‘FEMEN’ and the suppression of native voices

Middle EastUS Politics
on 36 Comments

I loathe the premise that people of colour should be ‘grateful’ that others are taking notice of their subjugation, or that they should bite their tongues and clench their fists and instead show gratitude because their varied plights are being in some way ‘acknowledged‘ by others. 

Shouldn’t you be glad that people are recognizing these issues?” is the arrogant lamentation which customarily follows even the most caustious criticism of these perverse pseudo-solidarity actions – FEMEN’s nude predominantly white, predominantly thin photo-ops “for Amina“, a 19 year-old Tunisian woman who posed for them with the words “my body belongs to me, it is not the source of anyone’s honour” scrawled across her torso, being the latest example, and KONY2012 being an earlier one. This aforementioned response contends that we should withhold criticism, alleging that even being ‘noticed‘ should be good enough.

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Despite having our religious attire,  skin colour and even facial hair, being routinely mocked and worn as makeshift costumes as a part of ‘solidarity actions’ it is said time and time again that we should be ‘grateful‘ that anyone simply has reason enough to ‘care‘.

Despite the watered down slogans of liberation and freedom being copy-pasted by the parade of online followers of groups such as FEMEN many of these same activists are so inebriated with colonial feminist doctrine that they gleefully take part in patronizing , Islamophobic and misogynistic rhetoric in response to women of colour telling them that they take great offence, that their voices will not be usurped, that they are the sole guardians of their plights and no one has the authority to speak on their behalf, no matter how allegedly ‘well-intentioned’. In response to FEMEN’s topless “jihad day” event Muslim women created #MuslimahPride on Twitter; Sofia Ahmed, one of the women behind “Muslimah Pride Day” described the campaign as follows:

“Muslimah [term for a female Muslim] pride is about connecting with your Muslim identity and reclaiming our collective voice. Let’s show the world that we oppose FEMEN and their use of Muslim women to reinforce Western imperialism.”

Using #MuslimahPride many Muslim women began voicing their disapproval of FEMEN, one such woman was Zarah Sultana who posted the following photograph on her public Twitter page, which I have received permission to post here, and which in turned catalyzed many other Muslim women to do the same in an array of languages, by women from multifarious backgrounds:

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The sign reads: “I am a proud Muslimah. I don’t need “liberating”. I don’t appreciate being used to reinforce Western imperialism. You do not represent me!”

The responses Sultana received were drenched in perverse Islamophobia, sexism and pure, unashamed hatred:
“Fuck off back to your own country”, “burn in hell”, “grab your ankles and remain silent”, “Mohammad was a pedophile”, “put on your burka”, “she’s happy with her chains” etc.- all coming from those who, just moments earlier, were tweeting gleefully in support of Muslim women. 

When it comes to non-natives speaking in regards to native issues – it is a path that must be tread upon lightly in order to avoid (a) tokenization and (b) the usurpation of native voices. Solidarity is great, but it is when campaigns turned publicity stunts like the ones FEMEN indulges in begin using brown bodies as props while at the same time perpetuating orientalism and engaging in blatant prejudicial acts to promote their idea of ‘liberation’. FEMEN, and other such groups, offer no solution to the undeniable subjugated of women present in the Middle East-North Africa, it is all a show of thin, white grandeur.

Simply stating that you are in solidarity, that you support a woman’s right to don the headscarf, remove it, cover/uncover etc. is in no way dubious. It is when aforementioned solidarity crosses the red line and veers into the seizure of native voices and the tokenization of these voices does this become intensely problematic, ineffective and perverse.

Also it has long been chronicled that women of colour are often left out of mainstream feminist discourse, unless it is by means of humanitarian imperialism channels where they are simply tokenised. Bell Hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins), a feminist, social activist, does a magnificent job describing this in much of her work. 

In terms of the mounting questions in regards to how one is to raise awareness in light of such groups as FEMEN: you raise awareness by highlighting native voices, not co-opting them. It is your duty to amplify, not commandeer.

