The story about FEMEN’s arrival in Belarus on December, 19th may seem, to put it mildly, bizarre for a wingside spectator. For the majority of Belarusian citizens the understanding and discussing in social networks FEMEN’s topless protests were mainly within the scope of “shame on women with boobs, shame of such a FREEDOM”. In other words, a public strip, which is quite appropriate in capital entertainment facilities, was poorly interpreted on the steps near the KGB building, being “equipped” with the posters “Long live Belarus!” and “Freedom to political prisoners”, and dated to the anniversary of the 2010 presidential election.

Activist movement FEMEN / action in front of the KGB building / Minsk, 19.12.2011 // ©

Exactly in such as if “lewd” appearance FEMEN promotes the ideas of feminism among the broad masses. This is a kind of deconstruction of existing cultural clichés and stereotypes, which elucidates the nature of gender relations in particular social context.

Activist movement FEMEN / action in front of the KGB building / Minsk, 19.12.2011 // ©

Know your place

Several years ago, an article entitled “Boobs – for the first time in Minsk” appeared in “BelGazeta”. The article told that on 14 February the clients of one of the Minsk cafes were served by topless waitresses. The idea of conduction such an event came up to the art director of the cafe since “everyone is tired of stereotyped parties with handing out paper hearts and want something unusual”. One of the customers, manager Artem with a glass of whiskey in his hand, shared his impressions: “In Minsk I saw the tits above the tray for the first time, and it gladdens. Indeed, in our puritanical country there is no even a hint at the industry of normal male entertainment”.

Although the article mentioned that the magazine “Playboy” is not related to the organization of this event, here is the text of “BelGazeta”: “In Playboy clubs “Bunny Girls” decorated with rabbit ears and fluffy tails once had been a “zest” of parties and quickly had become a sex symbol of the 1960s. Let me remind you that “Playboy” is a male erotic magazine in which women’s “bodies” in lace lingerie are placed in a bedroom and exist only for man’s / “gentleman’s” seduction. Such visual imagery refers to the fetish of “maidservant”, maiden, which is designed for serving and “consumption” by male audience.

Today it‘s well known that since the mid-1980s sexual motives were began to be used in any advertising. Almost all advertising was based on introducing elements of non-everyday (holiday, fair) things in the context of everyday life: a young woman’s naked body became a stable and cogent sign of the abolition of the rules of public behavior, – this is the main temptation of advertising.

Activist movement FEMEN / action in front of the KGB building / Minsk, 19.12.2011 // ©

It’s hard not to notice that such demonstration of “female beauty” in the group FEMEN is similar to the “erotic-pornographic” element in advertising. In the latter, an atmosphere of idleness and entertainment which is tied to asexual subjects of advertising, such as banking services etc., is created with the help of undressed female bodies, erotic symbols. Why? Just because such images imply that people who put their money in a bank are men and that they can have different and unusual “interests”. In such advertising images female sexuality exchanges for money, power relations are built in the traditional way: a woman is a commodity, a man is a purchaser. But a woman is not just a body and a commodity, as a man is not just money and his status. The group FEMEN excellently proofs this fact with overcoming the limits of the place the erotic belongs – bedroom, kitchen, advertising.

Activist movement FEMEN / action in front of the KGB building / Minsk, 19.12.2011 // ©

The deconstruction of a cliché 

By their topless actions the girls create an atmosphere of festive-fair time in real life – on the streets and squares of major cities – and clamor against early voting, prostitution and political repressions in modern Belarus. Exactly in such as if “lewd” appearance FEMEN promotes the ideas of feminism among the broad masses. This is a kind of deconstruction of existing cultural clichés and stereotypes, which elucidates the nature of gender relations in particular social context, i.e. “here and now”.

Let me notice that female topless protests have already had almost a centennial tradition. Back in the 1920s, early Soviet emancipatory project was designated by female street demonstrations with nudity under the slogan “Get out (bourgeois) shame!”. Though FEMEN doesn’t devise, but only repeats what has already been used, their “gesture” is not a simple reproduction. This repeat exists as an unfulfilled desire, as passion to “vita activa”– an active, political life, which is opposed to the rational and apolitical order of production.

