“FEMEN? Again?!”

Category: by sophie engström, gender, ukraine
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(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.

Feminism in Russia? Like a sleeping beauty?

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

(Läsningstid: 5 minuter)

During my stay in Moscow last month, I one night ended up looking at Russian TV at a friends places. My friend and her old mother was zapping through the channels and ending up at the news. While we was sitting there consuming the information (or whatever the TV viewer are expected to do) I started to feel physically sick. Since I never look at TV in Sweden I am probably rather sensitive towards what I see. At first I thought it was because I had too much tasty food to eat, but rather quick I understood it was the news in the box infront of me that was the course of my sickness. And why did I feel like that? Well, it was not the actual news. They look the same as they always have in Russia, so this did not upset me (enough, I should add).

No, it was an other unpleasant aftertaste I could feel. During the 30 minutes or 45 minutes news show there where not even one woman speaking. I could see women crying or walking in the background of some guy being interviewed, but not even one woman had a voice. Coming from a country where the newsrooms and editorial work have, may be not great, but at least an awareness how important representation and diversity actually are, I felt like I was pushed back to some kind of Medieval landscape just in one blow. It is true that women’s representation in Russia in, for instance, the Parliament, sucks but this was just too much! (Check the statistics at Wikigender.) And I might alos add that this is a rather unpleasant change since all my previous stays in Moscow and Russia. I felt an urge to talk to a feminist that could put some light on how it became like this.

I was lucky. The day after I had a meeting with one of the most prominent feminists in Moscow, Nadezhda Azhgikhina, journalist, literary critic, and executive secretary at Russian Union of Journalists. I asked her why women have vanished from Russian TV and why I can’t hear or read any protests. Nadezhda implies that most bosses or executive bosses are men, so basically the newsrooms or editorial are stuck with those. But when it comes to why TV news shows almost no women Nadezhda has a very interesting theory. She denotes that Russian TV should be regarded a theatre play. This play has as a purpose in trying to fool the viewer into believing that the government actually is in charge and can handle all occurring problems in the society.

Nadezhda Azhgikhina

– Men doesn’t show fear and are therefor regarded as the most effective power. So by excluding all women, they try create the picture that Russia is the strongest and best country in the world.

The second part of her theory is that she implies that TV, including all other media, do not want to promote the idea that there exists any gender problems in Russia of today. One explanation could be that it just don’t sell. The younger generations have not interest in feminism or gender issues, basically because they do not want to be influenced by “old” values. By “old” she denotes feminist values from 1990’s and during the Post Soviet Era. The feminist movement back then was very strong, but has drastically declined and today there are almost no feminist movement, she implies.

However, during the 90’s the feminist movement managed to create a good and stable network among those that are working with the questions.

But even so, I urge, while looking at Russia today I can only see stagnated stereotypes and mostly values promoting, for example, macho-masculinities and sticky sexisms when it comes to feminities. From my perspective Russia gender situation appears to be more conservative and obsolete than ever. I point at Ukraine and FEMEN and ask Nadezdha why we can’t see any reactions like that in Russia. Her answer actually surprises me. She claims that Ukraine is 10 years behind Russia., and that Ukraine’s radical feminist movement will also languish away. Her rather fatalistic attitude scares me, however she can be right. In Sweden we have had several strong feministic movements that have subsided. While Russia had a strong feminist during the 90’s, Sweden and many other countries, for instance USA, had a rather heavy backlash on feminists issues. From some perspective I would say that Sweden has never really recovered from that backlash.

FEMEN dressed as policemen protesting against the limitation of democratic liberties and freedom of the press during the first hundred days of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency commemorated today.

The question we should ask ourself is perhaps how feminism can survive between every intervals of activity. What will for instance happen with an organization such as FEMEN when Ukrainian media has lost their interest in them? What plans do they have to survive the situation? After my meeting with Nadezdha I strongly feel that this is perhaps one of the weakest points of all feminist movements around the world. (And all other activism, I suppose.) When media turns their heads in other directions, too many feminists activists vanishes from the scene. How come? Not all feminists are exhibitionists for sure!!

But hopefully social media could play an important and different role for making campaigns to survive longer. FEMEN has been able to create their own media flow, with twitter, flickr etc etc. And I do hope that they have the strength to go on, even after the Ukrainian establishment has recovered from the chock that FEMEN (still) creates.

From FEMEN’s last campaign “Bloody tits”

Civic Campaign: Make Ukraine better!

Category: by Dmytro Yatsyuk, guests, ukraine
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(Läsningstid: 3 minuter)

Ukraine is now living a very particular situation. End of one historical circle (period of European dream born with Orange Revolution) and beginning of some entirely new and perhaps shadow time, marked by political decision of a new government to abandonee European and Euro Atlantic choice for Ukraine.

In that situation, Ukrainian young generation feel that they must do something (anything at all), to make his own position about situation living by contemporary Ukraine.

In this actual environment, every political, social or cultural organization or part of civic society uses its own “weapons” of choice. Ukrainian feminist organization FEMEN, received the recent visit of Medvedev with his own performance called “Scratched by bear”.

Photo by FEMEN at Flickr

Other group of youngsters from Kyiv, start at May 11, 2010, a civic campaign “Make Ukraine better!”, intended to unite young generation of Ukrainians around of Ukrainian national idea, in way to remind all those who gave their lives for the country.

The bilingual manifesto of campaign (in Ukrainian and Russian) said:

In remembrance of those who fought for Ukraine and to together future – our initiative:

Belt for Belt (from famous UPA lyrics Lenta Za Lentoyu”):

We have different political views. We speak different languages. But Ukraine is unique for us. Do not be afraid to say that. Do not be ashamed. Do not forget.

Put the flag on your apartment. Add the ribbon to your clothes – to the day-to-day one and to festive one and to any one.

You want to make life better in Ukraine? Do it. Anything. And think about more.

Do you want to do more than just putting the ribbon to your clothes? You’re not alone : )

There are all sorts of issues needing to resolution, and actions that can and should be done. For example, today’s issues to be solved by civil society:

1) demand for joint vision of history – as the basis for understanding in the society;
2) actions for organization of civil society;
3) action against state corruption and the filth of personal responsibility of state representatives and politicians (yes, they also must live with respect for the law and must behave decently);
3) support to culture (not for kitsch);
4) support poor and disadvantaged parcels of society;
5) etc, etc, etc …

You can propose your own actions; you also can support actions of others. For more information, visit the online community Make Ukraine better! There discussions are made, there activities are organized. Why not?

You also can help to our action as follows:

1) Place one of the proposed banners on your blog / site:
2) Send to us your beautiful photos with the ribbons, organize a section of photographs, involve famous people, finally, our action allows your personal PR : )
3) Create the design of the original ribbons, banners or other promotional materials.
4) To popularize and disseminate our initiative in the press, in the Internet, in blogosphere, etc …
5) Share with us your ideas. Write to us, don’t be ashamed or join the community or visit the campaign website

Information about this initiative in Portuguese: