Fear of a Female Planet: Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) on Why Russia and the US Need a Pussy Riot

Coura­geous fem­i­nist punk band Pussy Riot has received more pub­lic expo­sure than they ever could have hoped for since three mem­bers were arrest­ed after a Feb­ru­ary 21st per­for­mance at Moscow’s Christ the Sav­ior Cathe­dral and charged with “hooli­gan­ism.” The band formed last Sep­tem­ber in direct response to Vladimir Putin’s deci­sion to seek the pres­i­den­cy again in March 2012, and they have demon­strat­ed against his rule ever since, stag­ing con­fronta­tion­al, but non-vio­lent, protest per­for­mances in Red Square and oth­er Russ­ian land­marks. They draw much of their ener­gy and inspi­ra­tion from work­ing-class British Oi! bands of the 80s, the Amer­i­can fem­i­nist punk of the 90s Riot Grrrl move­ment, and from the stal­wart Son­ic Youth, whose three decade run has put singer/bassist Kim Gor­don in the spot­light as a musi­cian, artist, and icon.

In the video inter­view above from Explod­ed View, Gor­don offers her take on Pussy Riot’s sig­nif­i­cance and their rel­e­vance to the polit­i­cal strug­gles of women in the U.S.. Gor­don reads Pussy Riot as “dis­si­dent art… tar­get­ed as a weapon” against a sys­tem, and its author­i­tar­i­an leader, that has wide­ly sup­pressed dis­sent. Like the noto­ri­ous online col­lec­tive Anony­mous and their end­less­ly pro­lif­er­at­ing Guy Fawkes masks, Pussy Riot eschews the trap­pings of indi­vid­ual fame, wear­ing bal­a­clavas to obscure their iden­ti­ties. As they state in a Vice Mag­a­zine inter­view before the arrests, “new mem­bers can join the bunch and it does not real­ly mat­ter who takes part in the next act—there can be three of us or eight, like in our last gig on the Red Square, or even 15. Pussy Riot is a pul­sat­ing and grow­ing body.” The band keeps its focus on the body, as a grow­ing col­lec­tive or as a sym­bol of resis­tance to patri­ar­chal con­trol. One mem­ber explains the band’s name in the Vice inter­view:

A female sex organ, which is sup­posed to be receiv­ing and shape­less, sud­den­ly starts a rad­i­cal rebel­lion against the cul­tur­al order, which tries to con­stant­ly define it and show its appro­pri­ate place. Sex­ists have cer­tain ideas about how a woman should behave, and Putin, by the way, also has a cou­ple thoughts on how Rus­sians should live. Fight­ing against all that—that’s Pussy Riot.

The choice of name—which has forced dozens of news­cast­ers to say the word “pussy” with a straight face—is, in all seri­ous­ness, a point­ed ref­er­ence to what Gor­don calls a “fear of women,” which may explain what near­ly every­one who has an opin­ion on the case char­ac­ter­izes as an extreme­ly dis­pro­por­tion­ate sen­tence for the three con­vict­ed mem­bers. As Gor­don says above, “Clear­ly Putin is afraid.” Relat­ing the events in Rus­sia to the back­lash against women’s leg­isla­tive gains in this coun­try, Gor­don says, “what’s going on in Wash­ing­ton is real­ly indica­tive of that [fear],” and she won­ders “why there aren’t more men who aren’t con­cerned about it or bring­ing it up. It’s beyond a women’s issue.” Nev­er­the­less, she strong­ly implies that the U.S. is ripe for a “pussy riot”—a new punk-rock women’s movement—since “women make nat­ur­al anar­chists and rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies because they’ve always been sec­ond-class cit­i­zens and had to claw their way up.”

Pussy Riot has cit­ed Son­ic Youth’s “Kool Thing” (above) as an influ­ence, a taunt­ing fem­i­nist retort to male come-ons that asks its tar­get “are you gonna lib­er­ate us girls / From male white cor­po­rate oppres­sion?” The unstat­ed answer is, no, he isn’t. As Gor­don implies above, and as Pussy Riot explain in an inter­view with The Guardian below, the only response to so-called “wars on women” every­where may be a “fem­i­nist whip”:

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.


