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Exposing Femen: Former Topless Activist Slams Radical Feminism

A recent Femen protest in Madrid
A recent Femen protest in Madrid
Chico Felitti

SAO CARLOS — At 23, Sara Winter is in a mothering phase. Three months ago, she gave birth at home to her first son, Hector Valentim, and in December she published her first e-book, "Vadia, Não! Sete Vezes que Fui Traída pelo Feminismo"(I'm No Bitch! Seven Times I was Betrayed by Feminism.)

As the title suggests, her 50-page essay in Portuguese tells the story of how a former Brazilian member of Femen, the topless female activist group, became disillusioned. Among the episodes she remembers was a night she spent freezing outside in the cold, alone, after one of her sisters-in-arm left her to be with a man. Another time, she recounts how a group of fellow members forced her to take cocaine against her will.

"I left out a lot of other stories like that," Winter says.

She became famous at 19, when she became the first Brazilian to join the bare-breasted protest group created in Ukraine. Winter's name is still mentioned in 13 court cases, most of them related to public obscenity. "I don't know whether I'll have enough money to buy the basic necessities," she says.

She broke off with Femen less than two years after joining, having been accused of fascism and stealing money. She denies both accusations. "I had been wanting to show what had happened to me for over a year, but I thought it would be like heresy for me to talk against feminism," she says.

Eventually, hatred of her former colleagues, who she says harassed her on the Internet, convinced her to start writing about her experience. "They started to say things about my son," she says. "That's when I told myself, "Enough! If it's war they want, it's war they'll get. I'll write about what I had to endure at their hands.""

A new identity

Two months ago, she began defining herself as "pro women." Since then, she says she's received more than 600 messages from women who had wanted to be feminists and "have been humiliated because they were apolitical or religious." But her beliefs haven't changed dramatically. "I'm just practicing a different sort of feminism," Winter says. "The problem is that the word "feminism" scares a lot of people, so I stopped using it."

Winter says the feminism movement became mainstream. "This creates many illusions in the eyes of young girls," Winter says. "This movement isn't the beautiful thing they think it is."

Her revised beliefs aren't in opposition to feminism, though. "Is it a movement that that does good things for women? Yes, it is, but most of these women it helps are middle-class women, academics, who have access to the Internet. It doesn't reach those on the fringes."

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Winter with her newborn baby. Photo: Blogreaca

Winter says she never got any help from her Femen sisters. During her pregnancy — a prospect she considered "absurd" until it became reality — she looked for doctors who gave free consultations as part of university programs. At one of them, she discovered an organization that takes care of women who want to have their babies even though they have no resources, by helping them with health care and finding somewhere to stay. "I found that this was actually very feminist," Winter says.

She liked the initiative so much that she promised to give one Brazilian real ($0.25) to pro-life organizations for every e-book she sold. "I'm opposed to the act of abortion, but I'm in favor of it being legalized, until 12 weeks only," Winter says. "I'm in favor because I think that legalization actually leads to a decrease of abortions and of the deaths that sometimes follow for those who do it in poor conditions." Abortion in Brazil is only allowed in cases of rape or when the mother's life is in danger.

When she became pregnant, Winter moved closer to her mother. Until then, Winter had been living in Rio de Janeiro, 600 kilometers away, where she had met a soldier, with whom she was married for eight months before separating.

The new mother now wants to settle down in her hometown of São Carlos. She's left naked activism behind. "I want to go into politics," Winter says. "I'm looking for a party that I could join and seeing where I'd be best as a candidate. Through politics, I want to make in difference in women's lives."

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