AbstractsWomens Studies

The Body Theater, - An analysis of FEMEN's feminist activism

by Mie Birk Jensen

Institution: Roskilde University
Year: 2014
Keywords: FEMEN; feminism; activism; qualitative research; Judith Butler; Jean Baudrillard; Georges Bataille; women's rights
Record ID: 1120223
Full text PDF: http://rudar.ruc.dk/handle/1800/14919


In this thesis I give the reader insight in how it played out, when I conducted fieldwork as a participant observer in the activist training offered by the feminist activist group FEMEN at their headquarters in Paris. Rooted in an anthropological and phenomenological tradition as well as a postmodern feminist approach to performance, I explore how the body becomes engaged in FEMEN’s activism and how FEMEN’s activist practice is ascribed meaning by the activists as, and through, bodily performances. My analysis concludes that it is through this activ-ist practice that is rooted in FEMEN’s headquarters in Paris that the leading activ-ists accentuate and restrict certain bodily performances in order to construct FEMEN as a collective performance founded on an ideal of the feminist “Ama-zons”. This ideal is practiced with and through the body as an illustration of, and a basic principle for FEMEN’s core ideology. Hereby FEMEN works mainly through the creation of an activist and bodily presence rather than through mediations of ideology. FEMEN’s presence is further explored in relation to Baudrillard’s concept of the hyperreal, which makes up the theoretical foundation in order for me to argue that the act of provocation stands central to FEMEN’s activist presence. This be-cause my studies suggest that it is insofar as FEMEN simulates violence against women in an unfamiliar context that they seem to provoke, not because of the presence of the violence itself. From here I go on to discuss how FEMEN chal-lenges existing tensions between reality and fiction, why FEMEN’s activist and bodily presence can be understood as a challenge to, and negotiation of, certain constructions of our social realities that can only be upheld if FEMEN is rejected as fictitious. The tension between fiction and reality is discussed particularly in relation to concepts of gender and sexuality. Inspired by Bataille’s philosophical approach to taboos and transgressions of such, I argue that the activists are often-times driven by an experience of transgression of certain restrictions that they experience as limiting and oppressive in everyday life, insofar as their bodies are experienced as gendered. These transgressions are connected to constructions of taboos, which are challenged through bodily simulations of the taboo-ridden, and the hypocrisy of the taboo in itself. As with violence, I argue that it is the simula-tions of sexuality and the female body in an unexpected context that provokes, and it is exactly here the potential pitfalls of FEMEN’s activism is manifested; simulating the problematic and restrictive aspects of the ways in which they ex-perience that the female body has been gendered and sexualized, FEMEN activists risk reproducing ideas of women as relevant only through sexualized and gen-dered perspectives. Drawing on other activist groups, I relate FEMEN’s work to contemporary per-spectives on activism and argue that FEMEN can be understood as a collective bodily performance, inscribing a temporal future on the body, which…