Magazine article Metro Magazine

The Patriarchy Laid Bare: Ukraine Is Not a Brothel

Magazine article Metro Magazine

The Patriarchy Laid Bare: Ukraine Is Not a Brothel

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

KITTY GREEN'S RECENT DOCUMENTARY GOES BEYOND THE CONTROVERSY AND COMBATIVE PROTEST, AND CONFRONTS US WITH THE REALITIES FACED BY THE MEMBERS OF FEMEN. ACCORDING TO KAREN PICKERING, HOWEVER, THE GROUP'S FIGHT--OSTENSIBLY FOR WOMEN'S EQUALITYIS FRAUGHT WITH PROBLEMATIC FOUNDATIONS AND THE INFLUENCE OF UKRAINE'S BLINKERED PATRIARCHAL, ASPIRATIONALLY CAPITALIST SOCIETY.

Ukraine Is Not a Brothel (2013) is a documentary that raises many more questions than it answers. It centres on the internationally notorious feminist activist group Femen, known for its topless protests against everything from environmental destruction and human trafficking, to the Belarusian KGB and pornography--and most recently for its open hostility to Islam. Director Kitty Green doesn't shed any light on that last aspect, nor does she intend to; instead, she presents a series of vignettes that glimpse behind the curtain of an operation with highly visible soldiers but a much more complex and opaque leadership.

The documentary introduces us to the women who risk so much by executing these contentious actions, which are designed to draw attention to the political struggle of women in Ukraine and elsewhere. But these protests also have a very clear modus operandi: as the women are topless and write messages on their breasts, the media cannot resist covering their protests, which dramatically furthers Femen's reach. In this way, these women are arguably reclaiming their bodies for their own political ends. Femen's unofficial motto is:

Our God is a Woman!

Our Mission is Protest!

Our Weapon [sic] are bare breasts! (1)

It can't be said to have failed, given the global attention Femen has created for its 'brand' of beautiful women with bare breasts covered in punchy rhetoric, with garlands in their hair, and who loudly chant, among other slogans, 'Ukraine is not a brothel!' (referring to the incredibly high percentage of women trafficked, tricked and forced into the sex trade in this part of Europe a criminal phenomenon that has affected Ukrainian women disproportionately (2)).

An activist and member of Femen, Sasha, criticises other women in Ukraine, saying that Femen's protests need to be shocking in order to reach them and pierce through their veil of apathy and lack of insight. Yet, at times, Femen's members exhibit a startling dearth of consideration for 'other women'. Throughout the interviews, there is a theme of violent contempt not only for sex work, but also for traffickers, pimps and, strangely, the women who are coerced into the sex trade. It may be difficult for Australian feminists, many of whom are fighting to destigmatise and legitimise sex work in our country, to empathise with the terror of trafficking that hangs over these women's lived realities. But, perhaps due to her Australian-Ukrainian background, Green felt motivated to present the sharp contrast between Femen's 'interpretation' of the feminist cause and ours. Certainly, this spectre is present throughout the film via the interviews with a number of women, almost all of whom are Femen members and active agents. These women seem to make no distinction between prostitution and sex work, and this is evident in their casual denigration of other women as victims of an industry that they themselves have escaped--partly because, instead, they have committed themselves to a feminist activist movement that uses their bodies in a slightly different way.

At one point, a Femen member laughs and says, 'What is the difference between a feminist and a prostitute?'--and it's clear the joke is not particularly funny, even to her. This takes on a darker resonance as the film unfolds and refers subtly to the unseen leader, and founder, of the group. For viewers, the film's climax isn't so much discovering that he is a man (this information had been disseminated online many months ago) but rather the moment of meeting him and seeing his motivations and attitudes towards the women of Femen laid bare. …

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