“Sextremism”: Supporting FEMEN and its Critics

It’s an obvious truth that women shouldn’t have do what men want them to do. But it’s surely also a staple of feminism that women listen to the views of men as they would fellow women – on account of their merits, and nothing more. So I don’t intend any post I write on feminism, or women in general, to read like condescending trite. Anyway.

Today (April 5th) there were protests across the world in Europe and North America organised by the Ukrainian-based feminist group FEMEN. It began in Ukraine in support of the Tunisian Amina, a woman who after posting partially nude photographs of herself on Facebook received death threats and the most visceral abuse. Women activists call their movement a “topless jihad” fighting against the oppression of Islamism; their choice of protest is nudity, and nudity clothed in politics:

Source. (Be honest – you only came here because of the photo.)

Not all Muslim women are happy about this. A counter-protest, “Muslimah Pride Day”, was organised in response as part of the “Muslim Women against Femen” in order to support all Muslim women “whether we choose to wear hijaabs or not” because it “is nobodies business but ours”. Central to the reaction was the view that nudity is not liberation; that objectification is not feminism.

The counter-protest is understandable enough. Despite rhetoric against “Islamism”, radicals appeared far from the only target by the “sextreminist” FEMEN. Some took place outside the Tunisian Embassy in Paris – good. The character of Amina represents the central struggle of the movement. But less clear is why various mosques were targeted – in Berlin and Paris for example. What does that achieve? Nothing does more to undermine the attack on the misogyny in fanatical Islam than to conflate the moderates with the fascists. If I were a Muslim woman – which I’m rather far from – I too would be unhappy with the bland and generic characterisation of us as helpless infidels.

But I think the “counter” is less of a counter than it claims. I don’t think that one or the other is right; in fact they resonate quite powerfully in unison. If we say that Islamism needs to be countered for feminism’s sake – and Nick Cohen, as usual, also posits the case brilliantly – then we do so in the view that women should be allowed to choose what they where. Nudity is hardly necessary. This is also the position of the counter-protesters who would do well to remember that many women are forced into being the sexual objects of their husbands.

We have to stop pretending Islam is a monolith – secularists would do well to ally themselves with the moderates.

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3 Comments on ““Sextremism”: Supporting FEMEN and its Critics”

  1. Let’s say I may be against… The Dukan Diet?…. so I want to call atention abt the issue beause it’s potentially risky and specially because promotes to eat proteins (meat) and for that u need to kill animals first……so I go to Mr. Dukan’s front door (after calling press, of course…). and pull down my jeans and boxers shaking my wee-wee right when he’s abt to get out with his wife or kids while I hold an impactant message on the style of… “Fuck off u Bastrd frenchy and ur pervert torture empire”… c’mon… really?? You dont need to be muslim to be unable to find a sense to this.

    But well… wadda…..girls in topless!…

    • Mark says:

      Haha great comparison. I’m not normally supportive of these sorts of protests for that very reason, and normally it’s just about attention-grabbing – but I think when it’s being done against people who want to control what they wear then it can be a good sign of defiance. I do agree that it goes much to far though.

  2. […] (May this be an answer to a well respected blogger and whisky connoisseur’s POST) […]


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