Movements@Manchester

Reblog: this post was first published by Susan O’Shea at the Feminist Times. See the original here.

Pussy Riot Putin by AK Rockerfeller on FlickrPussy Riot sang in their Punk Prayer, two years ago today: “become a feminist, become a feminist” – a rallying call to action. From Sochi to Kiev, Caracas to our own cities and towns, we need to believe in ourselves a little more and give feminism and her activists a break. This week has seen some people taking sides as Pussy Riot begins to show splits, following a statement released by the group saying Nadia and Masha were no longer part of Pussy Riot. The two women then appeared in Sochi as Pussy Riot and released a track and video under the moniker.

Social movements appear, develop and dissolve, and movement members fall out and disagree with one another all the time. Why should feminism be so often singled out for failure? It may not give us all the answers but by embracing feminisms together we will begin to start asking the right kinds of questions.

At the heart of social movements lie social relationships. These relationships are often built over time, developing a kind of organisational memory and expectations that persist even when members come and go. Social movements are more than the sum of their parts and are nothing without the actions of those willing to take part. Activism is frequently a difficult path to take but, when it comes to feminist activism, the path is at times more uneven, weed-strewn and so pot-hole ridden that the task of patching it can seem overwhelming. Yet, like the road less traveled, this path can lead to profound personal and social change.

It is important to pay attention to the historical lineages – though arguably not a linear history – of feminist cultural activism and its attempts to challenge gender inequalities. These historical narratives are less about discrete chronological stages and more about blurry overlaps, with each participating actor writing and re-writing their stories with each new encounter.

Attempting to fit contemporary feminist cultural activism into neat, time-specific periods perpetuates a popular discourse that all too quickly relegates feminist acts of cultural resistance to, at best, the history books, and at worst something to be appropriated by capitalist structures and sold back in bite-sized, watered down versions to the very girls and women who these activities are meant to empower. However, this grand ideal of collective action and impetus, to create new worlds that counter mainstream conventions, is not without its problems and critics.

In various art and music based movements, such as Riot Grrrl and Ladyfest, the initial motivation for engaging in activism is women’s lack of visibility and, where women are visible, a disagreement with the narrow roles they are frequently assigned. Drawing connections between different feminist cultural movements in different time periods allows for a continuity of experiences and a chance for subsequent generations to learn from one another through dialogue, rather than perpetuating the perceived generational rifts so often referred to in literature on feminist waves and by those that purport feminism has failed.

Pussy Riot may be a clandestine covert network of feminist activists, but they are emerging from their own particular histories carrying forward previous social ties, whilst at the same time developing new ones. That two of its members should now be reportedly ex-members may disappoint the collective’s supporters but can be viewed as an inevitable stage in the cycle of change. Movements change and members move on to other things. If anyone can be Pussy Riot, just like every girl could be a Riot Grrrl or every town could start a Ladyfest, then perhaps the power of feminist activism lies with its potential.

We all need to be a little kinder to one another. Our activist strategies may be flawed, we may be emotive, impassioned and our approaches at times may not work but it is by taking those steps to engage with one another, to voice our feminisms and render them real, lived experiences that we can begin to make a difference.

Image: Pussy Riot Putin by AK Rockefeller on Flickr (CC)

culture, feminism, pussy riot, social network analysis