The international feminist organization FEMEN took advantage of Christmas day to protest for women's rights at the Vatican. The demonstration quickly intensified when authorities arrested a topless FEMEN protester for stealing a Vatican baby Jesus from the nativity scene on display during the Pope's Christmas Day message. A video of the protester being tackled and carried away by Vatican police is alarming, but the message behind the attempted theft was one pro-choice feminists could get behind.
FEMEN created a name for itself by organizing topless protests, and Monday's rally was in opposition to the Catholic Church's strict stance on abortion, "sacred condemnation" of contraception, and more broadly "the Vatican's infringement of the rights of women to their own bodies," according to a FEMEN blog post. The group identified the arrested woman as FEMEN "sextremist" Alisa Vinogradova, encouraging other women to follow in her footsteps and steal baby Jesuses from religious organizations to signify women's right to use their bodies as they wish.
In the video, Vinogradova is seen running up to the nativity scene with "God is woman" written on her back. FEMEN's blog post explains the meaning of the phrase:
A child is not from a god, but from a woman! For a woman is God!
FEMEN's goal is to achieve "complete victory over patriarchy," and the group's website says, "Our Weapon are bare breasts!" According to the website, the organizationdeveloped "sextremism" as a way for women to use their bodies and sexuality to fight the patriarchy.
Sextremism is the woman’s mockery of vulgar male extremism and its bloody mayhems and a cult of terror. Sextremism is a non-violent but highly aggressive form of provocation; it is an all-powerful demoralizing weapon undermining the foundations of the old political ethics and rotten patriarchal culture.
The group also posted a photo Christmas night showing a topless protester wearing a cape with "#MeToo assaulted by the church" scrawled on her stomach, signifying the Virgin Mary joining the "Me Too" movement against sexual harassment and assault.
"Right in the middle of the nativity scene, Virgin Mary broke her long kept silence, revealing her story written on her breasts: upon them to keep fighting, to not give up," read another FEMEN blog post, entitled "The Virgin Mary Silence Breaker in Vatican." "We must continue to denounce all forms of violence against women committed everywhere, from the Film Industry to The Vatican."
FEMEN said "Mary’s #metoo declaration" stood in defienace of the church's endorsement of bans on abortion, homophobia, and history of pedophilia. The six countries that don't allow abortion under any circumstances are mostly in Latin America, with the exception of Vatican City in Italy. Meanwhile, 73 percent of Europe allows abortions for any reason, according to the Pew Research Center.
Another "sextremist" pulled a similar stunt on Christmas day in 2014. Crawling under a barrier and running up to a nativity scene in Vatican City, a topless FEMEN protester with the same "God is woman" phrase written on her chest took off with the baby Jesus. She got slightly further than Vinogradova did on Monday, but was covered up and detained by an officer before getting off the stage where the nativity scene was being showcased.
FEMEN's protests against the Catholic Church are meant to bring attention to how women are treated, as well as encourage others to get involved in the fight for women's rights. The group's message this year was one of coming together — just in a slightly different way than religious organizations encourage people to come together on Christmas.
"Let us denounce the attacks of organized religions on women," FEMEN said on its website. "Let us work together to make 2018 a more peaceful, and more equal year for all."