This New "Feminism" Looks a Lot Like Old Sexism

The Ukrainian organization FEMEN is either:

a) A global women's movement dedicated to defending sexual and social equality, or

b) The Spice Girls of feminism, run by a sexist old crank.

It depends on who you're asking.

The top characterization comes from the group's website, which also describes FEMEN as "a new wave of feminism." Its activists are "morally and physically fit soldiers," capable of undermining "the foundations of the patriarchal world" with their intellect, sex, agility, and power to "bring neurosis and panic to the men's world."

FEMEN — is a hot boobs, a cool head and clean hands. Be FEMEN — means to mobilize every cell of your body on a relentless struggle against centuries of slavery of women! FEMEN — is an ideology of SEXTREMISM.

We can chalk some of the awkward phrasing up to language differences, but the absurd and militant lunacy stands. What the heck is this group? And why are we talking about them?

I was alerted to the group's existence by an article in The Guardian yesterday. Writer Suzanne Moore starts with a faux-lament:

"If only men ran feminism, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in. We wouldn't have to worry about offending them or arguing among ourselves. We would simply take instruction from consultants on gender struggle. Only the prettiest would be allowed to fight the gender jihad. And we would have to do it topless. ... You can't make this stuff up. And I am not."

According to Moore, FEMEN — whose delightful slogan is "Our mission is protest, our weapons are bare breasts" — was founded by a man named Victor Svyatski. Svyatski "hand-picked attractive women" (mostly thin, buxom blondes) for his arsenal.

But, alas!, they didn't turn out to be weapons-grade material. "These girls are weak," Svyatski said to Kitty Green, an Australian filmmaker whose documentary on FEMEN, Ukraine is Not a Brothel, premiered at the Venice film festival this week.

Green said Svyatski would shout at the group's women and call them "bitches" — actions he defended by blaming said women.

"They don't have the strength of character ... Instead they show submissiveness, spinelessness, lack of punctuality, and many other factors which prevent them from becoming political activists."

Awww, Victor. You mean the models you picked to go topless in the name of feminism aren't perfect paragons of female power and authentic activist beliefs? I'm shocked.

"These are qualities which it was essential to teach them," Svyatski continues in the film. (Because nothing says 'empowering women' like mansplaining strength to them until they confirm to your conception of it!)

Moore believes "this whole ridiculous tale is symptomatic of the huge muddle around men's relationship to feminism," but I disagree. The fact that an attention-seeking idiot happens to have invoked feminism to legitimize his pornographic sideshow doesn't mean this has anything to do with real or serious considerations of men's role as feminists (or "feminist allies," if you prefer). Placing this in any sort of larger conversational context gives Svyatski way more credit than he deserves.