Pussy Riot: Gender, Free Speech, Benevolent Sexism and “Western” Hypocrisy?


I’ve been following the legal trials of Pussy Riot for several months now. I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable about the directions the press has taken with this case and with the level of celebrity endorsement, particularly on the issue of free speech. Whilst I do think this issue is fundamentally about the right to free speech, I don’t think it is the right to free speech that the media suggests. I have always felt that the right to free speech only supports those in power or a very small group of those with no access to formal power but who can engage with the media. I don’t think discussions about the right to free speech are ever supportive of marginalised groups; no matter how much left-wing men swear it is. Free speech is the rallying cry of pornographers, neo-Nazis, rape apologists, and racists who assert that their right to be a jackass is more important than the harm they cause. Hearing people defend the tenets of free speech always makes me twitchy. Free speech, like pacifism, is a position only available to people with privilege. After all, the right to free speech is irrelevant if you live in abject poverty in a place with no access to electricity and, subsequently, have no real medium in which to assert that right.

A couple of weeks ago the journalist Miriam Elder, who is the Moscow correspondent for the Guardian, tweeted this:

Curious: do you think there would be such a campaign against Pussy Riot if they were men? And such a campaign of support in the west?

I’ve been pondering this since she tweeted it but haven’t quite been able to articulate my concerns about the way the media is constructing Pussy Riot. I’m a big fan of anarcho-feminist punk bands, or any feminist musicians,  and feminist performance art but there is something wilfully disingenuous about the uncritical way in which Pussy Riot are being portrayed in the “Western” media. This is not to say that I think Pussy Riot deserve to be convicted for hooliganism in this case. Far from it, I think arresting non-violent protestors is one of the Patriarchy’s favourite power plays. It’s a nasty silencing technique. The three members of Pussy Riot should never have been arrested; never mind convicted. However, I do have concerns about the media’s treatment of Pussy Riot; particularly since Pussy Riot were not protesting the right to free speech. Free speech is somewhat of red herring here. The debate for “free speech” is just the same old “Western” hypocrisy and benevolent sexism pretending to liberate women when all it does is further constrain us.


Until last night I thought I was the only one with these concerns. Then, Rowan Davies tweeted a link to this article on RadFem Hub: A Radical Feminist Collective Blog. I had no idea about Pussy Riot’s connections to Voina. To be fair, I hadn’t actually heard of Voina either. A perusal of google suggests they are a political performance art group; that is usually code for general misogynistic pornography pretending to be “art”. PETA has a similar policy and I think they are all misogynistic nincompoops too. Voina are, simply, quite vile, nasty misogynists. It would be very hard to argue the right to free speech based on their campaigns which is why the creation of Pussy Riot was both a necessity for publicity and a way of obfuscating Voina’s misogyny.

The relationship between Pussy Riot and Voina disturbs me but it also explains why Pussy Riot are getting so much “Western” media interest. Generally speaking, the media’s interest in Feminism is either to force women into accepting the pornographication and objectification of their bodies or to belittle, humiliate and denigrate feminists. I don’t think Pussy Riot would have received media attention in the “West” if they were male. I don’t know anywhere near enough about the internal workings of the Russian government so I can’t really comment on whether or not I think a male punk performance band would have been arrested in similar circumstances. But, I do believe that Pussy Riot is only garnering support in the “West” because of the holdover of the anti-communist hysteria, anti-feminist discourse and because of “benevolent sexism”. The inclusion of “free speech” is about the free speech of pornographers; it’s not about the free speech of feminists.

Pussy Riot are getting support from male artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paul McCartney, and Stephen Fry because of “free speech”. I think their various personal histories of misogynistic discourse make their definitions of “free speech” both hypocritical and lacking in political analysis. I do truly believe a lot of their support is because Pussy Riot have vaginas and are young and pretty. It is benevolent sexism: the protection and support of pretty women whose personal voices are erased in order for the Menz to feel better about themselves [or ignore their own inappropriate behaviour]. Benevolent sexism is incredibly harmful to the Feminist movement because it gives the appearance of male support without acknowledging the conditions of that support; notably passing the Patriarchal Fuckability Test as Pussy Riot do.  I don’t think that this is necessarily a conscious decision on the part of some of their male supporters but I think it is there. This is not to say that Pussy Riot aren’t either deliberately using the PFT as a way of garnering support or that they aren’t aware of being used in this manner. It’s certainly not the first time women have used the benevolent sexism card to push through their legal demands.

