I discovered my first feminist ocular experience by way of all things great and wonderful: the internet. I stumbled across the gorgeously raw documentary ‘Dirty Girls‘ (1996) and began to research just exactly what feminism was. Growing up in a moderately conservative household, I was brought up to think feminism was all about bra burning. I still felt empowered as a human, and was able to air my creativity and opinion freely, but not with a completely modern understanding. My parents always made sure the glint in my eye and passion in my heart never faltered, although I was never fully educated on this very important and very relevant matter.
I first began to class myself as a feminist when I left school and home at the age of 18, and thus truly understood the notions of what it meant to be an independent adult woman. I researched feminism to shreds, and grasped that the perception and execution of feminism could be experienced in both a right way and wrong way. Let me provide some background.
First-wave feminism refers to the activity during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was predominately in the UK, USA, Canada and Netherlands, and mainly focused on a woman’s right to vote, as well as other basic human privileges like property rights. Second-wave feminism began in the 1960s in the US, and eventually spread throughout the Western world, before hitting Europe and Asia in the 1980s. This subsequent push of feminine rights broadened the debate to include issues such as sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and legal inequalities. At a time when the movement reflected women wanting to move up in military, sporting and professional fields, it also focused on the prevalent issues of rape laws, battered women’s shelters and changes in custody and divorce law.
A Pussy Riot performance. Image courtesy of Washington Post.
Third-wave feminism is basically where we’re at now. Its beginnings are blurred, but most sources say it began in the 1990s. It runs on the ethos that women are “many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds”. In addition to the institutional rights demanded by second-wave feminism, third-wave feminism believes there needs to be changes in the stereotypes of women, the way media portrays women and the language used to represent women. I could talk for days on third-wave feminism; I am a strong third-wave feminist. But I only need give you this brief background, dear reader, for this particular article.
Four days ago, HBO aired their (absurdly late coming?) documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (see the trailerhere). There’s been some rap, but personally I think that, in true HBO-The-Wire-so-goddamn-informative-fucking-all-time style, the documentary was executed rather well. No commentary was given; it’s simply a beautifully put together series of events, with interviews of Nadia, Masha and Katia (the three Pussy Riot members put on trial/jailed), as well as their family, friends, fellow Pussy Riot members, and other groups such as the Orthodox Church and their prosecutors.
I first heard about Pussy Riot when they started their live performances in Russia. I was particularly taken by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadia), as I’d seen videos of her having pregnant sex in a biological museum (srsly NSWF link here). However, it was the group’s performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ The Savior that had the three girls put on trial and detained. This is with the exception of Masha, who was released after appeal only because she was the first person the church security guards man-handled.
The Orthodox Church explaining the meaning of the word ‘pussy’.
But I’m not here to preach whether Pussy Riot executed their beliefs in the best way possible. They probably didn’t, but crowd-pleasing demonstrations aren’t what start revolutions. They disagreed with Putin’s totalitarian rule, and they stood up for themselves in a culture renowned for oppression. Like these girls, it’s important for women, as well as all other beings, not to remain silent in times of trial.
Let me explain.
Have your parents or friends ever said to you, in response to bullies: “Don’t let them see you upset, it’s only your reaction they want,” or something similar? Mine have, and I bet yours have too. I inherently believed this notion. That was, until yesterday. Researching a little deeper into performance art, I came across Marina Abramović. Dubbed ‘the grandmother of performance art’, in her youth she once exhibited what she called a ‘trust exercise’. During this performance, she told viewers she would not move for six hours, no matter what they did to her. She placed 72 objects people could use in pleasing or destructive ways – ranging from flowers and a feather boa to a knife and loaded pistol – on a table near her, and invited viewers to use them on her however they wanted.
Nadia, exiting Pussy Riot’s final appeal. Image courtesy of Indiewire.
Initially, viewers were playful and peaceful. However, it escalated to violence rather quickly. Abramović describes: “The experience I learned was that … if you leave decision to the public, you can be killed… I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly six hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the public. Everyone ran away, escaping an actual confrontation.”
This piece is similar to Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment or Milgram’s Obedience Experiment (research both immediately if you don’t know what I’m talking about), as the performance proved how easily people are pushed to harm a person when that person isn’t fighting back.
What words are springing to your mind right now? Rape? Incest? Pedophilia? I bet. This way of thinking defies what we presume we know about humanity.
Pussy Riot on trial. Image courtesy of Little Village Mag.
The point of this article isn’t to bludgeon your faith in all that is great about the human race, but it is to provoke you to stand up and fight if you feel something’s not right. Humans may not be inherently evil, but they may not be intrinsically goodwilled either.
The extent these three women in Russia were willing to go to, in order to demonstrate the corrupt relationship between their nation’s government and church, is no doubt inspiring. So, my message today is simple: learn. Research what ignites your soul. Discover how our world and our nation runs and why. Find flaws and errors. Conclude what could be done better. Most of all, give a constructive opinion and be heard. Because after all, education is power.