Pussy Riot and the Dicks that Screwed Them

Late one night while walking home from a show with my girlfriend, we ran into a feminist group assembled outside a public art space in Seattle who calls themselves the “Grrrl Army.” The Capitol Hill area is a common stomping ground for artists, but there was something different about this particular building (already plastered with posters) now painted over in pink, displaying messages of malcontent with America’s burgeoning rape culture. This was a new form of street art not typical in the hipster corridor. It was clearly an impromptu outcry carried out by a few fed up individuals. Over the next few weeks, the building’s façade, now taken over by the Grrrl Army, changed as other musicians and artists covered up their message for their own purposes. The GA immediately responded with an installation of wire hangers that covered an entire wall, accompanied with crayons for passersby to write something on the paper backdrop. The response was a telling sign that feminists have not disappeared from the mainstream. Among the scrawl was a repeated phrase, “Free Pussy Riot.” As a feminist and lover of punk rock, it was clear that this was a call to action. However slight the advance, there’s an opportunity to convey a perspective that “connects the dots.”

The verdict given by Judge Marina Syrova sentenced Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutesvich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova to two years in prison for preforming in a Russian Orthodox Church and admonishing the ties between Vladimir Putin and members of the clergy. They sang subversive lyrics (“Our Lady, Chase Putin Out!”) while kneeling on the altar and crossing themselves, which went on for less than a minute before security forces detained said members, resulting in a media frenzy around the world. Unsurprisingly, the U.S., U.K., and EU criticized the prosecutors for the severity of Pussy Riot’s punishment, and a few choice celebrities (Madonna, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono) made public statements showing their support for the members of PR.

During the 7 months between PR’s arrest and sentencing, an undercurrent of bad blood between Mother Russia and the West spewed to the surface. Everyone started saying “pussy” without restraint as the world awaited the fate of the balaclava clad girl group. While the imprisoned members waited 5 months for their trial date, America had its own shit to deal with. Seattle’s own Grrrl Army protested Todd Akin’s statement regarding “legitimate rape.” The annual Slutwalk in several U.S. cities provided an arena for feminists to assemble and protest the shaming of sexual abuse victims.

But the underlying theme here is that women are often treated like second class citizens, and are more often derided for their expressions of femininity. This is a global epidemic. Most cases of unjust treatment by the state or the patriarchy (some argue these terms are interchangeable) toward women go unreported. So when the Pussy Riot members laughed in their glass cage while Judge Sgrova resided that they had “crudely undermined social order,” they must have felt humorously validated.

The fact that women are positioned lower in the social hierarchy denotes that they will likely never experience justice at the hands of the patriarchy. Though PR spoke eloquently and openly in their closing statements, their punishment had been predetermined. Judge Syrova noted, “Considering the nature and degree of the danger posed by what was done, the defendants’ correction is possible only through an actual punishment.” The systematic undermining that women experience everyday isn’t punishment enough.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time a member of Pussy Riot has been thrown in jail for demonstrating dissent. Acting as a member of an avant-garde collective called “Voina” (War), Nadezhda Tolokonnikova participated in a conspicuous 10 minute orgy in Moscow’s Biology Museum (heh heh) under a banner that read “Fuck for the Successor Medvedev.” The “art stunt” was in reaction to the 2008 shift in power from Putin to Medvedev, which wasn’t much of a change at all. Nadezhda was exiled from college and joined the fringe as a blacklisted radical. Mark Ames, who covered the story for the newspaper The eXile, was censored and eventually dismantled for “extremism and spreading sexual propaganda.”

Well Russia, we do have more things in common besides our contempt for feminism. Remember the Dead Kennedys trial?

In 1986, Dead Kennedy’s front man Jello Biafra was searched and seized by L.A. police for distributing 10,000 copies of the album Frankenchrist. In this case, the controversy wasn’t centered on the album’s subversive, leftist lyrics. The egregious offense of including a print of H.R. Giger’s Landscape XX (Penis Landscape) with the recording managed to piss off the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center). L.A. deputy city attorney Michael Guarino brought Biafra to court on behalf of the PMRC for distributing “harmful material to minors.”

In a politically charged hearing similar to the Pussy Riot trial, a group of conservative, religious extremists needed a cost-effective way to let other artists know that punk rock is offensive and WILL be censored. In response to the trial, Frank Zappa offered his resources and support to the Dead Kennedys. To that, Biafra commented:

“Meeting Frank Zappa was one of the few silver linings to come out of the trial. He got a hold of me and the helpers of the No More Censorship Defense Fund rather than us having to find him. He gave me some very valuable advice very early on; something that anybody subjected to that kind of harassment should remember: You are the victim. You have to constantly frame yourself that way in the mass media so you don’t get branded some kind of outlaw simply because of your beliefs and the way you express your art.”

The verdict for Pussy Riot’s trial ended in a hung jury, and the trial was dismissed. Unfortunately for Pussy Riot, the only support their fellow artists offered was short lived and euphemistic. The real support for victims is happening right now, fledged by women who are tired of the violence, hatred, and disproportionate treatment. This is not an isolated incident, and new generations of feminists are on the fringe now, slowly creeping into the mainstream.

If there’s anything we know for sure, it’s what H.R. Giger was trying to portray with Landscape XX: Members of society are really good at fucking each other over.

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