“FEMEN? Again?!”

Category: by sophie engström, gender, ukraine
Tags: , , , , ,

(Läsningstid: 4 minuter)

A couple of months ago I asked a friend of mine, Ukrainian researcher and gender specialist, if she could say something about FEMEN. She answered, with a deep sigh that could be heard even though it was on a chat “FEMEN? Again?! I just sent you some information about them! All foreigners only wants to know about FEMEN”. I answered her with a laugh: “But this is the first time I am asking you about FEMEN.” Even though she found that hard to believe, she decided not to argue about it.

The incident is mostly interesting because it illustrates how exposed FEMEN are in media and how their reputation have got far beyond the borders of Ukraine. It also implying that all other feminist movement in Ukraine are now even farer from the limelight. I don’t want to belong to those that gives FEMEN too much space, but I think it is important to analyze them seriously. Especially since it is had to decide what to think about FEMEN. I must admit I still don’t know of I find their actions repulsive and contra-productive (etc. etc.) or provocative in a good sense. I have however found it hard to find good analytic essays on FEMEN’s work, but Maria Dmitrieva’s eminent article in частный корреспондент shed a lot of light over how you can interpret FEMEN. (If you don’t know any Russian you can use Google Translate.)

The article is a solid work, but there are two issues that Dmitrieva looks into that I would like to highlight a bit more closely. One important point is however FEMEN denotes that they are a feminist movement or not. Interestingly enough, you can get two answers on that question, since FEMEN seems to have decided (?) to have one approach toward the international audience and an other for the domestic audience. In Ukraine they claim to be without any feminist ambitions, but on their international site they claim that they really are working for feminist issues. I find it very intrigues that this seems to come as such a surprise to Dmitrieva. Feminism has (as Dmitrieva surely knows) very different connotations in the West and former communists countries. And what does Dmitrieva means with a “feministic movement”? For me this is not completely clear. For instance, can we actually (as Dmitrieva seems to imply) call women that went out on the streets to demand bread in Russian Empire in the 1917 as an “feminist movement”? I would rather call it “women acting in a certain cause” or that it is a movement with a majority of women. From my point of view it is not an easy task to compare Ukrainian (which is not the same as Russian!) and Western situation without regarding their rather (or even, very) different political situation which has promoted feminist actions very differently.

I would however like to question something different in FEMENs action. FEMEN often shows their support for other issues than feminist issues. This is OK, of course, but I am not sure that I agree with that showing your naked bestas when protesting against the “blue buckets” outside the Russian embassy, actually contribute with anything significant… expect showing your breast.

From FEMEN at Flickr

The other important and interesting issue that Dmitrieva highlights is if FEMEN’s use of stereotypes are favorable for the feminist cause or not. Dmitrieva claims that this game of theirs, the play with patriarchy and gender stereotypes, will never work and will finally destroy FEMEN. FEMEN will be eaten alive if they continue to use gender stereotypes and play with patriarchy. I must say that in some sense I do agree with Dmitrieva. I also agree with Dmitrieva that it is unclear how and if FEMEN deconstruct gender stereotypes. But on the other hand, if they show how deconstruct the stereotypes, would it been so fruitful for their actions? Does we always be completely clear and transparent to be able to say we deconstruct? And what is “deconstructing” in these sense? To flash it like “Here we are deconstructing gender stereotypes”? Couldn’t the use of stereotypes be a way of deconstructing? I think that the performative act, by using stereotypes, can promote deconstruction and does not imply that we do not deconstruct att all. However, I agree with that it is complicated (and possibly dangerous) to play with values and norms like gender stereotypes. But I do not agree with her point is that FEMENs “play” will automatically imply that FEMEN will loose their cause.

By mentioning this I would say that Dmitrieva’s essay about FEMEN is actually the best and most important analyze on FEMEN so far. I do wish that somebody would translate it so it could be published for an international audience as well. And above mentioned remarks is not actual critic, but rather me getting inspired by an important and thought-provoking essay.

5 Responses to ““FEMEN? Again?!””

  1. Dear Sophie,

    thank you very much for your kind words regarding my article.

    as to your comments, let me explain in more detail.
    as you did point out I am well aware of differences in perception of feminism in Ukraine and in the West. my point was that they are using feminism’ momentum without acknowledging it in Ukraine. I find their position in the issue very manipulative and dishonest — this is the issue, basically.

    second. about the manifestation in 1917 — maybe I should have given more historical context to that one — it was not just a separate action out of the blue. it was orgnaized within the framework of the Russian women’s movement (like Tsarist Russia, not Russian as in ethnicity) that emerged in 1870-ties and that had been working with the then government on the issues of suffrage and women’s education but this manifestation was what did the trick — finally.
    and what I meant by saying that they can’t win is that they are already widely perceived not as civil protesters but as cheap entertainment. for them to be treated seriously they should really come up with some fresh ideas that would not harm the image of the women’s movement in Ukraine any more.

    I will consider translating this article in English, thank you for the idea.

  2. sophie

    thank you very much to taking your time to read my reflections, that should not be taken as some kind of critic of your essay, on the contrary. you are probably right they will not win, i just like to debate the issue, so we wont make the same mistake as we often do, criticize women harder than men, (which could explain why after a wave feminist movement we always seems to have a strong backlash). but i am not sure that FEMEN are a feminist group since they do not seems to wanting to be one, domestically, anyway. and it vert serious that they “harm the image of women’s movement in ukraine” as you say. this is something we perhaps should try to work for, on an international level.

    my point about that feminism looks very different was perhaps not as much about the feminist movements but about the society. i meant democracy or freedom of speech have been looking different in for instance Great Britain and Tsarist Russia this has implied some for the movement as a whole. dont you agree? I am not after to degrading feminist movements in tsarist russia (or anywhere), just saying they had very different conditions for their work.

    i hope you would like to translate your article. it must be several international journals that would love to publish it 🙂


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