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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