Which body for the Femen ?

, par Elsa Daniels et Julien Quelennec

Elsa Daniels ( Master in Gender and Sexuality at National Central University)
Julien Quelennec (Phd in philosophy at National Chiao Tung University/Paris 8)

The Femen represents an obvious example of the political use of the body. Their chosen weapon, the breast, is used to develop their tactic of “sextremism.” The political use of the breast is not something new, but it seems that through the actions of the Femen, it is re-deployed in a new fashion, within the context of a discourse on sex and gender which just begins to be activated, though in a blurry way, outside of the academic world. The history of the breast illustrates how women have been deprived of their own body. The Femen place and perform the act of liberation at the center of their protest each time. Women have been deprived of the use of their own body, and to the Femen this new wave of “sextremism” is the direct and radical answer to such alienation.

We won’t discuss here the problem of the efficiency of such a weapon. Our point is not to judge the Femen’s tactics. We would like to start with the simple fact that they have obtained in a few years an outstanding visiblity, a mediatic presence which seems to demonstrate, in a certain manner, the achievement of their political protest. It seems to us that this visibility, which is at the core of their political strategy, constitutes an other body, maybe an abstract body, which needs to be questioned because it differentiates itself from the body of the woman which is at stake in the performative process of the protest. In short, we would like to ask which body is speaking through the political actions of the Femen ? Can we distinguish the performative body from the body of knowledge to which it is articulated (feminism, gender studies, …), and from the institutional body in which it functions (Femen as a global organization, a collective body). We are wondering how these different protests become “readable”, that is to say how the multiplication of Femen-like political actions impose a lasting mark on the social body. We will certainly not provide a definite answer to this question. What we want to do is consider the Femen body by dealing with women activists who are not involved in such mode of political practice because of a supposed “cultural difference”. However, to displace the usual (mis-)understanding of the cultural difference from the context of European/Arabic differentiation, we will discuss with feminist activists and scholars from and in Taiwan.

In our discussions we will address the following key points : first of all the background knowledge our interviewees have of Femen, including the means by which they became acquainted with the group. We will then continue to show a series of slogans and quotes that have been either chanted or painted on the Femen’s chests and banners, all the while the interviewees share their thoughts on the content of the protest. Once the content has been discussed, we will continue with a description of the context in which these slogans were donned, particularly the place and actual purpose of the protest. We will also address the current Taiwanese activists’ mode of protest, the content as well as context of their slogans, and the changes and successes they have achieved so far. Also if they believe some aspects of the protest should be changed or modified. And to conclude, their thoughts on the effect of the political use of the breast, as shown by the Femen, to re-open the question of feminism and its definition,whether the use of an aggressive and non-violent protest has any particular effect on the discussion of feminist and women’s studies in general, and if not why.