It will largely come down to personal taste and politics when deciding whether the provocative performances of Pussy Riot constitute art or not; music or not; protest or not. Like many, I only truly became aware of Pussy Riot following the Mother of God, Drive Putin Away performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 2012, after which three of the group’s members were imprisoned. From my western-liberal perspective, the custodial sentence’s handed down in this case seemed excessive and politically motivated – it was a viewed formed and shared by the hours of media punditry, and miles of text written, that arose in the aftermath of the matter. Much of the discussion took a very western view of the issues at play and, as Anatoly Karlin writing for Al Jazeera pointed out, Russia isn’t the west and, as Simon Jenkins for The Guardian observed, the west isn’t without sin.

Based on the volume of media, and popular, discussion that surrounded Pussy Riot, it is clear that something about the group’s message and actions resonated with many in the west. Anti-Russian political sentiment and a sense of cultural superiority from the west certainly had a role in this, but it seems possible to me that Pussy Riot’s feminist and pro-LGBT positions allowed people from the west to reflect on both how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go, with these issues. Pussy Riot have a message and agenda for their native Russia, but they also exist as a mirror, in the reflection of which we in the west can observe the shortcomings that still need to be addressed in our own societies.

With their recent songs and music videos, Pussy Riot seem to have embraced this role as a mirror for the west, producing pieces that speak not just to the current political debates, but to the underlying social inequalities that exist just below the surface as well – be it body shaming, racism, refugee policy, or reproductive rights. For the sake of this blog-post and series, it is both unfair and necessary to (largely) ignore the internal bickering and debate within the group, the domestic Russian politics from which they arose, and the nuance and complexities that arise from these, in order to discuss Pussy Riot somewhat succinctly.

Whether or not you agree with their personal politics or their methods of protest, they have repeatedly put themselves in harm’s way to express their views – which is a pretty full-on proposition, with many reading this will taking freedom of expression for granted. As for their art and musicianship, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – two of the member’s who were imprisoned – have stated that “[a]nybody can be Pussy Riot, you just need to put on a mask and stage an active protest of something in your particular country, wherever that may be, that you consider unjust” which is quite a punk-rock approach to take and probably also why they attained their relevance in the west. By Including Pussy Riot in Women-Who-Rocktober I am not so much including the members of the group, or the group itself, but what the group represents for so many who stand by the ideals of gender equality, and the acceptance “the other” – be they refugees, or members of the LGBTIQ community.

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