Oh Pussy . . . Riot, How You Make This Boy Squirm

Photo by “linksfraktion” on Flickr

If you have spent any time on the interwebs over the past month, you have probably seen the words “Pussy Riot” flash across your feed at some point. Oh be still my Puritan heart, I hope my cafe table-mates, can’t see what I’m reading and googling

In a nutshell from CNN:

Three members of Russian female punk rock band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison Friday after they were found guilty of hooliganism for performing a song critical of President Vladimir Putin in a church.

While I will admit that my first reaction was “Awesome, a new ‘Vagina Monologues’ must be in production!” I also found myself a tad bit uncomfortable. I mean come on, this was not like the dust-up over the word “Vagina” being so brazenly uttered on the floor of the Michigan State Legislature, so what’s up with the “P” word being used so liberally all over the web. I mean seriously, instead of “Pussy Riot” what would have been so wrong with a name like, “Vagina Discernment,” anatomically correct and community based? This I could deal with 😉

So in true “I’m a progressive trying not to act out of the privilege of his gender and class” fashion, I began to ask myself why I was made so uncomfortable by simply seeing the word “Pussy.” Sure, there is some shock value that challenges conventional understandings of language and, certainly, each person will be comfortable using language of all sorts . . . but there was something about the word “pussy” that seemed to really create discomfort for me.

I will admit, in a vacuum, I do not like the word because of how it is used by most of society, as a symbol of weakness. Since I see part of the world through the eyes of my three daughters, I am acutely aware of how female-based words are used to put down men. Insults directed at males usually find their impact by inferring something female. Calling someone a “pussy,” screaming, “Hit the ball, Nancy!” or uttering the still ever popular “You [insert athletic skill] like a girl” are all about using female attributes to demean a male. And don’t get me started on put-downs that are driven by some form of male penetration, good gravy we boys can be so predictable. I am one who believes that words do not solely define a person, but they do matter, so tacit approval of these kinds of put-downs is simply not okay and worthy of a well-placed correction or a laser-like stink-eye.

I don’t know much about Pussy Riot other than what I have read. And while I may not agree with their tactics or the repercussions of those actions, it seems clear that the choice of their name was NOT about dehumanizing women, but about claiming power by reclaiming the word. This happens all the time by marginalized communities, racial epitaphs and slurs are claimed by the targeted groups as a way to both remove the power of the word and deal with the pain those words have inflicted. So, just as aware as I am about how the word “pussy” is used to demean, the use of the word by the band and other women also challenges my own preconceptions about the word. Society uses male genitalia based slang all the time without batting an eye: “I’m so screwed,” “That sucks!” and “You’re a dick” for starters, so why is the word “pussy” still so shocking? Probably because the use of the word in some instances by women is not about demeaning someone else, but about claiming power.


So at the root of my discomfort just might be that no matter how much of a “liberated” male that I hope to be and become, somewhere in my psyche there is a place that probably does not want women to claim power in ways that experience as challenging my own. Dangit, now I do have to keep reflecting on my own power and privilege.

Thanks a lot Pussy Riot, and I do hope you are freed!