Pussy Riot: whose freedom, whose riot?


Please reblog this radical feminist analysis of the Pussy Riot controversy. [via RadFem Hub]
Recently there has been lots of noise around the arrest of three members of Pussy Riot, a Russian anarchist female punk band. The media almost unequivocally represented them as the modern heroines of our time, fighting for freedom, democracy, sexual liberation and peace against a dark and ruthless dictatorship (articles are to be found in the NYTLe MondeThe Guardian, etc.) Feminist groups all over the Western world are sending links and petitions to “free pussy riot”, anddemonstrations have even been organised in support of the group by big institutionalised organisations such as “Osez le féminisme” (dare to be a feminist).
Now while I support without ambiguity the liberation of Pussy Riot’s members, it’s worth pausing for a minute to ask ourselves, as radical feminists, what the political dynamics are here. Why would Western media denounce so passionately the repression of feminists in Russia, when it usually only diffuses information that supports male supremacy and patriarchy? Feminism has long disappeared from any malestream media, except when journalists can turn it into male masturbation material, that is pornify either our suffering or our resistance to it. What’s going on here?
Before learning more about the case, the first thing that made me frown was the fact progressives were hailing Pussy Riot as the “new feminists”, despite that their name is fairly insulting to women. It is certainly not apolitical, since we are in a context in which pornography has deeply colonised our movement and the only groups that the media presents as feminist are those that either insult us or reclaim the very instruments of our subordination, that is, male sexual violence, PIV, pornified femininity and all the associated harmful cultural practices. These tactics of destroying the meaning of feminism form part of a general worldwide backlash against women.
I found it suspicious that Pussy Riot was getting so much media attention, even for pseudo feminist standards. You can measure the degree of feminism of an action by how men react to it, and if men collectively cheer and celebrate it, then you can be pretty sure there’s something wrong about it, or that it doesn’t somehow support our liberation from men. And as far as I can recall, even the slutwalks didn’t get as much coverage or public appraisal. What was it that men liked so much about Pussy Riot?
Well, under closer inspection I discovered that the high level of coverage was related to – though indirectly – promoting men’s right to women’s sexual subordination and the pornification of our movement. The arrested women actually form part (and are victims of) a mixed anarchist group called “Voina” (meaning “war”), founded in 2007 by two men called Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolaïev, who regularly engage the women in extreme and degrading women-hating pornography as part of their public “political stunts”. Some of Voina’s men have actually already been incarcerated in 2011 for hooliganism – which is punished for 7 years of prison in Russia, but their bail was paid for by an artist named “Banksy” four months after their imprisonment. (More information can be foundhere and here)
Included in their anti-government actions are a “public orgy” in the national museum of biology in a room full of stuffed bears, where several men anally penetrated their female partners in a position of submission, including one heavily pregnant women, as a metaphor to “bugger/fuck Medvedev”. “Medved” means “bear”, hence all the stuffed bears – this was meant to be symbolic, artistic and revolutionary according to the activists. Here the male anarchists literally used women as dead bodies or receptacles through which to make a political point to other men. Violating women as a means to offend other men is nothing else but an age-old patriarchal mechanism – behind which the intended target are us, for men to bond over our annihilation.
Another planned stunt in the name of “sexual freedom”, inspired by extreme forms of pornography such as zoophilia/ necrophilia, includes a member of Pussy Riot masturbating with a dead chicken in a supermarket under the watch and camera of the anarchist males, after which she inserts the dead chicken entirely into her vagina and hobbles with the chicken inside her out of the supermarket. This is how the male members themselves describe their act of “liberation”:
