Inside the World of FEMEN Protestors

Gabriella Tutino

 

A group of topless women wearing flower crowns are standing on the roof of a building, holding up signs and shouting in Russian “Oxana Lives!” as a crowd gathers below. It’s December 2011, and these protestors are advocating for the arrest of a group of men who beat to death, and then raped, a young woman in the streets of Kiev. While most onlookers seem amused by these antics, a few notably elder women are supporting the group.

These topless women are FEMEN, an activist group that uses “sextremism” tactics to shed light on injustices. Founded in 2008 by Anna Hutsol, FEMEN originally started in Kiev before branching out to France for both expansion reasons and political asylum for its members. As of today, there are FEMEN branches in Germany, Canada, Turkey and Israel.

The documentary follows the activist group from December 2011 to August 2012, as they plan and stage protests in Kiev, Zurich, Belarus, Paris and Moscow. Baring their bodies and accessorized in some type of related-costume, the women protest animal rights, women’s rights, politics and more.

 

 

While highlighting FEMEN’s key activities and setbacks, the documentary’s focus is on Oksana Shachko, who is the activist group’s creative visionary. Originally from an art background and interested in religious iconography, Oksana had plans to join a convent. But then she met Anna, who became her mentor and learned about FEMEN and found a cause worth fighting for.

Oksana uses her artistic skills to help create the props and costumes for FEMEN’s protests, as well as designs and art for the group’s merchandise and propaganda material. Additionally, she spurred the group towards topless activism. FEMEN was originally not topless, but Oksana and her fellow activists realized that it would help to draw attention to their causes. “The human body and politics: it’s an explosive combination,” Oksana says in the documentary.

The viewer can see Oksana’s and her fellow protestors’ passion for activism. As the film goes on, the women consistently stage protests in increasingly high-risk situations: one such situation being when they travel to Minsk, Belarus to protest the dictatorship. It is apparently a sign of protest to clap one’s hands in public, and that same night three members of FEMEN go missing. The women are released and returned back to Kiev, but not before being tortured and humiliated; they go into detail about their harrowing experience. Compared to earlier situations where the women are just escorted off the premises, it is one of the moments where the reality of danger hits the viewer with full force.

I am FEMEN does a great job of presenting the behind-the-scenes workings of FEMEN, as well as their ideology and beliefs. FEMEN is known for their topless protests, but the documentary proves that it is so much more than just showing skin.

 

Author Bio:

Gabriella Tutino is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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