Femen Topless Activist Documentary Succeeds Despite That “Man” “Scandal”

September 11, 2013 | Marina Galperina

Allegedly, the notorious topless protesting feminist collective Femen was “started” by a man. Come again?

When I first interviewed the now-internet-infamous topless protestors of Femen almost two years ago, Inna Shevchenko and Jenya Krayzman made their views on sex work very clear. Because of the regular abuse and exploitation of women in Ukraine, they don’t believe in a possibility of a woman’s agency in voluntary sex work, a statement many feminists would passionately disagree with.

If a woman makes this choice, it’s in distress due to factors outside her control. Even in other countries, I don’t think any woman – Ukrainian, Italian, American – ever thinks that she wants to sell her body, that she wants to be a good, an object. I don’t believe this.

The “anti-prostitution” lobby still remains their most clear position, while their wild screeching breast-shaking placard-waving protests everywhere from Chernobyl to the Vatican have created a complex and contradictory political picture. They first caught attention protesting water outages in their home town by bathing in a public fountain and graduated to staging guerilla “sex attack” flashings on the corrupt Patriarch of Russia. They have done some pretty awesome things lately which fall into the sensible “against all patriarchy” category, but there’s that misguided “pro-Pussy Riot”  chainsawing of crosses that did more harm than good, the confusion as to where their funding really comes from as well as accusations of Islamophobia.

Now, this group of undeniably charismatic and impassioned women is being “exposed” with a “shocking” new documentary, currently playing the Venice Film Festival with this official synapses:

Ukraine Is Not a Brothel reveals the truth behind Ukraine’s topless feminist sensation Femen. A movement that began in the snow-filled streets of a corrupt, post-Soviet Ukraine, Femen’s naked war against patriarchy has taken the European media by storm. An intimate look into the lives of these women, however, and the bizarre revelation of the patriarchal forces that power this organization, prove that these titillating activists aren’t the “fiery feminists” they claim to be.

Who is Victor Svyatski? Looking into it, but the Australian film-maker Kitty Green is someone we’ve seen popping in and out of Femen-related stories for quite some time. She’s protested with them, was apparently beat up on a few occasions, but mostly, she’s been making a very good-looking film that’s getting great reviews. For some of us here who have been watching the story of Femen unfold online for so long, it’s still intriguing, even cathartic.

Despite the supposed humiliation that this should have caused, Femen members happily attended the premiere in Venice and responded to the controversy quite on-point in the Guardian.

We have come to the Venice film festival to tell our story because this is the patriarchal reality that we all live in. Criticising us for our fight against men’s domination in our own lives is like criticising the fight against all patriarchy in the world.

Femen’s Inna Shevchenko did address the scandal specifically, admitting to the “crucial paradox of the movement.”

Really, it seems that the revelation may have been a promotional lark from the filmmakers, because the media’s reaction to “the depressing news” has bordered on hysterical. They’re missing the point: “99% of Ukrainian girls don’t know what a Feminist is,” a familiar, made-up, grinning girl tells the viewer. Do they?

Personally, exploring the superficiality, fallibility, intensity, marketability and authenticity of their organization is fascinating. And it’s shot well. Cool. And c’mon, it’s a man’s world. Mostly. Shit’s confusing. Right?