Russian Punk Band Facing Serious Charges for a Harmless Stunt

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
July 30 2012 12:19 PM

Russian Feminist Punk Band Trial Begins

Pussy Riot.
Members of the all-girl punk band Pussy Riot Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L), Maria Alyokhina (R) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (C), sit behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow on July 30, 2012

Photograph by Andrey Smirnov/AFP/GettyImages.

How is it that three young women performing a harmless prank has turned into an international incident? Three members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot finally started their long-awaited trial in Moscow today, with a packed courtroom watching. The women are being charged with hooliganism after they took over the stage at Moscow's largest church and put on an impromptu protest performance of their song "Mother of God, Cast Putin Out." The only thing hurt was the feelings of Putin supporters and that day's churchgoers. The most sensible government response would be a blow-off, but even if they really felt they needed to do something, a small fine or some other proportionate punishment would be acceptable.

Instead, the women are being treated like dangerous criminals, the latest in a long international history of societies reacting to outspoken women like they're agents of Satan whose mouthiness is practically a violent crime. The women have been held in jail since March and the court ruled they can be held until January, if the government wishes. The charges are surprisingly serious, with the defendents facing a possible maximum of seven years in prison. Luckily for them, they got a video of the protest stunt up online, so you can see exactly how silly the whole thing was and how the government is completely overreacting.

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I thought American Christians were the experts in flopping around and whining about persecution on the thinnest of grounds, but the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, is really giving them a run for their money. According to the Guardian, Kirill has painted the young women as part of some sinister plot against the church, and that the church is "under attack by persecutors." But the statements that the band has put out in public suggest that they weren't even interested in being blasphemous or challenging religion at all, but were instead questioning the relationship between the church and Vladimir Putin. Not that it would really matter; even if their intention was to question the very idea of religion, their stunt deserves no more than a slap on the wrist at best. The humorless preening of the targets of their protest just makes it all the more clear that these women have a point. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.