Does Nudity Help to Deliver a Clear Message?

Does Nudity Help to Deliver a Clear Message?

Daria Polianska

Feminist organizations exist around the world for many decades. Nowadays feminists fight not only for women’s rights but they are actively involved in political affairs as well. FEMEN group is often represented by media as a feminist organization and is famous for its provocative way of protest by using their nude bodies. However, it is not the matter of nudity that is questionable but the appropriateness and clearness of the message it is supposed to represent. Our research group is constantly raising the question of the efficiency of FEMEN tactics. To explain our concerns the following video may be analyzed:

On March 6, 2014 FEMEN sextremists staged a topless protest at the Times Square, New York, in order “to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people against the excessive military aggression and opportunism of the Russian government under the command of Putin regime” (cited from the video above). They asked US and EU officials to apply economic sanctions toward Russia by advocating the motto: “Stop Putin’s war before he stopped you!” and “Fuck you, Putin!” Their political intention seems to be pretty obvious. Nevertheless, there are several issues which invoke some doubts. First, if they are addressing their protest to the officials, why have they chosen the Time Square as the location? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to organize the protest in front of the parliament building or any other official state establishment? Second, in many of their interviews, and the video provided above in particular, it is emphasized that FEMEN uses their nude bodies because people are not ready to see naked and aggressively disposed women. At the same time they choose not only to expose their uncovered breasts but also to represent a common stereotype of women who wear high heels and make up. The question then is whether they accept such an image of contemporary woman themselves. Finally, since it looks like FEMEN chose media as the mediator between them and US government, a range of questions arise: what audience is this organization referring to – journalists, government, citizens – and what do they expect from such a protest? Do they anticipate any response from the target audience or is it simply another attempt to popularize their organization around the world by using a defiant way of protesting? How do FEMEN activists promote the feminist motives and do they intend to do this at all? What is the difference then between a commercialized popular brand and a reactionary organization which chooses to consciously fight against various inequalities and under which of these categories can we place FEMEN?

All these uncertainties appear mainly because of FEMEN’s lack of clear platform. They seem to be against many injustices and it is their right and choice to use naked bodies as the tool for the protests. The question remains though whether their message is lucid to people and in which way it is productive. Although the questions raised still remain open, there seems to be a disconnection between FEMEN’s motives, the follow-up results and the intention of using naked bodies in the first place.

Lars Richter


Lars Richter is a PhD candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta. His dissertation focuses on the works of German author Juli Zeh. His further research interests include contemporary German-language literature and culture, subcultural theory, popular culture, and gender studies. Lars has joined the research team in 2015; his article “The Rebel Girl and the Wrecking Ball – The Cruel Optimism of Empowerment and the Revival of Feminism in Contemporary Popular Music” can be accessed here.

Olena Hlazkova

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Olena Hlazkova is a PhD Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literature in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Alberta with research interests primarily in gender/women’s studies and literature of migration. Her current research focuses on textual representation and evaluation of Ukrainian women-emigrants in contemporary literature of migration. Olena has been working as a research assistant on the project “Technologies of Popfeminist Activism” for the past three years. In 2013 she delivered a guest lecture dedicated to the issues of popfeminism entitled Feminism Without Boundaries: Eastern and Western Perspectives (Russia, Ukraine, Germany). In it she compared awkward performances of Pussy Riot, FEMEN, and Lady Bitch Ray discussing the role of mass media in the feminists’ activism and construction of their perception by general public. Her most recent presentation Glocalizing Feminism: Russian Context explored the Russian feminist collective Pussy Riot within the Russian feminist tradition, emphasizing the band’s Russian (Orthodox) identity as well as addressing the role of globalization to their enormous success with the Western celebrities and media. Olena graduated from the State Pedagogical University of Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine with a MA (honours) in English and German Languages/Literature in 2009.

Hester Baer


Hester Baer is Associate Professor of German at the University of Maryland, where she also serves as a core faculty member in the Film Studies program. Baer’s research interests focus on gender and sexuality in film and media; historical and contemporary feminisms; and German literature and culture in the 21st Century. She is the author of Dismantling the Dream Factory: Gender, German Cinema, and the Postwar Quest for a New Film Language (Berghahn Books, 2009); the guest editor of a special issue of the journal Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature entitled “Contemporary Women’s Writing and the Return of Feminism in Germany” (2011); and the co-editor with Alexandra Merley Hill of German Women’s Writing in the 21st Century (2014). She is currently working on a new book that rethinks the history of German cinema from 1980-2010. Recent publications connected to this project include “Das Boot and the German Cinema of Neoliberalism,” which appeared in German Quarterly(2012) and “Affectless Economies: The Berlin School and Neoliberalism” published in Discourse (2013). Baer received her Ph.D. in German from Washington University in St. Louis, where she also earned a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies. From 2002 until 2013 she was a faculty member in German and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Oklahoma, where she was named Associates Second Century Presidential Professor. She has served on the Steering Committee of Women in German and as the President of the South Central Modern Language Association. Baer served as President of Women in German from 2012-2014.

