Some may remember my first post about Pussy Riot, the women who protested in a Russian church and received prison sentences for their troubles, sparking a world-wide call for amnesty and free artistic expression.
The two Pussy Riot members remaining in prison today were recently denied parole. (See The New York Times for more details.) I guess they represent a threat to public “safety,” as do outspoken women everywhere. For example, in France there was a recent uproar about the new representation of La Liberté/Marianne looking a bit too much like the breast-baring founder of the activist group Femen, Inna Shevchenko [French-language link], originally a Ukrainian [French-language link]. Never mind that the new Marianne stamp was a cartoon drawing, resembling the Little Mermaid as much as any living woman: Fear struck in the hearts of men. Women are still the “Other” to those in control of our social and political structures. Evidently, we need to be contained to keep their form of order.
At the time of my original post about Pussy Riot, I wondered how different our political structures are from those of our former arch-enemy: the former Soviet Union. With Putin’s recent actions — harboring alleged traitor Edward Snowden, turning back the clock on gay rights — I was beginning to think that we in the United States might be different. But then I look at how individual states can legally undermine the spirit of federal law (see abortion limitations being enacted around the country if you have any questions about my meaning). I see the racist and sexist insanity that plays out daily on the streets and in the media. And I see the hypocrisy of our “justice” system: where George Zimmerman goes free for killing an unarmed teenager but Marissa Alexander is imprisoned for trying to protect her family from an abusive spouse. Zimmerman is the one who actually killed another human being; Alexander fired warning shots that injured no one. Apparently, Ms. Alexander is more dangerous to public safety because she is female and black.
I can understand why being female is a threat — not to public safety, but to the patriarchal structures that have existed for centuries. When women use their voices and bodies in protest, men feel the ground quake beneath their feet. The unstable, antiquated social structures are disassembled and reconceived. Women account for greater numbers of college students; women are gaining ground in business and as world leaders; women are redefining family gender roles and — shock! — asking men to share household duties when both members of a heterosexual couple work outside the home. This is called evolution: part of a process of social change that began when we started using tools, building infrastructures, codifying human rights — and yes, imprisoning people who threaten the status quo.
One problem for the patriarchy: they can’t imprison us all. They can carve away at our reproductive rights, they can lock up individuals who protest, but there will always be more of us to stand up for our humanity. The more they struggle to maintain their outdated “superiority,” the stronger our conviction.
The women of Pussy Riot were trying to expose government and church corruption. They may be imprisoned, but they are not silenced. We carry their voices forward while they are locked up. The ridiculousness of the allegations of their “crime” — and of the subsequent laws to criminalize their modus operandi (wearing masks, protesting in a church) — serve to show how afraid the powers that be truly are. As well they should be.