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my body is my manifesto! SlutWalk, FEMEN and femmenist protest


This paper uses an intersectional analysis to look at contemporary forms of women’s popular protest in the hopes of raising questions about the explicit use of the gendered body in struggles for women’s emancipation. Specifically, it explores the protests of SlutWalk and FEMEN to suggest that such body protests exemplify a problematic interface between third-wave and postfeminism. This interface or junction is most noticeable and problematic in relation to uncontested auto-sexualisation or ‘femmenism’. I argue that any subversive potential these recent mobilisations might offer is limited through their reproduction of patriarchal, hegemonic norms. This piece is theoretical in the main, though it does include some preliminary qualitative research by way of drawing on websites, news reports, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and other online content produced by or about SlutWalk and FEMEN. The hope is to raise questions about the value of this increasingly pervasive use of sexualised, gender protest for feminist organising, not merely as an academic exercise but for its utility in practice.

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  1. SlutWalk Toronto ‘About’,, last accessed 15 December 2011.

  2. It must be noted that ‘movement’ is used by SlutWalk founders, though such classification could be considered dubious at best (see ‘WHY’ at, last accessed 15 December 2011). FEMEN also use the term as a self-descriptor, albeit erroneously.

  3. See Flood, A. (2011) ‘GSOC & the “Garda rape threat tape”—who watches the watchmen’,, last accessed 3 December 2013 for a detailed account of the ‘Garda rape tape’ incident. See also a report by Shell to Sea (2012) ‘Garda Ombudsman: spin and misinformation. Dublin’,, last accessed 3 December 2013, to which I contributed, on the police watchdog’s handling of the incident.

  4. I contacted the organisers via Facebook and email to obtain further information about their campaign and to make them aware of what was happening in Ireland. I stressed that this was an opportunity to highlight the institutionalised nature of patriarchy, and asked at the very least whether they could share the information I had provided them on the Irish incident, but my request was declined.

  5. The ideas in this paper were presented at Dublin’s Festival for Choice on 15 November 2013 as part of a broader workshop that examines women’s bodies as performance in protest. The hope is that the workshop will help generate ideas for future protest actions, particularly in the active struggle for access to abortion rights.

  6. See Martinez (2003) for a discussion of the risks activists of colour take when engaging in protest in comparison to activists with class and racial privilege.

  7. I use (re)appropriate as opposed to re-appropriate to acknowledge that the word ‘slut’ was never a term used by women, and therefore its contemporary use by women does not constitute a re-appropriation, but an appropriation.

  8. Postfeminism is a western term and mostly applicable in a western context—though this does not temper the universalising tendencies of those who champion it.

  9. I borrow Genz’s (2006) word play, ‘femmenism’, to refer to this overlap between third-wave and postfeminism, though I do not employ it in the manner used by Genz.

  10. Despite attempts by postfeminism to mark itself as ‘outside’ the feminist family, the arguments with regard to bodily autonomy and sexual expression represent a continuity with second-wave debates, particularly S&M and vanilla feminist debates around the eroticisation of hierarchy.

  11. It must be noted that the origins of third-wave feminism are located within the challenges and critiques posed by women of colour regarding the whiteness of second-wave feminism and the tendency of feminist theory and practice to purportedly speak for all women’s experiences, while not acknowledging that these perspectives are based on those of white, privileged women, in the main. This was appropriated by the type of feminisms I detail.

  12. For the purposes of this paper, self-sexualisation and auto-sexualisation are used to refer to the presentation of one’s body in a sexualised manner for the purpose of making it an object of sexual desire.

  13. SlutWalk Toronto ‘About’,, last accessed 15 December 2011.

  14. See, last accessed 15 November 2011.

  15. See, last accessed 15 November 2011.

  16. I am not arguing that all carnivalesque protest is problematic. Indeed, it might be useful to examine such forms of protest more intimately with a view to developing productive gendered body protests that are inclusive. I would suggest that Pride marches are more subversive than SlutWalks, at least historically, given the risk taken to make visible sexualities that were illegal to practice or identify with. Pride was, and continues to be in some locations, contentious, unsafe, taboo and arguably more transgressive as a result. Similarly, radical clown collectives like Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA) that protest at anti-globalisation protests to act as a buffer between police and other protesters use carnivalesque strategies coupled with a thorough political analysis, much like the originations of gay pride.

