Crikey



Russia’s feminist punk ‘hooligans’ charting their own path

You do know the song is about my v-gina right?” taunted Courtney Love on Twitter to Lana del Ray, after del Ray covered Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box at a performance in Sydney. “On top of which some of the lyrics about my v-gina I contributed. So umm next time you sing it, think about my v-gina will you?”

Yet Love had nothing to say on P-ssy Riot, the self-described “militant, feminist, street rock band”, three of whom face seven years in prison for hooliganism after performing a punk prayer at a Moscow church altar. Admittedly, Love was on her way to Long Island with her “trusty Tibetan house manager” to start her vacation just as the trial started, so she probably didn’t have a chance to follow it.

P-ssy Riot credits the band Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrrl movement in the USA with inspiration, a movement Love has long been associated with, yet has always been keen to distance herself from. Love has described Riot Grrrl as “cultural anorexia” and labelled Bikini Kill as “oestrogen terrorists … well oestrogen lemmings”. Love’s major criticism of Riot Grrrl seems to be that it took itself too seriously, and that it consisted largely of middle-class white women.

This may have been the case, but the feminist battle was still a worthwhile one. It invaded the middle-class white man world of rock music, and paved the way for future generations of women to adopt punk and take the stage. Bikini Kill may have only been battling for the ability to be angry, incensed and loud just like their male peers, yet their action allowed future generations of women to utilise this vital tool of cultural protest.

P-ssy Riot has adopted these techniques for a different battle — to overthrow a completely patriarchal state. Their politically infused punk music has also been inspired by another western cultural movement, the Oi! punk movement scene in the UK. P-ssy Riot has said the Oi! bands “really capture the essence of punk, which is aggressive protest”. While P-ssy Riot describes itself as a band, they say they will “never give a gig in a club or in any special musical space”. P-ssy Riot is purely a protest movement.

The Guerilla Girls, with their anonymous masked protests in galleries, appear to be another western cultural influence, although P-ssy Riot has never acknowledged them directly. Yet P-ssy Riot’s goal to “move away from personalities and towards symbols and pure protest” seems to mirror the actions of the Guerilla Girls. According to Suzanne Moore in The Guardian, they have also “read everything from Simone de Beauvoir to Judith Butler and Rosi Braidotti”.

This long list of western influences will not help P-ssy Riot’s cause. Although the western media may be fawning over them, and Sting and the Red Hot Chili Peppers might be vocalising their support, Russia is not in any hurry to join the western world. Even those opposed to the authoritarian rule of Putin are embedded with a sense of nationalism that views Russia as an oppositional power. Putin’s success is because of this.

There are still some remnants of democracy in Russia, and although it is difficult for the western world to acknowledge, a vast majority of Russians still support Putin. This is not simply due to Putin’s corruption of the media and other systems of power, but a century of culture, often propaganda, that has stigmatised the western world as the enemy.

One of the key questions in the early days of P-ssy Riot’s trial has been what kind of art do they like? If P-ssy Riot listed the western influences of Riot Grrrl, Oi!, Guerilla Girls, Judith Butler and Simone de Beauvoir, they would immediately lose the battle in the Russian media. They would be condemned as western agents, just as the election monitoring groups were, after it had been revealed they were funded by western NGOs.

P-ssy Riot doesn’t need to draw on western influences. Russia already has a long history of anarchism and protest, from Tolstoy to Bakunin. Although the history of feminist protest in Russia is more difficult to unravel, the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque should be considered as a source of inspiration for P-ssy Riot, and a Russian rebirth through hooliganism:

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Categories: Europe, Music

6 Responses

Comments page: 1 |
  1. Amanda Palmer goes there with “Map of Tasmania” as well.

    Maybe NSFW

    youtube.com/watch?v=rcoreV10hI8

    by Mike Smith on Aug 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm

  2. These tarts should try their ‘happenings’ in brothels, not in the church.
    Protesting against Putin in a Russian orthodox church is soooo stupid!.
    Imagine some ‘concerned’ Aussies protesting in an Anglican church against i.e. Howard. What is the purpose?
    And the people attending the church have every right not to be disturbed in their prayers. It should be obvious to everybody that congregation should be protected from intruders.
    It is hooliganism to my way of thinking and has nothing to do with Western-Eastern value value systems.
    No synagogue or Catholic/Christian church or mosque would allow half-naked ‘pussies’ to interupt the service.
    As to the court sentence?. It reminds to be seen, but there are much more interesting cases of (mis) treating women in the USA.

    by Rena Zurawel on Aug 3, 2012 at 6:30 pm

  3. Actually it’s because the Russian Orthodox Church has been directly (ie, funding and speaking out for) and indirectly supporting Putin. The increasing autocracy of Putin’s governance and the Russian church are inextricably linked. There were very sound reasons for targeting the Church. Also, the protest took place in a space where only men are allowed to tread. This includes cleaners and other workers. Because, of course, men are closer to God. Lastly, although perhaps violent to your ears, the song was in fact a prayer.

    Pussy Riot have discussed all of this and interviews are available to anyone who wishes to read them.

    Of course Pussy Riot are protesting from the margins and many people will never really appreciate what they do. It’s important to remember two things, however. The first is that radical change has never come about through ‘wholesome’ means. By radical change, I mean democratisation, female and racial liberation, increases in human rights standards, etc. Everything you hold dear as a member of the Australian polity has come about because of people you would deride as ‘tarts’, etc.

    Second, it’s fine to critique their protest (generating controversy is entirely the point of marginal protest) but calling people ‘tarts’ or assuming that implying that they’re sex workers is an insult (or funny?) is only ever a negative and destructive contribution. That kind of language has the capacity to be absolutely nothing else.

    by barber sal on Aug 4, 2012 at 3:02 am

  4. There were many feminist punks and punk bands in Brisbane in the late 1970s. It seems to me that feminism has always been a part of punk music and its just that the history of punk has been written by men.

    by sottile6 on Aug 4, 2012 at 9:21 am

  5. The KGB has a Crikey subscription?

    by floorer on Aug 4, 2012 at 5:04 pm

  6. @Floorer: How can you doubt it? I would think you’d imagine it would be a complimentary one <evil grin>

    by Mike Smith on Aug 4, 2012 at 6:08 pm

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