FEMEN And The Suppression Of Native Voices

I loathe the premise that people of colour should be ‘grateful’ that others are taking notice of their subjugation, or that they should bite their tongues and clench their fists and instead show gratitude because their varied plights are being in some way ‘acknowledged‘ by others.

Shouldn’t you be glad that people are recognizing these issues?” is the arrogant lamentation which customarily follows even the most caustious criticism of these perverse pseudo-solidarity actions – FEMEN’s nude predominantly white, predominantly thin photo-ops “for Amina“, a 19 year-old Tunisian woman who posed for them with the words “my body belongs to me, it is not the source of anyone’s honour” scrawled across her torso, being the latest example, and KONY2012 being an earlier one. This aforementioned response contends that we should withhold criticism, alleging that even being ‘noticed‘ should be good enough.


Despite having our religious attire, skin colour and even facial hair, being routinely mocked and worn as makeshift costumes as a part of ‘solidarity actions’ it is said time and time again that we should be ‘grateful‘ that anyone simply has reason enough to ‘care‘.

Despite the watered down slogans of liberation and freedom being copy-pasted by the parade of online followers of groups such as FEMEN many of these same activists are so inebriated with colonial feminist doctrine that they gleefully take part in patronizing , Islamophobic and misogynistic rhetoric in response to women of colour telling them that they take great offence, that their voices will not be usurped, that they are the sole guardians of their plights and no one has the authority to speak on their behalf, no matter how allegedly ‘well-intentioned’. In response to FEMEN’s topless “jihad day” event Muslim women created #MuslimahPride on Twitter; Sofia Ahmed, one of the women behind “Muslimah Pride Day” described the campaign as follows:

“Muslimah [term for a female Muslim] pride is about connecting with your Muslim identity and reclaiming our collective voice. Let’s show the world that we oppose FEMEN and their use of Muslim women to reinforce Western imperialism.”

Using #MuslimahPride many Muslim women began voicing their disapproval of FEMEN, one such woman was Zarah Sultana who posted the following photograph on her public Twitter page, which I have received permission to post here, and which in turned catalyzed many other Muslim women to do the same in an array of languages, by women from multifarious backgrounds:


The sign reads: “I am a proud Muslimah. I don’t need “liberating”. I don’t appreciate being used to reinforce Western imperialism. You do not represent me!”

The responses Sultana received were drenched in perverse Islamophobia, sexism and pure, unashamed hatred:
“Fuck off back to your own country”, “burn in hell”, “grab your ankles and remain silent”, “Mohammad was a pedophile”, “put on your burka”, “she’s happy with her chains” etc.- all coming from those who, just moments earlier, were tweeting gleefully in support of Muslim women.

When it comes to non-natives speaking in regards to native issues – it is a path that must be tread upon lightly in order to avoid (a) tokenization and (b) the usurpation of native voices. Solidarity is great, but it is when campaigns turned publicity stunts like the ones FEMEN indulges in begin using brown bodies as props while at the same time perpetuating orientalism and engaging in blatant prejudicial acts to promote their idea of ‘liberation’ does this become more a theft of native voices than a rallying cry for ‘freedom’. FEMEN, and other such groups, offer no solution to the undeniable subjugated of women present in the Middle East-North Africa, it is all a show of thin, white grandeur.

Simply stating that you are in solidarity, that you support a woman’s right to don the headscarf, remove it, cover/uncover etc. is in no way dubious. It is when aforementioned solidarity crosses the red line and veers into the seizure of native voices and the tokenization of these voices does this become intensely problematic, ineffective and perverse.

Also it has long been chronicled that women of colour are often left out of mainstream feminist discourse, unless it is by means of humanitarian imperialism channels where they are simply tokenised. Bell Hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins), a feminist, social activist, does a magnificent job describing this in much of her work.

In terms of the mounting questions in regards to how one is to raise awareness in light of such groups as FEMEN: you raise awareness by highlighting native voices, not co-opting them. It is your duty to amplify, not commandeer.

As Sara Salem, PhD researcher at the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands, notes:

“Feminism has the potential to be greatly emancipatory by adopting an anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic and anti-Islamophobic rhetoric, instead of often actively being racist, homophobic, transphobic and Islamophobic. By clearly delineating the boundaries of what is “good” and “bad” feminism, Femen is using colonial feminist rhetoric that defines Arab women as oppressed by culture and religion, while no mention is made of capitalism, racism, or global imperialism. It is actively promoting the idea that Muslim women are suffering from “false consciousness” because they cannot see (while Femen can see) that the veil and religion are intrinsically harmful to all women.

Yet again, the lives of Muslim women are to be judged by European feminists, who yet again have decided that Islam – and the veil – are key components of patriarchy. Where do women who disagree with this fit? Where is the space for a plurality of voices? And the most important question of all: can feminism survive unless it sheds its Eurocentric bias and starts accepting that the experiences of all women should be seen as legitimate?”

Post-Colonial feminists worth mentioning, a few of many:

Arundhati Roy
Gloria Anzaldúa
Chandra Talpade Mohanty
Audre Lorde
June Jordan

Responses to FEMEN by women of colour, others:

The Inconsistency of Femen’s Imperialist “one size fits all” AttitudeBim Adewunmi
Femen’s Neocolonial Feminism: When Nudity Becomes A Uniform – Sara Salem
The Fast-Food Feminism of the Topless FEMEN – Mona Chollet
That’s Not What A Feminist Looks Like – Elly Badcock
The African History of Nude Protest – Maryam Kazeem

My piece on rediscovering Feminism

Suggested reading:
“Is Western Patriarchal Feminism Good For Third World/Minority Women?” By Azizah Al-Hibri

“Women and Gender in Islam” by Leila Ahmed

And two relevant books by Edward Saïd:
Culture and Imperialism


20 thoughts on “FEMEN And The Suppression Of Native Voices

  1. I get what you were going for here, but as a white, American born muslimah [who is NOT happy with femen either] I find this VERY off-putting to say the least. Muslims are not just “brown” and they can be European or “western”. They can even be a white, european-american and be a “native” muslimah. The term “white grandeur” doesn’t sound any less ‘tokenizing’ or racist to me than the things you were hurt by. Your article is very hurtful, spiteful and a little hateful. So many people don’t see ‘white people’ as “real” muslims…its so upsetting to read these thoughts from a supposed sister in Islam.

