FEMEN Protests: Nobody Asked This Group to Speak For Oppressed Muslim Women

FEMEN is the talk of the world, not because their mission – to end the oppression of women everywhere – is so radical, but because of their titillating methods. 

The Ukrainian-based group, which has protested Vladimir Putin, the sex trade, and Muslim states that have terrible feminist track records, protests the oppression of women through removing their clothes. While their methods might raise some eyebrows, far more concerning is their claim to speak for all Muslim women who are being "oppressed," especially without regard for the actual needs of Muslim women or an awareness of how their nudity is equally oppressive. 

While FEMEN is determined to fight back against the patriarchy with “bare breasts alone,” not all those they are fighting for are convinced their methods are the right ones. The most egregious example of this has been the emphasis of FEMEN on saving oppressed Muslim women: In an act called “International Topless Jihad Day,” topless protesters in Europe were held outside of mosques in solidarity with a high school Tunisian student who took topless pictures of herself in defiance of religious oppression. However, these protests were not well received by those they were attempting to represent. A group called “Muslim Feminists Against FEMEN” immediately sprung into action on Facebook, posting comments and pictures like: “We understand that it’s really hard for a lot of you white colonial “feminists” to believe, but — SHOCKER! — Muslim women and women of colour can come with their own autonomy, and fight back as well!”

Even the high school student they claim to be working in solidarity with was concerned by their methods. When a group burned a black flag representing the Muslim faith in front of a Paris mosque, the teen who fears for her life in Tunisia responded: "I am against that.  They didn't insult a certain kind of Muslim, the extremists, but all Muslims."

What’s most interesting about FEMEN is not that they do not wear clothes when they protest human rights violations, it is that they claim that their practices are something new. The idea of silencing women of color, religious women, or speaking for a group who has their own agency and autonomy is as old as feminist social movements themselves. 

While nudity is certainly an intriguing method of social protest (in spite of a recent Foreign Policy article that lamented the use of nudity), the lack of respect or interest in what actual Muslim women have to say when taking up their cause is far from new: it’s just colonialism.