It’s also worth acknowledging that the only major world artist whose been attacked for their support is Madonna who was labeled a moralising “slut” by Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy minister. Madonna expressed her support at a performance in Russia; as did the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Paul McCartney. I haven’t heard of anyone referring to members of RHCP as sluts. And, let’s be honest here, Anthony Kiedis’ sexual history isn’t exactly that of a man who respects women.  I also don’t see a group of celebs lining up to pay for the legal costs of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samustsevich as, apparently, Banksy did when he paid the bail of several members of Voina when they were arrested at a previous demonstration. Nor, do I see anyone really upset about the possibility of Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova’s young children being taken into care. After all, the loss of their children into foster care isn’t about the right to free speech for men. 

I also don’t think Pussy Riot were just arrested because they were criticising the Russian government. I think they were charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred because they identified as Feminist activists. This case is as much about silencing feminists as it is about the right to “free speech”. It is about patriarchal approval for the right kind of feminists: those who think that prostitution and pornography are valid “career choices” rather than the abuse and torture of vulnerable women. I doubt very much that the male celebs lining up to support Pussy Riot would be doing so if the women were also anti-pornography and anti-prostitution campaigners who refused to use the language of pornography in their campaigns. Similarities to the Ukrainian feminist group Femen, who have support in the “West” are striking.

I do believe the right to free speech is an important requirement in a democracy. But, we don’t have it now and we never really had it. Free Speech is about rich, white men being allowed to say whatever they want, whenever they want it. It’s about allowing pornographers to abuse and torture women’s bodies without taking any responsibility for the harm. So, whilst I have supported the campaign to free Pussy Riot, I have not been doing so uncritically under some misguided construction of feminism or free speech. 

I have been supporting Pussy Riot because no one deserves to be imprisoned for singing and dancing.

I have been supporting Pussy Riot because we need to change the discourse around free speech so that it applies equally to minority groups.

I have been supporting Pussy Riot because we need to stop using women’s bodies as political tools.

I have been supporting Pussy Riot because the #waronwomen is destroying women’s lives everywhere.

Pussy Riot:


The Pussy Riot “trial” of Nadezhda, Maria and Ekaterina started yesterday. It was the farce everyone expected it to be; with no real defence allowed. We all know they weren’t arrested for hooliganism but because of their [feminist] challenges to the Russian government. Their protests are brilliant; and far more feminist than the Ukrainian Femen has managed:

Amnesty International have now declared Nadezhda, Maria and Ekaterina prisoners of conscience, whilst those lurvely left-wing Dudes are lining up to defend the women [although I don’t see any evidence of helping to pay for their defence. Running about Moscow in a Free Pussy Riot t-shirt isn’t exactly a difficult thing for the Red Hot Chili Peppers to do. To be fair, they apparently wrote letters of support too, but, really, ponying up some cash would have been helpful too]. This is the Amnesty International Campaign:


Text ACTION7 and your full name to 88080 

I am writing to you to ask you to drop the charges of hooliganism against Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and immediately and unconditionally release them.
I believe that Maria, Ekaterina and Nadezhda have been detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and as such are prisoners of conscience. It is your duty to respect free speech and comply with international human rights law by releasing them immediately and unconditionally.
I also request that you promptly, fully and impartially investigate the allegations that the three arrested women have been pressured by members of the Centre of the Fight with Extremism and other officials.


Sensationalising Male Violence for Entertainment

I’ve been debating writing this blogpost because I genuinely believe that the men who commit these crimes want the publicity and that that publicity is the last thing we should be giving them; as Helen Lewis points out in this article in the New Statesman. I dislike how the names of these violent men become part of the cultural landscape whilst their victims names are erased; only to be mourned by close family. At the same time, I find the media intrusion into the families of the victims to be utterly horrifying. I’m not entirely sure how we can ensure that the names of the victims become more important than remembering the name of their murderer without some intrusion into their privacy.

However, I can not believe it is legal for the media to start interviewing people who have just witnessed violence without even giving them a chance to breathe. I find the the jamming of microphones into the faces of injured people utterly hateful. I find camping on the lawns of extended family members distateful. This isn’t about “reporting” a “newsworthy” story. It’s about causing more hurt to an already distressed family. As long as we make violence our entertainment, we will continue to prey upon people who deserve our compassion; not our ignorance.

