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The breast-baring, self-styled female “terrorist” group FEMEN, which has become known the world over for its provocative, often violent protests against “patriarchy”, fascism, prostitution and religion, seems to have met its match.
The Antigones, named after the woman of Greek mythology who in Sophocles’ play was sentenced to death for choosing to follow “Divine Law” in opposition to the “man-made laws” of a tyrant, consists of a group of 25 or so attractive French women clad in virginal white dresses. On their website they quote Antigones declaring “I was born to join in love, not hate,” a clear reference to their opposition to FEMEN’s breasts-and-placard, spittle-flecked protest style.
Seeming inversions of their infamous adversaries, but employing similar guerrilla marketing tactics, the Antigones scored a media coup when their de facto leader, 21-year-old Iseul Turan, announced through a video interview released on YouTube on June 1st that she had infiltrated the France division of FEMEN for a period of two months.
On the 30 minute video, Turan describes how what “frightened” her most about the Femen was the ideological “vacuum” behind the movement. “The only thing behind Femen is three words, and as for the rest you can do what you want– it’s an abyss, a vacuum.”
Femen’s motto, according to French Wikipedia, consists of three statements: “Get out, get naked, and win.”
The Antigones were officially founded in June of this year, following Turan’s undercover experience. Their website indicates that theirs is not merely “yet another movement”. “We’re a simple gathering of women … We advocate for our fundamental right and duty to be women, whole and complete. A woman has her dignity, which does not require exhibitionism or hysteria, » the website’s mission statement reads.
In their first official act as a group, the Antigones attempted to film a face-to-face meeting between themselves and the Paris-based, French division of Femen. A Youtube video which has since gone viral shows how the Antigones, accompanied by a reported 150 female friends and sympathisers, approached the Femen’s HQ, only to be met with a barrage of police trucks, gates and riot police. The footage of the thwarted attempt at meeting with Femen was later overlaid with shots of the Antigones clad in white and reading from a sheet of paper a manifesto-style message to the radical feminist group:
“Femen, you affirm that a woman’s fight is feminist, we say that it is feminine.
“Femen, you affirm that women’s rights are defended with bared breasts, we say that they are acquired through dignity.
“Femen, you affirm that religion is alienation; we say that for many of us it is the way to freedom and self-realisation.
“Femen, you affirm that machismo dominates society and you combat men. We answer that it is only with men that we can truly become women, whole and complete.”
Not everyone is happy, however, with the arrival of this wholesome alternative to Femen. Several French media outlets have darkly hinted at the “extreme” right-wing ties of some of its members. The Express, a French publication, titled their article on the Antigones phenomenon, “The Antigones: the anti-Femen activists with the Funny CVs,” implying that all was not well with the backgrounds of at least some of the Antigone membership. The Huffington post France edition stated that the Antigones path had been opened up by a counter-revolutionary Catholic women’s group who had, earlier this year, stormed the Femen headquarters to shout “Women but not Fem’hate” while holding aloft a banner. (video here) “Birds of a feather flock together?” the article’s author asked rhetorically.
On the conservative side of the spectrum, Richard Décarie, communications expert and long-time observer of French-language conservative movements, considers the Antigones’ decision to oppose Femen on their own terrain “a strategic mistake”. “When you confront media-hungry groups like Femen on their own terrain, you just give them more publicity, which is exactly what they want. What’s more, by pulling a stunt like trying to confront them, you allow them to play the victim card, which can only help their cause.” In opposition to the Antigones’ fire-with-fire approach, Décarie suggests that Femen and other provocateurs should be denounced, “but never imitated.”
On the Antigones website Young Iseul Turan states: “We want to peacefully but firmly intervene in the public debate, to make our views known and not allow feminists to monopolize [the debate]. Their time has passed … What we want is to give a pulpit to all these women who today contact us by the hundreds; to organise them and to produce original content to promote women’s dignity and integrity.”
Asked about what she sees down the road for the Antigones, Turan promises that her group reserves the right to “firmly” intervene in the public square. Their website indicates that they are actively recruiting: “You are welcome to join! … age, appearance, political or religious affiliation do not matter, as long as you agree with our fundamental principles.” Contrary to some feminist groups, the website indicates that men are also invited to join, albeit in a support role: “Daughters of our fathers, wives of our husbands, mothers of our sons, we do not reject men. To the contrary we are persuaded that it is only with men, in complementarity, that we can build our future.”