Feminism | Posted by mbond on 03/25/2013

GQ’s Impressive Interview With Pussy Riot Is Still A GQ Interview

Pussy Riot

As Feministing.com reported last summer, three members of the Russian punk rock collective Pussy Riot were convicted in August 2012 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for “hooliganism motivated by religious-hatred” and “crudely [undermining] social order.”

Formed in 2011, Pussy Riot consists of a rotating cast of about ten anonymous members. The group is famous for its audaciously anti-government protest songs and flash mob-style performances in brightly colored dresses and balaclavas. The women who first formed Pussy Riot were longtime friends and political activists but had not been performers previously. They sought to use punk rock as a vehicle to reach wider audiences for espousing their political beliefs, particularly regarding government restrictions on legal abortions and other policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Before Pussy Riot made worldwide headlines and became an international cause championed by Madonna, Sting, Paul McCartney, and others, the Kremlin had already made efforts to suppress the female activists. In January 2012 eight Pussy Riot members were arrested for performing a song called “Putin Got Scared” in Moscow’s Red Square. The women were detained for a few hours and fined for holding an illegal protest. They immediately began planning more public performances in anticipation of the upcoming presidential election.

A February 2012 protest at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, however, proved to be tipping point for Pussy Riot. Maria “Masha” Alyokhina, Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina “Katya” Samutsevich were arrested for playing an anti-Putin song at Russia’s main Orthodox Cathedral—what Judge Marina Syrova later called “a gross violation of public order, showing obvious disrespect for society.” Syrova rejected the band’s claim that their actions were purely political and not intended to offend the cathedral’s congregation.

At least one other Pussy Riot performer was present at the protest but inexplicably was never arrested or tried. Katya was released in October on a technicality, but Masha and Nadya remain incarcerated, having served seven months of their two-year sentence (in addition to the five months they were detained while awaiting trial). The anonymous members who remain at large released a new single, called “Putin Lights Up the Fires,” on the day of their band mates’ verdict.

The U.S. media coverage Pussy Riot’s incarceration has been commendable on the whole (despite some newscasters’  hesitance to say “Pussy Riot” on air), but GQ Magazine surpassed its competitors by obtaining an interview with Masha and Nadya by slipping questions in with their lawyers. (Katya also fielded the magazine’s questions before her release, but prison authorities confiscated her answers.) The piece is hugely informative—concerning both the conditions of the Russian prison system and the thoughtful articulateness of the two activists. For instance, Masha writes: “Here in Russia, a prisoner has no Internet access, no computer, not even a typewriter, so I wrote everything by hand: many rough drafts [of my closing statement] and then a combined ‘clean’ draft. We read some bits of our speeches to each other during the transfer, in the unventilated, smoke-filled prison bus.”

One question seems a bit incongruous with the rest of the interview, but it’s more aligned with the magazine’s usual content; GQ asks: “Does it bug you as feminists that your global popularity is at least partly based on the fact that you turned out to be, well, easy on the eyes?” In the middle of this impressive interview, GQ reminds us that it’s a men’s magazine, whose readers apparently cannot go five minutes without evaluating a woman’s hotness.

As fatuous as the question is, Nadya’s answers is equally incisive: “I humbly hope that our attractiveness performs a subversive function. First of all, because without ‘us’ in balaclavas, jumping all over Red Square with guitars, there is no ‘us’ smiling sweetly in the courtroom. You can’t get the latter without the former. Second, because this attractiveness destroys the idiotic stereotype, still extant in Russia, that a feminist is an ugly-ass frustrated harridan. This stereotype is so puke-making that I will deign to be sweet for a little bit in order to destroy it.”

The one question does not detract from the overall quality of the interview, but it does prompt another question—What will it take for GQ (or anyone, really) to recognize an attractive woman’s accomplishments independently of her attractiveness? Esquire has published a list of the Sexiest Women in Congress. Men’s Health, unsurprisingly, has claim to the 10 Sexiest Women in Sports. Even CBS News has reposted Maxim’s Sexiest News Anchors. Such lists and websites are not uncommon; a quick Google search will yield dozens more. If unjustly-imprisoned feminist punk rock activists cannot get a break from the American media’s objectifying lens these days, who can?

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