Horrifying anyone who values the dignity of women and delighting voyeuristic perverts the world over, Femen gains attention by exploiting the global internet porn addiction. As long as there are people who enjoy looking at photos of desperate, topless women degrading themselves for attention, Femen is assured an audience. As noted by Ukraine Is Not A Brothel documentary film maker Kitty Green, “If you Google Germaine Greer you get so many hits [732,000], if you Google Femen you get millions more [5,560,000]…” because nudity. (Ironically, while claiming to be against patriarchy in all forms, Green discovered that Femen was actually run by Victor Svyatski, a frightening narcissist who verbally and physically abused the Femen performers as he directed their protests.)
With their mission statement to stand against “religious oppression,” they commit vandalism, degrade various religions’ holy images, and frequently stage pornographic exhibitionism in front of churches around the world. Their most recent exploit was a blasphemous performance in St. Peter’s Square on November 13th to protest Pope Francis’s visit to the European Parliament. For a group that so ardently pushes past the boundaries of what free speech actually means, it is a little baffling why Femen thinks the pope should not be free to visit what he likes. Whatever their intentions, the sexually explicit nature of their aggressive and often illegal performances drown out whatever coherency their political points may have, and if anything poses a real threat to women living in truly misogynistic cultures. Truly, the less said of Femen the better, as they are the protest group equivalent of a troubled child acting out for negative attention.
The fundamentally ineffective sound and fury of Femen’s grotesque peep-show-masquerading-as-social-protest is perhaps best contrasted with the earth shattering power of Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai. With calm dignity and superhuman grace, the 17 year old is rehabilitating feminism, particularly for those of us comfortably enjoying freedom and equality. Yousafzai’s tenacious activism began at age 11 when she wrote a blog for the BBC detailing the Taliban’s occupation of her Pakistani town, with particular attention to the ban preventing girls from receiving an education. Her activities got her on the Taliban hit list, and she suffered a gunshot wound to the head in 2012 and international fame throughout her recovery. Yousafzai serves as a poignant reminder of a very real, very lethal, and very under-reported war being waged on women. Women are being sold into slavery, subjected to militarized rape, sentenced to death for apostasy, and murdered by their own family members.
These injustices are well-worth international activism – and the recent case of Meriam Ibrahim shows that a unified global outcry can literally save a life – but activists should take notes from women like Yousafzai and Ibrahim rather than the intensely counter-productive Femen. Yousafzai demonstrates that personal dignity, strength in suffering, and respectful dialogue of cultural mores allows even a lone teenage girl’s voice to ring out across the world, and that is the New Feminism.