Pussy Riot Is Bringing Judith Butler Back to Russia With Them

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Photo: Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images

With famous fans like Madonna and Paul McCartney, Pussy Riot went from obscure Russian punk collective to international feminist celebrities overnight in 2012. Since their release from prison in December, group members Masha Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova are determined to use their new status to pay it forward at home in Russia. At the PEN American Center Literary Gala last night — where fellow free speech advocates Dick Costolo, Salman Rushdie, and jailed Chinese writer Ilham Tohti were honored — they spoke to the Cut about the challenges unique to Russia’s feminist movement.

“In such a patriarchal country as Russia, it sort of determines the whole movement is quite different than the way it is in the United States,” said Masha, through a translator. “So you don’t have an equally wide and encompassing and powerful movement as in the United States. There is more of a community of feminists and people who dedicate themselves to feminist issues that stage various events.”

Both Pussy Riot members will meet with Rosi Braidotti, Judith Butler, and others at the First Supper Symposium in Oslo, Norway, on May 12 to participate in a panel discussion on political protest, feminist performance art, censorship, gender and LGBT issues, and more.  

“After this seminar, they [have] promised us to go to Russia to do a feminist seminar,” said Nadya. “I think if we will organize this event in Russia, it will be quite popular in the feminist community.”

While many Russian women are feminists, Nadya explained, they don’t identify as such because of a lack of access to feminist theory. “We had a very strong tradition [of feminism] during our revolution in 1917, and after that we had a really strong feminist movement, but it was crushed by Stalin, and after that there is no feminist theory in Russia,” she said. “But of course, because we are in touch with the Eest [and] women see that they can be good businesswomen and scientists, they do it, but they don’t recognize themselves like feminists because there is no theory.”

Doing feminist things but not calling yourself a feminist? We're familiar with that in the U.S., too.