Bra Burners

04.13.134:45 AM ET

What’s the Big Deal about Femen?

The story behind the feminist campaign, and why Muslim women are fighting back.

The feminist group Femen has been staging topless protests since 2009, but in the last month it has gained particular notoriety. On March 8, a Tunisian Femen activist named Amina Tyler posted a topless photo of herself on the group’s Facebook page and immediately incited outrage in her country. She had to go into hiding when her life was threatened, and in supposed solidarity, other members of Femen altered the photo so that text on her chest read “F*ck your morals.” Women in European branches of the group staged protests on April 4, Tyler’s birthday, with the same message scrawled on their chests, or the Islamic crescent on their nipples. In Paris, they burned the Islamic flag in front of the Grand Mosque. Many women across the Muslim world resented these actions, finding them to be Islamophobic and counterproductive, and created the hashtag #MuslimahPride to speak out against Femen. The group’s founder, Inna Schevchenko, responded in its defense: “We are here for you and for all of us… we don't care how many times your men are praying, but we care a lot what they do in between. We care a lot about violence and aggression, we care a lot when your fathers, brothers and husbands are raping and killing, when they call to stone your sisters, we care a lot when they burn embassies etc, and all that for Allah!” Even with the best of intentions, however, the European, mainly-white response to the difficulties faced by women in the Arab world feels more than a little “culturally tone-deaf,” as Women’s eNews has it.