As Sara Salem, PhD researcher at the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands, notes:

“Feminism has the potential to be greatly emancipatory by adopting an anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic and anti-Islamophobic rhetoric, instead of often actively being racist, homophobic, transphobic and Islamophobic. By clearly delineating the boundaries of what is “good” and “bad” feminism, Femen is using colonial feminist rhetoric that defines Arab women as oppressed by culture and religion, while no mention is made of capitalism, racism, or global imperialism. It is actively promoting the idea that Muslim women are suffering from “false consciousness” because they cannot see (while Femen can see) that the veil and religion are intrinsically harmful to all women.

Yet again, the lives of Muslim women are to be judged by European feminists, who yet again have decided that Islam – and the veil – are key components of patriarchy. Where do women who disagree with this fit? Where is the space for a plurality of voices? And the most important question of all: can feminism survive unless it sheds its Eurocentric bias and starts accepting that the experiences of all women should be seen as legitimate?”

Post-Colonial feminists worth mentioning, a few of many:

Arundhati Roy
Gloria Anzaldúa
Chandra Talpade Mohanty
Audre Lorde
June Jordan

Responses to FEMEN by women of colour, others:

The Inconsistency of Femen’s Imperialist “one size fits all” Attitude - Bim Adewunmi
Femen’s Neocolonial Feminism: When Nudity Becomes A Uniform - Sara Salem
The Fast-Food Feminism of the Topless FEMEN - Mona Chollet
That’s Not What  A Feminist Looks Like – Elly Badcock
The African History of Nude Protest – Maryam Kazeem

My piece on rediscovering Feminism

Suggested reading:
“Is Western Patriarchal Feminism Good For Third World/Minority Women?” By Azizah Al-Hibri

“Women and Gender in Islam” by Leila Ahmed

And two relevant books by Edward Saïd:
Culture and Imperialism
Orientalism

(Crossposted at Roqayah Chamseddine’s blog The Frustrated Arab)

36 Responses

  1. Inanna
    April 6, 2013, 11:56 pm

    This!

    Thank you, a wonderful piece.

  2. kayq
    April 7, 2013, 12:42 am

    Thank you Roqayah for this astonishing piece.

  3. K Renner
    April 7, 2013, 12:53 am

    Once again, western social liberalism.

    Regardless of what they say, they are going to hate all Muslim men (especially those who are Arabic or Iranian) and show only contempt for those Muslim women who choose to wear hijab or dress in a more traditional fashion- after all, the only way for a woman (or “womyn”, ha-ha) to be truly liberated is when she embraces mindless excess in appearance and action. Any woman who decides she wants to behave modestly or with dignity is obviously brainwashed- especially women held in thrall by men who practice Islam- or “inhuman islamist beasts”. Even moreso the Arab males, who as we all know will go on murder sprees if women do not dress in Saudi style religious garb. So sayeth the goddesses of FEMEN and “Slutwalk”, the harbingers of the glorious “Matriarchy”.

  4. Cliff
    April 7, 2013, 5:44 am

    FEMEN is truly disgusting.

    Anyone remember ‘Draw Muhammed Day’?

    I recall seeing Muhammed depicted wearing a turban that was a bomb. Or seeing Muhammed depicted as a pig.

    This was all done in the name of ‘free speech’.

    Similarly, these – unsurprisingly, mostly WHITE westerners – women slander the entire religion of Islam under the guise of supporting Amina and women’s rights.

    The FEMEN facebook page is full of comments mocking Islam as ‘the religion of peace’ or referring to counter-protesting Arab (how do they know they’re Arab?) men as ‘barbarians’ or cowards.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    These type of people have no trouble destroying entire Arab countries so that the rubble will have ‘freedom’.

    • W.Jones
      April 7, 2013, 3:25 pm

      Didn’t the FEMEN group do a bizarre ritual dance in the middle of one of Russia’s main churches recently, and got arrested, the upshot being increased western media attention on Russia being bad?

      People shouldn’t be penalized for expression, but come on. There is no need for that.

      • seafoid
        April 8, 2013, 6:16 am

        That was Pussy Riot.

        Reminds me of what Simon Kuper said about the Netherlands. Americans can say anything they want about the Netherlands because they know nobody will contradict them.

