Women's rights activists with Femen have arrived in Germany, and they have patriarchy in their crosshairs. They're holding training sessions for young women, teaching them how to evade security at protests -- all while bearing their breasts in the name of feminism.
Josephine Witt catches the man off-guard. Her first swing hits him in the face, then she pummels his stomach and beats his ribs. The 19-year-old drives her opponent in front of her, and he forgets for 10 or 20 seconds to hit back. "Keep her busy, Sven!" cries the trainer. Witt's boxing gloves shoot through the air. A wreath of sunflowers adorns her hair. Welcome to boxing training with Femen.
The topless women's rights activists have arrived in Germany. Young women have founded chapters in Berlin and Hamburg, modeling themselves after Femen founder, Ukrainian Anna Hutsol. The militant feminists have taken to the red-light district of Hamburg, protested against the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party in Berlin and most recently screamed at Russian President Vladimir Putin at Hanover's industrial trade fair.
The self-described "sextremists" have trainings for these kinds of protests, including one at a Hamburg boxing club. "We want to learn how to fall correctly, how to quickly dodge security people," says Irina Khanova, who was born in Russia and lives in Hamburg. Even passers-by have attacked the women. "We have to be able to get our message across as long as possible." The trainer nods. "The make-up has to go. You can keep the flower garland."
Femen's mission is to attack the German patriarchy. But all its activities raise a few questions: What exactly is the "message" of the topless protests? The images of young, screaming, half-naked women make the headlines, and the harsh tone ("Fuck Islamism," for example) is provocative. The group is perfect at dominating the media game. But is this the new feminism, or merely a sensationalist gimmick?
Keeping the Cameras Interested
On the Saturday training day, Femen's public relations machine is there every step of the way. A camera team from northern German public broadcaster NDR stays all day. Early in the day in the TV studios, the seven young women -- most of them university students -- paint their fighting slogans onto each other.
Witt has "Fuck Dictator" painted on her breasts, like at the recent anti-Putin protest. Hellen, 23, chooses "Woman Spring is Coming," while Anne's upper body says "Destroy Sex Industry." Khanova, who at 33 is the oldest of the group, gives orders: Spread your legs further apart, put your fist vertical in the air, keep the flower garlands parallel to the camera lens. A photographer records everything -- the group's Facebook page is updated with new photos daily.
Then the women are off to Hamburg's main square, where they undress and scream for the TV cameras: "Feeeeemeeennn!" Pedestrians start to whip out their own cameras, some of them smirking. "Oh, the Ukrainians. They're fighting for women over there," says one man.
False, dear sir. The Femen fight is underway in Germany, as well. "The patriarchy in Germany has to be overthrown, too," says Khanova. "We're part of a worldwide movement, and want to address global problems in Germany," adds Witt.
Criticism from Muslims and Feminists