The numerous, daily examples of male violence are elided from the media in favour of sensationalist stories which make folk heroes of other violent men. We need to start acknowledging the systemic and endemic violence perpetrated by men against their partners, children, extended family, acquaintances and strangers. But, we need to start tackling this issue without glamourising the violence or using the pain of the victims for our collective entertainment.

The current media representations of the mass shooting in Aurora have been the same old sensationalist shite designed to cause further hurt rather than any attempt to deal with the social, political, and cultural reasons as to why mass shootings are increasing. That is the real story; not one in which the murderer becomes more important than those he hurt. We need to hold the media more accountable for sensationalising pain. However, those who consume these stories are just as guilty as those who write them.

We need to start boycotting all forms of media which sensationalise violence in society. We need to start making formal complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. We need to start getting our media coverage from sources interested in justice rather than profit.

Mike Tyson: Convicted Rapist but Still a Hero. Apparently.


Yeah, I get that Mike Tyson is rich and famous and rich and famous people aren’t supposed to be rapists. Or, something equally stupid: see Ched Evan’s fans for the actual stupidity test required to believe this. Whatever rape apologists want to claim, Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist and we should not be celebrating his achievements. I’ve signed the petition but, now, more than ever, we need to stop supporting and canonising celebrities who perpetrate Violence Against Women. There is no excuse. Rape is a crime and rape victims deserve our support; not over-paid, self-entitled narcissists who don’t believe women deserve bodily autonomy.

This is the text of the petition:

Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist having served a sentence in 1992 for raping an 18yr old. Portsmouth was awarded White Ribbon status for ending violence against women in 2010. The Safer Portsmouth Partnership has listed domestic violence as one its top priorities for violent crime. By inviting a convicted rapist to speak at one of the leading venues in Portsmouth this goes against the hard work that has gone into the city for ensuring that survivors of rape feel valued, safe and believed. Aurora New Dawn are asking the Guildhall to cancel this event and show support to survivors of sexual violence rather than billing a convicted rapist as a hero in the city. Please sign this petition in recognition of all survivors of sexual violence and abuse. We can’t think of any other violent crime where a celebrity would be allowed to be celebrated in this way.

Please sign and pass it on via Twitter and Facebook. 

Shocking Event: Dominic Monaghan Forgets that Hollywood Approves of VAW

Dominic Monaghan appears to have forgotten that Hollywood approves of domestic violence and violence against women in general. Instead of offering Matthew Fox an Academy Award like Roman Polanski or a standing ovation like Chris Brown, Monaghan called Fox out on serial domestic violence. I mean, even Fox News has noticed and they are hardly on the forefront of anything that’s not racist or misogynistic or homophobic or disablist. Reece Witherspoon, Christina Aguilera and Patrick Stewart have all spoken publicly on the issue but Hollywood doesn’t seem to be listening. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remains one of their “most-loved” films despite clearly being a case of Stockholm syndrome complete with tap-dancing kettle and lecherous candlestick. Belle passes up the local abusive village man for the rich abusive man with a castle. That’s not exactly a feminist position. It’s certainly not a choice I would want for my daughters.

Frothy Dragon wrote eloquently here about the relationship between Jeremy Kyle, domestic violence and reality television. Making domestic violence the subject of reality television is truly despicable women-hating. The Entertainment Industry, in general, seems rooted in reinforcing and perpetuating domestic violence as “sexy” and “edgy” [and this is without discussing Twilight: A Guide to Finding Dangerous Relationships for Teenagers]. We wonder why the domestic violence rate is so high and, yet, surround teenagers with images of “romantic” stalkers and “bad boys”. These images are dangerous and nasty.

So, whilst, this seems ridiculous thing to have to do, I’d like to give recognition to a man standing up against domestic violence [even if I think the Eminem video Monaghan starred in last year fetishised DV].

