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Femen or FEMEN (Cyrillic:ФЕМЕН) are a group of topless feminist campaigners who use their naked bodies to call for women's rights, including the right to get naked. They were formed in Ukraine but have been active throughout Europe, and oppose religion, totalitarianism, and the sex industry.
In 2013, it emerged that the group's formation had been heavily influenced by a man, Victor Svatsky, which arguably puts it at the same level as the Spice Girls' Girl Power. Svatsky admitted he may have started the group partly to get girls. However, other, female founders insist his role was relatively small and they are now independent of him.
The group's official story is that it was founded in 2006 in Khmelnytskyi, in western Ukraine, by Anna Hutsol, Oksana Shachko and Alexandra Shevchenko; initially they were not topless but dressed in pink or in men's clothing, only starting topless protest in 2010. Reportedly in its early days the campaign was influenced both by the prevalence of the sex industry and sex tourism in that part of Ukraine, and by the country's problems with corrupt and undemocratic government. In 2008, still with essentially 3 members, they moved to Kiev and adopted the name "Femen" (capitalisation varies), under the mistaken belief it referred to a part of the female femur, although it simply refers to the whole bone in both men and women. As of 2012, they had 300 members across Europe.
However in 2013 it was revealed by filmmaker Kitty Green in her movie Ukraine is not a Brothel that a man, Victor Svatsky (or Svyatski), was at the least very involved in the formation of the group. Founding member Inna Shevchenko claimed that Svatsky was not the founder but had taken control of the group for a while, until they broke free and moved away from Ukraine to become an international group.
- In Belarus against dictator Alexander Lukashenko in 2011, where they claim to have been kidnapped by the secret police after the protest.
- Pro-abortion protest in Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev in 2012, where they rang the church bells while topless.
- Against the sex industry in Ukraine, during the European Football Championship 2012
- In London in 2012, against the International Olympic Committee's relations with undemocratic regimes.
- In Moscow in 2012, Oksana Shachko attempted to steal the ballot box containing Vladimir Putin's own vote in the presidential election.
- At Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum in 2013.
- For gay rights against the Roman Catholic Church.
- Against ultra-skinny models in Milan Fashion Week.
- In France, against Islam through ideas such as International Topless Jihad Day, in support of activist Amina Tyler.
In theory Femen stand for the rights of women to take control of their body and do what they like with it. However, they have been attacked as culturally insensitive for imposing a western idea of body politics, as well as for male influence over the group, allegedly pandering to the male desire to see attractive naked women, and for other reasons.
They have been criticised for their oppositional attitude to Islam, which they attack as a form of patriarchy that prevents women from going topless, even though many women find Islam an important part of their identity and even see it as a force for liberation. Some Muslims have claimed that it is possible to be a feminist and a Muslim, and that as Europeans Femen are not qualified to speak for Muslim women, and it should be up to Muslim women to wear the hijab or not and decide how they wanted to be liberated.
Their actions seemed to be particularly popular with middle-aged straight male writers who enjoy the sight of bare boobies. As one female journalist reported:
When I tell a friend I'm due to interview them, he is fascinated by the idea of topless feminist warriors – but switches off as soon as I mention their arguments.
They have been criticised for using only young, slim, attractive women with nice breasts. In particular there are claims that the troupe was put together by Victor Svatsky based on their looks. In their defence they have shown photographs of a wide variety of women and pointed out that the media tends to prefer photos of the more attractive women.
They have also been criticised more generally for their dependence on the male Svatsky, which seems to go against their message of female empowerment, and for concealing his involvement in the group. When asked if he started Femen "to get girls", he reportedly replied, "Perhaps yes, somewhere in my deep subconscious." Svatsky has been accused of being "abusive" and "manipulative" towards the group.
Despite their willingness to get naked, they are opposed to the sex industry, which is certainly a controversial issue involving the abuse of women, but also provides the opportunity for women to use their naked bodies to earn money and practice self-expression. Their calls for banning the sex industry may place women at greater risk.
- Rise of the naked female warriors, Kira Cochrane, The Guardian, March 20, 2013
- The Man Behind FEMEN Is No Friend of the Movement, Kate Dries, Jezebel, 4 September 2013
- The man who made Femen: New film outs Victor Svyatski as the mastermind behind the protest group and its breast-baring stunts, Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent (UK), 3 September 2013
- Femen let Victor Svyatski take over because we didn't know how to fight it, Inna Shevchenko, The Guardian, 5 September 2013
- The Body Politic: Getting Naked to Change the World, Dialika Neufeld (trans. Christopher Sultan), Der Spiegel, May 11, 2012
- FEMEN rings the bell: Naked activists defend right to abortion , RT.com, 10 Apr, 2012
- Femen’s Abusive Patriarch, Victor Svyatski, Exposed in 'Ukraine Is Not a Brothel’, Marlow Stern, The Daily Beast, 12 March 2014
- A gloriously crude topless 'jihad' from a Femen activist, Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, 5 April 2013
- Femen's topless condescension towards Muslim women only helps sexism, Susan Carland, The Guardian, 16 September 2015
- Put Your Shirts Back On: Why Femen Is Wrong, Uzma Kolsy, The Atlantic, 6 May, 2013
- Is DSK trial bad news for French prostitutes?, The Local, 12 Feb 2015