Article Op-Ed

The Problem With FEMEN

The Problem With FEMEN

Author Asma Elhuni by

Responsive image

The author's views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Also, the comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters.

On September 14, two topless women activists hijacked an Islamic Conference by interrupting speakers on stage, chests painted with “I Am My Own Prophet” and “Nobody Owns Me.” Pictures have surfaced showing disgruntled Muslims kicking these women who merely wanted to make a statement. These women belong to a group called FEMEN, a radical feminist group that uses their bodies as weapons to combat patriarchy and sexism. FEMEN originated in Ukraine and is now based in Paris with members from around the world.

They claim that female bodies are often times exploited by men and society, and what they are doing is reclaiming their naked bodies to fight patriarchy. Sounds pretty liberating, women claiming agency over their own bodies. If we look closer, it seems FEMEN has fallen into the very trap that it accuses its adversaries of doing- reducing women once again to their bodies, even if by free will, with the reasoning that their bodies are the only way to reach people—though in my opinion, the only thing reaching people are their nipples. It’s worth mentioning that before FEMEN went totally bare, they used to protest in lingerie-style erotic clothing. Yes, I did mention that the group started in order to protest the sexual exploitation of women; you fill in the blanks.

Most scholars of feminism would agree that feminism has its fair share of faults. One that stands out the most is how feminists for so long have left out black women. One cannot help but compare how FEMEN uses the same tactics today. It approaches feminism through essentialism, leaving out many that they do not relate to. Despite the many protests FEMEN has staged with different religious groups, none seem so venomous of an attack as that on Muslims.

Their narrow minded view of the world can be seen in statements like “better naked than burka”, or “nudity is freedom.” These behaviors towards Muslim women are merely the twin counterpart of ethnocentric neocolonial attitudes and prejudices. They love attacking hijab, but what FEMEN fails to realize is that many Muslim women see their hijab as being a profoundly liberating or religious experience for themselves. Some describe hijab as a form of protest, stating that female bodies are off limits for exploitation, and that getting ahead in life should be based on solely skills, intellect and contributions people have.

They criticize the cultures that look down upon theirs as being just as patriarchal: male supremacy is evident in everything from the roles that men and women play at home, to the pressures women face to conform to beauty standards, to jobs giving preference to male candidates, and to the customs that favor a male’s success over a female’s. Thus, many Muslim women do not appreciate the savior attitude some women display toward them.

I share this perspective while being fully aware that in some parts of the Muslim world, women have been reduced to their clothes, but that does not invalidate or take away this very real perspective and experience that is deserving of our attention and consideration.

The obvious disconnect FEMEN has with the Muslim world disqualifies their claim to want to help Muslim women. FEMEN fails to acknowledge that there is already an Islamic feminist movement being led by females like Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Fatima Mernissi, Laila Ahmed and many more. To FEMEN, these women are irrelevant and a conversation with these giants may not be in FEMEN’s best interest, especially if they point out that going naked is not the way to gain support among Muslims. In response to FEMEN’s actions, Muslim women around the world have decided to fight back with a campaign slamming FEMEN with quotes like, “you don’t represent me” and “nudity does not liberate me, I do not need saving”.

FEMEN’s reaction to this backlash?

“They say on their posters, we don’t need liberation, but in their eyes they are saying ‘help me’.” FEMEN’s denial that 16,000 women do not really mean what they are saying is laughable, for lack of a better word. Even Amina Tyler, an Arab student in Tunisia who posed nude on her Facebook page in support of FEMEN, has left the group, stating their actions were disrespectful after the group burned a flag with the Muslim declaration of faith. Yet as difficult as it is to believe, FEMEN claims it’s trying to help these women. This “they need saving” narrative is nothing new to the Muslim world. The message was the same when Muslim countries were colonized, the repercussions of which can still be seen and felt today.

One cannot denounce the actions of this group without denouncing the actions that some men had towards one of the members of FEMEN that September day. Dragging the women away was expected, but kicking these women was uncalled for and savage behavior. The men who participated in the barbarism should not be left without criticism and should be punished. If we continue to turn a blind eye when men take it upon themselves to express violence towards women, we are perpetrating the notion that it’s a man’s place to keep women in check.

Having said all this, I think its important that I mention that being a Muslim who Identifies as a feminist, I see the need and benefits of feminists working together. Because we live in such a diverse world, it does us good to learn the perspectives of others and support them in ways these feminists say best suites their society and culture. We cannot afford to come in and force our ways upon others, as this goes against everything feminism stands for and is the exact reason the need for feminism exists.

If we Unite –We can Ignite.

Tweet this article out

Like on Facebook

Free Weekly Emails

Sponsored by:

Responsive image