Punk Prayers and Topless Protest: Feminist Challenges to Patriarchal Orthodoxies
On 21 February 2012, five members of Pussy Riot performed less than a minute of their Punk Prayer, or moleben, ‘Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!’ on the soleas of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior before being escorted away by guards. Their intention, they later elaborated, was not blasphemy but protest; specifically against the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Vladimir Putin’s election campaign, the Church Patriarch Kirill’s obedience to the state above God, and the state’s co-option of Orthodox religion. Three members – Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova, Maria (Masha) Alyokhina and Yetkaterina (Kat) Sumutsevich – were arrested, detained and on 17 August 2012, charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison. Sumutsevich was released in October 2012 following an appeal, while Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina remained imprisoned until December 2013 when they were freed as part of a state amnesty granted to select prisoners to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of Russia’s constitution.
During the high-profile Pussy Riot trial, the Ukrainian feminists Femen expressed their solidarity with the Russian activists by attempting to accost Patriarch Kirill at Borispol Airport. Yana Zhdanova, topless and with the inscription ‘Kill Kirill!’ scrawled on her chest, was intercepted by the Patriarch’s bodyguards as she shouted out the words of an Orthodox exorcism in his direction. The authorities sentenced her to fifteen days in prison and temporarily shut down the group’s webpage. When the Pussy Riot verdict came down in August, preparations for Femen’s protest were already underway. In a carefully orchestrated stunt, Inna Shevchenko chain-sawed down a seven-metre wooden cross (while topless and wearing protective goggles) in a small park in central Kiev. They later shared that their intention was “to deliberately offend the Orthodox Church for its incitement to hatred of these three young women, vilified and threatened with prison.” The protest made international headlines, consolidating Femen’s reputation as sensational(ist) provocateurs. In the aftermath, Shevchenko, shaken by new levels of state surveillance, fled Ukraine to Paris where she set up a Femen training centre for new recruits.
Femen’s topless chainsaw protest fuelled an already blazing controversy about the motivations behind Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer. In Russia, the state-controlled media blamed a wave of copy-cat ‘cross protests’ on Pussy Riot supporters. It was also alleged that the actual cross Shevchenko demolished had been erected on public land by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in memory of Soviet state victims. Femen countered that it had been erected by Polish activists during the Orange Revolution pro-democracy protests of 2004-2005, but whatever the case, such crosses were laden with historical and political significance in the post-socialist world. Crosses had sprung up all over Russia and other former Soviet states after communism’s collapse as a symbol of anti-communist feeling and to mark the resurgence of public faith after decades of official oppression of religion.
When the anti-Putin protests broke out in late 2011, approximately 70 per cent of Russians identified as ‘Orthodox’, roughly double what it had been at the time the Soviet system had collapsed in the early 1990s. Religiosity rates have been even higher in Ukraine over the same period, but Ukrainian Orthodoxy is complicated by asymmetrical Ukrainian-Russian relations and internal diversity; while the majority of Ukrainian believers declare themselves part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by the Patriarch of Moscow, significant minorities are adherents of a rival Ukrainian Orthodox Church with its own Kiev-based Patriarch which claims to be the national church or the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Successive Ukrainian governments have been described as relatively liberal desecularising regimes that have encouraged competitive desecularisations from below, in contrast to Russia where desecularisation has worked from the top-down to promote a nationalistic and increasingly illiberal form of Orthodoxy to the exclusion of other strands. In each country then, the Orthodox Church has been a crucial player in post-Soviet nationalism and politics, while also used by the Russian government as an instrument of both Russian nationalism and Russian hegemony over Ukraine.
Pussy Riot and Femen, two collectives of young women who had grown up in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union’s demise, shared a negative view of the increasing proximity of church and state in their region, but the chain-saw protest also marked their political and tactical distance from each other. When asked by a Russian newspaper about Pussy Riot’s relationship to Femen, Alyokhina emphasised that while they “share the same sudden appearance and protest against authoritarianism”, Pussy Riot also “look at feminism differently, especially the type of our actions. We have never stripped and never will. The latest action cutting down the cross unfortunately doesn’t create any feelings of solidarity.” For Femen, Pussy Riot’s behaviour during their trial – in particular, statements “that they were believers and prayed” – was “ridiculous” and a “disappointment.” Cutting down the cross, they claimed, had been not only an act of support, but also “an anti-clerical act, the act of militant atheists.”
