Inna Shevchenko, the leader of the feminist organisation Femen, has recently announced intentions to start a branch of the group in the UK. Femen are, of course, famous for using their breasts as a form of protest against the institutions they perceive to be impeding equality - specifically religion, the sex industry, and dictatorships. According to Shevchenko, Femen is coming to the UK because British women have "called upon" them.
I, for one, have not. Whilst I acknowledge the bravery that Femen's activists show by baring their breasts in public in the face of oppressive regimes, many of their campaigns are harming women, not helping them. Like their crusade against Islam, for example. Instead of focusing on the very real ways that patriarchal interpretations of the religion are used to oppress women, whilst respecting the right of men and women to choose to follow it, Femen instead are offensive and patronising. They use racist stereotypes in their protests, and even told one woman, Laila Alawa, that she must "take off her headscarf" before she can speak as a feminist. Furthermore, when told by Muslim women that Femen did not speak for them, Shevchenko claimed that despite what they say, "in their eyes it's written, 'help me'". By buying into this Islamophobic idea that all Muslim women are automatically oppressed, and acting as though they cannot think freely for themselves and need rescuing by white saviours, Femen have shown that their feminism is in fact imperialist.
For women to be free from oppression, they must be able to do what they choose. Femen's brand of empowerment is doing what Femen tells you to do, which in this case is to be naked. Whilst it is absolutely right that women should be able to be naked if they want to, nobody should be told to do so. We should be able to choose what we do with our bodies. Which is why Femen's stance on the sex industry is particularly ironic. Again, instead of taking aim at the fact that the patriarchal imbalances of society can be reflected in sex work, enabling women to be exploited, Femen's campaigns have instead involved harassing and even assaulting sex workers (video footage of which has mysteriously disappeared from the Internet), with instructions for them to "Go rape yourself!" To do this in the name of "saving" women from sex work seems a bit rich, incredibly insensitive, and completely ignores the fact that many women (as well as men) choose to do sex work. Apparently the only women who are able to choose what they do with their bodies are those in Femen.
All of this is especially interesting when you consider the group itself. It was revealed this year in the documentary Ukraine Is Not A Brothel that Femen was put together, and is orchestrated by, a man, Victor Svyatski. There is something inherently wrong with a man telling women how and when to use their breasts, especially in a patriarchal society that places so much value on womens' bodies. It is also evident that it is no coincidence that the women in Femen are predominantly thin, blonde and beautiful; Svyatski chose it to be that way. He did so in order to maximise the media appeal of the group, and he certainly succeeded. But if the women of Femen - despite being told what to do by a man utilising patriarchal conventions in order to see success - can still be considered to be in control, why can't Muslim women or sex workers?
The answer is quite simple: imperialism, racism, and plain old patriarchy. This might well be compatible with the feminism of some British women, but it will never be with mine. Unless the UK branch is going to be radically, progressively different, I won't be welcoming the presence of Femen here.