      • W.Jones
        April 12, 2013, 4:50 am

        Contradict this ;)

        While the verdict has riled many who feel their punishment does not fit the “crime,” no one is perhaps more upset than members of the Ukrainian feminist protest group FEMEN. To show the world just how pissed off they are, a topless FEMEN activist was sent to “chop down” a giant wooden cross situated near Independence Square in Kiev.

        The group released this statement a short time later:

        “On the day of the sentencing, the Femen women’s movement expresses its support and respect for its Russian colleagues from the group Pussy Riot… By this act, Femen calls on all healthy forces of society to mercilessly saw out of their heads all the rotten religious prejudice that serves as a foundation for dictatorship and prevents the development of democracy and women’s freedom.”

        link to gawker.com

        Topless FEMEN Activist Chainsaws Memorial Cross In Ukraine
        link to huffingtonpost.com

        LoL(?)

      • Rusty Pipes
        April 8, 2013, 12:43 pm

        That was Pussy Riot.

      • piotr
        April 9, 2013, 5:19 pm

        No, this is a different group of “bad girls”: “Aug 18, 2012 … Moscow (CNN) — Three members of Russian female punk rock band Pussy Riot
        were sentenced to two years in prison…” Strangely enough, there is “Russian FEMEN”, or “FEMEN RU” that is not in good relationship with the “original” FEMEN.

        Concerning FEMEN, when they were protesting causes local to Ukraine and Belorus, getting jail sentences and brutalized by police it was attracting rather scant attention in the West, but when they protest against Islam in Paris, they have interviews and perhaps a book contract, and tons of attention. I would need to study the issue more, but I suspect combination of these two factors:

        there is a large sector of press in Europe that regularly publishes pics of bare breasted women and there is a huge demand for “media worthy” pictures of that kind (in USA it is not so), it can be FEMEN, a British princess, whatever;

        to many Europeans (and perhaps North American) the view of women in Islamic dress is disturbing, kind of “our country is being taken over by forces we do not comprehend”.

  5. Tzombo
    April 7, 2013, 9:12 am

    Thanks for this. That whole Femen thing has been annoying me from the start. I never got the impression they represent anyone but themselves.

  6. Stephen Shenfield
    April 7, 2013, 9:31 am

    I accept the critique of the use of feminism as a tool of Western imperialism. Afghanistan is a good example. Great use has been made of the plight of Afghan women to legitimize the NATO invasion of that country. Pro-Establishment Western feminists have lionized Afghan women activists like those of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, while never mentioning the opposition of those activists to the presence of foreign troops.

    At the same time, it is hard to swallow the claim that Islam is not a patriarchal religion. Can anyone really read the Quran and fail to perceive that the author has a patriarchal view of women? Of course, this is not to say that other religions are different in this respect. The fact that an issue is misused for evil purposes should not affect our judgment of the issue itself.

    If the veil as an institution has nothing to do with patriarchy, then it is hard to understand why in most societies where it occurs (the Tuareg are an exception) it is worn only by women and not by men. The veil has existed in many societies, including ancient Judea, Christian Byzantium, Zoroastrian Persia, feudal Korea, and ancient Athens — the supposed birthplace of our much-vaunted “Western values.” But these were all patriarchal societies. I have not heard of a counterexample.

    Veiling can be understood in a broader sense to include other forms of socially imposed concealment of the natural self, such as makeup and cosmetic surgery. That is another reason not to single out Islamic countries for criticism or compare them unfavorably to “the West.”

    • W.Jones
      April 7, 2013, 3:41 pm

      Stephen,

      Yes, it’s a multi-layered issue. I

      First, in many of the examples you point to like Byzantium, it is not really a “veil” that covers the face, but rather a head covering that covers the top of the head like a napkin you see some modern women tie around their hair. So Muslims continuing that practice sometimes should be able to wear different styles of that.

      Second, the practice need not be discriminatory, particularly in a religious community. Religious figures themselves like bishops and sometimes priests wear hats. It is seen as part of their religious respect for their office. Likewise, women wearing a head covering is actually supposed to be a sign of respect to God. To give a counterexample, since I am a guy, we typically wear pants and a suit in business settings. One can think of other excuses- hair and taking care of hair can be sensual, and middle eastern religion tends to value asceticism.