This article begins with this necessary sketch of the emblematic Pussy Riot and Femen moments of 2012 in order to begin to push a now well-established comparison between them in new directions. Images of these protests – and in particular Pussy Riot’s – circulated throughout the world, attaining iconicity as new feminisms, yet such coverage was more often than not only marginally interested in the specific cultural context that prompted these protests in the first place. The bulk of feminist scholarship and commentary, outside of that focussed specifically on the post-Soviet world, has most often centred on comprehending each group, in terms of historical and existing feminisms, as media sensations in terms of their body politics and, in the case of Femen, their problematic or confounding politics, including evidence of palpable Islamophobia. Some of this work necessarily informs this study, yet as a historian of feminism, the questions that drive this analysis relate to the context in which each group emerged and the potential wider salience or location of their critiques of religion in particular. Given that Pussy Riot and Femen each developed their feminisms in post-socialist contexts marked to varying extents by desecularisation, I am interested in the ways in which each collective advances a feminist politics of religion, especially in relation to the state. How do their origins in the post-Soviet world inform their critiques of religion and political power? To comprehend the emergence and development of both collectives, it is important to keep the following in mind: First of all, each emerged within a particular historical and cultural context in which any oppositional politics was necessarily obliged to engage with religion as an influential facet of the state, as intrinsic to national identity, and as revitalised in the aftermath of the Soviet Union. Secondly, as explicitly feminist activists, Pussy Riot and Femen also made their interventions in cultures in which feminism was negatively associated with western influence and/or was marginal. And lastly, each group is also part of a new generation of activists that make gender and sexuality central to, or at least a discernible feature, of their opposition to authoritarian rule. As I point out, these shared circumstances produced markedly different feminist politics – from each other and from western feminisms – and one key marker of this difference is their respective approaches to religion.
More broadly, while there have been many reasons Pussy Riot and Femen have captured and maintained global media attention – their novel modes of protest, youth, whiteness, good looks and media savvy to name a few – their ascent has also been understood as part of a global wave of protest and dissidence that includes the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement in which gender politics have been hotly contested. The two collectives belong to a period defined as ‘post-secular’ or ‘neo-secular’ – broad terms meant to encompass a series of intersecting and contemporaneous developments including the War on Terror and the resurgence of public religiosity, fundamentalist regimes, ‘militant’ atheism, and patriarchal, authoritarian governments of which Russia is an exemplar. The reaction of feminist scholars and scholars of feminism to this global post-secular turn runs the gamut from betrayal to excitement, as many Western feminisms have been resolutely provincialised, while new feminisms have arisen to knock on the door of a post-secular world.
This article is thus an attempt to locate Pussy Riot and Femen in relation to this terrain, cognisant throughout of both similarities and differences between the two collectives, particularly as examples of feminist critiques of religion. Femen’s favoured mode of protest – the shouty topless ambush – has been directed at targets beyond the politics and religion of their region, including the Roman Catholic Church and Islam, but the effects of this have understandably confounded observers and critics and collectively do not cohere into a sustained feminist critique of religion that goes much deeper than slogans and shock tactics. Further, as will be seen, while Femen’s politics have gone global insofar as they have attracted new recruits, expanded their protest targets and increased their general visibility, it has also been the case that Femen have driven away sections of their own constituency for various reasons, including their tone-deaf attacks on an undifferentiated Islam, as well as their exclusionary aesthetics. Pussy Riot meanwhile have developed and refined their politics throughout, reiterating and clarifying that it is the authoritarian and masculinist use of religion against the interests of democracy and freedom that has fuelled their activism, not ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ as charged. In this regard, most evident in their ongoing protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ever-escalating power, Pussy Riot have been both remarkably consistent in their target, while extending their core critique to other contexts, including Trump’s America.
