Thoughts on “Sextremism”

So I’ve decided to re-start my blog for a couple of reasons: a) I’m at uni now and everyone else seems to have a vocal outlet and mine has always been feminist-based; b) I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about the wider world and feminism in the past few months (coming in future posts) and c) I’ve just read a BBC article which has prompted me to do some actual research into ‘Sextremism’ and, in particular, a group called “FEMEN”.

So who are FEMEN, what even is ‘Sextremism’ (hint: It’s not the latest 50 shades book) and why am I  bothering to spend my Sunday evening talking about them? Well – as far as Google tells me (though I could very well be incorrect), FEMEN is the only radical action group that claim to be ‘Sextremists’, taking feminism into a “new wave” because “classical feminism is dead” (according to a promo video concerning their ‘creative’ campaigns methods). Essentially, FEMEN use the fact that women’s bodies grab attention on the streets every day and take it to a new level: full on naked protest level. Now I’m all for freedom to dress however you want – slut-shaming for personal presentation being a pet peeve in my books – yet I find myself asking if nude women parading through the streets with painted slogans across their breasts such as “Muslim: Let’s get naked” and “go to war against patriarchy and dictatorship.” are really the best uses of the female body. 

What perhaps annoys me the most about this group is the fact that in their promo video about campaigns they state that women need to use their bodies to grab attention in a new and more radical, provocative way; as if our voices count for less than our cup size when getting a point across. Surely that’s the opposite of feminism? The FEMEN official website proudly displays countless numbers of topless women with signs declaring how very free they are, yet I can’t help but notice they each look like something out of a L’Oreal advert: perfect hair, make up and slim tanned bodies – all to ‘grab attention in the name of feminism’ no doubt. I can’t help but feel that they’ve missed the point of objectification of women being a bad thing, that they’ve overshot it when they say they want to give attention to women’s rights and that they’ve crossed a boundary between ‘decent feminism’ and ‘that stuff we don’t want to be associated with any more’.

I mean who takes kindly to a bunch of topless women with flowers in their hair shouting abuse against the Catholic Church at the moment the Pope comes out to give an address? Yes, they actually did that. They also walked through a “predominantly Muslim” part of Paris painted with potentially very offensive slogans over their chests. Granted, sometimes these religions can give as good as they take, and some people say the Church and Islam even deserve a bit of feminist backlash after so much oppression ‘in the name of religion’ towards women. But exactly how far should that be taken? FEMEN – or indeed feminist that considers themselves a ‘Sextremist’ – needs to know that the ‘freedom’ they express by wearing no clothes and protesting is the same type of freedom that worshippers share and there needs to be a bit of peaceful ground between the two.

It’s simply unfair to tarnish feminism with radical and offensive messages like these Sextremists do. Perhaps this is why so many young women feel frightened that by calling themselves a feminist they put themselves in the same boat as FEMEN members, because those are the women that get the media attention. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very liberal, but topless model-like women running around and using their ‘greatest’ assets to get attention really doesn’t equate to the sort of feminism that the world needs. I think what FEMEN, and radical Sextremists need to remember is that, not all publicity is good publicity – especially when it comes to feminism.

Sources: (yes, yes those really ARE chainsaws surrounding that half-naked size 8 woman)

Join the Conversation

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I admire FEMEN’s work in Russia too(along with PR/Voina). The photo’s I’ve seen of FEMAN don’t look like “L’Oreal ads” – they often look fierce (I’d hope those really are chainsaws, especially since I’ve seen footage of them sawing with them.) and in some occasions even connected to something more primally feminine.

    “I mean who takes kindly to a bunch of topless women with flowers in their hair shouting abuse against the Catholic Church at the moment the Pope comes out to give an address?” — because the Catholic Church was taking kindly to women or victims of sexual abuse they’ve covered up for before FEMEN did that? Because now it’s the well-behaved women who are making history? As Ari Up once said “I’m not here to be liked. I’m here to be heard.

    Who gets into arbitration over the “best uses of the female body” anyway? I mean, besides all the usual answers to that?

    • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      P.S. – this seems awful fixated on who’s a size 8, everyone being tanned(don’t see it) and conventionally pretty…not to split hairs if they are or aren’t, but are size 8 women or tan women somehow not capable of being feminists or deserving of equal rights?

    • elisabeth

      Re: Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      The point I’m trying to put across is that I don’t think FEMEN convey any positive image of feminism. Personally, I think their website (with chainsaws and, having recently checked, large knives dripping with red) makes them seem a bit crazy – or at least not the sort of women that you’d want to have a civilised debate about women’s issues with. I’m starting to find that when I talk to other young women, they really aren’t into calling themselves feminists because of the stigma that minority radical groups impose on the whole movement: I’m planning on writing about this in the future in more detail.
      With the religion point, I really feel like standing in the Vatican square with no top on and hurling abuse is very offensive. Whilst I agree that some religious establishments have used their power to oppress women over thousands of years, I also think that we now need to take the high ground, be civil and only that way will we really achieve more. Granted though, taking your top off gets you attention – but I’m left wondering whether that’s just playing up to standards in society and if that really is the best way of showing how important women are.
      About your post-script – you are entirely correct and I think I haven’t put my point across very well. Of course conventionally ‘hot’ women are also brilliant feminists, I was just making a passing comment that perhaps FEMEN are living up to the topless model image by putting that image as their website banner, again grabbing attention but only because they think people would pay more attention. In short, I don’t think bodies should be used as weapons, intelligence should be.