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In Paris, a recent court ruling dismissed all charges made against the nine feminists who protested semi-naked in Notre Dame in opposition to the Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage.
The women acted on behalf of international feminist group, Femen, renowned for public rallies and protests aimed to tackle sexism in all aspects of life. Their most distinguishing tactic is the use of their bodies: Femen activists always appear bare-breasted at demonstrations empowering women to embrace their gender and to not conform to oppression imposed by the patriarchy.
The activists entered Notre Dame in February 2013 shouting the words written on their exposed flesh “Pope no more!” and “Clear off homophobe!” and repeatedly hit three of the Church’s bells with pieces of wood. They also staged a mock celebration of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Prosecutors sought compensation for distress caused to the public alongside a substantial fine for alleged damage to the Church bells.
The judge held that there was insufficient evidence to prove any material damage, and found three security guards guilty of assault due to their use of unnecessary force when escorting the women out of the cathedral. They were each given a fine ranging between 300-1,000 euros depending on the scale of violence used by each guard.
As the verdict was delivered, the nine Femen members wore flowers in their hair and leader Inna Shevchenko stated that she was not worried about the decision because “we had done everything right and today the judge and the decision of the judge just proved it”. She continued to profess that female anatomy is not a crime. The activists had done nothing illegal “other than bare their breasts, a crime in the eyes of a society dominated the man and the need to disempower strong women”.
The judgement was met with mass opposition as practicing Catholics took offence to this ruling. Pierre-Hervé Grosjean, a priest at Saint-Cyr, expressed such outrage on Twitter when the verdict was announced, saying the court “had signed a permit to damage and for non-respect of our holy places”. Christine Boutin, leader of the Christian Democrat Party, also declared the decision shameful claiming it had “legalised the right for replenished blasphemy”. Thierry Mariani, former housing minister and keen opponent to gay marriage classed it as an “encouragement to all provocateurs” warning the further degradation of societal standards and morals following the decision.
Femen has regarded the Catholic Chuch and religion in general, as one of their greatest obstacles in tackling sexism, and have affirmed that they are not shocked by the reaction.
The fight against sexism continues and regardless of people’s opinion of Femen – which stirs the debate as to the definition of what it is to be a feminist – any awareness of female rights and power is a positive thing. Femen’s bold and war-like approach to protesting indirectly promotes a certain ideal of feminism, wherein the aim is to rearrange the inequality spectrum, not eliminate it. It could be inferred from their brazened behaviour that the aggression adopted supports the misconceptions about feminism that its aim is to disempower men.
Feminism is an increasing trend used more as a fickle popularity stunt following the likes of Lena Dunham and Ellen Page, rather than a genuine pursuit of political and social ideals. It is therefore necessary to establish your own stance on what it is to be a modern feminist. The times since the Suffragettes have of course changed, yet inequality remains in our society. As a self-proclaimed feminist, I feel it needs to be affirmed that feminism should not be automatically associated with misandry. The term deserves to be used honourably and respectfully without losing sight of the real aims: the social, economic and political equality of the sexes.
Images from Google.