Given the volume of legitimate criticism against Femen on a number of fronts from multiple directions, it perhaps goes almost without saying then that Pussy Riot offer a more robust and useful feminist critique of religion and masculinist authoritarianism, but each are ripe for further analysis that considers how their specific cultural contexts encouraged new feminisms directly concerned with the resurgence of patriarchal orthodoxies in former socialist societies that have since been described as post-secular. Each have also explicitly positioned themselves as products of post-socialist, pro-democratic ‘revolutions’, in Femen’s case the two months or so of pro-democracy, anti-corruption protests that came in the wake of the heavily compromised 2004 Ukrainian election and came to be known as the ‘Orange Revolution’. Though most members were children at the time, Femen would later incorporate references to the street protests and populist campaigns of the Orange Revolution in their early Ukraine protests, inaugurating a noisy if ‘ambiguous’ stance against “all dictatorship and religion”. In some contrast, Pussy Riot emerged directly as part of what Maria Alyokhina has described and elaborated in her 2017 memoir Riot Days as the ‘Snow Revolution’ of 2011, the protest movement that arose in opposition to the unprecedented political machinations of Putin and his closest allies, including the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. To better comprehend the divergences and overlaps between Femen and Pussy Riot, the first two sections detail the politics of each collective, as defined by themselves and as received within their societies of origin and beyond. In the final section I pan out to the wider field of feminism and religion and ponder what a post-socialist perspective can bring to ongoing feminist debates about religion, the state and gender.
Since moving their headquarters from Ukraine to Paris, Femen have become a global movement (of sorts) dedicated to the initiation of “women’s mob law over patriarchy as the historically first, and last, existing form of slavery.” Their ‘Sextremism’ manifesto – a mash-up of the rhetorical histories of radical feminism, national liberation movements and socialist fronts, overlaid with their distinctive claims for topless protest (“Female nudity, free of patriarchal system, is a grave-digger of the system”) and undergird by Ukrainian phrasing – lists “the fundamental institutions of patriarchy – dictatorships, sex-industry and church” as their key targets. Constant updates on their newsfeed testify to these abiding commitments. Since the Pussy Riot protest, the most highly publicised actions have included an International Topless Jihad Day in April 2013 and a sensational action in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City in November 2014 in which three Femen activists simulated anal penetration with crucifixes to protest against what they saw as the Pope’s meddling in politics. The effects of what has now been a decade of protest range from the punitive to the celebratory: in secular France, Femen have a strong cultural presence and in 2013 their most ‘iconic’ member Inna Shevchenko (chain saw protester) was the acknowledged inspiration for a new French postal stamp of Marianne, the national symbol of the French Republic.
Specifically feminist effects are harder to measure and are at least highly contested. Femen’s topless in situ protests and body politics have been ambivalently received, or outright rejected. On their official webpage and other social media, striking and sometimes alarming images of their protests – in which semi-naked Femen activists are routinely chased, pinned to the ground and/or carried off by men in uniforms – add up to a substantial and unique archive of feminist protest, but the images also dwarf the written content that is meant to illuminate the issues at stake. The Femen Facebook page has over 90,000 likes, but it is difficult to determine their membership beyond the core of approximately forty active protesters. To date, Femen’s most ardent supporters in the media have been men, purportedly drawn to their defiant anti-clericalism. There are also now Femen defectors, including Exit Femen, a collective of ex-members who claim Femen privilege marketing over politics, pressure activists to protest topless, are fatphobic, nationalistic and homophobic, and have no interest in engaging with the sex workers they purport to be fighting on behalf of. This latter charge is especially notable given Femen have accounted for both their origins and their distinct aesthetic as protests against the Ukrainian sex industry that has flourished since the collapse of Communism and includes prostitution, sex tourism and sex trafficking. Yet while Femen have consistently reasserted their opposition to sex work, the dissonance between their radical feminist rhetoric on this point and their mode of protest has meant most accounts of this campaign focus on this fact rather than proper coverage of the issue.