  2. While I agree with most of your article, something tickles me and I have to argue about the “color” and the body of Femen.
    Femens are mostly Ukrainian and from Paris, France, their “colors” and shape represent mostly the population living in those part of the world. Especially in Ukraine.
    And one of the reason why perhaps you see more of white thin females than other “colors” and shape is also because it is kinda hard for women to not be ashamed of your body if you don’t fit in the mould. The minorities can be treated differently too by some part of the society and have more problems than other “white” people.
    I already heard some women saying they would like to participate in that kind of protest, but are ashamed of what they look, or don’t want more problem because of their
    Also, I rarely see the media cover the “other than white” protests.

    But I also have to argue that there is only thin white girls in Femen, and even when some are thin, they are not considered photogenic by the public’s standards :

    • It is not that they “can” but that they are; it is undeniably systematic. And it has covered extensively by locals and women of colour who are watching from the outside. And it is not that they are simply the majority but that they accommodate to the ‘photogenic’, they reject fat women – women who do not fit into what has long been propagated as being the ‘ideal woman’; most recent on Twitter a woman of colour posed nude with words scrawled on her body slamming FEMEN, she was not “thin” and the responses from FEMEN supporters and even women who posed nude in solidarity with FEMEN were horrifying; all of them attacked her body, shamelessly. Again, this is systematic, and undeniably so.

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  7. ropaganda / counter-propaganda / counter-counter-propaganda / counter-counter-counter-propaganda … Well that’s enough for me like that. We all know what we want and what we do not about religion, regardless of sexual identity, race, skin color or gender, species or specific kind of identity …
    We want to live as we want – a sadomasochistic will not agree to a flower-power, and they do not grant a consumerist (if any), and the consumerist (materialist) does not give any possibly thing that I do not absolutely care (religion, for example) … and so on.
    I chose my own chains of freedom which are the best ones so far gained freedom – One thing is certain, I will not settle for anything less for some reason in the future, I ask more, but never less.

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  12. Femen appear to be a bunch of useful idiots engaging in various canned acts of “transgression” in the name of imperialism. Diana Johnstone’s “Blasphemy in Secular France” describes them this way: “Recently, France gave a big welcome to the Ukrainian group calling itself “Femen”, young women who seem to have studied Gene Sharp’s doctrines of provocation, and use their bare breasts as (ambiguous) statements. These women were rapidly granted residence papers (so hard to get for many immigrant workers) and allowed to set up shop in the midst of the main Muslim neighborhood in Paris, where they immediately attempted to try (unsuccessfully) to provoke the incredulous residents. The blonde Femen leader was even chosen to portray the symbol of the Republic, Marianne, on the current French postage stamp, although she does not speak French.

    Last December 20, these “new feminists” invaded the Church of the Madeleine near the Elysée Palace in Paris, acted out “the abortion of Jesus” and then pissed on the high altar. There were no cries of indignation from the French government. The Catholic Church is complaining, but such complaints have a feeble echo in France today.”


    Likewise from the frankly white nationalist Occidental Observer (I am not a white nationalist myself, though I do find myself increasingly interested in Jewish political power, and I hope this does not get my comment deleted):

    “Then there is the so-called “International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism” (LICRA). Originally founded in 1927 as a Jewish activist group, it added the “R” in 1979 and officially became an “anti-racist” group. In fact however, every single one of its five presidents since its founding has been of Jewish descent (presumably no one was qualified among the Goyim 99%?) and its Executive Bureau does not have a single person of color, being made up mostly of Jews, with some White gentiles. If one goes by skin color, the “anti-racist” LICRA may in fact be whiter than the Front National (FN), the leading nationalist party, but it spends a large amount of time campaigning against that party for its “racism.”

    The LICRA took the lead in attempting to criminalize the “quenelle” gesture, regardless of whether it is used in a political or an overtly Judeo-critical context. LICRA activists termed it a “sodomization of the victims of the Shoah.” The group’s lawyers coincidentally also legally represent the Ukrainian ultra-feminist group FEMEN despite the latter’s having undertaken such outrages in France as urinating in a cathedral and chain-sawing a cross in half. Perceived Christophobia is rather more tolerated than perceived anti-Semitism…”


    More on Femen’s Ukrainian roots:

    “Finally, one more part of the Ukrainian economy, which experts prefer not to write about. Arms trade, military technology and narcotics. Experts name dozens of names here. The main ones are: Vadim Rabinovitch, citizen of Israel, Ukraine and Hungary, Sergei Maximov and the Derkatch family. The elder Derkatch is Leonid Derkatch. He was the head of the Ukrainian security service, SBU. Now he holds all the cards, as he’s dealing in weapons. Rabinovitch is a very interesting figure. He supports the gay-lesbian party Raduga and the Kiev feminist group Femen. Often quarrels with other Jewish oligarchs.”


    One member of Femen showed up for a photo op at the 5/2/2014 Odessa Massacre:


    Of related interest from Maximilian Forte:


  13. Additionally Femen was involved with protests against the Ukrainian president Yanukovich after he had been targeted by U.S./NATO to be removed from office. For instance, they urinated on his photo in public (while topless, naturally). The videos may still be out there online.

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