      Yet at the same time there is an important value I think for people to generally be allowed by their government to dress as they please as a matter of expression. And in impoverished third world countries there really is discrimination against women. It’s particularly sad in marital situations. And I can see how veiling people could be used to hide and put them away.

      And then once more an outside force that doesn’t like Middle Eastern people can exploit these differences within a larger goal of condemning them, and that further hurts the women there. Yet another force could really be interested in promoting middle eastern society and people and want to develop, modernize, and reform it. So there are many factors at work.

      But the main thing is that you should care about people instead of trying to put them down for customs that might not be bad depending on their meaning. And particularly consider the opinions of a wide range of women themselves as to what they want.

      • seafoid
        April 8, 2013, 1:35 am

        The hijab is ultimately a sign of where Islam is right now in the system of global power. Peripheral, lost.

        I was working in Cairo the day Umaima came into the office and declared herself muhajibah with a real fancy yellow hijab that locked away her hair forever. Someone put up a Allahu akbar sign above her desk shortly afterwards.

        When things are going nowhere, take it out on the women.
        Like having the Mrs. go muhajibah is going to change the political economy of Egypt.

        Sure women have the right to take the hijab but it just means the society they live in has very little control over much else.

        Pictures from the beach at Alexandria in the 60s where the grandmothers of today’s upper class muhajibaat have their hair uncovered are so sad. Try and find a hijab in an Abdel Halim video.

        link to youtube.com
        The people in those videos are clearly Egyptian but it’s a different world.

        The modern project was embraced in places like Egypt and Ukraine and there were great flowerings of culture in Egypt in particular in the 1960s but how were the people to know it was all a sham and that none of the benefits of capitalism would be available to them?

        Same in Ukraine. All the bullshit about freedom in 1992. How was anyone in Kiev to know that the country would turn out to be a supplier of prostitutes to Western Europe ?

        link to ischgl.com

        The evolution of Muslim women mirrors what has happened to the Middle East and the Ex Soviet union in the meantime. Decline, ossification , a large dose of hopelessness.

        Egypt doesn’t tend to lose its people to drink. Ukraine does. Obesity is probably a better indicator of general mental misery .

        Femen is a response to the Ukrainian experience. I think it’s very valid. How to express the Muslim female experience under the system that drives everything ? I don’t know.

    • K Renner
      April 7, 2013, 9:59 pm

      What do you mean by “patriarchal”? That the original writer felt as though women should be treated like his daughters?

      Or are you referencing the bullshit “male-dominated society is out to enslave all women” feminist concept of “the Patriarchy”?

    • gamal
      April 8, 2013, 1:56 am

      cool Stephen, having taken the article to heart you dont just speak for Muslimahs but for Islam itself, i see your Islamic studies are coming along swimmingly, i now regret having declined your offer to instruct me in this unpleasant subject, having the ijaaza of having read the Quran, i of course, as do we all in the community of Islamic denialism defer to your expertise, what method did you use to derive meanings from your reading or was yours the authors (good one, i admit i laughed) edition where the meaning sits apparent on the page, or is it in the end notes.

      could you mail me and tell me what i believe, i am not a woman so it will be ok.

      in the article you may notice a list of names, one of them, Bell Hooks has written some pretty unwarranted stuff like “Eating the Other: Desire or Resistance” about appropriation and other things you may profit from a quick skim, or not, its available as a free pdf, but you knew that didnt you.

      link to scribd.com

      i think your comment policy is a mess, and you really have no business complaining about the commentators here, you sorely need both black and other in put to avoid the descent in to rows when you post comments such as these and the Safari below, its all so 101, do any of you have any kind of background in actual anti-Racism?

      as the Dao de Jing proclaims “The Female, taking the lower position, is supreme” sexists! i have read it so i would know.

  7. piotr
    April 7, 2013, 12:22 pm

    Objecting to FEMEN as annoying is like complaining that characters in a graphic novel are cartoonish.

    Concerning the rights of women in Muslim societies, there are points to be concerned about it, and some philosophical points. Do societies have a right to enforce irrational taboos? Are American taboos rational? Should other societies be influenced, and if so, when and how?

    But if young passionate girls fail to be introspective and philosophical, we can cut them some slack. They are not imperialists.

