FEMEN Protest: Topless For Topless' Sake Is the Wrong Way to Protest

FEMEN is at it again.

After creating massive controversies through topless protests against both Vladimir Putin and the jailing of a young woman in Tunis, FEMEN has launched a new topless protest against Germany's Next Top Model (GNTM), an offshoot of the U.S. version helmed by Heidi Klum.

On the latest season finale of GNTM, with 16-year-old candidate Lovelyn being crowned winner, two members of FEMEN crashed the set. Their bare chests were painted with phrases like "Heidi Horror Picture Show," and they walked down the runway before being forcibly removed by security. Live cameras caught only a brief moment before they quickly switched to another angle, and Klum herself seemed relatively calm, immediately resuming the finale festivities.

While the FEMEN protesters have not yet stated exactly what their goal was in the protest, this seems like the millionth time that "topless protest" has become a buzzword in recent memory, and that's a million times too many. While I applaud FEMEN's obvious passion and willingness to take action, their topless protests are really starting to get tedious. 

First of all, topless protests are not supposed to be everyday phenomena. If used appropriately, a topless protest could be shocking, powerful, and striking, pulling attention to an ignored issue and leaving an indelible image in the public consciousness. But (much like the boy who cried wolf) it loses a lot of that power if you use it every other day, or as your sole method of protest.

And what's worse, FEMEN isn't just overusing this method, they're using it seemingly at random. It's one thing to have a topless protest against the jail sentence of a girl who was arrested for posting topless pictures of herself — it draws attention to the actual issue and it makes sense to choose that as your method of resistance. But what was the point of being topless to protest Putin? The biggest reaction to that incident came from Putin himself — who merely smirked creepily.

For an organization that claims to fight for equality and female empowerment, FEMEN seems to be going about it all wrong. And its constant state of toplessness is not only making them seem frivolous and interested only in self-promotion, but it's hurting their membership, too. As a self-identified feminist, do I think that women should have the same right as men to be bare-chested without immediately being sexualized? Sure. But at the same time, do most women feel uncomfortable with the idea of toplessness in public? I think so. Even within their home country of Ukraine, surveys have shown that most women are "unimpressed" with FEMEN's activism, and it's well known that FEMEN has had problems with their inclusivity before. When even the people you claim to represent don't identify with you, you're probably doing something wrong.

But the worst part of all of this is that many of the issues that FEMEN attempts to tackle are legitimate problems. Just take Germany's Next Top Model, for example. There have been serious criticisms of the show, including the fact that the contestants, who are mostly minors, are heavily sexualized. The latest finale episode which FEMEN crashed included near-nude 16-year-olds performing a sexy burlesque dance. That's gross and creepy, and it's a problem that should be addressed. All anyone is going to take away from FEMEN's protest, though, is that the country almost saw boobs on national television. 

So, FEMEN, I support your stated ideals and I support the idea of taking action against what you perceive to be wrong. But let's stop toplessness for toplessness's sake, and get down to some real work.

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Medha Chandorkar

As a junior at Georgetown University in Washington DC, I'm studying Government, Women's and Gender Studies, and Justice and Peace Studies. I'm interested in social justice issues, particularly women's rights in the developing world, and politics. Outside of school, I love dancing and reading, and I'm a huge TV / movie buff. In the future, I hope to become a lawyer but right now, I'm just focused on the moment.

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