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Treatment of female activists

May 23, 2009

In light of Jill’s piece on angry feminists, I am going to rant:

After seeing this picture on Jezebel today, I was fascinated and wanted to learn more about Femen – a women’s rights organization, who protested on Independence square in Kiev yesterday as part of their “Ukraine is not a brothel” campaign, seeking to stop sex tourism to the country. Sex tourism is a huge source of oppression, violence, and denigration of women in Ukraine, take this statistic as just a small example of how women are viewed in the country: Femen polled 1,200 female students in Kyiv. Their findings suggest that nearly 70 percent of those polled were proposed sex for money. Femen. Woman Power. is clearly still somewhat of a fledgling movement, the only website I have found for them is here, and a fairly active livejournal in Ukrainian. But I am really impressed with the values they are presenting, their goals, and some of the actions they have already taken, including this protest.
From their statement “We are the Women’s Movement”:

We unite young women basing on the principles of social awareness and activism, intellectual and cultural development.
We recognise the European values of freedom, equality and comprehensive development of a person irrespective of the gender.
We set up brand new standards of the civil movement in Ukraine.
We have worked out our own unique form of a civil self-expression based on courage, creativity, efficiency and shock.
We plan to become the biggest and the most influential feminist movement in Europe.

HELL YES. I love these women’s unconventional approach to activism, valuation of building leadership in young women, and lofty goals. However, I was really disappointed both by the lack of coverage of their protest (not unexpected), but also the patronizing lens from which they are described.
For example from the Kyiv Post:

Armed with high heels and wit, these rebels are quintessential Ukrainian women. Their crusade is not as weighty as the Orange political revolt, but their aims are lofty all the same.

The women’s organization Femen – a derivative of feminine – wants to knock prostitution and sex tourism off their legs in Ukraine with the help of unconventional street shows.

In front of the Turkish embassy on Sept. 21, a dozen Femen members were dressed as sexy nurses. Their smudged makeup, high pink heels and infectious giggles washed away the blues of another rainy weekend in Kyiv.

(emphasis mine)

No, Yuliya Popova, these are not just “quintessential women”, they are not a simple source for you to make puns, and their protest is not for your entertainment. And where the hell do you get off saying their crusade is not weighty? How is the exploitation of the country’s women by 23 million tourists a year not a weighty issue? What is it about the fact that women in this country are treated like sexual objects that makes this seem unimportant? How is the systematic abuse of the female body not a problem for you?

This sort of flippant attitude towards women’s rights activism is not unique. Female activists, particularly for women’s rights often get too labels: “femenazis” (offensive in so many ways) or “cute”. I’ve gotten my fair share of the “cute” label, a sort of “Good for you! Look at what you can do! I’m glad you and your little friends have found something to get excited about!” NO. I am not excited about my need to do activism. I AM PISSED. I, and other female activists do what I do because I have to. I cannot take any longer the oppression of female bodies and the only thing I can think to do besides just yell and yell and yell is to try to be productive. And IT’S HARD. It’s hard to be productive and create positive movements when all you can think about is how mad you are and how you shouldn’t even have to be doing this. I shouldn’t have to plan discussions about sexual violence prevention, because there should not be systematic violence against the female body in our society. I shouldn’t have to be called an “ally” to the LGBT community, because no one’s sexuality, gender expression, or sexual orientation should have to be defended. I shouldn’t have to work myself up into to tears trying to convince someone that I do feel silenced in academic settings. Because I should not be silenced. These things absolutely should not be problems.

And the women of FEMEN should not have to speak up themselves to stop the sex tourism industry. Women’s bodies should not be for sale and the Ukrainian government should not be tacitly supporting the sex tourism industry for their own economic benefit. They shouldn’t have to do this, but they do. We should respect the fact that they have turned their anger into a meaningful, creative, productive protest. These women are badass, and should be treated as such.

Oh and don’t even get me started on Mark Rachkevych, also from the Kyiv Post,

Lack of moral values is also cited as a factor driving Ukraine’s sex business. Barely legal girls released from state run orphanages and boarding homes are especially at risk.

Yes, if only these girls were taught that prostitution made them skanky hos, this wouldn’t be a problem. FUCK YOU.

Ok, if I keep going, this will probably just turn into four letter words, so I will give the last word to Anna Hutsol, the leader of FEMEN: “We take this issue very seriously. We are pushing for legislation to forbid sex tourists from entering the country. We are sick of men looking at us like pieces of meat,”

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara Cantor permalink
    May 23, 2009 5:14 PM

    NO. I am not excited about my need to do activism. I AM PISSED.

    Exactly. Thank you.

  2. Nikoleta permalink
    May 23, 2009 11:28 PM

    Ditto. Thank you.

  3. Nikoleta permalink
    May 24, 2009 11:19 AM

    I found this article on BBC.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8064449.stm

    I do think we enjoy many advantages of being a democracy, and I do agree that there are places in the world and governments in the world that are more dangerous for females. But I am pissed that the author thinks that just because there are women who have it worse off in the world, western women should not be complaining. That would be like telling the G20 countries that they shouldn’t worry about the economic crisis because there are some countries so submerged in poverty and conflict that they can’t even dream of participating in a market system like ours, even in its downturn.

    A problem is a problem. It needs to be dealt with.

    • Becky permalink
      May 24, 2009 12:38 PM

      I totally agree with you Nik, while I think it is valuable to recognize the privileges we have here and work for women’s rights globally, that in no way diminishes the problems we are facing at home. His argument that

      I do think it’s high time to say that if feminist ideologists find liberal democracy unfriendly, they might consider that the absence of liberal democracy is a lot less friendly still.

      is offensive to me in many ways. It’s an argument that liberal democracy is the best we’re going to get, a kind of “if you don’t like it, leave”. Just because there are worse situations, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t attack what is fundamentally wrong with my own. I also hate when journalists lump all feminists together like we have one view on the matter; the feminist ideology he creates here is just a strawman. I’m pretty sure that most people who argue that liberal democracy hasn’t been good for women don’t think a tyrannical regime is better. Lastly, the idea that he floating in to tell us some mindblowing idea that there are other governments, beside liberal democracies, that are oppressing women is pretty obnoxious.

  4. ma anthro permalink
    September 26, 2009 2:49 PM

    Ha ha… at least somewhere on the planet women can still cook dinner and raise a family.
    The irony of the Femen movement is that it represents a greater danger to society than prostitution ever could be…

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