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August 20, 2012 • Rants and Raves

Riot Grrl, Pussy Riot, and the Heartbreak of Seeing Feminism Attacked in Russia

(image courtesy Amnesty International’s Pussy Riot support page)

I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school touring Israel. It was an incredible experience, but the most lasting impression didn’t come from the country. It came from the moment one of my friends on the trip played a Sleater-Kinney song, and my eyes were opened to the world of riotgrrl and women in punk rock. These were bands that sang about feminism, politics and sexuality in a more frank, honest, and direct manner than I had ever heard before. Feminist punk rock is a defining soundtrack to my life, and so it makes me absolutely heartbroken to see how the members of “Pussy Riot” are being persecuted for speaking their minds in Russia.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, the band was arrested and charged with “hooliganism” for protesting against Russian President Vladmir Putin while performing in an Orthodox church. From CNN:

The Pussy Riot members were charged after screaming, “Mother Mary, please drive Putin away,” in a protest act in February inside Christ Savior Cathedral, one of Moscow’s grandest houses of worship.

Sirovaya rejected the women’s defense that they were acting from political motives, ruling that they had intended to insult the Russian Orthodox Church and undermine public order.

However, the fact that two of them have young children was a mitigating factor in the sentencing, the judge said.

The defendants were accused of offending the churchgoers present — through their actions, obscene language and their clothing — and showing a lack of respect for the rules of the Orthodox Church. They ignored requests to stop their brief unscheduled protest performance, the court heard.

Two years for protesting the government. And they had to stand trial inside a glass cage. The imagery of that alone is frightening-three women who spoke out against the person in power, placed on display as an example of what happens if you speak your mind.

According to the St Petersburg Times, it sounds like riotgrrl wasn’t just a fun American sound for Pussy Riot, but a starting point for their own performances:

The group cites American punk rock band Bikini Kill and its Riot Grrrl movement as an inspiration, but says there are plenty of differences between them and Bikini Kill.

“What we have in common is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse, non-standard female image,” Pussy Riot said.

“The difference is that Bikini Kill performed at specific music venues, while we hold unsanctioned concerts. On the whole, Riot Grrrl was closely linked to Western cultural institutions, whose equivalents don’t exist in Russia.”

It is interesting. Riotgrrl kicked off in large part as a way to give women a voice in a very male dominated rock world. The focus, especially with the bands of the early 90s, was on body image, being treated equally as artists, and heavily on safety in mosh pits and at concerts, where women were often assaulted. The focus was in many ways more micro than Pussy Riot, because the changes riotgrrl wanted to make (and did make) started in self-selected communities. If you liked rock, you liked the do it yourself, fanzine world, your world was influenced by riotgrrl. If you were busy listening to the Backstreet Boys and Madonna, well, you probably didn’t know or care about Bikini Kill, or tours like “Free to Fight“.

Pussy Riot, on the other hand, did care, and they are pushing a whole nation to change. They are, in many ways, the ultimate riotgrrls. They are pushing to change the status quo in Russia, and as a result they are being punished horrifically for it. Riotgrrl had some rough spots, especially once the media tried to package it up and explain it in two sentences or less to the average person, but no one in government took away their right to speak out. Two years are a long time, and I hope for their sake that the protests they have triggered, and the questioning of the status quo, can help make lasting change in Russia.

Riotgrrl faded, but the women who fought for feminist, hardcore punk rock changed music. I hope for Russia and Pussy Riot that their protests and incarceration help lead to serious change…and while I don’t often think about this, I am suddenly very grateful to have grown up in a culture that didn’t take away women’s voices, that allowed a homegrown feminist protest movement to thrive, and that fostered a belief system that influenced people halfway around the world. For Pussy Riot, and for every woman who fought for respect in music, politics, and culture, I am proud to still consider myself a riotgrrl and a feminist.

If you feel inspired by the Pussy Riot story, you can check out Slacker Radio’s official “Pussy Riot” station; you can also read their closing statements at the Huffington Post.

And here is a video of the performance and lyrics that got them arrested (thanks to the Huffington Post for the link):

(Chorus)

St. Maria, Virgin, Drive away Putin

Drive away! Drive away Putin!

(end chorus)

Black robe, golden epaulettes

All parishioners are crawling and bowing

The ghost of freedom is in heaven

Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains

The head of the KGB is their chief saint

Leads protesters to prison under escort

In order not to offend the Holy

Women have to give birth and to love

Holy shit, shit, Lord’s shit!

Holy shit, shit, Lord’s shit!

(Chorus)

St. Maria, Virgin, become a feminist

Become a feminist, Become a feminist

(end chorus)

Church praises the rotten dictators

The cross-bearer procession of black limousines

In school you are going to meet with a teacher-preacher

Go to class – bring him money!

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin

Bitch, you better believed in God

Belt of the Virgin is no substitute for mass-meetings

In protest of our Ever-Virgin Mary!

(Chorus)

St. Maria, Virgin, Drive away Putin

Drive away! Drive away Putin!

(end chorus)

Finally, for Pussy Riot, and any girl who has ever idolized a riot grrl or a feminist, Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl”:

 

6 Responses to " Riot Grrl, Pussy Riot, and the Heartbreak of Seeing Feminism Attacked in Russia "

  1. I would say ‘has not yet’ taken away women’s voices. Because there are certain not-insignificant parts of the Republican party that want nothing more than to have white men ruling the world and enforcing a certain culled Bible-centric viewpoint and ruleset.

  2. […] These were bands that sang about feminism, politics and sexuality in a more frank, honest, and direct manner than I had ever heard before. Feminist punk rock is a defining soundtrack to my life, and so it makes me absolutely …  […]

  3. […] you read Carly’s excellent post about the Russian punk band Pussy Riot and their arrest and sentencing on ‘hooliganism’ […]

  4. cgavula says:

    I think it is a sad statement but I don’t think it was an attack on feminism at all – rather I think it was simply an attack on someone (could have been anyone) who protested the current Russian government. Doesn’t really make it any better since it’s still about stifling free speech.

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