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Feb 18 2014

Pussy Riot: an exercise in jaundiced scrutiny for the patriarchy blamer

Pussy Riot. cc Denis Bochkarev

Pussy Riot. cc Denis Bochkarev

We’re glad that the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot have been sprung from the stony lonesome, but now that they’re all up in the news again (most recently they were arrested — and subsequently released — for walking down the street in Sochi) I’d like to gently remind the patriarchy blamer of the possibility that they are not quite what they seem.

Here’s the 2012 post I wrote about the hidden dudely porntastic agenda behind Pussy Riot, and here’s the source material for that post.

The gist: whenever there’s wild mainstream interest in a supposedly radical feminist cause — particularly when the interest takes the shape of unbridled support — it behooves the patriarchy blamer to apply a bit of jaundiced scrutiny. This is because the media rarely support any feminist cause that doesn’t, at its core, primarily promote the interests of dudes.

Jaundiced scrutiny is the cornerstone of patriarchy blaming.

At the very least, can we please stop ignoring that the band name is Pussy Riot, for chrissake? Madonna — let’s face it, she’s not always the most reliable source for solid feminist analysis — thinks it’s awesome that they’ve made the word pussy “sayable” in her home. But one might, and I do, argue that pussy is a porn word, a dude word, a demeaning, reductionist slur. Salivating news dudes really dig saying it over and over on TV, so clearly it has worked as far as hooking Western media. Savvy marketing no doubt, but it’s pretty disappointingly enstinkened by pornulated sell-out (see the afore-linked 2012 posts, above).

Because liberal media is controlled by dudes, and because most of the Googleable primary source material is in Russian, it’s difficult for the non-Russian speaker to tease out what is actually going on, feministically speaking, with Nadezha Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina. Their general anti-Putin message is certainly beloved of the dudely West, and they are always characterized as feminists, but media don’t ever seem to report on what, if any, specifically feminist activism they’ve got goin’ on. What we know is this: since getting out of jail and rising to international prominence they’ve been kicked out of Pussy Riot (for straying from the “ideals of [the] group — feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult”). However, the pair appear not to have accepted their involuntary resignation; Time magazine reports that they “stole the show” from Madonna last week by reading protest statements at an Amnesty International fundraiser in Brooklyn before biffing back to Russia to get arrested at the Olympics. Which event coincided nicely with the publication of a new Pussy Riot biography.

So, to recap: Their creepy knitted balaclavas are kind of cool. And yay, they’re out of jail. But what the heck do they actually stand for?

It cannot be denied that, whatever their agenda, they are extremely courageous women. Yet I can’t help wondering if English-speaking news outlets would have been so enamored of them if their band name had been Vulva Riot.

9 comments

  1. Ashley

    I hate their name. It reduces whatever their doing to their entire persons being vulvas.Dudes have been doing that to women forever, so I don’t find it cute or like a reclaiming of the word when they do it.

    I am guilty of using “bitch” in the reclaimed sense. And, to be entirely honest, sometimes the nonreclaimed sense as well (fail, I know). In the reclaimed sense I like it because it was always used against me at those moments when I felt like fighting against abuse or sexism, so it gained a hold in my mind and identity as a good thing.

    But “pussy” just IS porny. Agreed. Usually guys who say that word are total assholes/misogynists. They go to strip clubs and believe in traditional gender roles and that whatever else women do or are, they are mainly just sex objects.

    Pussy Riot strikes me as white privileged image-obsessed middle class women with nothing better to do than show at high profile events so they can get arrested. Yawn. It’s celebrity, and it’s boring. Usually women who stand for something are too busy trying to help other women or people who are worse off, not parading around like that and thinking of cute fuckable names to base their “revoluition” on.

    Yech.

  2. Lidon

    Well said, Ashley.

  3. quixote

    Yeah, I groaned when they resurfaced. “Now I’m going to have to hear that again, over and over and over,” was all I could think.

    I read Russian. If you want to post a couple of links, I could take a look and see whether I remember enough to make sense of it. (It was my first language, but that was a long time ago.)

  4. K.A.

    Subverting conventional Good Girl-Sexy with Alt Girl-Sexy upends the sexualization of demure, powerless femininity, but reinforces the sexualization of women. Like most 3rd-wavers, they’re the Girls Gone Wild of feminism. It feels reappropriative, but attempts to effect change via pulling the rods of media dudes. One step forward, sure, but however many steps back is still in the hands of men.

  5. ew_nc

    K.A. – thank you for summing up how I feel about the Beyonce-era feminism so beautifully. I wish I knew how to articulate these issues better when talking with young feminists. They almost inevitably claim I’m anti-female sexuality. It’s really hard for them to grasp that while they’re freely expressing their sexuality this way, it’s still in the guise of male approval.

    I’m am now in full cronehood, and my hormone colored glasses are completely removed. Few things were more startling to me than to realize that I actually have no idea what my sexuality is/was, because all my sexual actions were performed for male approval. In other words, I have no idea what turns me on, because I only got turned on by male approval. So depressing.

    I think this mental meandering should have gone under Spleenvent Sunday, but I wanted to thank K.A. for her excellent words.

  6. polarcontrol

    Here’s the open letter which explains Nadia and Masha are no longer part of the group:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/06/nadia-masha-pussy-riot-collective-no-longer

  7. pheenobarbidoll

    The impression was that they weren’t merely arrested in sochi, but beaten and pepper sprayed in the street before being arrested. At least, thats what was on my newsfeed this morning.

  8. Twisty

    This just in: on The Daily Show, footage of the knit-headed Pussy Rioters being disciplined by Russian cops in the streets of Sochi . Jon Stewart quipped that the weapons being used were “pussy whips” and everybody had a big laugh that the weird women were getting roughed up.

  9. TwissB

    Thanks to polarcontrol for the link to the PRiot collective’s futile effort to rescue its name and image from exploitation by two drop-out members who are now presenting themselves as defenders of prisoners’ rights. Their featured appearance at an Amnesty International fundraiser in Brooklyn, advertised and publicized as a PRiot gig because that’s all the media care about, is typical of the rude awakening that invariably occurs when quasi-radical groups splinter over who should get the spotlight. And who picked up the tab for getting Nadia and Masha to Sochi to court attention from police and media?

    As for self-righteous Amnesty International using PRiot voyeurism as the ploy for getting attendance at its fund-raiser, that is just what is to be expected from an organization that has always been indifferent to violation of women’s human rights and is currently under feminist attack for advancing a position advocating legalization of prostitution. So not much has changed since the occasion long ago when a Houston TX ACLU fund-raiser touted Christi Hefner as its featured speaker.

    While I fully agree with Twisty’s point that media only identify anti-feminism stuff as “feminist,” I can’t see a dime’s worth of difference between the p-word and the f-word wen it comes to embracing one’s chains.

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