Perhaps even more so than their topless feminism, Femen’s ongoing protest against Islam has provoked the most negative responses. Femen’s most high profile defector remains Tunisian activist Amina Sboui, on whose behalf Femen launched their International Topless Jihad after her own online topless protests generated such a backlash (including a fatwā by a Tunisian Iman calling for her to be stoned to death) that she had to go into hiding. Sboui was eventually arrested for spray painting ‘Femen’ on a wall as a protest against the radical Islamist group Ansar Al-Sharia. Sboui’s self-portraits, in which she marked herself with the words ‘Fuck your morals’ and in Arabic, ‘My body belongs to me, and it is not anybody’s honour’, inspired a wave of similar feminist actions (or ‘microrevolutions’) in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, and the formation of Femen Morocco, but the feminist backlash against Femen’s ongoing Topless Jihad has been far more visible and sustained and includes the formation of Muslim Women Against Femen, a transnational coalition that objected to what they labelled Femen’s “white, colonial” presumption that Muslim women need saving or will be liberated via unveiling. Sboui left Femen because they would not answer her questions about how they are financed (“What if it is financed by Israel?”) and because of provocative actions, such as burning the black Tawid flag in front of a mosque in Paris. Such actions offended her Muslim friends and in her view amounted to Islamophobia. Since Sboui’s disavowal, criticism of Femen’s Islamophobia, and related charges, have become so voluminous they now constitute an identifiable corpus of critique and contribute rich material to ongoing scholarship about western feminism’s problematic reckoning with Islam globally, with the complicating twist of Femen’s Ukrainian/ Eastern origins. It is beyond the scope of this article to properly examine Femen’s position in relation to these debates or to critical accounts of ‘Muslim Women Need Saving’ feminist projects, but it is nevertheless essential to foreground here that Femen’s protest against Islam was ultimately a failure for the same reason it was initially a partial success – it captured the interest of some young women in Muslim-majority countries and/or Muslim women then failed to sustain or harness it, preferring to maintain a myopic anti-Islam stance rather than evolve their politics via their expanded constituency and their specific concerns and locations.
However, while there is much evidence to support critiques that label Femen ‘western’ and ‘imperialist’ – including their own statements in which they present themselves as defenders of European secularism against an undifferentiated Islam that uniformly victimises women – Femen’s Ukrainian origins also saturate their politics and complicate any claims they have to a western (European) standpoint, or any critiques that situate Femen as emblematic of imperialist White Feminism. Agata Pyzik, in her recent book examining culture clashes between Eastern and Western Europe, suggests western intersectional feminists who have dismissed Femen for “cypto or even open racism and nudity-obsession” are as guilty as Femen of misunderstanding the “delicate circumstances” that produce certain feminisms, be they Islamic or Ukrainian. The “very specific reality that Femen are fighting”, writes Pyzik, is the “post-communist desert of sex industry, sex clubs, girls at your wish every day” and “the post-communist neglect or permissiveness of the worst kinds of women abuse”. Developing this theme, Jessica Zychowicz notes two important historical precedents to and frameworks for Femen’s politics: the Orange Revolution, which the group continue to identify with, and post-September 11 western ‘missions’ and discourses about ‘rescuing’ Muslim women. The former legitimated their basic right to protest, while the latter “created the conditions” for Femen’s misguided critique.
While they sit in peculiar distance to the majority of other Ukrainian feminist organisations, Femen nevertheless belong to the second wave of feminist activism to have emerged in response to the resurgence of neo-traditional ideology in post-Soviet Ukraine. The first wave, drawing on the resources and discourses of western feminist organisations (particularly the European Union model), championed a series of legal and political reforms to eradicate gender discrimination and advance women’s rights, but enjoyed only limited success and influence – not surprising, considering the long-standing hostility to western-style ‘feminism’ in Ukraine. The next wave of activists, many of them mobilised by the Orange Revolution, were younger and generally more radical in approach, including Femen, who formed in 2008 as a university reading group called ‘New Ethics’. The inauguration of a Soviet-style, anti-democratic government in 2010 further spurred the second-wave. As formal avenues for political influence narrowed, street protests and acts of civil disobedience became the preferred modes of activism.
