Is Pussy Riot Just Another Blip on Russia’s Radar?

Hailed as modern feminist heroines by many, Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich now face two years in prison for a display of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility” that took place at a Moscow Orthodox cathedral back in February. Care2 members have made it clear that they stand with the Free Pussy Riot movement. The time may be ticking by slowly for the incarcerated three, but their message — or some semblance of it —  continues to move across a broad audience.

Essentially, Pussy Riot are a left-wing extremist group who claim to be more anti-Putin than anti-religion or even particularly feminist. During protest, Pussy Riot donned bright balaclavas covering their faces to protect their identities. The band’s construct is fluid, and not all of the members have been identified along with Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich.

Still, their “Punk Prayer” against Putin drew the attention of both national and international youth clambering for some fresh punk rock bedlam when some of the women were put behind bars. A day of worldwide protest in support of freeing Pussy Riot took place Aug. 17th after their sentence. An anonymous hacker even managed to take down the website of the court in Moscow where the band’s trial took place, effectively turning the page into a loop of the song that led to Pussy Riot’s arrest: “Mother of God, Chase Putin Away.”

Celebrities have also jumped on aspects of Pussy Riot’s message. Ten anti-gay groups are suing Madonna for $10 million after she urged artists and all of Russia to protest Pussy Riot’s “inhumane” sentence. Stephen Fry wrote a letter to the three in prison, highlighting what he thought to be their main motivation:

I am not saying, and nor would you claim, that you are the equal of Pushkin or Dostoevsky, but that isn’t the point. The fight is for free speech, and this isn’t limited only to gigantic towering titans of literature.

Pussy Riot has a track record of previous protests, with both their name and public performance art drawing attention.  Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail, members of the riot grrrl group Bikini Kill, have even spoken out about Pussy Riot having the potential to spark a new feminist movement. With Putin successfully helping ban Pride marches in Moscow for the past century, the tentative link between Pussy Riot’s demonstration as “homosexual propaganda” has also boiled down an entire leftist extremist movement to a singular GLBT cause, a hot topic for many U.S. under-30s.

From a Russian Perspective

Attending a women’s college with a relatively diverse pool of students, I had a handful of classmates who had immigrated from Russia to the United States before attending university. We met in an environment where feminist narratives were both encouraged as well as dissected. My Russian-American friends were always some of the first to remind other students about disparity between feminism within the United States and in other countries.

I asked one student to shed some light on how Pussy Riot and other protestors looked to Russians under the feminist microscope. Were they making the same impact that so many Western media sources implied? Natalia, who prefers to use a pseudonym so she can speak more candidly, gave me her take on what Pussy Riot may look like as feminist icons from a Russian viewpoint. She acknowledged that Pussy Riot is left of the mainstream, but not necessarily toting the title of radical feminists as much of the Western world believes them to — at least not by Russian standards.

Her experience seeing Russians react to other demonstrations are in line with polls showing how few Russians are against Pussy Riot’s sentence. Russians are much more blase toward Pussy Riot than the scandalized international crowd, mostly because they view the protest as a relatively pointless act.

Having lived through the fall of the USSR, older generations of Russians “know that politics is usually full of greed and self-interest, and are very skeptical of anyone who claims that they’re really just trying to help the country,” Natalia said.

“But they also hate Putin. So those two things are obviously kind of at odds with each other. … There’s not really anyone to rally behind instead, [so] they’re content to just make passive remarks about Putin, and in the same breath say that revolts against him are useless.”

Some are optimistic that the international exposure may help shorten Pussy Riot’s, or future, similar sentences, and the world’s eyes have already improved the inhumane prison conditions they endured pre-trial.

“I’m not surprised that it’s around this time that all of these demonstrations have started,”  said Natalia. “Obviously many of them have been inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, but also, looking at it pragmatically, the [protesters] who are 20- 25 now are those who were born right as the USSR collapsed. They have only heard about that time, and all they know and can remember is the supposedly pro-Western oil-obsessed mostly Putin-run government.”

