How does Zhdanova square working as a stripper with protesting for Femen, which she called "the most important thing in [her] life?" She has never felt shy about disrobing, she said, and implied the question was irrelevant. "For money it's okay to strip, but not for an idea? Doing my job, I see the hypocrisy in men's mentality. Some of my club's clients learn I'm with Femen and criticize me for showing my breasts during the day, but pay me to do so at night. " What counts, she said, is that she's fighting for what she believes in: that women in Ukraine (in the largely chauvinistic society of which senior positions in the public and private sectors tend to go to men) should enjoy equal rights. She had thought of joining mass protests, but decided against it: "they didn't seem so effective. I wanted something much more radical." With Femen she clearly found what she was looking for. Hence the assault on Kirill, which would let her "hit the most sensitive part of people's beliefs and drive a stake into the heart of them."
Earlier in the day, I had dropped by Femen's headquarters to talk to Anna Hutsol, Femen's founder and director. (Femen clearly has a sense of humor: their office's steel entrance way door sports a pair of blue and yellow metallic breasts, nipples erect.) Aged 28, with cropped, carrot-orange hair and a pacific demeanor, Hutsol hardly resembles an "Amazon," modern-day or ancient. Her lucid, low-key manner of speaking and her frequent references to the works of French proto-feminist Simone de Beauvoir dispel the notion, so frequently voiced by both men and women in Ukraine (and Russia), that there is something flighty, unserious, or tawdry about Femen. Hutsol in any case took such criticism in stride. "Our society isn't used to protests and strikes, and doesn't understand these acts are a way to pressure the authorities. Yet we must protest. No one in power will give us anything otherwise."
Traditionalist gender relations and discrimination against women have served as the key targets of Femen's ire. "As a society we haven't been able to eradicate our Arab mentality towards women," she told me, referring to the widespread belief in Ukraine that women should marry, raise children, and stay away from politics. "We're against patriarchal society, where men try to control a woman's sexuality so that they can be sure who the father of their child is." She added, though, that Ukrainian women were themselves were to an extent culpable. "They just don't understand. They go to a club, show off their tits, and some guy buys them a cocktail, and it's great. No, we say. They don't have to orient their lives around finding a man."
Combating "patriarchal society" means also working to undermine Ukraine's overwhelmingly male political order. In fact, it was the country's virulent, divisive 2010 presidential election campaign pitting candidates Yulia Tymoshenko (now imprisoned on what appear to be politically motivated charges) against pro-Russian, recidivist former convict Viktor Yanukovych that first prompted, she said, Femen to "strip and go hard." The decision to strip was a tough one for the activists, motivated by one thing: "No one paid attention to us before we demonstrated topless." She and her cohorts showed up at the polling station where Yanukovych planned to vote, took off their tops, and chanted "Ukraine Has Been Raped Enough!"