Feminism is a divisive and divided school. As if we don’t already have to deal with the omnipresent shackles of patriarchy, we also have to cope with our own sectarian battles. Even at our Anti-Sexism Society at University there are divides. Perhaps it’s only natural. After all, how do you go about building a cohesive movement which is meant to cater to over half the population of the world? The answer is, with difficulty.
With this in mind, it’s important to remember that feminism should be flexible and inclusive. We should be able to embrace the likes of Beyoncé into our collective bosom. We should never be dogmatic. Feminism has to be molded around the lives, needs, and wants of women. A banal point perhaps, but it’s easy to lose sight of in a cacophony of theoretical debate.
Having said this, we don’t have to claim every action, every protest, every argument made under the banner of feminism, as our own. If you have been keeping up with the news lately, you might have noticed that Turkey has just re-elected Prime Minister Erdgogan’s AK Party, despite widespread allegations of corruption and cronyism, as well as the worrying revocation of many rights and civil liberties in the country. Perusing the news on Twitter (which, coincidentally, has been banned in Turkey) I came across a picture of two Femen activists staging a topless protest in the Uskadar district of Istanbul (Erdogan’s seat).
Now, as a fan of public nudity, I love flashing a bit of buttock or tit when the opportunity arises, but I don’t do it and then call it a feminist protest. It’s just care free exhibitionism – there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you call a spade, a spade.
Don’t get me wrong, I get what Femen are trying to do. But their tactics are ridiculous and counterproductive. They only succeed in alienating normal folk from the very causes they are trying to highlight. In a country which is, for the most part, socially conservative, and in which women have very few places to turn when they are in trouble is it not better to focus energies on concretely improving those conditions rather than incurring the wrath of the proverbial man on the street?
I recently watched a video of Femen staging a topless protest against Le Pen’s far right National Front (good call). Instead of filling me with a sense of pride solidarity, watching them be forcibly craned off the building they were bannering amid shouts of “Whores” and “You stupid filthy bitches” filled me with despair. To me it seemed to demonstrate how feeble and out of touch they were, and the bitter futility of it all.
I’m not even going to go into the issue of euro-centric feminisms which ignore cultural sensitivities – I’m not a cultural relativist, but there is a limit to universalities. Nor am I going to talk about the corporate consumerisation of feminism. (Did you know Femen’s rally in Istanbul was sponsored by a Turkish underwear brand?) But I will say that flashing your tits isn’t ever enough, and it often does more harm than good. We have a hard enough time as it is trying to convince people we aren’t all barking mad, without having to explain antics such as these.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. I am excited to see the growth of grass roots movements such as Musawah – who are committed to bringing about structural change and bettering the lives of women in those very countries which Femen enjoys antagonizing. I was also overjoyed to see that, after suffering years of domestic abuse, BDP candidate, Berivan Kilic has now been elected as co-mayor of the Kocakoy District in Diyarbakir in Southern Turkey. Her story is truly inspirational and her message is one we can all get behind.
So perhaps there is hope.
To the women in Uskudar I ask, why strip off? Would your purpose not be better served standing side by side on the street, with your fellow men and women in solidarity against Erdogan – the ultimate Baba figurehead of a thoroughly patriarchal and corrupt regime? Could you not achieve more for the cause by following the example of women like Baerivan Kilic and others like her?
By all means, Femen/women of the world, flaunt your flesh, confront and subvert patriarchal values, but don’t be confused. You’re not really liberating anyone but your own ego; you’re not truly effecting change. There’s much more to it than that.