Femen: Giving us something to talk about

In my last post I talked about Ukraine is Not a Brothela recent documentary following the members of Femen. Originally based in Ukraine and now based in France, Femen is a feminist group of self-identified “sextremists” who lead protests with their messages written on their breasts. Before seeing the film I didn’t know much about the group, other than their chosen method of protest, since most of what I’ve read about the group seems to be exclusively interested in a) the fact that they protest topless (omg breasts—how scandalous!) and b) dismissing most, if not all, of their credibility as feminists based on that fact. Accordingly, many of the pieces that talk about them err on the side of the sensationalist (in the case of the more formal, “factual” media), or the downright patronizing (in the case of more opinion-based media like blogs).

Femen meme

An oversimplification of Femen’s ideology, at best

The way these kinds of pieces talk about Femen makes me uncomfortable in large part because they ignore the complexities of what it means to be feminist in a patriarchal society  and they pay little to no attention to the perspectives of the members themselves. Something that really struck a chord with me when I saw Ukraine is Not a Brothel is the fact that its interviews are exclusively of Femen members. Of the more thoughtful pieces I’ve read about the group online since then (and there are actually more of those out there than I thought there might be), “Rise of the naked female warriors” by Kira Cochrane of The Guardian does a particularly good job of incorporating a member of Femen’s voice into its analysis of the group, and “The femen phenomenon” by Reuters blogger Gleb Garanich (which I mentioned in my last post) definitely wins the award for most humanizing portrayal of the group. Jess Eagle’s House of Flout blog also provides a great, nuanced analysis of Femen’s implications for feminism as a whole.

"Fight for me! Let me be how I want, not how you think is right"

“Fight for me! Let me be how I want, not how you think is right #MuslimaPride (sic)”

This isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate criticisms of the group that go beyond their chosen method of protesting. Not examined in Ukraine is Not a Brothel, for example, is the group’s approach toward Islam-specific feminist issues. When Tunisian woman Amina Tyler was arrested following a topless protest in her country last year, Femen activists protested for her cause in front of the Justice Ministry in Tunis, announcing that they were bringing a “Topless Jihad” to the Middle East. This has drawn backlash in feminist and Muslim spheres from those who see this as a neo-colonialist attempt to “save” oppressed Muslim women (sparking the hashtag #MuslimahPride seen in the picture to the right). For an on-point explanation of why people are (understandably) upset about this, I recommend checking out these pieces by Manar Milbes, an American Muslim, and Italian blogger laglasnost.

At the end of the day, the way the media portrays Femen has the biggest impact on what we pay more attention to–their message or their breasts–and currently it’s not their message that’s winning. That probably isn’t going to change, because, you know, sex sells and all (and apparently breasts = sex), but we as media consumers can certainly do better by recognizing the hype for what it is and acknowledging that whether we agree with it or not, there is more to Femen’s feminism than meets the eye.

True/False Doc Shows Physicists Hot For Answers

Missouri Theater being used for True/False

Missouri Theater transformed for True/False

Each year, during the last week of February, Columbia, Missouri is home to its largest annual arts event, the True/False Film Festival. The festival boasts a plethora of documentary films and over 35 bands from around the world.

True/False technically starts on Thursday, but really kicks off for local students on Friday, which was marketed this year as TGI T/F (Thank Goodness it’s True/False Friday), which featured a free screening of Particle Fever, by director Mark Levinson, for students and festival volunteers. The film was a good choice for the student kickoff, particularly as it’s a film about people’s excitement and got students excited about the festival.

The film follows the excitement of the scientists involved with the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN (the name of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research based in Geneva, Switzerland) from the startup of the LHC through the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle (a.k.a. “The God Particle”). The film leaves after the discovery which yielded inconclusive results on which of two theories explain the existence of the universe.

At one point in the film, one of the theoretical physicists involved with the LHC is asked by an economist what the economic incentive for the roughly $10 billion project is. I won’t spoil the film by giving you his fantastic answer, but Pauline Gagnon, a quantum physicist, gives a greater explanation to the question than just finding the the origin of the universe, on her official blog on CERN’s site.  Gagnon explains that

the LHC could be opening the door to parallel worlds, extra dimensions or the discovery of as many new particles as the ones we already know. These are but some of the exciting questions we are trying to address.

Gagnon, and Levinson aren’t the only people trying to explain the LHC to the public, either. In fact, CERN has made numerous websites that cater to students trying to spark young peoples’ interests in science. CERNLand, a spanish language site encourages children and their parents to get involved in science through contests. They also encourage visitors to check out this “Taking A Closer Look at LHC” blog, which gives easy to digest explanations of what CERN does.

Part of the Large Hadron Collider

Part of the Large Hadron Collider

CERN’s next step is doubling the power of the LHC to conduct experiments that will hopefully determine which theories about how the universe is held together are supported by the Higgs Boson particle. To do this, the magnets, the main pieces of the LHC, needed to be strengthened. On their official organisational update blog, CERN announced in February that 1,000 of the 1,695 magnets have been upgraded so far.

