Hypocrisy is a revolting, psychopathic state. – Anton Chekhov
When the Ukrainian feminist group named “Femen” first appeared about three years ago I was predisposed to like them; the fact that they appeared to embrace their sexual power as women (as evidenced by their topless protests and other sexually provocative displays) at first made me hopeful that they would be pro-sex, pro-sex work and pro-woman (as opposed to anti-male like most people who call themselves “feminists” these days). Alas, I was doomed to disappointment; despite the unusual tactics employed by the group, Femen’s agenda is typically neofeminist – they blather about “patriarchy”, oppose sex work and have fought against decriminalization. Yet they seem to embrace their female identity and sexuality rather than denying it as neofeminists generally do, and indeed appear to lack the typical neofeminist self-loathing. And though they talk about politically empowering women, they support imposition of the “Swedish Model” on Ukraine; all in all, I am forced to conclude that Femen, or at least its leaders, go beyond mere neofeminist hypocrisy into outright lunacy.
What called them back to my attention was this article from the May 6th issue of Der Spiegel, sent to me separately (one hour apart) by readers Iain and Josh; more than any other article on the group I’ve ever seen, it reveals the inherent contradictions between their rhetoric and tactics and the things they claim to stand for.
…For two years, [Femen] has been fighting against sex tourism and prostitution in Ukraine, a country that even Google automatically associates with “dating agencies” and “women.” The advertisements to the right of a Google search for “Ukraine” are for “Single Ukrainian Ladies,” “Women From Ukraine,” or “Partner Search Ukraine.” Although the group has only a few dozen activists…and around 300 supporters, the topless protests have established a global reputation for Femen. One year ago, half-naked activists warning against the “Rape of Democracy” stormed the polling station where presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich was casting his vote. After winning, Yanukovich curbed freedom of speech and the press, and even imprisoned members of his opposition…the SBU, Ukraine’s top secret service, has attempted to intimidate the Femen activists. They claim that SBU officials even threatened to “break the legs” of the group’s leader if she didn’t cease her attacks on the government.
…The leaders of a Kiev university recently sent summonses to several students because they were engaged in Femen activities. Then, in the rector’s office, SBU staff interrogated them. The men asked students “where the money for your campaign comes from” and “for whom you work”…In truth, Femen survives on modest contributions from a handful of donors. German Helmut Josef Geier, better known as DJ Hell, supports the group. They also sell fan items on the Internet and auction small pieces of art. To produce the latter, the activists first paint their breasts yellow and blue, and then they make prints on cloth or canvas. What would feminists, like Germany’s Alice Schwarzer or America’s Gloria Steinem, have to say about that? Old school feminists find the topless troops strange. “They dress like prostitutes”…gender researcher Maria Dmitrieva wrote of Femen in a Russian magazine. “The display of bare breasts, with or without cause, is certainly not conducive to social discourse.”
“Yes,” sighs [Femen’s leader] Anna Hutsol…”We’re different from classic feminists. In order to gain a voice, they had to become like men. But we want a real women’s revolution. Our naked protests are part of the fight for women’s liberation. We have the right to use our bodies as weapons. It was men who made breasts into a secret”…
Hutsol says that (second-wave) feminists have become like men, and I agree; I also agree with her statement that women “have the right to use our bodies as weapons.” But though the women of Femen defend their own right to use their bodies as swords, they wish to deny other women the right to use theirs as plowshares. A weapon is nothing but a tool, and if it’s moral to use female sexuality to fight for whatever, how can it not be moral to use it to put food on the table? In my column of November 19th I condemned American neofeminists for denying the fact that a woman’s right to “choice” over her own sexuality (which they promote so vehemently as a euphemism for abortion) automatically makes prostitution laws illegal and immoral. But their hypocrisy on that issue seems almost honest and fair in comparison with Femen activists’ claim that it’s moral to work toward suppression of other women’s sexual choices by aggressively flaunting their own.