Christina Scharff


Christina Scharff is Lecturer in Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College London. Her research interests include gender, neoliberalism, postfeminism and subjectivity. Christina has conducted qualitative research on young women’s engagements with feminism which she has published in a range of international journals and in her monograph Repudiating Feminism: Young women in a neoliberal world. She has also critically explored media representations of feminism and contemporary feminist politics, particularly in the German context. Prof. Rosalind Gill and Christina Scharff are editors of New Femininities: Postfeminism, neoliberalism and subjectivity (Palgrave, 2011), which contains a chapter by Christina that critically discusses the rise of the new feminisms in Germany in the late 2000s and their various exclusions, particularly in relation to race, class and sexuality. Most recently, Christina has won an Economic and Social Research Council Grant called ‘Young, female and entrepreneurial: exploring the working lives of young women in the classical music profession’. This project explores various issues, relating to the psychic life of neoliberal subjects, the subjective experiences of precarious labour, the radicalised, class and gendered inequalities of the classical music profession and the way cultural work is affected by its urban context.

Mary Catherine E. Lawler

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Mary Catherine E. Lawler is a PhD candidate in German in the University of Alberta / University of Munich Joint Degree Program. Her research focuses on affects of anxiety in post-1989 German intermedia, and she enjoys coding, digital research management, and fostering connections between Germany and North America. Last year she translated Vorgestellte Institutionen / Performing Institutions from German to English for the Junge Akademie at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, which was distributed as a bilingual German-English publication through Alexander Verlag in Berlin (ed. Herbordt/Mohren, 2015). Additionally, Mary Catherine has translated (German to English) for the Impulse Theatre Festival 2015 (May 2015) and Kings Road Media GmbH (Nov-Dec 2014), having started translating as an intern in the language department at the Goethe-Institut Melbourne in Australia (2007). While living in Munich, she worked for the publishing company C.H. Beck as a German-language proofreader in the legal department (2011-2012). Mary Catherine joined the research team in 2015.

Maria Stehle


Maria Stehle is Associate Professor of German in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures, specializing in German and European Cultural Studies, Gender and Media Studies, and Cultural Histories of Germany since 1945. She recently received a prestigious three-year Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for her current research project, Technologies of Popfeminist Activism, in collaboration with Dr. Carrie Smith-Prei (University of Alberta). In this case study of German “popfeminist” protest and performance art culture, Stehle and Smith-Prei examine the reconfiguration of German feminist activism in the twenty-first century through digital technologies. In 2012, Stehle published her first monograph, Ghetto Voices in Contemporary German Culture: Textscapes, Filmscapes, Soundscapes, with Camden House, a leading German Studies press. This monograph questions the popular—and oversimplified—post-1989 narrative of the newly united Germany as a peaceful, worldly, and cautiously proud nation and examines instead ongoing struggles with racism, provincialism, and the perceived Other, especially as manifested in urban environments. Stehle is also a member of the Cinema Studies Committee, a core faculty member of the Faculty Research Seminar on Modern Germany, and the faculty leader of the biennial mini-term trip to Berlin in connection with the upper-level German course, Metropolis Revisited.

Carrie Smith


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Carrie Smith-Prei is Associate Professor of German Studies at the University of Alberta. She has published articles and book chapters on a variety of topics related to post–1960 German culture, publics, the digital economy, and contemporary feminisms. She is the author of Revolting Families: Toxic Intimacy, Private Politics, and Literary Realism in the German Sixties (University of Toronto Press, 2013), and co-editor of Bloom and Bust: Urban Landscapes in the East Since German Reunification (Berghahn Books, 2014) and Transnationalism in Contemporary German-Language Literature (Camden House, forthcoming 2015). She is currently co-editing (with Christina Scharff and Maria Stehle) a special issue of Feminist Media Studies on digital feminist activism in Germany and a volume on Central European aesthetics (with Helga Mitterbauer). Smith-Prei holds a major three-year grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for research on popfeminism and performance art activism (with Maria Stehle) entitled “Technologies of Popfeminist Activism,” which is currently being prepared as a book publication entitled Awkward Politics: Technologies of Popfeminist Activism. She is co-founder of Imaginations: Journal of Cross-Cultural Image Studies and co-editor of Women in German Yearbook (2014–2017). In 2015 she received the Faculty of Arts Research Award (Associate Professor) and in 2013, she received the Faculty of Arts Undergraduate Teaching Award (Early Achievement) and the Provost’s Award for Early Achievement of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

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