Pussy Riots and Protests: The Fight for Equal Rights

Courtesy lacuna.org.uk

By Lara Cornelius, Staff Writer

In 2012, a group of five Russian girls wearing bright ski masks danced mockingly in an up-yours-style protest before the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. The band members performed their “punk prayer” in a wild exhibition that eventually sentenced three of them to two years in a penal colony for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Today it is widely understood that their offense was not hooliganism, but the lèse majesté – insulting of the ruler.

Pussy Riot. Courtesy of Dazed
Pussy Riot. Courtesy of Dazed

The punk prayer’s lyrics condemned negative attitudes towards gays, challenged Russian subservience to an unscrupulous clergy, criticized the idea that Russian rulers exercise power through a mandate from God, and attacked the close relationship between the secular state and church. According to the now freed band member Yekaterina Samutsevich, the group chose the cathedral as their place of protest because “it had been used openly as a flashy backdrop for the politics of the security forces.” The current patriarch Kirill Gundyayev is accused by human rights organizations and journalists of working with the KGB. Samutsevich refers to the patriarch as the President’s “former colleague” in her court statement.

The punk prayer’s lyrics emphasize the divisions in Russian society over personal freedoms, such as free speech, and the concept of justice. Since the group was formed in 2011, they have taken on a feminist philosophy in Russia, where the word “feminism” carries an offensive connotation.

Svetlana Smetanina, a journalist for the state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, voiced an opinion that many women of Russia seem to share, which is a disdain towards feminists. In the West, the Pussy Riot girls and the radical group Femen in Crimea have become media darlings in the fight against what some say is the currently repressive state of affairs in the country. In Russia, state media prefers to circulate the idea that feminism is a Western plot, an imported set of ideas that threaten the traditional, patriarchal ideology of the country. Ever since Pussy Riot’s arrest in 2012, the group has drawn international attention on the poor state of gender inequality in Russia.

The Women's March on Washington. Courtesy CNN.com
The Women’s March on Washington. Courtesy CNN.com

In 2017, hundreds of thousands of women in the United States marched in protest of the inauguration of President Trump. In the first full day of President Trump’s tenure, this up-yours-style protest has found its place here in the United States for similar reasons. The views and condemning statements written on the signs of millions of women worldwide echoed the powerful shouts and challenging lyrics of the Pussy Riot girls back in 2012.

The march aimed to bring together women of all races, backgrounds, and religions with the goal to “affirm our shared humanity and pronounce our bold message of resistance and self-determination.” The official statement of principles from the Women’s March calls for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution to guarantee protection based on gender, “accountability and justice for police brutality,” the right to organize and fight for minimum wage, comprehensive reproductive rights, gay rights, immigrant and refugee rights, as well as freedom from sexual violence. The punk prayer of the Pussy Riot girls echoes the needs and the fundamental human rights the women of the United States demand today.

Women in both Russia and the United States face major obstacles in the upcoming years. Just this week the Duma, the parliament of Russia, voted to decriminalize domestic violence against family members unless it is a repeat offense or causes serious medical damage. This change is connected to the recent return to traditionalism, and while individual rights have been recently embraced by many Russians, many worry that this decriminalization will legitimize abuse. Those who oppose domestic-violence laws fear that criminalization will allow Russia’s corrupt police and justice system to have more power over the lives of families. In this situation, women are caught in a catch 22.

Regardless of their differing views on feminism, now more than ever, women of both countries must rise up and take action. As Yoko Ono assured the Pussy Riot girls after their release in 2013, “every step you take will change the world.”

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