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Mon Nov 12, 2012, 12:55 PM

Pussy Prophets & Nuns on Buses: Will Feminist Politics Get More Holy & Foolish?


November 12, 2012
Pussy Prophets & Nuns on Buses: Will Feminist Politics Get More Holy & Foolish?

Beatrice Marovich
Beatrice is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Division of Religion at Drew University in Madison, NJ. She also works as a writer, editor, and communications consultant, specializing in ideas at the crowded intersection of theology, philosophy, faith and public/political life in North America.

The end of election season has various commentators reflecting on what the vote for Barack Obama (and against the Republican Party) means for women. At Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan signaled a kind of defeat in the “war on women” by assessing the losses suffered by “team rape”; in USA Today, Amanda Marcotte charged that Republicans lost the culture war by, among other things, ignoring women's reproductive rights; and Hanna Rosin, writing for CNN, was less convinced that this vote meant anything historic for women, though she did acknowledge that female officials have gained a broader access to power.

I’m still fixated, however, on a couple of phenomena that have, quite likely, already fallen off of most people’s radar: the weird conjunctions between religion and feminist politics that have emerged over the past year. Notable in this regard (of course) are those Nuns on the Bus. But the more perplexing example, I think, is the Pussy Riot phenomenon which, as I see it, marks a new kind of relation between religiosity and feminist politics.

Imprisoned band members of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot may be on their way to work camps in the furthest reaches of Russia, while their very “brand” is now the subject of heated dispute. But it’s still too soon to tell what remains to be done in the name of—or in communal solidarity with—Pussy Riot. Last month, four women occupied St. Paul’s Cathedral in London by chaining themselves to the altar—allegedly a display of concord with Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer.” Additionally, the New York Times reports that several women (arrested for wearing the iconic Pussy Riot balaclavas at a protest in front of the Russian consulate) will be challenging an 1845 New York mask law that prevents crowds of masked bodies from gathering in a public space.

There’s something extremely foolish about the bright neons of these balaclavas, about Pussy Riot band members’ animalesque nicknames (Squirrel, Sparrow), about their “prayer” that the Holy Virgin might kick old Putin to the proverbial curb of their domestic political scene. But foolishness isn’t anathema to Pussy Riot’s feminist politics. In fact, band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova argues that their protest was a kind of “yurodstvo”—some variant of “holy foolishness.” To the extent that Pussy Riot continues to infect, inflect, or influence feminist politics, I think it’s worth pointing out how novel and unprecedented this strange hybrid blend of feminism and religion really is.

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