This week, I reviewed the autobiography of radical Ukrainian activist group Femen. I said it's an interesting account for anyone thinking of taking up a career as an activist, but I do cite a couple of Femen's stances that would seem extreme for American liberal activists: They're basically opposed to Islam and they want to make sex work illegal. I don't personally agree with either of those stances, but I did say in my review that a reader would have to take into account the cultural differences when reading Femen, such as the Ukraine's rise in popularity as a sex tourism destination. My review made people mad, especially Mistress Matisse, who tweeted her protest:



We talked about it for a bit on Twitter...

I disagreed that my book review counted as The Stranger "actually taking a position." I had never heard of Femen assaulting sex workers, but I looked into it—what I found was that a Femen activist allegedly shoved a stripper during a protest. People have linked to video of the assault, but the video is no longer online. A brief account of the video is up at the blog FeminaziSlut (link NSFW), along with a link to the video that no longer works:

In this recent video FEMEN assaults a stripper at a porn convention, pushing her off to the side to make room for a protest with slogans like “Go rape yourself!” and “Suck dick of patriarchy!”

People levy other charges against Femen—that a male Svengali controls the group, that they have ties to white supremacist organizations—and Femen addresses some of these issues in the book. The alleged stripper-shoving incident happened after the book was published. I haven't seen the video and so I can't say for sure, but if a member of Femen shoved a stripper, that is, of course, an act of violence, of bullying, and it should be condemned. Further, the signs described on FeminaziSlut that are chastising women for choosing sex work as a career are wrong-headed and dumb.

I think one of the central issues with this Femen review is a question of responsibility. As a book reviewer, is it my duty to research arguments against the author of an autobiography? Or should I come to the autobiography fresh, the way a reader might? The alleged shoving incident described above was not reported widely in the media; had I known about it beforehand, I certainly would have mentioned (and condemned) it in my review. My review repeatedly mentions that Femen's tactics and beliefs are not for everybody. I expressly frame the book as being of interest to activists who are considering taking action, not as a heroic account that every Stranger reader should take to heart.

In retrospect, it seems that I should've been clearer about my disagreement with Femen on Islam and sex work, and I should've been clearer that a feminist organization that openly loathes women is not an organization to be emulated. Had I known about the above incident at the time of the writing, I would have made it clear that the minute Femen steps into violent action, they stop being activists and start being worthy of scorn. But I haven't changed my mind about Femen: I do think people who are looking to take action would find a lot of interesting and useful information in the book, even if there are just as many examples of what an activist group should not do.