FEMEN: for better or worse, this “wave of feminism of the third millennium” is one of the most recognized Ukrainian cultural exports of the age. These topless protesters have been making headlines (remember the Putin thumbs up picture?) with their unique approach to challenging traditional patriarchal entities, namely the church and the state, as well as the sex industry.
Their method is described as “sextremism.” And, as a FEMEN leader Inna Shevchenko explains in “How to become a FEMEN Sextremist. Lesson one,” it is based on principles of dominance and assertiveness. Shevchenko’s ground rules: “Rule one: Your pose has to be aggressive. Legs are straight open. Keep your arms up. We aren’t trying to attract anyone. We’re trying to make them scared. Rule two: never hide your face. Keep your poster above your head. Rule three: don’t smile. Scream. Protect women’s rights; fight dictatorship, patriarchy, sex industry.”
The FEMEN organizers suggest that employing the above will create “...new Amazons, capable to undermine the foundations of the patriarchal world by their intellect, sex, agility, make disorder, bring neurosis and panic to the men’s world.” Needless to say, the association has come a far way from its 2006 origin as a local feminist club in Ukraine.
A lot of things about this group—its legitimacy, its adherence to feminist principles, even its source of funding—are debatable; what is not is its popularity. The FEMEN organization reports that it has active members on five continents. Just last month, the first international “sextremist” boot camp was run in Paris.
What does this mean for Ukraine? Have this group’s actions improved the country’s international image? Have they worsened it? Can President Yanukovych manipulate FEMEN success to improve his own image? Could there be a hardliner with a soft spot for radical feminism? What are the options? After all, Ukraine is currently contending for the EU membership; being the breadbasket of “third millennium feminism” certainly could not hurt its application.