An article in The Atlantic reports that the “Ukrainian feminist group Femen staged protests across Europe as they called for a ‘topless jihad.’” The article is accompanied by 31 photos and a stern warning that “nearly every photo depicts nudity, and most contain offensive language.”1 As with other Femen protests: the majority of the activists are thin, young, well-groomed, and none show any of the obvious signs of having borne and nursed children. So if Femen is calling for a “topless jihad,” it appears to exclude their sisters who are plump, matured, hirsute, saggy, or stretch-marked. When it comes to female body image, it seems Femen and their opponents have much in common.
Femen’s activists tend to present female public nudity in the Arab world as a religious problem. This is inaccurate: criticism of Aliaa Elmahdy’s nude images was widely condemned by religious, liberal, secular, and leftist Arabs alike. It is sad to see the press give so much attention to the issue of female public nudity in the Arab world given that it is not an issue for the vast majority of society. While Femen wants us all to be worried that Arab women are free to go nude in public (something their male counterparts do not themselves have), most Arab women are worried about more pressing issues like governance, economics, and widespread sexual harassment.