Internet access exposed many young Russians to the notion that government could be better and less corrupt. Having missed much of the tumult of the post-Soviet revolution, young Russians aren’t as timid about carrying on the fight for democracy.

According to her, identifying the women as feminists radicalizes them in the eyes of conservatives, but many Russians as well. “No Russian I know would identify as a feminist, even if they agree with the things that feminists are fighting for; my parents’ generation and older don’t see feminism as a valid political identity, but rather this super liberal Western individual belief system that some people choose to engage in.”

Natalia acknowledges that views on feminism could be changing in her generation over in Russia, but the disconnect makes it hard for older Russians to understand and sympathize with activists fighting for women’s rights. Even in the United States, she struggles when trying to convey her own mindset to her family, and isn’t sure she sees that changing any time soon. “I can’t tell my parents or grandparents that I identify as a feminist because it means all these awful things, but not this political agenda, per se.”

What do you think, Care2 — what sort of feminist statement would freeing Pussy Riot make? Or is it just about seeking justice for a few women who have been turned into an “example” by the Kremlin?

Related Stories:

New Protests Rage After Pussy Riot Guilty Verdict

Pussy Riot Sentenced To Two Years in Prison Colony

Pussy Riot Fears For Fate of Their Young Children

Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue

37 comments

Joanne Dixon
Joanne Dixon3 years ago

Here's a thought from Australia:
http://wellthisiswhatithink.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/sign-the-petition-get-apple-to-sell-the-pussy-riot-song/

And a petition we can sign to help it happen:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Apple_please_sell_Pussy_Riots_new_song_on_iTunes/?cddiudb

Juliet Defarge
judith sanders3 years ago

The former Soviet Republics have had rather a lot of human rights "blips." Perhaps the interest in Pussy Riot is the world's way of saying we are disgusted. The fall of the USSR was such a great opportunity to create real justice and equality, but instead many reverted to superstition and tribalism.

Nyack Clancy
Nyack Clancy3 years ago

Not everyone needs to like, or even respect Christian Law- anymore than those of us who do not want religion need to like and respect Sharia Law- really it's just all the same Taliban with different skin colors.

Roger M.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thanks for the update. It remains to be seen if this level of protest can be sustained.

Winifred Beam Kessler

The Earth's various major governments and religions have been the primary agents for the 5,000 year War on Women which is only now reaching an all-time high across the Globe and will be especially apparent at the Republican National Convention in the U.S. in Tampa FL this week. If you doubt the historic roots, get and read THE CHALICE AND THE BLADE by Riane Eisler for the worldview and THE TERROR DREAM by Susan Faludi as well as the film starring Hilary Swank, IRON JAWED MAIDENS. Russia's "radar" screen is not much more biased than those in the U.S. or anywhere when it comes to the human rights of women! Churches, mosques, temples, etc. as well as government offices and political party gatherings are the most appropriate places for protest such as those made by the young "Pussy Riot" group. If you doubt the efficacy of crude behavior in drawing attention to an issue which has been successfully hushed-up by every brutal as well as more subtle means available to men, think of the persecutions of women as "witches" in both Europe and the U.S. in past centuries when in reality they were practitioners of medicine (herbal only at the time) and men wanted to take over the field. Only RC nuns at present, as a group, seem to have a clear vision of what must be done.

Simon Broome
Simon Broome3 years ago

Oil again... Russia, I implore you to go Electric!

Nessie Benjamin
Nessie B.3 years ago

Romney would do the same as Putin ...

Nessie Benjamin
Nessie B.3 years ago

Thanks ...

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.3 years ago

thanks

Suzanne B.
Past Member 3 years ago

Hooray! Just read that two members of the Pussy Riot have managed to make their way to freedom - outside of Russia, obviously. I do find them somewhat vulgar as does Paola but not enough to see them wind up in a Russian prison.