Pussy Riot = Feminism + Religion + Russia

I’ve been wanting to read more about the content of Pussy Riot’s protest at the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral for some time, and finally got around to this piece by Jeffrey Tayler in The Atlantic.  I might be accused of liking irreverent feminist protests of religion a little too much, having thrilled at Madonna’s Like a Prayer video as a teen girl back in 1989. YouTube Preview Image  I was even strangely interested in Nicki Minaj’s performance both on the red carpet with a fake pope and onstage with pseudo-religious pageantry and ritual at the 2012 Grammys.

So the lyrics and exegesis (and political consequences) of the Pussy Riot protest fascinate me, as does anyone who is found guilty of “hooliganism.”  The piece in The Atlantic points out that while there is much profanity and religious creativity involved, the crime for which several women were sentenced was supposedly the insult to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Nevertheless:

“The lèse majesté [insulting the ruler] argument seems to hold sway outside Russia, but, rightly or wrongly, a plurality of Russians in the country itself disagree. According to polls conducted by the respected Levada Center, 42 percent of Russians consider the punk prayer an attack on the Russian Orthodox Church. Only 19 percent saw it as a protest against Putin. The difference may have a simple explanation: Unlike most in the West, the Levada poll respondents had probably heard the whole song before forming an opinion about it. In fact, the rest of the punk prayer’s lyrics amount to an iconoclastic cri de coeur deriding popular Russian subservience to a clergy many regard as corrupt, denouncing (widespread, in Russia) conservative attitudes toward gays, assailing the increasingly tight relationship between church and the (constitutionally secular) state, as well ridiculing the age-old perception in Russia that rulers exercise power through a mandate from God (or, in the Soviet era, though a mandate from history, the Marxist version of which posited the death of capitalism and the triumph of communism). Putin, accordingly, was not Pussy Riot’s only target. The band was challenging the entirety of the social and political order he has fostered since coming to power almost 13 years ago.

Consider this set of lyrics, as reported by Tayler, who notes that a variety of translations are out on the web:

“Birth-giver of God, drive away Putin!
Drive away Putin, drive away Putin!

Black frock, golden epaulettes
Parishioners crawl bowing [toward the priest, during the Eucharist]
A specter of freedom in the heavens
A gay-pride parade [has been] sent to Siberia in shackles
Their chief saint is the head of the KGB
He leads a convoy of protestors to jail
So as not to insult the Holiest One
Woman should bear children and love
Shit, shit, sacred shit!

And, this refrain that comes later in the song:

“Birth-giver of God, become a feminist!
Become a feminist, become a feminist!”

It seems to me that the offenses and crimes are intertwined around one thing:  criticism of patriarchal corruption.  In this way, under patriarchy, the religious establishment goes hand in hand with the government.  What Pussy Riot points out is that one supports the other.  By praying to the female mother of God, theotokos in Greek, they subvert one dimension of patriarchal theology and male authority – the one that traditionally values male images and pronouns for God.

Pointing out women’s subservience in the role of child-bearer stands in contrast to the “birth-giver of God,” and inviting the mother of God herself to “become a feminist” challenges the docile role into which much of Christianity has shoved her.

For the mother of God to drive away Putin, and to become a feminist, amounts to Her divine consciousness-raising, to borrow a distinctly American second-wave feminist concept.

Her Divine Consciousness-Raising

And wouldn’t THAT be something to see?!

Katie Billotte, concluded the following over at the Ms. Magazine blog back in September, as an Orthodox Christian in the U.S.:

“Perhaps the fate of the brave members of Pussy Riot might serve as a wake up call to us about the oppressive forces at work within our faith, both abroad and at home, and encourage us to move forward a tradition that has shaped us and that we have a responsibility to help shape for the future.”

Here is the video of the protest prayer itself:

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • http://www.breffni.com Breffni McGeough

    Finally an educated clear analysis of the intelligent protest that is within the curious but warranted actions of Pussy Riot. Thank you for the Real Story Caryn. Appreciate it very much.
    Breffni

  • pagansister

    Enjoyed reading the analysis of the Pussy Riot situation. Well done.

  • jenny

    Hi, the member “Maria” who was moved to solitaire a few days ago has me worried. She is not spiteful, but has a knack for making fools look, well, really foolish. Shades of Socrates in the girl. Please pray for her safety.
    3 weeks in to a 2 year sentence she is moved to solitaire for her own safety? Not good at all. Here is a good example of what happens when people get foolish around her:

    I believe that we are being accused by people without memory. Many of them have said, “He is possessed by a demon and insane. Why do you listen to Him?” These words belong to the Jews who accused Jesus Christ of blasphemy. They said, “We are . . . stoning you . . . for blasphemy.” [John 10:33] Interestingly enough, it is precisely this verse that the Russian Orthodox Church uses to express its opinion about blasphemy. This view is certified on paper, it’s attached to our criminal file. Expressing this opinion, the Russian Orthodox Church refers to the Gospels as static religious truth. The Gospels are no longer understood as revelation, which they have been from the very beginning, but rather as a monolithic chunk that can be disassembled into quotations to be shoved in wherever necessary—in any of its documents, for any of their purposes. The Russian Orthodox Church did not even bother to look up the context in which “blasphemy” is mentioned here—that in this case, the word applies to Jesus Christ himself. ” – Maria Alyokhina

    http://nplusonemag.com/pussy-riot-closing-statements


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