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Monday, January 30, 2012

Lady Godiva in Davos [UPDATED]

We're torn. These interwebs are buzzing with pictures of three Ukrainian protesters at the World Economic Forum in Davos. That's a politics story. The reason the pictures are everywhere is that the protesters were topless women -- extremely pretty topless women. So that's a sex story. And for the trifecta, the same organization to which these young ladies belong has previously protested at the Vatican, making it a religion story. In other words, perfect grist for the Egg's mill.

The problem, of course, is that this is a family blog. (At least if your family is a little odd.) Didn't used to be that way. Six years and 1300 posts ago, we would have posted pictures, and probably subtitled them with mildly off-color observations about, um, Ukrainian politics. Sadly, we have been tamed by the loss of our relative anonymity, not to mention the knowledge that our mother, wife and godfather all read the thing.

So instead, we'll -- sigh! -- try to provide a little background.

The group is called Femen (Ukrainian portal here; Wikipedia page here; hi-res glamor shots from Davos here; nothing safe for work). Founded in 2008, it consists mostly of university students, and uses topless protesting as its publicity tool. Its main goal appears to be organizing women, full stop; founder Hanna Hutsol says "I set up FEMEN because I realised that there was a lack of women activists in our society; Ukraine is male-oriented and women take a passive role." It is considering entering partisan politics and seeking a place in the legislature.

Surely there is more to it than Wikipedia lets on. Hutsol was apparently moved by stories of Ukrainian women "duped by false promises from abroad" -- this sounds like coded language for human trafficking. Femen has protested at the Turkish embassy in the Ukraine, and in front of Iranian diplomats as a protest against the execution of a women in Iran. So the organization does seem to have some broadly feminist goals. But to get their message across, they really ought to consider a manifesto.

At Davos, the Femen activists have written slogans on their body -- conveniently enough, in English:
  • Gangsters Party in Davos
  • Poor Because of You
  • Crisis Made in Davos
Our opinion? As a means of gaining attention -- personal or political -- few tactics surpass naked breasts. In that sense, the Femen activisits are just using the tools at their disposal. After all, protest movements are engaged, almost by definition, in a kind of asymmetric warfare. So Femen uses breasts the way Greenpeace used to use its Zodiac rafts. On the other hand, we'll find their feminism a bit more convincing when we see protesters with a more diverse range of body types. [UPDATE: commenter Manona pointed us toward this video, which does indeed show some less-model-y women protesting, and also includes a disturbing story about protesters being abducted in Belarus.

Now then -- on to Davos. The World Economic Forum calls itself "The World's Foremost Stakeholder Community," which gives you a sense both of the its self-importance and of its corporatespeak-heavy culture. It was founded in 1971 by a German businessman and, despite other activities and gatherings, is symbolized by its annual gathering of 2500 or so business and government leaders in the Swiss mountains. Here's a sample of this year's prospectus:

The contextual change at the top of minds remains the rebalancing and deleveraging that is reshaping the global economy. In the near term, this transformation is seen in the context of how developed countries will deleverage without falling back into recession and how emerging countries will curb inflation and avoid future economic bubbles. In the long term, both will play out as the population of our interdependent world not only passes 7 billion but is also interconnected through information technology on a historic scale. The net result will be transformational changes in social values, resource needs and technological advances as never before. In either context, the necessary conceptual models do not exist from which to develop a systemic understanding of the great transformations taking place now and in the future.

We can certainly see why English teachers would protest outside this assembly. But it turns out that other people do as well, and pretty routinely.

The WEF gathering has drawn many protests over the years, most notably the sometimes violent anti-globalization demonstrations of the 1990s. Briefly, protesters see the WEF as a club of elites ("Davos Man," who lives not in a nation but in a the cloudcuckooland of wealth and power), out of touch with the needs of the masses and gathering only to consolidate and perpetuate its own collective power.

Now, it is not intrinsically feminist to oppose the regime of bankers and politicians who drive the world into economic crisis and walked away just as rich and powerful as ever. But since women are often hurt most by ... well, everything ... it makes sense that groups with an interest in justice for women would stand outside the gates at Davos. And if they want to take their shirts off in the Alpine cold, well, more power to them.


Anonymous said...

Why do you think men would pay attention as much to a size 14 50 year-old, except maybe to laugh?

Father Anonymous said...

I, er, don't. (Well, some guys would, but never mind.) What I said -- had you actually been reading, instead of trolling -- was that if the protesters included more representative body types, I would be a little more convinced that they were inspired by feminism rather than, say, a desire for attention, fame and possibly power.

Nestor said...

Agreed. The proeminence of beautifull bodies certainlly is aimed for attention... as you said, it may be the only weapon they have. But get a look at the demonstration in Belarus... it is more "representative". And not only facing the cold, they have faced violence by police and bystanding men along with the scorn of even some women. I would say the girls have "balls".

Anonymous said...

They apparently have had women of more diverse body types, that for some reason, don't get photographed as much. Weird, huh?

Manona said...


Different body type, a very serious mission.

Anonymous said...

sorry lads but the femen are equipped with larger girls you just need to look on their website. not dificult.

Father Anonymous said...

Huh. After you mentioned it, I gave a second look. I did find a couple on the main LiveJournal, but only in some of the earliest pictures. Most of the more recent pictures are of women who look like models. Still, good for them.

And btw, I should have mentioned Nestor's point in my main post. I gather that Femen protestors have been subjected to a fair share of abuse, including some from women and some from the Russian government.

Father Anonymous said...

That video Manona just posted -- linked to a very disturbing story on RT, about an abduction in Belarus -- proves the point, both about diverse body types and about guts. I'm really very impressed now, and a little scared on their behalf.

Nestor said...

I would say that - as anyone else, including us - they have their virtues and vices... They are bold as Hell, they are not afraid of saying what they want, even facing jail (and what usually comes along with jail)... and they are aware of their beauty and use the fact as a marketing tool (pride?)... The important part - even if all this is just to get them seats in their Parlament - is that they are warming up again the feminism issue, which was a little bit in low profile latelly. They are reminding us that everyday women suffer in OUR (men) hands... and as a group they are saying "enough". Even if they behave as rock stars, while going in that path they have my support.