It is full of guilt, dirt, and sins. It should obey, remain silent, and be ready to be used. Its mission is to satisfy, its duty is to carry new generations. It’s supposed to be hidden from the public and exposed only at private demands. It does not belong to its rightful owner, it has no freedom: It is a woman’s body.
Religious texts say that a God created a man’s body and infused a soul inside, whereas the woman’s body was made out of a man’s rib. This ‘belief’ has caused serious debates about whether women are human beings or simply bodies with mysterious abilities, without a soul, which sparkled into the Catholic Church a few centuries ago. This was also one of the reasons for the long-term massacres against women known as “witch-hunts,” when women were tortured and burned alive simply for being women, an evil powerful creation that threatened the development of a man’s world.
This was all in the past and since then, patriarchal institutions have invented more sophisticated ways of torture and oppression towards women, but one thing hasn’t changed: Their obsession with controlling women’s bodies.
Many people keep telling me that I am unnecessarily radical and that the time when women were considered nothing but sexual objects—just bodies—is over; it is an old fight that does not make sense in our bright days of gender equality. But this is not so and our time is in actual fact overwhelmed by illusions, myths, and hypocrisy—particularly about a woman’s body. It is a time when selling your body because you are in economic despair is called “a choice” or “a profession.” It is a time when hiding yourself under a “black sack of shame” in the name of religion is called “liberty” and “dignity.” It is a time when trying to forbid women to use their fundamental right and decide whether they should abort or not is called “an idea for life”. And it is still a time when speaking about gender inequality and the submission of a woman’s body is called “unnecessary radicalism.”
No matter where—either in my native Ukraine, a country known for its enormous sex industry and its third-world level of poverty, or in the country of my exile, France, the republic of equality, with its exemplary level of development, the so-called “land of feminism”—a woman’s body is still perceived as a sexual object that should not be used for any other reason, such as a political one like FEMEN does, because, undoubtedly, people will try to stop it.
We adopted a system of domination of one group over another based on gender differences. It is our reality. The key to the enslavement of women by men is the control men hold over women’s bodies. These methods of control range from the glamour of the ‘beauty industry’ to barbaric acts such as genital mutilation and acid disfiguration. Historically, women have been deprived of their right to property, and today they are still deprived of ownership over their own bodies.
A female body is denied, used, sold, abused, considered obscene, dirty, and guilty. A female body is always too much, or not enough. This idea has infected women themselves. The biggest concern of modern feminism is how to take back the female body from the cultural and financial machine of the patriarchal system and return it to its rightful owners—and thus use this body to protect the interests of women across the world.
When we conducted our first naked experiment, a society test, the topless FEMEN protest, we realized that a naked woman’s body is accepted across the globe whenever it is smiling, posing in a sexy way, proposing something, or following a demand. When FEMEN activists appeared topless in a political context, we sparkled a debate that we honestly did not expect to get so big. The comments ranged from “go back to your kitchen” or “prostitutes should be in brothels,” to “you cannot be topless for political reasons.” And here’s the clincher. Using this tactic, we proved that society directly links a woman’s nudity with her sexual and/or reproductive mission. A naked woman will be automatically called a prostitute, a sex object, or an immoral woman. It is in society’s mind that a woman’s body serves a specific mission in the world of male ideas, and if this body appears in a different context with another idea, a big proportion of society—and not just its specific misogynistic representatives—will feel uncomfortable. Therefore, the problem is not with our protests or with our bodies, but with the way that society thinks about our bodies. We are universally labeled as dirty and sinful just for being who we are. And this is why, with FEMEN, we want to provide the world with our own definitions of ourselves. Today’s struggle is with changing the global mentality about women’s bodies and erasing stereotypes.
For this reason, FEMEN conducts its topless protests across the world to show the naked woman’s body outside of a sexual context. Rather than smile, we shout our political messages; rather than posing in a sexy way, we appear in action, facing society’s modern patriarchs. Our bodies are beautified by our slogans and that means that our bodies cannot be separated from our ideas and cannot be labeled by others.
As a fourteen-year-old girl, I remember wearing several shirts on top of each other in order to hide the changes my body was going through that made me different from my male friends. All of a sudden, I felt that society stopped considering me for who I was and instead started considering me only through my body. From then, I could feel that I was being viewed as a future wife and mother rather than as a human being. Ten years later, observing things on a bigger scale, I can still see that it is not a ‘woman’ that is perceived by the world, but her body.
Whenever we talk about women’s rights or opportunities in society, they will always be linked to women’s bodies. Whenever any legislation concerning women is proposed in any parliament of the world, it is always about their bodies. Allowing prostitution or the sale of women’s bodies, forbidding abortion, deciding whether women should have control over their own bodies—these are the kinds of laws discussed by (usually) male authorities. Whether women should cover themselves, and whether they should study or work—these are the issues discussed in the streets and houses and decided upon by (usually) male community leaders.
Therefore, I keep my necessary radicalism because I should not feel guilty and be considered dirty for who I am. Instead, I fight for the day when society feels guilty for its ideas about women’s bodies.
Featured image: JACKY NAEGELEN/REUTERS