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  • Peter says:


    This is a real­ly great arti­cle, and I agree 100% that we need more artists active in this nature. You may, how­ev­er, want to rephrase the hyper­linked part of the first sen­tence from, ‘per­formed at,’ to some­thing clos­er to the truth of the action (per­for­mance) and fur­ther from the Ideas that have come from the tri­al. Per­for­mance has the con­no­ta­tion of a show or dis­play in a venue that has agreed to host the event. It is mis­lead­ing of the facts. The women from Pussy Riot entered a cathe­dral that is open to any­one and enact­ed a guer­ril­la per­for­mance, in order to add shock val­ue to their mes­sages against Putin. They were nev­er giv­en per­mis­sion to shoot film or enter the area they did. This is not an issue of speech but of action. Had this been shot in a dif­fer­ent loca­tion, with the same sub­ject, it would not be this much of an issue. This was an attempt to gain media atten­tion by break­ing a law in an extreme­ly pub­lic and impor­tant loca­tion. And it was a suc­cess, despite the impris­on­ment of the women. The Russ­ian gov­ern­ment could eas­i­ly have been giv­en them many more years on their sen­tences, which would have been labour in Siberia, not a con­stant­ly filmed cell in Moscow. It is impor­tant to remem­ber that the media has the abil­i­ty to sway how we per­ceive the news, unless we check the sources. Here is the orig­i­nal video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grEBLskpDWQ Decide for your­self if this was a per­for­mance or a guer­ril­la per­for­mance. The law they were tried for trans­gress­ing was a pro­tec­tion of sacred spaces that was enact­ed after the total demo­li­tion of all forms of reli­gion under com­mu­nism, as it pro­tects all church­es, syn­a­gogues, masques, and oth­er rec­og­nized reli­gious sites. It is very sim­i­lar to reli­gious hate crime law in the Unit­ed States. I am not writ­ing this to argue with any of the opin­ions in this arti­cle, only to let peo­ple know that there is more to this sit­u­a­tion than has been por­trayed in most of West­ern media. I also ask you change the word ‘per­formed’ so that peo­ple might have a bet­ter idea of the events them­selves. Pussy Riot is dis­si­dent art and is a weapon aimed against a sys­tem it sees as unjust. They knew they would be arrest­ed for what they did, and they knew it would cre­ate chat­ter and hoped for aware­ness about the sit­u­a­tion in the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion. They got what they expect­ed and more, thanks espe­cial­ly to the West­ern press’ involve­ment. The West­ern press was ignit­ed by the call to arms to defend free­dom of speech, a wor­thy cause. They were, how­ev­er, mis­in­formed not under­stand­ing that the tri­al was an issue of reli­gious tol­er­ance, explain­ing exact­ly why they were not arrest­ed for guer­ril­la per­for­mances in oth­er well known, pub­licly acces­si­ble, his­tor­i­cal land­mark. Peo­ple should upset that Putin has set him­self up into pow­er for anoth­er 12 years. Be upset that the pub­lic is mis­in­formed and liv­ing in poor con­di­tions. Be upset by what Pussy Riot is try­ing to tell you what is going on in Rus­sia. But they should­n’t be upset, think­ing this is an issue of free speech. Which is why I ask you con­sid­er chang­ing ‘per­formed’.

  • Carsten says:

    I admire Kim Gor­don and it is great to lis­ten to hear speak and sing…really inspir­ing to see also the Dif­fer­nce between the two videos, 1993 and present.

    Greet­ings from Cologne, Ger­many

  • Hanoch says:

    What dri­v­el. They broke the law, they were pun­ished. The sign­f­i­cance ends there.

  • Bob says:

    When Pussy Riot protests inside a mosque, then I’ll be impressed. Until then, they can sod off.

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