    • marc b.
      April 7, 2013, 12:54 pm

      piotr, they may not be imperialists exactly, but they are certainly practicing a version of colonialism and racism. (no, the fact that one of the protestors is egyptian doesn’t absolve them of racism.) take the time to read some of the feminist critiques of femen. the link to the writer for le monde diplomatique is particularly to the point. i presume from the critique and tone that she’s read tiqqun’s ‘preliminary materials for a theory of the young-girl’ which more or less describes what femen is up to, but in typical french, post-modernist cryptic fashion. in short, the image of the ‘young-girl’ encapsulates its (it can be a male or female) entire ideology while completely excluding the possibility of any other ideologies. so for 3rd world feminists, for example, it’s femen’s way of the highway. you either adopt the tits on parade commercialism of femen’s feminism, or you’re a tool the islamic patriarchy. it’s that simple: strip (or better yet admire us while we strip) or shut the f*ck up.

      • W.Jones
        April 11, 2013, 2:26 am

        Did you just say Ts On Parade?

    • Cliff
      April 7, 2013, 6:13 pm

      What is the backstory to FEMEN? Who are the major players? What’s their funding if they have any (I can’t imagine it requires much to run around naked with cardboard signs emphasizing that you’re naked)?

      This is no different than ‘Draw Mohammed Day’ – Islamophobes and racists immediately rejoice as they can join the hate-parade while pretending to be universalists.

      I heard FEMEN protestors went into a mosque and did their song and dance. How fucking dare they.

  8. aiman
    April 7, 2013, 12:47 pm

    “At the same time, it is hard to swallow the claim that Islam is not a patriarchal religion. Can anyone really read the Quran and fail to perceive that the author has a patriarchal view of women?”

    I think it boils down to who is doing the interpreting and who is the translator/interpreter, who has power over discourse (gender group etc).

    One can similarly argue that the Qur’an’s absolute prohibition against burying female babies alive or dead because of their gender or rebuke to the Arabian polytheists who claimed “God has daughters” while not wanting daughters themselves and not accepting what the Qur’an calls “glad tidings” of a girl’s birth is anti-patriarchal. How are these meanings not conveyed by the religious orthodoxy when “honour killings” are committed?

    A religious text is not a concrete manifestation. Islam certainly arose in a patriarchal societal context but is not bound by a context as theologians like Muhammad Abduh argued. The argument that Islam is a patriarchal religion is perfectly valid, ontologically speaking, from the perspective of non-believers who consider religion a historical document or religious traditionalists/Puritans who consider religious knowledge as constant and anchored in history or commentary.

    Learned scholars like Abduh, derided by Puritans as rationalist/liberal/modernist, would disagree that the “author” is patriarchal. Muslim family law is definitely patriarchal. But there is a difference between law and the text. The law is a contested interpretation. To call the author “patriarchal” would make no room for thought, which devoids the very stated purpose of the text.

    For example, check this debate, including some of the patriarchal and anti-patriarchal responses: link to goatmilkblog.com

  9. Annie Robbins
    April 7, 2013, 1:21 pm

    Roqayah, thank you so much. we’re so lucky to have your writing, your wisdom, on mondoweiss.

  10. Wandering Arab
    April 7, 2013, 2:19 pm

    Amina from Tunisia is neither Western nor imperialist; she just believes that “my body belongs to me, it is not the source of anyone’s honour.”

    I think anyone — Western, Muslim, or other — who believes otherwise is an imperialist.

    Women such as Amina are not being “used” by anybody. It is simply too easy, whenever an Arab or Muslim agrees with a Western feminist or gay rights group, to demonize such people by falling back on outdated leftist rhetoric.

    If globalization is to be meaningful, it cannot be a one-way street. In other words, if John Smith in the US has the right to convert to Islam without being discriminated against and labeled an Islamist lackey, Amina and Muhammad and everybody else in the Arab and Muslim worlds should have the right to adopt ideas, religions, and attitudes that originate in the West without being labeled sell-outs or imperialist fellow-travelers or whatnot.

