Are Pussy Riot Heroic Feminists? Just Ask a Russian

Pussy Riot, a punk-rock protest group from Moscow, became international heroes a year ago when they were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. But many in Russia still do not appreciate the fame the band has gained in the Western world and are seeking to present another, less appealing side of Pussy Riot's activism.

Pussy Riot released its new controversial video today, targeting the Russian oil industry. In a music video full of images of oil refineries and pipelines somewhere in central Russia, feminists from the renowned band vandalize and spill oil on the portraits of Russia's top government officials. In their song Pussy Riot members excessively curse and make parallels between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ayatollah Khamenei from Iran. In their song the band also references several scandalous political events in Russia, such as a dubious decision to open a department of theology at the National Research Nuclear University, or the trial of the prominent non-parliamentary opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Pussy Riot's activism might seem like a manifestation of freedom of speech to a Western viewer, and some may even call it modern art, but ordinary Russians rightfully fear the band. During Mr. Putin's administration Russia has become a very conservative country, which many explain by the policies that the current president has been enacting for the last 12 years. One of them is making the Russian Orthodox Church a state institution whose opinion directly affects decision-making. Russians have proven to be religious and prejudiced against anything that encroaches upon the authority of the church, a trend that is especially widely spread among elderly people. Quite logically the public reaction to Pussy Riot's notorious performance in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the symbol of Russian Orthodox Church, was negative. Many Russians suggested that if the band had made the same performance in Al-Masjid Al-Haram, the most sacred mosque in Islam, they would have been torn apart immediately. In an opinion poll conducted by an independent Russian research organization Levada Center, 47% of respondents agreed that "Pussy Riot broke the rules of public morality," and 37% said that the group should be sentenced to imprisonment.

Another issue that is discussed in Russia is how much feminism Pussy Riot propagates. Members of the band proudly say that they are influenced by the works of Alexandra Kalantai and Simone de Beauvoir, feminists of the 20th century, but to me, a man who does not identify as a feminist, it seems that what Pussy Riot does completely undermines the ideals feminists have been fighting for for decades. On the contrary, their performances make sane people biased toward those who call themselves feminist activists. What rights are Pussy Riot fighting for cursing in their songs — the right to curse publicly? Numerous protests in support of Pussy Riot were held in the EU and the United States with people wearing famous colored balaclava hats. European MPs, renowned actors, and singers expressed their support for the band, but this failed to persuade the court, which eventually issued a guilty verdict. It failed to persuade the majority of Russians as well.

Not everyone knows that Pussy Riot are not an independent band. They are affiliated with an art group called “Voina“ (War). The group is infamous for its art projects including filming several couples having sex in the Biology Museum of Moscow, in which Pussy Riot members also took part — an action you would not expect from feminists. Pussy Riot is probably the most controversial thing to have happened in Russian politics in recent years. International observers may love them, but their countrymen are less enthusiastic.