Here’s hoping more male celebrities get off their asses and start standing up for women instead of celebrating the men who abuse them like:

Mike Tyson: rapist and domestic violence
Roman Polanski: child rapist
Chris Brown: domestic violence
Charlie Sheen: domestic violence and abuse of prostitutes
James Brown: domestic violence
Hugh Grant: abusing a prostitute
Ched Evans: rapist
Sean Connery: domestic violence
Ike Turner: domestic violence
Mel Gibson: probation for domestic violence [not to mention the issue of racism]
Harry Morgan: domestic violence
Tupac Shakur: sexual abuse
Richard Hatch: domestic assault
Anthony Kiedis: indecent exposure and sexual battery
Flea: battery
Chad Smith: battery
Tracy Lawrence: domestic abuse
Dennis Rodman: domestic abuse
Mickey Rourke: domestic abuse
Sean Penn: domestic abuse
Paul Gascoigne: domestic violence
Stan Collymore: domestic violence
Bill Wyman: for being a child rapist even if never convicted of it.
R. Kelly: domestic abuse [amongst some other horrifying accusations]
Micheal Lohan: domestic violence
Larry Fitzgerald: restraining order for domestic violence
Santonia Holmes: multiple arrests for domestic violence
Tommy Lee: domestic violence
Alec Baldwin: emotional abuse
Steven Tyler: inappropriate relationship with a minor [which should have resulted in statuatory rape charges like Wyman]

This list is just from a 10 minute search on google.

And, yeah, I’ve included purchasing women for sexual purposes as violence against women because it is VAW; as is pornography.

Gok Wan Redux: The Tale of Samantha Brick

I’m going to be completely honest here and say I didn’t read the Samantha Brick article. In fact, I spent most of the past two days somewhat perplexed as to why someone I had never heard of was dominating my twitter feed with comments about how ugly she is. Generally, I assume it’s someone from a reality TV program and then ignore. In this case, the level of misogyny and hatred leveled at a woman surprised me enough to google. Now, I have no intention of reading the article and, thereby, increasing the Daily Mail’s revenue streams as the misogyny, racism, homophobia and disablism they perpetuate on a daily basis is without equal. I do think the fallout of the Samantha Brick article is worth examining though, since it represents everything that is wrong with The Patriarchy.

I haven’t read either article written by Brick, but I’m fairly sure Harriet Walker’s article in today’s Independent would sum up my criticisms of the Daily Mail’s incurable misogyny:

Samantha Brick … A glutton for punishment perhaps; woefully misguided, certainly. Doing it for the money? You bet. But Samantha Brick’s message and martyrdom go right to the very heart of a patriarchal culture that we normally just put up with, one that makes everyone a little less well-disposed toward one another. Bear-baiting and cockfighting might be illegal, but woman-baiting is not, and certain institutions are content to cynically set up and sell ringside seats to the most horrid and vitriolic of catfights. … 

Brick is clearly an insecure and socially inept sort of person; she’s also patently not as beautiful as she thinks she is. But that’s the point: Brick is a witless puppet for a male hegemony that derives its power partly from the myth that all women everywhere are endlessly patronising and hurting each other. That women don’t like each other, especially if one happens to be more attractive, is “a taboo that needed shattering”, says Brick. But the real maxim begging to be flouted here is that women – both the bullies and the bullied in this scenario – are set up for this kind of fall again and again. … 

They’re much more likely to be subject to character assassinations because of this – but that has become the system we work by, and we don’t question why the men aren’t getting the same sort of flak. “Why must women be so catty? Men wouldn’t be bothered by this, I’m sure,” snorted one commentator on a radio chatshow about Brick. Yet many of those who were most acerbic about her on Twitter were men: public figures, comedians, TV stars and the like. … 

Generally though, men are immune to this kind of baiting; they are not subject to anywhere near as much scrutiny as women are, either in terms of their appearance or the way they relate to each other. If a woman is sloppily dressed or fat, she can’t be taken seriously; if she’s beautiful, she’s a harpy; if she’s sexy, she’s up for it. The constraints are so embedded now that we take the bait without realising it’s a trap. And the newspaper that perpetuates it all rakes in the cash. …

This is why I find men like Gok Wan so destructive and Patriarchal. Now, I have no idea if Gok Wan has waded into this debate and, frankly, I have no intention wasting my time checking this out. But this situation is precisely why I loathe Wan’s Patriarchy-approved physical attractiveness as the only way to body confidence for women. It’s reductive, arrogant and completely lacking in basic human kindness. Sheila Jeffrey’s talks about women using Patriarchy-approved tools like make-up and high heels as armor against sexualised humiliation and bullying and this is precisely the type of behavior Wan insists is “beneficial” to women. It might be “protective” for women to engage in Patriarchy-approved behavior [and judging individual women for wearing make-up/heels/spanx is unfeminist as Jeffreys rightly points out], but we can not pretend that it’s not a problem for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. That isn’t an excuse to be deliberately rude but rather recognising that the Patriarchy functions by isolating and belittling women.