    • gamal
      April 8, 2013, 12:47 am

      yes context is irrelevant,

      when did the “left” go out of date, when was the “left” free of patriarchal ideas and structures, around the time the male leadership of the Socialist Workers Party began raping their female comrades and telling the silly little things to shut up and put out for the revolution, does this mean that the left is irredeemably patriarchal, all of them always, forever, clearly some seem to be.

      “if John Smith in the US has the right to convert to Islam without being discriminated against and labeled an Islamist lackey” but supposing he converts to Islamism, which is, oddly, not the same as Islam, except to racists. I recall no one criticized John Walker Lindh, how could they when he was just exercising a right.

      “Amina from Tunisia is neither Western nor imperialist….I think anyone — Western, Muslim, or other — who believes otherwise is an imperialist.” you feel a little inconsistency perhaps, labeling is your privilege, and in the spirit of western democratic values no one else gets a turn, specially not the non-victims of non -imperialism.

      wandering arab, sure, from the Iraqi province of Gewad, obviously and a kathabi at that, or kazaby, perhaps gedab, its all so confusing, thanks for your clarity.

    • Cliff
      April 8, 2013, 11:03 am

      Westerners have been exploiting the plight of third world people’s to suit their political agendas since time immemorial.

      Some victims are unworthy though.

      When four US nuns were raped and murdered by US supported death squads, an American politician essentially dismissed it. I’ll have to look up the quote, it’s in a Chomsky book.

      Here’s the overall press coverage analysis from the Chomsky-Herman book though:

      link to vi.uh.edu

      The authors demonstrate that the media applies double standards when covering “worthy victims” and “unworthy victims.” For example, the press coverage of the brutal slaying of a Polish priest by probably agents of the USSR provided the media with a quick story that allowed them to repeatedly denounce Soviet repression in its satellites. By examining The New York Times, Newsweek, Time and CBS, the authors located 94 articles consisting of 1496 inches of column space, not to mention 46 news programs that kept the story in the public view. Concurrently, the authors identify 72 priests and nuns, including four American nuns and Archbishop Oscar Romero, who were slain by rightwing death squads or military forces in American client states like El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. These seventy deaths certainly do not elicit 72 times the coverage of the single Polish priest. Indeed, they are only treated to 67 articles of 851 inches space and 37 news programs, nearly fully a third less coverage for 72 times more victims! The glaring media bias confirms that the press is less likely to embarrass American elites by covering the victims of their policies. The third chapter examines press coverage of the “civil wars” of Central America. Again, bias is confirmed when coverage of the deeds of US sponsored death squads in El Salvador or the Contras are compared to the leftist rebels or the Sandinistas. Double standards maintain the propaganda mode of American press coverage.

      I fail to see how naked women screaming at praying Muslims in a mosque does anything to ‘liberate’ Muslim women.

      Are you Muslim? Are you a woman? Do you know any Muslim women?

      How many support screaming naked activists who dress up with beards and turbans and ‘Fuck your morals’ written across their chests whilst posing as praying Muslims?

      Also what do you mean by saying Amina and Muhammed (the Prophet or some guy named Muhammed?) have the right to adopt Western ideas? Of course they do.

      That is not even the issue.

      The issue is the nexus of Islamophobia and imperialism that goes hand in hand with these flavor of the month theatrics.

      FEMEN doesn’t see to do anything but sexualize ‘resistance’ to Islamism but they target ordinary Muslims too since ordinary Muslims have beards and pray. I have no idea what the turban meant but ill chalk that up to ignorant racist ‘White’ person’s sense of superiority.

  11. Gryfin
    April 7, 2013, 5:24 pm

    It looks like I’m going to be the lone voice of dissent. I find the repeated references to the body shape of the white women completely inconsistent with any notion of feminism and, quite frankly, a little racist. There is no need for that kind of “catty” discourse at all.

    • gamal
      April 8, 2013, 4:09 am

      yes Gryfin anti-white racism is the key site of oppression, and look at you, the sole defender of the white breast, midriff and determiner of real feminism and its notions. Its what struck me to, but i missed the repeated ref’s to body shape, by whom, in this thread, where are they man, by unreal black feminists where are they? i must know, its cool in one thread we have the determinators of real feminism, authentic Islam and genuine leftism (past sell by), Roqayah’s note book must be smoking, ventriloquism is a wonderful art, the patriarchy crumbles before us, if only those Muslimah’s would shut up and listen to their saviors who are speaking for them, only them.