After the film, theoretical physicist David Kaplan, whom the film followed, stuck around with director Mark Levinson to answer questions from students. The Q&A is a major part of the festival and someone who starred in or made a film is required to be present for the Q&A after each film.

Check out the website for Particle Fever and find out where the film will show next.

King (or Queen) For a Day–Recipe Included

General Tso’s chicken, Fajitas and King Cake may not be as authentic as we have made them out to be.

We claim these foods are Chinese, Mexican and French.

However, they are not authentic in the slightest.

America has a habit of taking foods from other cultures and putting its own spin on them—also known as “Americanizing“.

mardi gras

American version of King Cake

Since Mardi Gras is this weekend, what better time to discover the true origin of the king cake! This is the king cake that anyone who is familiar with Mardi Gras in the U.S. would recognize. There is a baby figurine baked inside, and the person who discovers it in their slice is king (or queen) for a day.

According to tradition, they also have the task of hosting the Mardi Gras party the next year. However, you would find nothing of the sort in France, where the king cake or la galette des Rois originated.  The King Cake that the French gobble up is much flakier and has an almond filling inside.

La galette de Rois wasn’t even meant for Mardi Gras. It was created (and is still sold for L’Épiphanie, which isn’t even in February.

galette des rois

French version of King Cake
“Galette des Rois”

Similar to the American version, la galette des Rois has a fève (figurine) hidden inside and the person who discovers it is king or queen for the day. In order to keep the distribution of slices fair, a child hides under the table as the cake is cut. Without looking at the cake, they say who gets each piece. Check out this video for a more in-depth look at the tradition (and learn some French while you’re at it!)


If you would like to make an authentic version, here is a recipe I translated from French. Enjoy!

Ingredientsgalette des rois recipe game of thrones style

  • 2 rolls of puff pastry (premade)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond powder
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 egg for glaze
  • 1 small figurine


  1. Place sugar, almond powder, 2 eggs and almond extract into bowl. Mash in the butter.
  2. Use electric mixer to cream.
  3. Spread puff pastry in design of your choice. Usually a circle, but this recipe chose to use a rectangle.
  4. Mix egg for glaze. Line the edges of the dough with part of the glaze, but leave some for the top.
  5. Place almond filling on top of one of the puff pastry dough pieces. Place small figurine on almond filling.
  6. Place the second puff pastry piece on top. Seal with your fingers.
  7. Use a knife to create a design along the edge and center of the dough.
  8. Use a knife to create a hole in the middle of the top to allow steam to escape.
  9. Brush the remaining egg glaze on top to help the crust brown.
  10. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Click to enlarge this awesome pictogram of the recipe done in the style of Game of Thrones—because it’s a king cake!



Burn Baby Burn

Let’s say you had some extra cash sitting around and decided to buy a painting that had not been authenticated.  20 years later, you decide to find out if the painting is real or fake. After finding out your painting was in fact a forgery, you then find out it’s going to be burned according to an ancient French law meant to protect the rights of artists. This is what happened to a man named Martin Lang.

“Nude” from 1909-1910 was recently discovered to be a fake Chagall painting on the show “Fake or Fortune”. (Telegraph 2014)

Lang was recently part of the reality show Fake or Fortune, which investigates  “lost masterpieces, forgers and Nazi looted art” (TVO, 2014). They want to discover the story behind works of art. After much research, the only way to have Lang’s Chagall painting authenticated was to send it to France, which is where the problems began.

A committee consisting of two of Chagall’s granddaughters and other authenticators determined that Lang’s painting was a “very bad copy“, which means they have the right (and it is customary in France to use this right) to destroy the painting.

This brings up an interesting point. When it comes to property, who decides what gets to be done with it? The artist (or their descendants) who create the art? Or the people who buy the art? In the UK, the person who buys the property, fake or not, has the final say with what happens to it. Unfortunately for Lang, in France, that is not the case.

In an article written by Philip Mould, one of the hosts of Fake or Fortune, he lists several alternatives to destroying the painting. Instead of destroying it, the painting could be donated to an art museum to help identify other forgeries. He also makes the point that once a painting is burned, it is gone forever. So if future technologies are created that could verify the authenticity of the painting, it would be too late. The descendants of the artists could have destroyed an actual piece created by their relative.

Turner PaintingThis actually happened on Fake or Fortune. Three paintings by J.M.W. Turner that were believed to be forgeries inthe past have recently come to be regarded as originals through investigation. (NYTimes.com,2012) What if they had been burned?

I understand where the law is coming from, but to me it just seems so permanent. The law is meant to protect the rights of artists and discourage people from forging their work. However, it seems to me the people who are being hurt by this law are not the forgers, but the patrons of fine art.

I definitely support the UK standpoint of when you buy a painting, it is yours to do with as you please. Why do descendants of artists, who may or may not have been trained in the artistic style of their relative have the right to decide what happens to the painting? Wouldn’t it be better to label the work of art as a fake, but allow future generations to interpret the work as they will?

What do you think? Do you think a French law should let artists (or their descendants) burn paintings that have been determined as forgeries? Or is it the right of the person who bought the painting to decide what they get to do about it?

Martin Lung Petition

If you disagree with the ruling, there is a petition you can sign here.