Tag Archives: protest

These Breasts are Getting Some Attention

So, my piece about Femen, the Ukranian ‘topless’ protest group, has been up for a couple of months now. And you know what, hits on my blog have shot up. This strikes me as an interesting parallel to Femen’s own method of presentation and protest: using their bodies to draw attention to injustice and gender inequality. When I wrote my piece, and put Herbaut’s portrait of activist, Alexandra Shevchenko, at the top of the page, I was trying to make a useful analysis of the image, reflecting on whether the exposure of the female body can help or hinder a cause. Strangely enough, I wasn’t thinking about internet search hits – but that’s what I got. Loads of them over the last Quarter – along the lines of:

  • naked amazons (38)
  • naked women protesters (7)
  • naked woman breasts (4)
  • playing breasts (4) [Not sure what playing breasts would look like? I’m imagining one breast throwing a ball to the other… no?]
  • femen girls (3) [Something about the term ‘girls’ makes this search particularly creepy and makes me think the searcher(s) missed out on what Femen stand for – womanhood, strength.]
  • real women undressing game (3)
  • super hot naked women showing exposed tits (3) [I quite like the tautology of this one.]
  • female breasts are bigger than ever (2) [Are they indeed?]
  • woman stripped naked and bound (2) 
  • photo of nude breasts on body of young female (2) [Particularly strange – ‘young female’? – almost as if women are a different species. Also like that the breasts are specifically ‘on the body’, you know, just in case you get pics of ones that have fallen off…?]
  • man grabbing woman’s breast (4)
  • beach voyeur woman naked (2)
  • arab woman covered naked (2)
  • egypt girls naked breast (2)
  • half exposed breast clothes (2)
  • female dominant breasts (2)
  • exquisite breasts (2)
  • erotic women body (2)
  • naked tribal women (2)
  • tattooed female bodies naked (2)
  • breasts photography (2)

Well, you get the idea, they go on for ages… many many more, all orientated around the words ‘naked’ and ‘breasts’ and some of them mentioning race or the term ‘tribal’. Although each of these terms aren’t representing that many visits, it’s the sheer number of variations – each one constituting about a couple of hits – that surprised me. Obviously, I have been naive about the power of breasts on the internet.

So, to all those people (and here I’m gonna go with mostly heterosexaul men – shoot me down if you seriously think I’m wrong) – to all those guys who just typed in ‘breast’ and ‘exposed’ and whatever racial / physical profile you fancied taking an ogle at today I want to say a big: HELLO THERE! And to let you know, there are some thoughts about breasts, bodies and women on this blog so please have a read. Unfortunately for you, I have to also tell you, that this is not a porn site.

I’m not someone who believes pornography should be censored – I don’t think it’s intrinsically ‘wrong’. I think there’s some pretty bad imbalances of power within the dominant industry and I find it altogether unappealing and some of it thoroughly disturbing. Culturally; I have big problems, morally; no. But that is for another time, I just want to point out that I find it kind of sad and amusing that these are the hits landing up on the shores of my blog.

All those guys who just rocked up here with a couple of breasts in mind, I would like to ask you, do you read anything on here? Do you just get to the picture of Schevchenko and stop scrolling? I ask because I think it might be an interesting test. As Femen hope to make people aware of injustice and the discrimination women face by exposing their torsos – and indeed they have received a lot of coverage for it – I want to know if their picture on my site communicated any greater message than ‘breasts!’ (or as one searcher quaintly put it, ‘naked boobies’) ? It strikes me as a parallel and related case to Femen’s own position. It also strikes me that images are so much beyond any given person’s control that it seems unlikely that Herbaut’s portrait has reliably conveyed Femen’s message to the world. I’m sure it exists, well detached from context, in many corners of the internet. Even with the context I have provided, it seems that plenty of people are discovering the image without the desire to discover what it might be about.

I don’t claim to have answers to this problem. I would just like to say, that the exposure of the female body is a knife-edge that cuts between power and submission. I don’t know if anyone, at this cultural moment, can fully reverse the symbolism that surrounds the female body and names its exposure as vulnerable, weak and obscene. I expect that very few of the people looking for breasts on my blog scrolled down the page and read anything about Femen and what they stand for and why I think they are subversive. I still think it’s important to try to reverse this limiting symbolism though. I still think that maybe one odd person might have read a little bit about something they weren’t looking for after they hit ‘boobs’ into the search bar. Call me a dreamer, but I don’t see that we’ll get a chance at reshaping images around sex, femaleness and power if we give up on trying to start a conversation with the average male, heterosexual porn consumer.