      “i wish they all could be California Girls”

  12. MK_Ultra
    April 7, 2013, 5:59 pm

    The sign reads: “I am a proud Muslimah. I don’t need “liberating”. I don’t appreciate being used to reinforce Western imperialism. You do not represent me!”

    Beautiful sentiment!

  13. piotr
    April 7, 2013, 10:49 pm

    FEMEN is originally a “grassroot” organization in Ukraine, meaning, it is really a movement of young college girls from a country that is neither Western nor Eastern. Perhaps it is relevant that there is an anarchist tradition in Ukraine.

    Some feminist themes were used for “imperialist” propaganda, but it does not mean that radical feminist are “imperialist stooges”. I think that the opposite is the case: propagandists opportunistically use progressive themes pretending that they care.

  14. ToivoS
    April 7, 2013, 11:05 pm

    HufPo seems to have picked up on this story: link to huffingtonpost.com

    The article is OK but the comments are really ugly. What struck me was this by Mary Joseph: To the chick in the third slide, you may not look oppressed, but you definitely need to shave your eyebrows.

    This is definitely what the Arab world’s women need from the West: instructions in cosmetic alterations. What a perfect symbol of the liberated woman — plucking and shaving eyebrows will bring you freedom. Somehow this is sicker than even some of the more blatant Islamophobic propaganda.

  15. tree
    April 8, 2013, 12:47 am

    Thanks, Roqayah.

    I, for one, as a Western woman, view FEMEN as a group of exhibitionist women with little respect for themselves or any real interest in feminism. They are appealing to the basest Western variety of sexism by capitalizing on the Western fetish for bare breasts, and doing nothing positive for Muslim women, or for Western women for that matter.

    I heartily agree with Mona Chollet’s view that you so kindly posted with your piece.

    “Covering women’s bodies seems to give Muslims a sense of virility, while Westerners derive their own from uncovering them”, writes Moroccan essayist Fatema Mernissi in Scheherazade Goes West. The French media’s excitement over figures like the Ukranian ‘Femen’ or Alia el Mahdi, the Egyptian student who in 2011 posted naked pictures of herself on her blog, once again underlines the truth of Mernissi’s observation. To commemorate International Women’s Day, France 2 aired a documentary on March 5 about the Ukrainian women’s group, which has been based in France for more than a year now.

    So much for the thousands of women who have the poor taste to fight for their rights while fully clothed, or to put on a show that does not conform with the dominant standards of youth, slimness, beauty and bodily firmness. “Feminism is women on the march in the streets of Cairo, not the Femen,” raged France Inter’s Egypt correspondent Vanessa Descouraux on Twitter, on February 6. “But we never see documentaries about those women on television!” Feminist organizations in France these days are more likely to be asked their opinion of the Ukrainian women’s group than about their own undertakings.

    If you show your boobs, I’ll come back with the photographer

    Women: do you want to make yourselves heard? There is only one solution: take off your clothes! In October, 2012 in Germany, a group of refugees camped out in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to protest their living conditions were having great difficulty attracting the attention of the media. At one point, an angry young woman protestor asked a journalist from Bild: “Do you want me to get naked?”

    ‘Yes’, said the journalist, promising to come back with a photographer. Word spread among the other journalists, and voila, there was a mob of cameras around the women protesting in support of the refugees. The women did not in the end take off their clothes, but they didn’t miss the opportunity to denounce the sensationalism of the media.

    The Femen on the other hand were more pragmatic. At their first demonstrations, in Ukraine in 2008, they had written their slogans on their backs, but photographers were only interested in their breasts. So, they changed the location of their slogans. Inna Shevchenko, importer of the Femen brand to France, has no regrets about how things evolved: “We know what the media need–sex, scandals and fighting–and that’s what we give them”, Shevchenko told Rue89 last December. “To be in the newspapers is to exist at all.” Really? [...]