“How to Snatch a Chicken: A Tale of How One Cunt fed the Whole of the Group Voina… in honor of their hero, a 19th century political philosopher/prisoner, Voina’s president’s wife dubbed “Vacuous Cunt With Inconceivably Huge Tits,”smuggled a chicken out of a grocery store in said “Vacuous Cunt…”  [the journalist comments] : First, the troupe searched for a large and fresh enough chicken. Then, the store isles and CCTV cameras were blocked by the members of the group holding up banners with “FUCK WHORING YOURSELF!” smeared on them in I-don’t-want-to-know-what. The blockade allowed Vacuous Cunt to promptly stuff and smuggle the poultry out of the store, which was then presumably cooked and eaten.[1]
The president is presumably Oleg, and the woman in question, apparently his wife – a situation which would qualify as domestic abuse and sexual slavery given the level of violence, women-hatred and humiliation directed at the women involved. The woman is reduced to a corpse to be ‘stuffed’ in the most degrading and insulting way. No woman would desire such things as inserting a dead chicken in her vagina in public were she not under heavy control and terror. Also of note is the fact that one of their children was brought to this stunt, visibly no older than four. Sexual exhibitionism in the presence of children may also qualify as child sexual abuse. How deeply has women-hatred sunk into men’s minds, that they are incapable of imagining a riot without it being a by-the-book copy of a gonzo porn film? Here again, we see men instrumentalising women and using sexual torture of women as a means to communicate a political message (which if not totally vacuous, communicates nothing other than their hatred of women).
Perhaps the most saddening action of all consisted in filming one of the women naked, covered in cockroaches, meant to be understood as “sexy”. The association of women to filth and parasites to be eliminated couldn’t be clearer. This is women-hating, genocidal propaganda at its most dangerous form. Voina’s men give the world to see where women’s place must be, even when fighting against authoritarian regimes: head down, underneath men and fucked by them.
Now what does this mean for us, what can be understood from the media’s silence about Voina’s pornographic exploitation of women, when all the attention is focused on promoting Pussy Riot as our modern heroines? The effect and intent is political. While all the public eyes are set on the Russian representatives of the state and religion as the ultimate fascists, dictators and machos, we are made to forget that the primary oppressors and tyrants of these particular women are the men closest to them, that is, Voina’s men and their use of pornography to demean, oppress and enslave their female comrades. They are their everyday police, the fascists and colonisers breaking the women’s resistance, occupying their souls, sentencing them to public humiliation and subordinating them through sexual abuse. We are made to forget that these women are doubly victimised: first victims of the violence by the men of their own group, they are then punished and held responsible for the abuse committed against them.
By holding Pussy Riot as examples of resistance, being silent about the pornographic violence and denouncing the state and religious authority as the only oppressor, it follows that the media is complicit with the men from Voina. It protects the anarchist’s individual impunity, and more generally, furthers all men’s interest in promoting rape and women-hating propaganda. It also prevents women in general from identifying men’s sexual violence and the harms of the penis as the primary agents of our oppression. It distracts and disgusts women away from feminism. What kind of dignity and respect for our movement can women have if the only models of resistance given to us by the media are those to be seen by millions of men as humiliated, soiled and degraded in this way?  Even the most brave and valiant women, who fight bare handed and alone against Putin and the religious authority, must be shown by men to the world as surrendering and conquered.
If we want justice for the women imprisoned and to show true solidarity, we need to not only denounce the injustice by the Russian state, but also denounce the violence by the men from Voina. We need to recognise and openly denounce the pandemic levels of sexual violence present in most male-centric leftist or anarchist activist groups, whereby women are often pimped by the men of the group for pornography or expected to submit to extremely violent or degrading acts in the name of “sexual freedom”. What counts for these men is to fight for men’s total public access to women, especially militant women, because it really serves to put all women back in line. The weapon of mass destruction against women is the penis and this is why all men are focusing on making Putin look bad while they say nothing about the bastards of Voina.
For our sisters, for all women, we need to say out loud that this is not feminism.
–  HUB Newsfeed