Women’s rights were the impetus for Femen’s formation: Anna Hutsol, the founding member of Femen, says what sparked her activism were stories of Ukrainian women being duped by false promises from men abroad. ‘Ukraine is not a Brothel’ – later the title of a 2013 documentary by Australian film-maker Kitty Green in which Victor Syvatski was ‘outed’ as Femen’s patriarchal mastermind (or ‘Rasputin’) – was the group’s first and most enduring slogan. Their first protests against sex tourism, while theatrical, were not dissimilar to earlier modes of feminist activism against the sex industry – pickets outside embassies, marches through red-light districts and targeted appeals to politicians – but by 2010 topless protests were firmly established in their repertoire. For Femen, dressing as a prostitute (their words) and/or protesting with their breasts bared serve to both combat the negative image of Ukrainian women arising from sex tourism and reclaim women’s bodies for themselves. Adding to their subversive effect as self-defined Ukrainian women, Femen also reclaimed the Ukrainian floral crown on the basis that they were traditionally worn by young unmarried women and “symbolize freedom and independence.”
Not all members of Femen protest topless (including Hustol), but of the majority who do, Femen’s topless protestors are uniformly young, slim and desirable, a tactic Hustol has defended as “the only way to get heard in this country” and also necessary to ensure and maintain iconicity and media attention. Further, she has argued that Femen’s aesthetic is recognisably Ukrainian (“[t]o make yourself unattractive in Ukraine is to consign yourself to the margins”); appeals to younger women and alienates feminists who do not sanction “eroticism” in “approach and dress”.
Femen’s original focus on protesting the limited options for Ukrainian women was maintained and extended to include, for example, protests against international surrogacy and sexism in higher education. Their actions were also increasingly broadcast outside of the Ukraine, such as their numerous protests against the European World Cup, co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland, recast by Femen as a catalyst for sex tourism and domestic violence rather than a premiere sporting event. With this critique – summarised with the words ‘Fuck Euro 2012’ written on their chests – Femen activists manifested “their rebellion against the nation-state and its privileging of [Euro] over the interest of those it would affect negatively.” Yet, as Athanassiou and Bury have pointed out, while Femen’s strategic use of ‘sexiness’ was effective in the context of the World Cup where the target was heteromasculine sexual privilege and the gender politics of the nation-state, the topless tactic revealed its limits at the 2012 London Olympics where Femen used the event to protest against violence against women in the undifferentiated ‘Islamic states’. Using the neo-colonial and Orientalising logic of post-September 11 interventions, Femen in this instance – and many others since – rebelled against patriarchy at the same time as they enforced other forms of domination, that is, by “failing to acknowledge how [patriarchy] intersects with other systems of oppression.” More recently, since Femen’s Topless Jihad has dissipated, the growth of sex worker activism and feminism in Ukraine – evident in the first ever public sex worker protest held in Kyiv on International Sex Workers’ Rights Day 3 March 2017 – has cast fresh light on the limitations of Femen’s anti-sex work stance, including their lack of affinity with other feminist organisations in the region more directly concerned with the welfare, safety and rights of women in sex work.
Femen presently occupy a curious space within wider international feminism, in relation to Ukrainian feminism and indeed in relation to the term ‘feminism’ itself, which Hustol for instance has variously repudiated and claimed to rehabilitate. While an avowedly international organisation, their militant atheism and in particular their targeting of “theocratic Islamic states” as the epitome of patriarchy at its worst ultimately seems to have ostracised more women than it has attracted to the Femen cause. The four original members who moved from Ukraine to western Europe report they have struggled to find new recruits as committed as themselves and that their radicalism has sometimes been lost in translation or reduced to entertainment. In the Netherlands, for example, they were asked to cut down crosses as part of an art exhibition: what had been a courageous political act in Kiev morphed into a “parody”. Shevchenko has stated that she would like to “keep our ‘Made in Ukraine’, identity, our kicking and fighting spirit”.
The observation from one of Femen’s most astute observers back in 2015 that Femen are at a crossroads remains pertinent – they can either choose to continue along the route of mass media performance art or they could politically legitimate their image, for instance by working with social activists in Ukraine; a move which would mean a reckoning with their feminist critics. The same critic also cautions against a straight-forward assessment of Femen “as an actual social movement.” On such grounds, they have failed on a number of fronts, but as a “feminist brand”, Femen have generated productive contestation about feminism and all that it entails and through their body politics have helped expose “the underlying cultural mythologies that differentiate women from men, and East from West, in competing discourses which signify progress differently.”