    The permanent reduction of women to their bodies and their sexuality, the negation of their intellectual abilities, the social invisibility of women who cannot please the male gaze: these are keystones of the patriarchal system. It is rather stupefying that a purportedly feminist ‘movement’ – there are no more than twenty Femen in France – cannot see this. “We live under male domination,” Inna Shevchenko told The Guardian, “and nudity is the only way to provoke them, to get their attention.” So, a feminism that bends to male domination: well, it had to be invented.

    Shevchenko not only accepts this order of things, she approves of it: “Classic feminism is a sick old woman, it does not work anymore. It is stuck in the world of conferences and books.” She is right: death to sick old women, they are not even pleasing to look at! And books? They are full of words that cause headaches.

    In his excellent book on the use of bodies in politics, Claude Guillon said of Shevchenko’s sick old woman: “Even the most charitable of readers would say that Shevchenko’s statement expresses the presumption and the cruelty of youth. But we should also add: the greatness of its imbecility! The image of feminists as old ladies, cut off from the rest of the world – and if Inna read books she might have known this – is an abiding anti-feminist cliche. A pity to see it taken up by an activist who pretends to be renewing feminism.” More recently, the group’s members in France resigned themselves to publishing a book, of interviews. “In France, you have to publish something in order to be taken seriously,” sighs one of the Femen in an interview in Liberation. Oh, the misery.

    ….

    Many feminists objected that instead of affirming the superiority of nudity, it might be better to defend women’s freedom to dress the way they want. But the Femen have no doubts that they are right. “We are not going to adapt our discourse to all ten countries where our group is now present: our message is universal”, said Shevchenko in an interview in 20 Minutes. This mixture of intellectual laziness and arrogance, this pretension to dictate the correct attitude to women from every disparate part of the world, has been met with a certain coldness. Researcher Sara Salem reproached Egyptian student Alia el Mahdi for her alliance with the Femen. “The fact that she posted naked pictures of herself on her blog could be perceived as a way of defying a patriarchal society, but the fact that she collaborates with a group that can be defined as colonialist is problematic”, Salem writes. But why question oneself when all you need to get maximum audience is show off your breasts?

    link to internationalboulevard.com

  16. sardelapasti
    April 8, 2013, 1:15 am

    What a lot of nonsense.
    What is the story with “Muslimah pride”, now? Are we supposed to respect religion per se? Is this the latest in the American-style (or Saudi-style) lumping together of millions of people as religious?
    How the hell do you know that all these people without exception are “Muslim”? You are doing nothing else than reinforcing the puke-inducing stereotype held in common by the US imperialist press, the Zionists and the Saudi that everybody automatically belongs to a religion. This is beyond despicable. Back to the Bronze Age, everyone! Or rather much worse; bronze-age society often did admit freedom from religion.

    I am not a woman but I cannot understand how any thinking woman can fail to damn you for including her in the religious crowd!

    What really shocks me is not so much the paper itself (that, after all, is just one person) but all the aahing and oohing by the audience. That audience should be concerned by the only thing we have in common here, ie Palestinian resistance.

  17. Elisabeth
    April 8, 2013, 3:59 am

    What does color have to do with it? ‘Women of color’ etc?
    As far as I can see, it is Western arrogance, which is not the same as ‘white’ and I have seen ‘women of color’ among the protesters too. Another thing is that, looking at an array of pictures in my newspaper of these Femen demonstrations in a number of countries I thought ‘how small all their breasts are’, then realizing that these are natural women. I sign of how inflated breast in advertisements are.

  18. Edward Q
    April 8, 2013, 9:19 am

    FEMEN may literally be a tool of western imperialism. I read an article somewhere arguing that they were part of a CIA effort to manipulate Russian politics.

    • W.Jones
      April 12, 2013, 6:20 am

      One Ukrainian girl pointed out that they do alot of stuff that would normally get someone in jail. For example, in order to protest the sentencing of P.Riot in Russia, FEMEN used a chainsaw to cut down a big memorial cross for Stalin’s victims in the middle of Kiev. And in the photos when they saw the cross, people are standing around them with big videocameras. It’s weird.

      There’s alot of poor people in Ukraine who will do stuff for money.

  19. W.Jones
    April 11, 2013, 2:29 am

    Femen’s Topless Jihad Day protested by Muslim women group
    link to in.news.yahoo.com

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