Feature

The topless feminist

Inna Shevchenko had never even heard of feminism until four years ago.

Inna Shevchenko had never even heard of feminism until four years ago, said Decca Aitkenhead in The Guardian (U.K.). She was a college student in her native Ukraine when she received a message on a social networking site. “It said, ‘Hello, we are women’s group, we want to start our activity in Kiev and we are against sex tourism and prostitution. Do you share our point of view?’ So I’m suddenly asking myself, ‘Am I against prostitution?’ I’d never thought about it before.” Once she started thinking, she couldn’t stop. “Being a woman in Ukraine, what kind of possibilities do you have? To become housewife, or to become prostitute.” The group that Shevchenko joined, and now effectively leads, was Femen. It has become famous for staging topless protests in which young women paint slogans across their bare chests—“This Is Not a Sex Toy,” “Poor Because of You”—and confront public figures such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Some feminists grumble that Femen has only won attention because its activists are blonde, beautiful, and bare-breasted. “We’re showing Barbie fighting against everything that is making her be plastic,” explains Shevchenko. “We’re showing the way the patriarchy made us, and now we’re fighting back.”

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