II: Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot began in August 2011 as an off shoot of the anarchist art collective Voina, whose memorable actions included Fuck for the Heir Puppy Bear – an orgy of five couples (among them Tolokonnikova and her husband Petya) held in the foyer of the State Biology Museum in 2008 as a protest against the latest development in Russian political life: the pending election of Putin’s heir apparent Dmitry Medvedev as his Presidential successor. Once in power, Medvedev appointed Putin as his Prime Minister and in an unprecedented series of political manoeuvres enabled Putin to return as President in 2012 – a move endorsed by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). This was the backdrop and impetus to Pussy Riot’s formation and from the outset, the collective merged art, feminism and politics in a series of strategically curated public performances. With each action Pussy Riot gained in membership and notoriety; prior to the Punk Prayer their “clearest and most spectacular action” was belting out ‘Putin Zussil’ (translation: ‘Putin has pissed himself’) atop the Lobonoye Mesto in Red Square in freezing temperatures in January 2012. 
The Punk Prayer, Pussy Riot’s fifth performance, like their earlier ones was carefully planned, but unlike those actions, this one was staged in a sacred and politically charged space: Christ the Saviour Cathedral, the “politically most important temple of officially Orthodoxy”, where Russian leaders come to celebrate religious holidays and from which the ROC generates huge tax-free revenue from its underground parking lot. The Punk Prayer was thus, according to a statement on their website published a month later, “a political gesture to address the Putin government’s merger with the Russian Orthodox Church”, officially marked by Patriarch Kirill publicly endorsing Putin for President. The altar of the temple, rather than the street outside, was chosen because it is “place where women are strictly forbidden.” Guards cut short the Christ the Saviour performance so the video that was later loaded onto YouTube was augmented with footage from an earlier uncontroversial action at the lesser-known Bogoyavlensky Cathedral and some explanatory notes from Seraphima, the most religious of the punk feminists. The song itself was performed in two registers – confrontational punk when addressing Putin and Patriarch Kirill (addressed as ‘Gundyay’, a diminutive form of his secular name) and in the evidently sincere manner of a Russian Orthodox liturgical song when addressing Virgin Mary. The Prayer was staged during Maslenitsa, the last week before Orthodox Great Lent and it was on that basis that some of their supporters interpreted the Punk Prayer as an alternative prayer in the Orthodox holy fool tradition, a history of Orthodoxy invoked in various ways in courtroom statements by Nadya and Masha. Their prosecutors saw it differently, and they were officially charged in March 2012 with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and of maliciously humiliating the feelings and beliefs of Orthodox Christians and “disparaging the spiritual foundations of the state.”
Later Pussy Riot would speculate that the punitive treatment they received was vengeance for the Red Square protest rather than the Punk Prayer per se. Other commentators have argued otherwise – that in Orthodox nationalist Russia, it was naïve to assume that the message of their feminist punk prayer would not cause widespread offence or at the least some confusion about their intent or target. Orthodox opposition to Pussy Riot was by no means uniform or total (their defenders included high profile Orthodox figures and also ordinary believers who called for leniency), but public opinion polls conducted in Russia during the Pussy Riot trial demonstrate that the official interpretation of the Punk Prayer – as blasphemous and immoral with the protestors branded ‘enemies of the state’, a view advanced by the law, the government, the ROC and the state-controlled media – prevailed over Pussy Riot’s own account of their actions as political protest, as feminism, and as art. Further, 47 per cent of respondents found the charges commensurate with actions deemed a gross violation of the ‘moral norms of society’. Analysis of public opinion suggests that the line Pussy Riot crossed was not protesting against Putin, but speaking out in a critical manner against religion and/or churches or, more particularly, criticising the ROC as self-professed atheists rather than from a foundation of sincere faith.