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.

School Uniforms: Reinforcing Patriarchal Norms?

I’ve been frantically running around tonight making sure my children’s school uniforms are ready for tomorrow morning. This activity never fails to make me cranky; not because of the “laundry” aspect but because it reminds me just how much I hate the whole issue of uniforms. Inevitably, anyone who is acquainted with me will have heard sections of this rant because I truly believe the only reason for school uniforms is to reinforce capitalist-patriarchal norms.

The following is an amended rant from a post originally made on the Mumsnet talk boards:

This might be very disjointed and take several points to get across because I’ve come to this point from several areas: a background in education, as a mother, as a feminist, and as someone who is beyond angry at how children, and more specifically teenagers, are demonised.
1) Educational aspect: the theory is that children in uniforms learn better because they aren’t concerned about clothing and that uniforms denote respect and causes children to behave better.

I think the theory that children behave better in uniforms is horseshit. Children respond to adults who respect themselves, their colleagues and the students. Behaviour is better in schools which have effective management teams with good teachers who are supported. The best uniform in the world won’t make up for bad management, poor teaching and under resourced schools. It can’t compensate for serious social problems in children’s families or poor teaching. Kids in jeans in a good school with a good headteacher will preform well because they are respected and want to not because they are wearing or not wearing a tie.

Many, many countries do not use school uniforms and have just as much good behaviour, bad behaviour and ‘results’ as UK schools. It must be noted that most schools will still have a uniform policy banning offensive t-shirts, non-existent skirts, and, in inner-cities, banning gang colours. These bans are reasonable.

2) Poverty: The theory is that all children in the same outfit means that kids won’t get bullied over clothing. This is wrong. If your school has an expensive uniform available from only one shop, the poorest parents won’t be able to afford it anyways. Kids can also tell the difference between clothes from Tescos and clothes from M&S, even in schools which have generic cheap uniforms. They can tell the difference between boots bought from Clarks and knock-offs from ShoeZone. If they are bullied for clothing, they are just as likely to be bullied for wearing thread-bare too small uniform as they are for wearing Tescos brand jeans.

This argument also fails to address the issue of bullying. Bullies go after the weakest link. If it isn’t uniform, it will be something else. The problem is not that the children are dressed the same or not; the problem is that the school has a culture of bullying which is not being addressed effectively. That’s the definition of a shit school. Pretending that clothes will make it go away is naive and disrespectful to the children who are victimised by bullying. It makes them responsible for being bullied because they aren’t dressed appropriately rather than blaming the bullying on the bully and the school environment which allows them to continue without intervention.

Bullying and our bullying culture is part of the patriarchal structure of our society which sets up everyone in a hierarchy of importance. It also marginalises any child who does not ‘fit’ the mold.

3) Conformity: I think maintaining conformity is about maintaining our hierarchical society. I believe it is misogynistic as well as classist: setting out a clear difference between those who are important and those who are not.

4) Material Culture of Uniforms: Uniforms tend to be of poor quality, prone to die problems and rip easily. it is more expensive to keep replacing cheap items of clothing that it is to purchase new better quality clothes. jeans from Tescos (£10) last a lot longer on a physical child that a pair of cheap nylon trousers. If you have more than one child, you are more likely to get more wear out of Tescos jeans than you are the cheap nylon trousers.

5) Respect: This is where I think the issue of uniforms moves into questions of patriarchy. I think, in many ways, they are outward emblems of social control designed to make children ‘others’. If you think of the work which requires uniforms, most are of low status and equally low pay [sanitation workers etc]; many of these jobs which are frequently preformed by women.

It is also the outward signifier of respect: those in power require these to make themselves feel better. Its like the idea that you can never be rude to your ‘elders’ because they are old, they must be obeyed. Why should you have to respect a 90 year old man because he’s old. He may also be a paedophile, have committed severe violence against his wife or children, be a violent alcoholic. Requiring respect for being old implies that the opposite, children, require no respect. As a society, we are reaping serious social damage due to our lack of respect for our children.

There are so many other things that schools need to worry about; such as children who are being abused at home, or who are being bullied, ensuring that all kids leave literate even if they have multiple severe problems, which makes continuous school attendance difficult. Arguing over a tie just seems petty. The argument becomes you must wear the tie because I told you to not because it is of any benefit to you.

The other part is the more time we spend faffing about over uniforms, the less time we spend actually ensuring that the kid who is lashing out isn’t lashing out because he’s just testing boundaries [normal for teenagers] but is lashing out because of abuse, anxiety, fear or a 101 other reasons. Uniforms are a form of hierarchical social control and, fundamentally, only serve to reinforce patriarchal norms at the expense of our children’s education and their self-respect.