  17. See thread,, last accessed 15 November 2011.

  18. See, last accessed 3 March 2013.

  19. See (2009) ‘How they protest prostitution in the Ukraine’,, last accessed 3 March 2013.

  20. Storyful (2011) ‘Topless feminists protest at Strauss-Kahn’s home’, 2 November,

  21. See and, both last accessed 13 March 2013.

  22. See, last accessed 6 April 2013.

  23. See, last accessed 5 March 2013. The group has faced repeated questioning over its funding sources and Hutsol has admitted that some monies have come from lingerie companies (, and media and entertainment moguls (see and (all last accessed 5 March 2013).

  24. These revelations called into question the feminist credibility of FEMEN and a significant public relations battle ensued. The group distanced themselves from Svytaski, blaming the lack of feminism in Ukrainian society for its willingness to hand over power to him (see Shevchenko, 2013).

  25. See for the photograph in question (last accessed 3 December 2013).

  26. I note one exception that I came across in my online research—a woman of size protesting topless against the sex tourism during the Euro 2012 soccer finals in Ukraine. She, the sole protester, stood in a pig pen with a pig (see ‘Topless protest spice up psychic pig’s feeding time’ at, last accessed 3 December 2013). Thus, not only are FEMEN reifying ideal sexual types, they also perpetuate the desexualisation and dehumanisation of women who are bigger than these ideals.

  27. There is some speculation as to whether FEMEN Brazil remains in existence after a fallout between its leader and the original FEMEN organisers (see, last accessed 3 December 2013).

  28. In a further controversy, SlutWalk Toronto was forced to publish an online apology on 22 August 2013 for its association with Hugo Schwyzer, the self-identified male feminist blogger and former women’s studies professor (, last accessed 3 December 2013). Schwyzer was a member of the steering committee for SlutWalk Los Angeles, despite being criticised by a number of commentators who called into question his politics and, in particular, his targeting of women of colour through social media (Grace, 2012. See also, last accessed 3 December 2013). Schwyzer has since (August 2013) publicly admitted his involvement in misogynistic behaviour, including the ‘trashing’ of a number of women of colour in 2008. See Schwyzer’s public declarations at For an excellent overview of how white feminism was complicit in Schwyzer’s attacks by providing him a platform, see Vasquez (2013).

  29. See, last accessed 3 December 2013.

  30. Jennifer Scott (2011) writes in Ms magazine of her experience on a SlutWalk. Scott, a wheelchair user, critiques the name of the movement and the desire to reclaim the word ‘slut’ because it fails to represent disabled women’s experiences with sexual violence. She argues for a movement that is wider in scope and less focussed on slut-shaming.

  31. As of November 2013, SlutWalk Philadelphia has changed its name to ‘A March to End Rape Culture’, while SlutWalk Winnipeg is debating a similar move.

  32. See, last accessed 6 April 2013.

  33. Tunisian feminist Amina ‘Tyler’ Sboui achieved international attention when she posted a topless picture of herself on Facebook with ‘my body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour’ written across her chest. Affiliated with FEMEN at the time, Amina received widespread condemnation in Tunisia and was threatened with being stoned to death; she was eventually jailed for her pro-FEMEN graffiti. FEMEN used Amina to build a high-profile campaign against Islam, going so far as to issue an ‘International Topless Jihad’. Upon her release from jail in August 2013, Amina declared that she was no longer a member of FEMEN, citing its Islamaphobia and dubious fundraising practices as reasons for her decision (see, last accessed 3 December 2013).

  34. On 13 August 2013, FEMEN Sweden created a Twitter storm when it tweeted, ‘We’re not denying inequality between the biological races and the effects of that. But we don’t put our focus on race where it isn’t needed’ (see, last accessed 3 December 2013).

  35. FEMEN were dubbed fast-food feminism by Le Monde Diplomatique’s Mona Chollet (2013).


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This paper benefited from comments by two anonymous reviewers, the Feminist Review Editorial Collective, feedback from Laurence Cox on an earlier version, and discussions with Siobhán, Lenka, Amber, and those who participated in the Festival for Choice workshop on the Female Body in Protest.


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Title derived from a FEMEN slogan.

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O'Keefe, T. my body is my manifesto! SlutWalk, FEMEN and femmenist protest. Fem Rev 107, 1–19 (2014).

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  • SlutWalk
  • protest
  • body
  • intersectionality