing, and they are giving men what they want again… men never had to go naked to be respected… we just need to unite and things will change… I know I won’t go naked to be respected!

    • pique17 on April 10, 2013 at 8:51 pm

      You should take a look at their latest “protest” in Hannover. Putin had the cheesiest smile on his face the moment FEMEN activist approached him :D Later he said , he LIKED the protest! What’s not to like?
      Might sound a little harsh, but FEMEN are just clowns.

    • Karina on April 24, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      Well our bodies were not built for them, but for the person wearing it, and vice versa, so you should know as Helen Mirren said, “there’s a difference between being nude and being naked.” Nude is when profited and exploited, while naked is at a physically natural state. The whole point of feminism is to allow women to express themselves, and many groups have their own way of dealing with the same issue, so judging appearance furthers the divide. We can’t exactly protest as nuns either.

  23. carolyne gagné on April 9, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Femen are only making men happy, cause they’re showing everything! I’ve heard many men claim to be happy the Femen are doing what they’re doing, and they are giving men what they want again… men never had to go naked to be respected… we just need to unite and things will change… I know I won’t go naked to be respected!

    • pique17 on April 10, 2013 at 8:51 pm

      You should take a look at their latest “protest” in Hannover. Putin had the cheesiest smile on his face the moment FEMEN activist approached him :D Later he said , he LIKED the protest! What’s not to like?
      Might sound a little harsh, but FEMEN are just clowns.

    • Karina on April 24, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      Well our bodies were not built for them, but for the person wearing it, and vice versa, so you should know as Helen Mirren said, “there’s a difference between being nude and being naked.” Nude is when profited and exploited, while naked is at a physically natural state. The whole point of feminism is to allow women to express themselves, and many groups have their own way of dealing with the same issue, so judging appearance furthers the divide. We can’t exactly protest as nuns either.

  24. carolyne gagné on April 9, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Femen are only making men happy, cause they’re showing everything! I’ve heard many men claim to be happy the Femen are doing what they’re doing, and they are giving men what they want again… men never had to go naked to be respected… we just need to unite and things will change… I know I won’t go naked to be respected!

    • pique17 on April 10, 2013 at 8:51 pm

      You should take a look at their latest “protest” in Hannover. Putin had the cheesiest smile on his face the moment FEMEN activist approached him :D Later he said , he LIKED the protest! What’s not to like?
      Might sound a little harsh, but FEMEN are just clowns.

    • Karina on April 24, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      Well our bodies were not built for them, but for the person wearing it, and vice versa, so you should know as Helen Mirren said, “there’s a difference between being nude and being naked.” Nude is when profited and exploited, while naked is at a physically natural state. The whole point of feminism is to allow women to express themselves, and many groups have their own way of dealing with the same issue, so judging appearance furthers the divide. We can’t exactly protest as nuns either.

  25. [...] in the nudity while others just seem to assume that freedom is a universal concept. Luckily, the The Feminist Wire has a great article that problematizes FEMEN’s definition of “freedom” and the ways in which [...]

  26. [...] in the nudity while others just seem to assume that freedom is a universal concept. Luckily, the The Feminist Wire has a great article that problematizes FEMEN’s definition of “freedom” and the ways in which [...]

  27. [...] in the nudity while others just seem to assume that freedom is a universal concept. Luckily, the The Feminist Wire has a great article that problematizes FEMEN’s definition of “freedom” and the ways in which [...]

  28. [...] in the nudity while others just seem to assume that freedom is a universal concept. Luckily, the The Feminist Wire has a great article that problematizes FEMEN’s definition of “freedom” and the ways in which [...]

  29. Charl on April 15, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Hello, I do agry that “imposing a specific standard of freedom on un-consenting women is just another form of trivialization and oppression.”
    But Femen might be a voice for a lot of consenting-but-unable-to-shout-that-they-are-enslaved women…
    It seems to me that we don’t need “a ton of study and revision” to see that a lot of women in arabic countries, as well as in India, Congo, etc go through horrible processes of mariage, rape, or are enslaved by men.

  30. Charl on April 15, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Hello, I do agry that “imposing a specific standard of freedom on un-consenting women is just another form of trivialization and oppression.”
    But Femen might be a voice for a lot of consenting-but-unable-to-shout-that-they-are-enslaved women…
    It seems to me that we don’t need “a ton of study and revision” to see that a lot of women in arabic countries, as well as in India, Congo, etc go through horrible processes of mariage, rape, or are enslaved by men.

  31. Charl on April 15, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Hello, I do agry that “imposing a specific standard of freedom on un-consenting women is just another form of trivialization and oppression.”
    But Femen might be a voice for a lot of consenting-but-unable-to-shout-that-they-are-enslaved women…
    It seems to me that we don’t need “a ton of study and revision” to see that a lot of women in arabic countries, as well as in India, Congo, etc go through horrible processes of mariage, rape, or are enslaved by men.

  32. Charl on April 15, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Hello, I do agry that “imposing a specific standard of freedom on un-consenting women is just another form of trivialization and oppression.”
    But Femen might be a voice for a lot of consenting-but-unable-to-shout-that-they-are-enslaved women…
    It seems to me that we don’t need “a ton of study and revision” to see that a lot of women in arabic countries, as well as in India, Congo, etc go through horrible processes of mariage, rape, or are enslaved by men.

  33. [...] Op-ed: Where Femen has gone wrong [...]

  34. [...] Op-ed: Where Femen has gone wrong [...]

  35. [...] Op-ed: Where Femen has gone wrong [...]

  36. [...] Op-ed: Where Femen has gone wrong [...]

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