Comment: A year on and we need Pussy Riot more than ever…

Comment: A year on and we need Pussy Riot more than ever…

Words: Jade French

FREE PUSSY RIOT! // LET’S START A PUSSY RIOT!

It’s easy to forget in the aftermath of media frenzy, the release of one member and Madonna’s semi-permanent back tattoo that two women are still in penal colonies, as prisoners of consciousness.

Pussy Riot are fearless protestors, using performative ‘moments’ and punk music to highlight injustices in the political systems of Russia. More succinctly than that – they are young feminist women, fighting for basic human rights. With the onslaught of anti-LGBT feeling brewing in Russia, it seems no mere coincidence that in the year three members of Pussy Riot were arrested, a string of stringent laws were passed. From strengthening the links between state and church with anti-blasphemy laws, to the recent anti-gay propaganda laws it feels like more than ever, society needs the brightly bouncing presence of Pussy Riot.

Russia never had a second wave of feminism. The revolution of 1917 generated a first wave, with Russia granting more freedom to women than most other countries at the time. However as Renee Baigell notes, more often than not the feeling in Russian art movements were that feminism “was considered a divisive issue at the time and a less important one than putting food on the table”. As a mounting totalitarian regime began to find traction, all sectors of society began to feel the weight of restriction. The Second Wave seems almost limited to a Westernised voice, and a trapped middle-class. The idea of Western influences has always been a tricky subject in Russia. European philosophers influenced thinking, American women had a problem without a nam and Germaine Greer headed up the Female Eunuch. These are all important and inspiring acts – but for a country built on national feeling and with hot and cold relations with the West, these things seem menacing. “Particularly after the Duma elections in December 1995, it was apparent that the long honeymoon with the West was over,” writes Peter Truscott. Perceived ‘dictation’ from Western forces meant Russia retreated away from it’s influence – and the imported feminism of the 1960s and 70s touches even more nerves in a patriarchal state.

Closer to home, I’ve always had disputes with my Gran about the influences of Second Wave feminism. Sure, I might have been able to go to university, be more safe-guarded against sexual harassment in the work place and have more of a choice as to my opinions on marriage and children (at least legally, ignoring any social pressures). My Gran is cynical about ‘Women’s Lib’. Her bum was routinely pinched at work, she had to work 70 hour weeks and with her husband, support four children. “What did Women’s Lib do for me?” she says, “All the things that people take for granted now, happened every day to the likes of me”.

I like to think that the fact things have changed for my generation is the Second Wave legacy; that things evened out in the aftermath of the storm. But it’s true – I take my freedoms for granted. I’m indignant (rightly so) when someone thinks of me as lesser because of my gender, I argue with men in the street who whisper “gimme a blow job” under their breaths. I study feminism, I talk to my friends about both sex and Sex in the City, I watch MTV reality shows. I’m the only person who misses Caggie from Made in Chelsea, and (always one for the underdog) I have a love-hate relationship towards Andrea Dworkin.

That’s why for me, Pussy Riot are so important. They cut through all my mis-associations, and half formed ideas. You don’t need to have a deep knowledge of Luce Irigaray’s psycho-analytic feminism, or have read through the entire Longford Report. These things help to substantiate an argument, or to inspire your own thoughts. Indeed, the closing statements from Nadia, Masha and Katia are three of the most thought-provoking pieces of political rhetoric one could read. They themselves are well-read, steeping their actions in a dense amount of philosophy, musical influences and social theory. BUT none of that matters when you see them – their bright balaclavas, summer dresses and out-and-out punk music rips that to shreds. They have carefully built an aesthetic, but they are not a brand. They’ve written all their lyrics with philosophy, but they are easy to understand. The message does not get lost in the medium.

If you feel social injustice in your bones – don’t sit still. Pussy Riot are active activists. They didn’t just sign an online petition and think ‘I’ve changed the world’. That’s why they’re so exciting – they took to Red Square, they scaled the walls of the Kremlin, they held guerrilla gigs in the Moscow Metro. And fatefully, they performed in Christ the Saviour Church on the 21st February, and were sentenced a year ago Saturday, on the 17th August 2012.

It’s often easy to feel like protest achieves nothing. Yet, only this weekend the fracking protest at Balcome has been doubled in size, with even Vivienne Westwood lending support. Then, South Manchester Against the Cuts has managed to keep people from being evicted due to the Bedroom Tax by staging sit-ins. There’s a lot to get angry about in our own backyards, and although Britain has always attempted to retain a culture of ‘free speech’, it seems like our government think of its people as apathetic. We are not a nation of rather-watch-the-X-Factor-drones or symptoms-of-a-Jeremy-Kyle-generation. When I see Pussy Riot in Russia, I don’t just think that their government is (to put it lightly) messed up. It makes me look at my own government and raise a critical eyebrow too and want to do something about it!

The medium is the message, and as Pussy Riot say themselves – anyone can be a part of this movement. Everyone should be a part of this movement, until we have reached that utopian value: equality.

Short Story: Lesson One - unknown histories remain unheard

Short Story: Lesson One - unknown histories remain unheard

Comment: This is What Happens When You Cut The Arts

Comment: This is What Happens When You Cut The Arts