The main challenge of FEMEN’s image and actions is connected with that they have become a personification of new female power based on the deconstruction of male authority. Their topless protests are like a shock – moral, cultural, gender and sexual. Their denudation gestures can be interpreted in some paraphrasing of a gender theorist L. Lisyutkina as follows: we know that we are surrounded by a blunt patriarchy, which wants our boobs. So “get them and choke on them” and listen to the things we’ll say to you! Anyway, it is difficult no to hear their words and slogans. Scandalous image of FEMEN together with this special type of political expression have become the discovery not only for the Ukrainian public, but also to the West one.


Male symbolic order against female authority

The spontaneous three-minute topless appearance of  FEMEN on the steps of the KGB building in Minsk dated to the anniversary of the 2010 presidential election, was taken by the Belarusian governmental structures as actions that contradict the public safety of the Belarusian people.

It was claimed in the press service of the KGB: “This is planned and brutal provocation, which will be given the appropriate legal assessment”. However, the legal assessment hasn’t been given, but later the events began to develop like in a science fiction movie. Inna Shevchenko said from Kiev that “she and her two fellows were seized by militia and KGB at seven p.m. at the railway station in Minsk”, they were blindfolded and driven all night in the bus, “threatened by that they are going to be killed and shot, and later they were asked: ‘Will you come back to Belarus again? Still want to come back here?’”. Finally the girls were taken to the forest, “… We saw seven athletic men in masks. One turned a knife to me, we were ordered to remove our overclothes. Posters with pink fascist swastika painted on them were given to us. On one poster there was written: ‘The unity of the Slavic nation’. We were ordered to raise these posters above our heads and smile.” “… We were spilled by motor oil. They had a pillow, which they pre-cut, and they were taking feathers out of this pillow and throwing it at us, recording everything on camera. After that, the leader came up to me, grabbed my hair and said if we will come to Belarus once again, they will kill us, and ordered to dress.”

Photo by Pavel Sverdlov © //

Everything was filmed. “… Then the girls were thrown naked in the forest without documents. The girls walked on foot to the village of Becky, Yelskii District, Gomel Region.”

Belarus still remains sort of “unfinished” country from the psychoanalytic point of view, that’s why all the famous Freudian categories such as “substitution” and “displacement” are implemented at fantastically disgusting level.

Both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and KGB deny the information about the involvement of their members / supporters in the incident with FEMEN. They blame some mysterious special man brigade, which takes care of Belarus and can’t forgive feminist group FEMEN for such self-confidence.

Photo by Pavel Sverdlov © //

Perhaps activists were driven from Minsk because Minsk is not a place for Ukrainians’ topless self-expressions. Therefore, they were offered an alternative – a forest frontier zone and a different scenario of their topless action, which reminds a kind of mob law. This allows us to infer that the “group” had its own collective will and assurance of impunity. The function of this defilement ritual, to which FEMEN were exposed, according to Julia Kristeva, is precisely to mark the “boundary” between the female (mother) prestige and father’s symbolic sing. The sign of the female / sexual / different, biologically strong (maternal) had aroused fury and craving to define masculine “I” as something separate and sovereign.

Feminism and the rule of law

From a feminist point of view, male violence is a collective action, in which not only their own power, but also corporate cohesion and satisfaction of belonging to a group of “real men” are claimed. The latter in this context is a social construction of hegemonic masculinity, which is built on the professionalization of violence.

There is a special “ethics” and responsibility among “the real men”, which is spread only to the “initiates”.

The conducting of the ritual humiliation act of Ukrainian girls in the frontier zone between Belarus and Ukraine shows that the potential (Ukrainian) enemy should see and know what’s going on with his “property” (citizens). The very fact of such a ritual abuse reveals that the rapist presupposes the absence of woman’s own will, her own body and desire. Since the humiliation of the subjects of the potential enemy is a symbol of a victorious conquest, then the humiliation itself arranges awfully and melodramatic: women are cut their hair, their heads are poured with brilliant green, they are corded up, spilled by motor oil, sprinkled with feathers. ©

What is more, the ritual act on Ukrainian women was conducted by a group or team: seven “companions” were doing this in full agreement with each other. The lack of distinctiveness of these figures, which easily duplicate each other, their mechanical programming through the cohesion and common jokes and the language, supported by drinking of alcohol – all this makes them the Belarusian “heroes.” It also confirms that the violence of the security forces is used as a way of demonstration of their own successful work aimed at detection of anti-social manifestations. But such “an expedience” of concern with public safety of the Belarusian people leads to strengthening of impunity of the authority and rude violation of law, as well as demonstrative disregard to the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus.


The material was prepared within the campaign “Beware, police!” SC “Our Home”

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