Friday, 3 May 2013

Leaving the logic of a victim - on Femen

In the latest issue of the EuroStar lovely little unpretentious magazine, also charmingly titled: "Metropolitan", which I had the guilty pleasure to read during my recent London-Paris-London venture, the cover story and the major "article" concerns FEMEN - the lately media-ubiquitous Ukrainian collective, who are now also taking over France. As I recently written an article about them for the New Statesman in response to their critics (which unexpectedly got either a positive response or the firm silence from basically all women and feminists I know, which I still strruggle to interpret adequately), I feel growingly ambivalent both about the subject of my article (also discussed in my book) and their actions, and especially the coverage they get all over the place.

The Metropolitain magazine coverage is expectedly stupid, at some point making also the comparisons to the Mai 68-ers (what? when? how?) as if: the former protest and the latter protested; we're in France; look, there's a connection!; nevermind this: I was also struck by how the movement, whose defence I strongly sustain, especially a la Francais, again, offers a limited version of feminism, where showing yer tits is just a bit punky, sexy activity, in the article at least, speaking mostly through privileged, well off women (asistant director, "singer and journalist"), "whip-smart, funny and in no obvious need of rescuing". You can see, what is happening, if you transfer your message from an impoverished, postcommunist Ukraine to affluent France.

Also, not a single mention in this article about any debacle with Islam or Arab world, they're also incapable to make any critique or awareness of the media: "Our body is our message that's why we write our slogans on our bodies. You just can't help seeing it!". "the aim is to be rockstars of sorts, to generate the image of an ideal woman, so that when a 14yo opens up a magazine, she wants to be a warrior woman, like the Femen, rather than a passive thing who only wants to seduce the guy." Because "an ideal" woman is of course the thin gazelle with nice boobs. We get it. So far, so good. (Btw, I'm also thin, FYI, and so what). In the contex of French libertinism though, they say "It's still a big deal here. because we're not using our boobs in the right context, to sell something. Using your naked body to support a cause and demand freedom as a woman is unbearable to some people. It makes them really angry, the proof being that they hit us, send us death threats, insult us every day on Facebook. Woman's body (...) is still extremely taboo."

Yes, the negative male response, including (funnily, in Poland too) also the emergence of pathetic male groups "fighting the women's supremacy", in France Hommen and Masculinistes, Masculinum in Poland, who steal the collectives tactics, ensures me Femen are necessary. This leaves no doubt that we should protect Femen, but at the same time, we should demand from them and criticise them.

Recent FEMEN protest in Wallonie, belgium, against the homophobic archbishop Leonard. Another photo, send to me by Alex Harrowell, contained the guy in grey suit "dancing" like a peasant from the famous Breughel painting. Alas, it wasnt reproducible. See comment box to this post.

Here is the addition that should be read together with my New Statesman article, which came to my mind recently:

Yet,  another level of FEMEN  is its undecision, whether they want to be a political or only cultural movement. Are FEMEN the movement, which is going to realise the dreams of a leftist movement for the former East, and also, acting beyond the nation borders? Or is is only a political parody of EuroTrash (erstwhile trashy erotic British TV programme), pour epater le bourgeois, a caricatural liberalised moral police?

The problem is that within patriarchy, this is the only thing they can count for: to fight via controversy. Politically it remains unfocused, and sometimes, despite showing ytehg elftist approach, they incline towards teh right: apart from the "topless Jihad" scandal, they also got into racist action against Turkish footbal fans, carried out together with the ultra right in Lviv.

I was told later that I may have suggested in the article that the Femen's racism and the intersectional feminists unawareness of Femen's context are in certain balance. Of course not: and I'm not excusing Femen. I was basically saying: think twice before you criticise/mock/reject a movement consisting of women. Also, FEMEN aren't restricted to women's right fight, the also fight homophobia and for LGBT people's rights.
Still, they manage to activate women all over the world, they hit onto something. Since they have such power, they need to recognise themselves politically and identify which side they're on.

The only thing that keeps bothering me is whether, by undressing, femen really regains the power over their bodies, escape commodifocation or to the contrary, submits it to the authorities, who are arresting them and abusing them?

Several things would support this thesis: for one, the success of their actions would be null precisely without the abuse they get. Imagine that an action by Femen went unnoticed or wasn't aggressively treated. That the police or security wouldn't violently take them away.

Without the resistance, Femen would loose their point of existence.

Yet, as we know, this is impossible: those policing the public space within the patriarchy will be eternally brutally removing any unruly women's behaviour from there. As long as this order will exist, Femen's actions will be making-visible the activity of patriarchy within the society.

It is a perfromative difference: are Femen merely embodying the poor, "disciplined", opressed, coerced bodies within the patriarchy or is their goal just simply too shallow, not politicised enough, not thought through-enough, that they merely still depend on the opressor?

I do not expect Femen to be some kind of Foucaldian-Butlerian intellectualised combo, with philosophical, esthetical performances - that'd be much worse than what they ever do. The thing is they may still empowerise those, who beat them and hate them.

Femen's actions should be less like a "sacrifice", less about exposure to danger and more about political goals. And we know how the logic of the victim ends (so excessively used by the right wing politics actually).

Femen, the way it now goes, remains powerless and it can thematize this powerlessness forever, until they will feel a need to change their logic of failure into political success, ie, instead of willing to be caught and punished they will want to win. Can this be said of most of the leftist politics, not only in the Eastern Europe, today?


  1. I suggest that, wherever you publish whatever comes out of this, you use this as an illustration -

    has he been liberated from the massive Flemish bourgeois napery that oppresses him as a pansectional dancer, or is he the ultimate totalitarian response, not just refusing to dignify their protest with repression but joining in?