So, I look forward to welcoming more of them onto my site now that I’ve got all the key search terms up on the front page.

Image Search Hit for ‘non-topless woman’.

Naked Courage: WPP and The New Amazons [Cross-post]


This photo is bound to grab attention, as breasts often do, and FEMEN protesters are clearly playing to that dynamic. However, this photo provides more of a complex presentation of the exposed female torso and one that proves interesting when considering the wider politics of the relentless sexualisation of female bodies whether they be veiled, exposed or neither.

When female breasts are so commonly fetishised in public imagery in ways that seek out the titillation of exposure – in Britain for example, tabloid paper, The Sun, prints a topless woman on page 3 every day- can any one act of protest actually hope to subvert the misogyny and objectification inherent in such an ‘exposure’?

Here’s how Shevchenko and by proxy, Herbaut, attempt to do so:

  • The Stance:  Shevchenko’s pose, with the raised fist, speaks of her mission to teach women to be more assertive.  Shevchenko’s pose, with the raised fist, speaks of her mission to teach women to be more assertive. The figure of the ‘Amazonian’ is a central reference FEMEN utilizes. If the identification is to the “other,” suggesting the marginalization these women feel, it also points to ‘Amazonians,’ in the cultural imagination, as a matriarchal tribe made up of fearsome and fearless women. On the other hand, is it a case of gender politics being careless with racial stereotypes and identification?
  • The Tattoo:  The garland of roses tattooed onto Shevchenko’s side, which depict the headdress she is wearing, act as the perfect sign for the paradox that this act of nudity as protest embodies. The tattoo is both a sign of bodily harm – being an inked in scar – and of strength, or resistance to pain. It shows the way in which her cause is so essential to her it is mapped onto her body and also the way in which her body is her cause. It’s an act done by someone with a clear idea that the visual presentation of her own body is key to her message.
  • The Headdress: Of course the headdress is a reference to the tribal and Amazonian identification. It also hints at the theatrical nature of protest, the way in which the protester takes on a special public identity and performs choreographed acts. This garland of roses, and the brightly coloured ribbons, also suggest femininity, something which the group are keen to use and display rather than deny as some feminist groups in the past have done. It’s the turning around of signs – femininity is seen to equal weakness and vulnerability, but here Shevchenko and FEMEN demand that it equal strength. What could be the crown of a beauty queen is willed to equal the headdress of a tribal warrior.
  • The Location: Herbaut’s choice of location does much to illustrate the group’s context. Shevchenko is depicted in open grassland on the edge of what seems to be a cluster of Soviet style apartment blocks. This speaks of marginalisation as well as the groups Ukrainian and urban environment. The grassy field upon which Shevchenko stands is another clever double symbol representing as it does both marginalisation and the open space of pastoral freedom which is also indicated by the flowered headdress. It reveals a dream of an Eden, a renewed innocence directed at and by the female body, which at the same time is drawn out of a full awareness of what that body means to mainstream culture and how it is exploited.

What this portrait tells us is that much of the time image makers and image consumers view the female body as either exposed or hidden and this is a hot topic (I mean, see all the worry over the fact that the woman in the Winning photo is wearing a burkha). Whether veiled or on display, it becomes clear that these two opposites in fact put the female body within the same continuum as something inescapably defined by sexuality in a way that male bodies are not. (It is worth remembering that if a man walked down the street topless he would not get arrested, and neither would he attract much extra attention at a protest). With this doubly innocent and knowing revelation of the female torso, I think Shevchenko is asking us to realise that the female body is also at times neither exposed nor hidden – it is the human form and as such represents identity, physicality and power.

Whether every audience can be sophisticated enough to understand the turning around of signs; the ways in which ‘weak’ is made ‘powerful’, ‘victim’ is made ‘fighter’, is a difficult matter. FEMEN certainly consider it a risk worth taking in order to finally draw attention to the problems women face in their society. This photograph as a photographic object must undergo the same difficult process of interpretation – is it a kind of pornography or a protest item that has raised the awareness of FEMEN’s cause? It is highly reliant on context. But in a world where the female body is so often used by others, especially through visual media, it is a statement that the members of FEMEN demand to be able to use their own bodies as tools of visual representation to further the cause of women’s equality and welfare. A body to protect a body is a courageous act.

This article originally published on BagNews where it was edited and adapted for the site > Here.

Also, regarding this topic it is well worth checking out Karrin  Anderson’s piece for BagNews : Photo of Woman Stripped by Egyptian Military: Not Shamed, Not a Victim