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Pussy Riot: whose freedom, whose riot?

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 NYT, Le Monde. The Guardian, etc.) Feminist groups all over the Western world are sending links and petitions to “free pussy riot”, and demonstrations 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 found here 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.

– republished with permission from Radfem HUB

[1]http://www.animalnewyork.com/2010/voinas-latest-action-is-fowl/ (Warning! Pornographic still image included in this link.)