The Daily Mail set Samantha Brick up to fail as Gok Wan does weekly in his “truss yourself up in some spanx, throw on some high heels that will damage your feet the same way Chinese foot-binding did for a millenium and pretend that make-up is what separates you from poor self-confidence”. Jeffreys doesn’t argue that wearing make-up is the same as plastic surgery or foot-binding but rather that they all exist on a continuum of woman-hating which makes women’s bodies the visible sign of The Patriarchy. What Wan perpetuates is those harmful Traditional Cultural Practices under the UN definition which, as Jeffreys points out, is generally only applied to non-Western practices despite labiaplasty in the “West” having the same consequences as female genital mutilation which is constructing female sexuality as only for the benefit for men by removing/ decreasing women’s pleasure.

We need to stop focussing on whether or not Samantha Brick meets the patriarchal-approved definition of physical beauty and start looking at the reasons why women who do not meet it are punished by becoming unfuckable. We need to stop celebrating breast implants which decrease sexual pleasure and the ability to breast-feed as a “good” thing when it is nothing more than self-harm by proxy. We need to start celebrating women for being women; for being strong, beautiful, incredible and so very intelligent. All that the Tale of Samantha Brick proves is that the Patriarchy hates women. Let’s stop buying into the Patriarchy’s discourse and make our own and be that very powerful Feminist armed resistance of women loving and supporting women.

Body Confidence (Or Why Gok Wan is NOT a Feminist or pro-woman)

The first Body Confidence Awards will be held at the House of Commons on April 19th with awards being presented in several categories including retail, fashion, and advertising. I generally ignore these things because they serve only to annoy the crap out of me as its usually an action in narcissism. Frankly, I can’t see how the fashion industry could ever be feted for encouraging body confidence but that may just be because I’ve recently read Sheila Jeffrey’s Beauty and Misogyny.

Really, the only reason I have even heard of this campaign is because Mumsnet is involved with it as a continuation of the Let Girls Be Girls campaign. As a feminist and a mother, the issue of body confidence in children is very important to me so I was pleased to see Mumsnet was behind this campaign including running its own award about promoting body confidence in children. That is, until I saw that Gok Wan was being nominated. Now, I don’t usually watch reality television since I think it is nothing more than the 21st century version of the 19th century freak show. I think they deliberately set out to humiliate and belittle people. But, even I’ve come across Gok Wan and nothing he does makes me think he likes women.

Having confidence in your body is about loving yourself for who you are and regardless of how you look. It isn’t about being trussed up like a turkey in spanx and told to suck it in. As a general rule of thumb, men grabbing your breasts is sexual assault, not entertainment. Or, as the very lovely Mme Lindor said:

Not a fan of Gok since his message seems to be that you are FABULOUS as you are, but here is a corset that will pull in all your wobbly bits, make you feel uncomfortable and restrict blood supply to your vital organs. 

I thought we were past all that.

No idea what his teen program was like, but based on his love of spanx, I wouldn’t say he promotes body confidence.

Wan may use feminist discourse to parade about on television but he’s about as far from feminism as you can possibly get. Feminists do not associate appearance with body confidence. Feminism is about real women who have opinions and beliefs and are intelligent; it is not women stripped naked, belittled, grabbed and humiliated on national television. That’s the essence of the Patriarchy: naked, vulnerable women being humiliated and tortured.

My vote remains for Pink Stinks. They are an incredible, small, but utterly brilliant organization who are all about letting girls be girls (and boys be boys) by challenging pinkification and genderisation. Their campaigns, notably against The Early Learning Centre, have been run successfully by 2 sisters with little budget and a lot of will. They are fighting the destruction of childhood and the idea that girls only have value for their appearance. Gok Wan is all about how women look; not whether or not its healthy to wear corsets [because any nincompoop can tell you corsets are bad for your body and that anything which restricts breathing is a stupid].

The idea that someone who dislikes women’s bodies as much as Gok Wan does could possibly be awarded for increasing body confidence just makes me want to curl up in a corner and cry. Our daughters would be better served with a non-sexist education without sexual bullying and violence and a copies of Jeffrey’s Beauty and Misogyny, Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue and Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender

Vote here for someone who inspires Body Confidence in Children.