Eight women went topless through Notre Dame Tuesday to celebrate the legalization of gay marriage in France. The women are a part of FEMEN, a pro-feminist, anti-anti-gay organization whose motto is "Sextremism." FEMEN held the demonstration to mark the final hour of the "homophobic Pope," who they labeled as "fascist" and "the head of the Catholic mafia." After the women disrobed and rang bells housed within the church, security quickly forced them out of the cathedral. They continued their impassioned demonstration just outside.
FEMEN members have a penchant for running about topless when some issue has upset them. While such an approach to conflict could do much to settle miscommunications between the sexes, the context must clearly be suitable. In this case, the majority of people within the cathedral found the display inappropriate and rude.
FEMEN’s demonstration at Notre Dame was a naked attention grab writ large. It served little other purpose.
Will flaunting one’s breasts in Notre Dame have any effect on the Catholic Church’s stances on marriage and homosexuality? Absolutely not. Will it lead people to consider the beliefs that underpin orthodox Catholic theology and secular society, why they are at odds, and what can be done to reconcile them? Also no. The FEMEN protesters violated a sacred space to make the point that they liked neither the Pope nor his policies.
However, for all of its (s)extremism, FEMEN is rather predictable. Their stunts follow a common pattern. Topless members blazen themselves in fierce insignias and typically destroy or violate something sacred in protest of another completely unrelated issue. A FEMEN member has attacked an Orthodox patriarch to denounce the church’s "anti-state activities." She had wrote "Kill Kirill," the name of the patriarch, on her back.
To protest Russia’s incarceration of Pussy Riot, FEMEN demonstrators used a chainsaw to cut down a memorial crucifix to the victims of Stalin’s purges in Ukraine. On the FEMEN website, various topless women are displayed as one scrolls through the pages. Highlights include a woman holding a baseball bat while a white liquid drips from her bottom lip. Another holds a scythe that is dripping blood while she proudly holds up a castrated pair of testicles. The group has few male members.
FEMEN is an excellent case in point that organizations that go to extremes to battle perceived injustices would, if the ideological tables were turned, be their own worst enemy. FEMEN does not shy from using violent imagery and hateful actions to promote their ideals. It does not attempt to provide solutions to problems; it only defines its enemy, and attacks without remorse. The way in which it draws attention to its cause is often deleterious, as it turns the majority of people from their camp. If FEMEN and other such radical groups were to match their actions with their violent rhetoric, they would implicate themselves as threats to the public good. Thankfully, the group’s hyperbole and stunts demote its demonstrations to the level of farce.