All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Friday, April 5, 2013

FEMEN - Feminism?

In light of the recent protests staged by FEMEN against islamism, I thought I'd do an exploratory post on the situation. For those of you who don't know what sparked the series of protests: on April 4th, a young woman in Tunisia posted a photo with the words "I own my body; it’s not the source of anyone’s honor" written on her bare chest.

The head of Tunisia's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has reportedly called for Tyler to be stoned for the above action and since Tyler has 'gone quiet', many feared for her safety. From that fear, this backlash against Islamism and demand for her 'release' was sparked.

Islamism is the belief that the laws of Islam should be implemented as civil law. So Sharia law would also become 'the law of the land' so to speak. This ideology goes directly against the ideals of a secular society. It goes against people's religious rights.

While I agree with FEMEN and their opposition to such an ideology, I am not so sure how I feel about their methods. FEMEN describes itself in many ways but their overall method seems to be using the naked female body as a form of protest. They claim to be the founders of a new wave of feminism. They call their form of protest sextremism.

Sextremism, though not concretely defined on their website, seems to be the provocative use of a female's body to make a statement. The leader of the movement, Inna Shevchenko, said this:

"Sextremism is new type of women's activism that is aggressive but still not violent, that is provocative but with clear message. Sextremism not only allows us to raise awareness about some of the more important issues that are facing women today, but also to check each country for level of its liberation. Sextremism is insurgent against patriarchy using women's sexuality for political protests...Sextremists are a demonstration of intellectual, psychological and physical superiority of women. Superiority to reach equality because women as so poorly treated that they need to get way more to reach finally sex equality."

Inna Shevchenko
This seems to be an attention grabbing tactic. It uses the idea that the female form has been sexualized to the point where it garners so much attention that it can be used as a tool to fight against problems of sexualization. FEMEN doesn't state many goals on its website, but it seems to not have that different of a message than many other feminist organizations: freedom from the patriarchy.

One problem I see with this use of the female form is it seems perpetuate the objectification of a woman's body. Sextremism treats the body as a tool. Is that any better than the patriarchy treating the female form as an object? This action is supposed to be protesting and declaring freedom from the patriarchy; but, can such claims really be made if the whole point is reliant on the patriarchy's obsession with policing female bodies?

I also take issue with how the group/movement describes itself and its followers. The claim of superiority is a dangerous one to make. Already it seems the movement has set itself above other waves of feminism and followers of other practices. Shevchenko claims that superiority is used to reach equality, but is that something that has ever really been seen or demonstrated? If one is superior it seems counter-intuitive for them to then lower themselves to a position of equality and as such does not seem to be a good place to start for a movement that wants to equalize men and women.

On FEMEN's website they describe themselves and their followers as "morally and physically fit soldiers...the new Amazons, capable to undermine the foundations of the patriarchal world by their intellect, sex, agility, make disorder, bring neurosis and panic to the men's world...a hot boobs, a cool head and clean hands." Other than the superiority again, I would like to point out that the description cites its followers as each having a 'cool head and clean hands' - looking at some of the protest pictures doesn't seem to bring such virtues to mind. I am not sure how dedicated they are to those two principles as the language used on the site does not seem to be that of a cool, or calm intellect.

I have also come across many Muslim women who take great offense to FEMEN and its acts of protest. Many of them feel it is an attack not just on Islamism but on Islam itself. Many express concern that attacking Islam and saying that all Muslim women are oppressed implies that Muslim women cannot be feminists or think for themselves. Another concern raised, not only of FEMEN, is the predominance of white feminist voices rather than those who are part of the Muslim community.

What do you think of the situation? FEMEN? The Muslim feminists? There seem to be many questions surrounding such things. Answers can be very hard to find sometimes.

You can check out FEMEN's site here.
You can read more by Inna Schevchenko here.
Muslim Women Against FEMEN group: click here.
Open letter to FEMEN: click here.

1 comment:

  1. No comment on any of the above, however, do some research on Afghanistan photos of women (generic, just going about their daily routine) from 1972 time frame. Then look for "modern" photos. The drastic differences will startle you at how far the female status has fallen in that time....