Ukraine: Protestors strip to raise awareness of women’s rights – but at what price?

November 18, 2010 § Leave a comment


A Femen protestor

It’s hard to know what to make of the Ukrainian protestors who strip to the waist to raise awareness of women’s rights . Femen is the groups name, and they perform topless protests to campaign on women’s rights.

As Alexandra Shevchenko, a 22-year-old economics student, puts it: “We started out being dressed but we found nobody took any notice. I’m a big fan of taking off our clothes.

“It’s how we get attention for our views.”

The group of 300 regular protestors also boasts an online support group of thousands. And they have some very serious points to make.

Their campaign – to improve the role of women in the male-dominated Ukraine – include protests at the visit from Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, disrupting an Iranian exhibition to protest at the treatment of women in Iran, and targeting sex tourism.

They have valid, serious, important points to make, and they are intelligent deteremined women. So why make themselves into a figure of fun, of cheeky speculation, and of the wrong sort of male attention?

On one hand I applaud them, and would say they are right to raise awareness for the issues any way they can. Take the steps needed to get more people involved and try and improve lives.

But. On the other hand.

How will they be taken seriously if their breasts are what they use to gain attention? It’s surely a contradiction in terms to complain about being demeaned in society but to counter it by demeaning yourself. It’s a tabloid editor’s dream, guaranteeing pictures of bare breasts in the media – but it’s ok, because it’s for a serious cause – and opening the movement up to a serious of pun-based headlines. Think along the lines of “Busted!” on a red-top paper with a pair of boobs flashing up from the page, and any serious political meaning is lost.

The police reportedly “once laughed off Femen’s activities as cheeky but harmless”. Now they are becoming more aggressive. More aggression from the police does not equal being taken seriously.

I can’t see this movement will really help to bring about substantial, long-term, thoughtful change to gender relations in the former Soviet state, and there is something a little chilling about the words of 20-year-old Inna, a journalism student, when she says: “It’s all we’ve got, our bodies. “

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