Saturday, 27 October 2012

Giving feminism a bad name?

Today I came across this picture, of the Ukranian feminist protest group Femen:

It shows young, attractive women, some of whom are showing a nipple, in slogan T-shirts amid furniture. The women were protesting in Ikea in Paris, because the company has removed pictures of women from its catalogue for Saudi Arabia.

But by getting their nipples out and creating a ruckus in our favourite furniture store, are they giving feminism a bad name?

Rude girls

Undoubtedly many people across the world will have looked at these pictures in their newspapers and on the internet and tutted, dismissed them as feminists, seen these women as young and misguided, exposing themselves, causing trouble where they don't need to. Or else they will be pleased that they chose to wear nipple-exposing garments, as if you don't care or don't know what they're protesting about, at least you get to look at some attractive topless women, so everyone's a winner.

But whether you like it or not, you have noticed. Millions of people have seen these pictures. And it took showing their nipples to make that happen, because if they hadn't shown their nipples, we all know it wouldn't have been big news. They wouldn't have made the newspapers in the way that they have. So, yes, they do have to strip off to get themselves noticed, because it worked. And now you know that Ikea was happy to delete women from its publicity material in some parts of the world.

Nice girls

Femen is the face of radical feminism today. In the UK we take for granted the fact that we no longer have to chain ourselves to railings to get the same rights as men, but in other parts of the world (such as Botswana), this just isn't the case. And these women are standing up and telling the world that that's not OK. It's not acceptable for powerful multi-national companies, like Ikea, to collude in the suppression and censorship of women. These are our modern Emmeline Pankhursts.

Of course, we don't all need to be stripping off for equal rights. We don't all need to be Emmeline Pankhursts or Femens. Sometimes, just having your rights and showing you value them by exercising them from time to time, is enough. We don't have to join the Femen women, but we can, quietly support then, by not condemning then, by not laughing at them for getting their nipples out in Ikea, and by acknowledging that actually they have a very good point to make, and how else were they going to make you sit up and listen?

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