Only in Ukraine the FEMEN phenomenon

  • Only in Ukraine the FEMEN phenomenon
Issue 47, June 2012.

Euro 2012 fans set to be titillated and bewildered by Ukraine’s iconic topless protest group

Its official: all-girl Ukrainian topless activist group FEMEN will be targeting Euro 2012 matches. The ladies of FEMEN have been popping up - and popping out - all over the country in the run-up to this month’s UEFA extravaganza, and so it comes as no surprise to learn
that they are planning to stage their trademark semi-nude protests throughout the championships as part of their ongoing crusade against Ukraine’s burgeoning sex tourism industry.
Fans should not be alarmed
This declaration of intent will no doubt lead to some interesting scenes during Euro 2012 as visiting fans are accosted by gangs of slender, bare-breasted young Ukrainian activists. Few – if any – will have ever seen anything quite like it. Fans who find themselves thus confronted during Euro 2012 need not panic – the FEMEN phenomenon is undoubtedly one of the more surprising byproducts of Ukraine’s recent Orange era, but the ladies themselves want nothing more than your attention. Theirs is a unique interpretation of feminism which blends Ukraine’s old school gender politics with the aggressive employment of feminine sexuality in ways that have never previously been attempted – arguably for good reason.
Part avant-garde street theatre and part soft porn titillation, FEMEN’s protests are carefully choreographed and coldly calculating media circuses designed specifically with international internet audiences in mind. In their defence, the girls themselves claim to be turning sexism on its head by using their sex appeal as a political weapon – an audacious argument which has proved far more popular among tabloid editors than among traditional feminists. FEMEN’s many detractors have labeled the group everything from prostitutes to provocateurs, but despite coming in for considerable criticism both at home and abroad for their exploitative antics they remain surprisingly difficult to ignore.  

Fruit of the Orange Revolution 
This all-girl activist group traces its roots back to the democracy craze which swept Ukraine in the wake of the Orange Revolution. FEMEN’s debut on the Ukrainian political landscape came
in summer 2008 - a time when the country was still in the grips of a new-found enthusiasm for political activism which had been sparked by the very success of the 2004 Orange uprising. During Ukraine’s brief Orange era, democracy was the height of fashion and literally everyone who was anyone seemed to be setting up a political party or starting an NGO. By the time FEMEN finally arrived on the scene, Ukraine’s political stage had become so crowded that drastic measures were required simply in order to be heard. The result was an extremely provocative and highly original brand of political porn which quickly thrust FEMEN into the international limelight and has since seen them touted as poster girls for a whole new protest genre.
One of Ukraine’s best brands
Since its inception the FEMEN brand has been shaped and crafted to fit the modern multi-media agenda. From a purely marketing point of view, the results have been more than impressive. From the very beginning, FEMEN protests have consistently received considerable international media exposure – to the extent that their escapades have become standard photo fodder for online news sites across the EU. Indeed, over the past four years the girls can legitimately claim to have received far more international press coverage than all of Ukraine’s political parties combined. Whether many among this international audience actually digested the deeper political message behind FEMEN’s erotic protests remains to be seen, but there is no denying that the group has succeeded in attracting unprecedented attention. In the past year they have gone international, staging topless protests as far afield as Turkey, France and Switzerland in what appears to be the next stage in a bid to become a truly global phenomenon. It is not at all clear whether the rest of the world is ready for FEMEN, but it looks likely that we will be seeing a lot more of these uniquely Ukrainian activists on their home turf this month as the country plays host to Euro 2012.