The feminist protest group FEMEN, founded in Kiev in 2008, has been in the news lately with a series of topless protests. The latest was held this week in Hanover, Germany, when Russian President Vladimir Putin was meeting publicly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Protesting the jailing of members of the Russian group Pussy Riot, a FEMEN protestor approached Putin, breasts bared, with anti-Putin slogans painted on her body in Cyrillic script.
FEMEN was and has become known for staging topless protests highlighting women’s issues, including sex tourism, violence against women, religious oppression. According to their website, FEMEN uses “sextremism” to protect women’s rights and attack patriarchy “in all its forms: the dictatorship, the church, the sex industry.”
FEMEN protests have targeted the International Olympic Committee and the World Economic Forum, and recently staged “International Topless Jihad Day” in support of Tunisian student Amina Tyler. Tyler, who came under attack by Islamist groups for posting topless pictures of herself on Facebook, is currently in hiding after reportedly receiving death threats.
FEMEN members have declared that using their bodies is the best way to gain attention for their political message. But how do other women’s groups feel about their bold tactics? Are they undermining the cause of feminism by taking such a blatantly sexual stance? Putin was visibly amused by the sight of a woman baring her breasts; did he totally miss the message? Does getting naked trivialize serious political issues? Is FEMEN helping or hurting women’s causes?
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, co-founder and editor of feminist online magazine The Vagenda, blogger for the New Statesman at The V Spot
Edina Lekovic, Director of Policy and Programs, Muslim Public Affairs Council