A Salute to Femen: Topless Womens’ Rights Ukranian Civil Disobedience

Femen protester

I just discovered Ukranian civil disobedience organization FEMEN, even though they have been active for several years. They’re a controversial group of women dedicated to raising awareness about women’s issues and a variety of political problems that the everyday urban Ukranian faces. Their actions are sexed-up and topless, and as they are beautiful and enjoy enhancing their natural Slavic good looks, their manner of protest is easy on the eyes. Most people call them feminist, but they don’t identify as feminist because they sexualize themselves to get their points across, and in Europe standard bearers of feminism are decidedly of the unerotic flavor.

Some readers might find it at odds for me to be posting positive about FEMEN because they do state that they are anti-porn and anti-sex work — but, this is one time I think reading the subtleties and looking at the cultural issues are important.

Sex work and sex trafficking is insane in Ukraine. It’s technically not Eastern Europe, but basically Americans, British, and most other tourists treat Ukraine like a pretty sickening no-holds-barred brothel. While FEMEN protests Putin, Iran, and citizens needing hot water, they also protest things like an American man (an alleged US sex offender) who started a business selling “Ukranian brides” and making me wish the US had strong sex tourism laws on its citizens like Britain does.

Here’s a snip from an interview about FEMEN’s short skirts and Ukranian sex tourism — GlobalComment interviews FEMEN’s Anna Gutsol (excerpt clipped for brevity):

GC: What do you think of harm reduction and decriminalization in regards to sex-work?

Anna: I’m not going to stand on the street and beat prostitutes over the head with my purse and ask them to reflect upon their deeds. I think harm reduction is important. These women should be working without additional risks to their lives. But let’s get real about Ukrainian society. If we decide that prostitution is suddenly OK, all hell will break loose. Around here, people don’t think about purchasing sex, they think of it as purchasing a human being. That’s very different from, say, a legal brothel in a nation where, perhaps, attitudes are different. You know, I even heard that in foreign brothels, nobody wants to entertain Russian or Ukrainian clients, because these men have a reputation for serious abuse.

FEMEN: Secret Service of Ukraine Fucked us up!GC: I’ve read some accounts of what prostitutes around here go through on a regular basis, and have spoken to several, and some of the stories are hair-raisingly horrifying. Even the people who are supposed to be protecting these women often get in on the act.

Anna: I’m telling you, the sex industry here is merciless. So when people talk about decriminalization, or legalization, I have to ask them to stop and think about the implications. I think our sex-workers need help, but I also worry about the young girls who are set to become sex-workers. What they’re getting into is a nightmare.

GC: FEMEN has also been actively involved in confronting foreign men who come to this country to get laid. Why do you choose these methods?

Anna: Because foreign men are confronting us! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve spoken to a girl who was treated like trash by some sex tourist who has decided that Ukraine is his personal playground. These men come here with attitudes of utter entitlement, and that needs to change.

There is a strong anti-trafficking effort going on now, which is great, but people forget that sex tourism and trafficking can be linked. How many girls were wooed by some charming foreigner to end up being sold into a brothel abroad? The Euro 2012 Football Championship is coming up as well. Can you imagine how brutal it’s going to be around here when drunken football fans descend on this country? Can you imagine how our women are going to be treated by them?

GC: Stereotypes about us are pretty cemented. In the Middle East, I made the mistake of disclosing my ethnic background to a taxi driver once. He instantly decided I was sexually available. After that, I’d just tell people I’m American. Of course, they’d take a good look at me in the rear view mirror and say, “But you look so Russian!” The way they stared at me when they said it, it was frightening.

Anna: I have a friend who works as a bartender in Germany, and she looks like you – a typical Slav. She tells everyone she’s from Finland. She used to be more honest with people, but then they’d offer her money to have sex with them. Pitifully small amounts of money too! Not only do they think you’re a whore, they think you’re a cheap whore, someone whose desperation can exploit. It is frightening. And these people don’t have a clue about the economic and social circumstances that lead so many of our women into this trade. Or else they are happy to overlook them. Well, we’re here to remind them that no, actually, you don’t get to overlook that.

GC: I once sat next to an American at a dinner here in Kiev, and he spent the entire evening talking about how Ukrainian women are disgusting bimbos because so many of us don’t exactly like to cover up.

Anna: It’s strange, isn’t it? Foreigners come here and have a completely bizarre reaction to our women. I say, they need to respect our traditions. There’s nothing wrong with women who dress provocatively. It’s our style. Get over it.

The other day, I saw this family on the street: a mother, a father, and a little kid. The woman was wearing incredibly tiny shorts and had an amazing body. There was nothing wrong or unnatural about it. Her husband looked happy to be next to her. They looked content and in love. Who the hell has a right to criticize that? (…read more, globalcomment.com)

Also, holy handcuffs are they sexy when they protest and face off with police. Last dispatch from an Anti-Putin rally saw them all arrested and held without lawyers or additional clothing. I’m telling you, the strength of women is just *different*.

Femen protest

FEMEN is pretty media-savvy. Their LiveJournal is where all the action is, but they are also on Twitter and Flickr. Their now-closed YouTube account reads “FEMENmovement has been terminated due to multiple or severe violations of our Community Guidelines.” but you can find them currently active on Vimeo.

The importance here is seeing that stripping us of owning our sexuality is what permits us to be exploited. I found FEMEN by way of these two great photo posts of FEMEN’s recent protests (images via).

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  • L.

    Merci pour cela – et je suis d’accord aussi …

  • @Iamcuriousblue – I can’t agree more. I just wish I knew how to find those voices. They are the only ones that can provide understanding and tools to make it safer. Especially as a California girl who is well aware of sex work craziness and criminal activity that happens just over the border in Mexico.

  • Personally, when it comes to issues of sex work, I’m much more interested in what actual sex workers and allies have to say about it rather than attention-seeking non-sex worker feminists. No matter how “sex-positive” the latter might fancy themselves.

  • The Perfect Storm

    Kudos to FEMEN for their views of the present state of sex tourism in the Ukraine.

    Canada has stringent laws in this respect but still learning how to put them to their best use. Canada has chased down some pedophiles going overseas but it needs to see things deeper as well.

    The sex industry, in a well controlled (read “safe”) environment is a positive element in an healthy society.

    Another site that examined the FEMEN protest is here:
    http://englishrussia.com/index.php/2010/11/10/scandalous-femen-arrested-for-another-picket/

    Decide for yourself whether Violet’s presentation, or englishrussia’s makes you smile more.

    Regards,
    etc.

  • criolle johnny

    Holy handcuff is right! That last picture looks like a catalog for mail order brides! No fourteen year old boy in the country will ever be happy again!

  • Vera

    What an awesome group!

    I can see why you’re not too troubled by their anti-sex work stance, because the way that woman expresses it, it seems really clear that it’s a pragmatic stance rooted in the specific issues around sex work and sexual abuse at play in their culture. Even though I’m pro-sex work, I can really understand where they’re coming from, and it actually seems like a relatively sex positive stance, all things considered in context.