sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

February 7, 2012

Somebody Please Explain To This Blogger What is the Point of Being a Riot Grrrl in Russia

Filed under: feminism, Russia, Soviet Union — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 4:14 pm

In the West Grrrls get to behave like men — play loud music, make suggestive gestures on stage, so on.  They get to fancy themselves feminist revolutionaries and keep distance from the second wave party-poppers.

There isn’t much in the way of an authentic feminist movement in Russia.  In the Soviet time, women and men alike were required to participate in mock elections, so at the time real elections took place in the early 1990s, nobody was outraged by the site of both both sexes heading to the voting booths.  Broad majorities of Russian women worked hard outside the house.  It was true through Russian history, and because in the Soviet period specifically it was virtually impossible for an ordinary Russian man to support his family, wives and mothers were all not-so-gainfully employed.  Although housewifery was a distant dream, women typically controlled the purse strings.

soviet women

Babushkas and physical labor: a typical Soviet city scene of the 70s and 80s. The soberer sex performing grueling tasks, often jobs rejected by men, was a fact of our lives. In the height of Perestroika Russian press lamented the fact that Soviet society treated its women so poorly, but when I talk about it to my American neighbors, many are wowed

An American woman can distinguish herself as a sex-positive feminist, but in Russia all women are expected to be “sex-positive”.   On one hand, because of the low life expectancy for men, the men to women ratio in Russia is the lowest in the world; Russian women put enormous effort to get and keep a mate.  On the other hand, Russia was never really a thoroughly Christian country.  Nominally it was Christian, of course, but its vast stretches were never properly converted, and the priests allowed peasantry to carry on with their pagan beliefs and traditions.  Russian peasant societies were patriarchal, to be sure, and the straying female was risking her reputation.  Communal bonds turned obsolete in late 19th century when with abolition of serfdom and industrialization women and men alike flocked to the cities.  About a quarter of births in the late Russian Empire were out of wedlock.

Soviets were shy to talk about sex.  In the late 80’s a middle age matron proclaimed on national television: “There is no sex in our country [only love]”, but the millions of abortions performed each year tell a different story.  Towards the late 80’s public culture became sexualized.  I wrote about sex and politics in Russia before.  In fact, groups like Femen or, in the article linked above, Pussy Riot are not doing anything radically different from Putin, style-wise.

When asked about their musical influences and ideology, Pussy Riot explained:

The difference is that Bikini Kill [a Riot Grrrl ban, -ed.] performed at specific music venues, while we hold unsanctioned concerts. [Enormous artistic difference, of course.  Pussy Riot must be learning from Femen, — ed.] On the whole, Riot Grrrl was closely linked to Western cultural institutions, whose equivalents don’t exist in Russia.

Why do revolutionaries always have to sound like bores?  Anyhow, musically Pussy Riot is a standard example of the genre (NSFW, particularly around Russian-speaking co-workers):

The translatable portion of the song demands a Russian Tahrir, and concerned commentators certainly fear that that is where events in Moscow might be heading.

The Moscow Times article points out that Pussy Riot got a lot of comments on their YouTube video, and they did.  The more recent gushing comments are in English.  Most of the earlier remarks are the irate, typically America-hating viewers, and the band trying to outdo each other in their use of profanities (Russians consider their profanities high art).  Few point out that the video is too produced for Punk., and I agree.

Russian nationalists long resented their countrymen adopting Western ways.  The nationalists are mostly wrong, but not when it comes to Pussy Riot.  Maybe there is a point of being a Riot Grrrl in Russia, it’s just that it comes across as inauthentic.  One of the viewers checked out the band’s November 2011 interview and noted that he sees two cultured girls from good families.  Where is the hard core?  I get the impression that the ladies are copying Punk because it’s cool, but their ideology is not reality-checked.

The ladies claim to be lefties, and in America Riot Grrrls are lefties.  But ideologically the Russian left is different.  In fact, it’s naturally aligned with the American conservatism — pro-individual liberty, free market, pro-Israel and is opposed to tyranies.  Riot Grrrls and other anarchist-affiliated Western subcultures want handouts and are “anti-war”.

In a country where dissidents are punished it certainly takes guts to be in Pussy Riot.  The masks might be a bit too much given that since they’ve been arrested the police obviously knows who they are.  In that 2011 video interview they claim that their phones are bugged.  I don’t question the girls’ courage, I question their relevance.  Russia is a patriarchal country where men don’t fare very well, and where women have a lot to be upset about.  One reason Russian women are eager to marry foreigners is because Western men treat them better.  Anyhwo, Riot Grrrls seem to ring hollow for Russia… unless the true goal is to increase the prospects of marriage to a Western man.



  1. all the Russians I know have fled and now live in NY 🙂 Have a great night my friend:)

    Comment by Angel — February 8, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

  2. […] my previous post about Pussy Riot I wondered what was the point of being a Riot Grrrl in Russia.  Since then three of the women, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda […]

    Pingback by Russian Grrrls Need Better Friends « sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue — August 26, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

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