Baring Breasts for Social Justice

“Long live the topless jihad against infidels!  Our tits are deadlier than your stones!” – Inna Shevchenko

amina protest photoMembers of the radical feminist collective Femen are using their bodies as a weapon against patriarchy by scrawling slogans across their bare breasts and staging protests across Europe. One brave young Tunisian woman was recently threatened to death by stoning for two controversial photographs uploaded to the Femen Tunisia Facebook page.

In the first of the provocative images, the 19-year old activist known as Amina was topless with the words “Fuck your morals” written across her chest, giving the middle finger with each hand. The second photo showed her wearing thick eyeliner and smoking a cigarette with Arabic text written across her naked torso that read: “My body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour”.

The pictures sparked an outcry from religious conservatives in Tunisia who insisted that she be punished not just according to sharia law, which would result 80 to 100 lashes, but that she be stoned to death for the severity of her actions. Tunisian preacher Almi Adel’s fear that her act could implant disobedient thoughts in other women’s heads seems to be coming to fruition, as Femen has declared April 4th Topless Jihad Day.

“Religious dictatorship begins by enslaving women, but a woman’s act of self-liberation is the first step toward destroying the sharia regime.  Topless protests are the battle flags of women’s resistance, a symbol of a woman’s acquisition of rights over her own body!” wrote one of group’s leaders, Inna Shevchenko.

Founded in Kiev in 2008, Femen has spread across the globe thanks to their broad, radical attitude and strong social media presence. Their three major targets in the war on patriarchy are all religions, dictatorships and the sex industry. While they protest what seems like a diverse array of issues- gay rights, anorexic-thin models at Milan Fashion Week, Euro 2012 and disgraced lecherous former Italian prime ministers to name a few- what remains constant is the attention that they attract from baring their breasts.

Some have criticized Femen for their topless warrior tactics, charging that their reliance on the shock factor and sex appeal of skin seems counterintuitive. The group firmly believes it is an attempt to reclaim the female naked body, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

“A woman’s naked body has always been the instrument of the patriarchy,” said Shevchenko. “They use it in the sex industry, the fashion industry, advertising, always in men’s hands. We realised the key was to give the naked body back to its rightful owner, to women, and give a new interpretation of nudity … I’m proud of the fact that today naked women are not just posing on the cover of Playboy, but can be at an action, angry, and can irritate people.”

Amina was initially attracted to Femen because of their visibility in promoting women’s rights and freedoms. In her last interview before her disappearance, she told Italian journalist Federica Tourn that women in Tunisia are ready for a change. “Women have reached the height of self-determination: we no longer obey any authority, neither family nor religious. We know what we want and we make our own decisions.”

Unfortunately, Amina’s point of view is still the slim minority in contemporary Tunisian society. Since threats were made to her life, she vanished from the public eye. After her family vocalized their shame and disappointment with her, reports even emerged that they had her involuntarily committed to a mental institution, and members of Femen began to fear for her life again. Amina’s lawyer Bocha Bel Haj Hmida, a well-known Tunisian women’s rights activist, debunked those rumors when she made a statement that Amina was “home and well.”

As a burlesque dancer and strip karaoke aficionado, it both baffles and deeply saddens me that there are places in the world where the simple act of baring your breasts is enough to get you killed.


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