During the trial – later evaluated as more scandalous than the Pussy Riot action itself by the Russian Legal and Court Information Agency, given the alarming extent to which procedural norms and legal rights of the defenders were violated – ‘feminism’ became one of the key measures of offence, and according to their opponents (the purported ‘Orthodox majority’), one of the most vivid markers of their foreign, liberal ‘other-ness’, along with their support for and from the LGBT community, their prior activism (especially the ‘orgy in the museum’) and even their name, written in most newspapers in English letters rather than Cyrillic script.
The escalating scale of the Pussy Riot crisis – unprecedented in post-Soviet Russia in terms of public attention, the level of politicisation, the broad involvement of Orthodox Christians and the internationalisation of the conflict – revealed the true character of Russia’s desecularising regime. As Karpov has traced, while constitutionally Russia is still a secular state, an alliance of religious and ruling elites has brought religion back into the public sphere to shore up a church-state power monopoly that has increasingly marginalised minority faiths and punished public protest and dissent, including and perhaps especially, public expressions against religion. Karpov predicts that this model of desecularisation – which does not concern itself with private life and faith and, above all, promotes Orthodoxy as a national affiliation – is unsustainable, partly because it will hold increasingly less appeal for younger Russians. The Pussy Riot case certainly revealed a generational chasm but, whatever the case, since the trial, Russian parliament has introduced a law banning homosexual ‘propaganda’ and another that increases jail sentences for up to three years for “offending religious feelings”. The introduction of these laws was aided by enduring representations of Pussy Riot as “militant atheists” and “sexual perverts working in cahoots with homosexuals”.
At some distance from Femen’s stance on religion, Pussy Riot have consistently affirmed that their intention was never to insult believers or espouse religious hatred, but to protest against the merging of political and religious elites. After the Punk Prayer, they continued to protest against Putin and the state, while de-emphasising their critique of the ROC, removing religious imagery from their actions and distancing themselves from knock-on protests, including the Femen chainsaw protest and the inking of an icon in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour by a 62-year-old male supporter in September 2012. Since leaving prison, Nadya and Masha have joined other Pussy Rioters in anti-Putin protests at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (where they were attacked with whips and tear gas by Cossack militia employed as security), accepted speaking invitations around the world and committed themselves to prison activism.
Yet Pussy Riot’s actions divided rather than consolidated the opposition movement in Russia. Some liberals, for instance, lamented that the Prayer and popular reaction to it empowered authorities to enforce a conservative social agenda with even greater force, while others, such as eco-activist and Orthodox believer Yevgenia Chirikova, lamented that Pussy Riot were now the unchristian face of the opposition for ordinary Russians.
As a feminist action, the Punk Prayer has been persuasively interpreted as an important challenge to state power. While the authorities certainly used Pussy Riot’s feminism to mock and discredit them, their imprisonment revealed the state as “fearful” of the political repercussions of “an explicit feminist critique of the illegitimate and anti-democratic state and its clerical allies”, as Judith Butler suggested when she shared the stage with Nadya and Masha in 2014. For Johnson and Saarinen, Pussy Riot succeeded in using feminism to further underscore the expanding authoritarianism within Putin’s Russia; prior to the Punk Prayer the debate about the regime and its effects had been largely “gender blind” – even though gender politics had been central to regime change. Pussy Riot brought issues of gender and sexuality to the forefront of anti-Putinism. These issues had never been in the mainstream of the opposition movement and were previously more typical of small dissident groups (including Voina).
Post-Pussy Riot, Patriarch Kirill attracted international headlines when he declared feminism “very dangerous”, with the potential to destroy Russian society, though this was hardly the first time a leader of the ROC had made such a statement. Pussy Riot’s unapologetic feminism may have allowed their opponents to label them as ‘foreign’ and ‘immoral’, but they have succeeded in expanding what had been an increasingly contracting space for feminist discourse, while also influencing LGBT protests such as the ‘Send Putin a Dildo’ campaign. However punitive the short-term effects of the Punk Prayer episode have been, including new repressive measures against organised feminist organisations since 2012, longer term effects may well be far more transformative. As Janet Johnson compellingly predicts, in the Russian political space, Pussy Riot’s “carnivalesque feminism might make other feminisms more palatable in the long run, as did Black Power for civil rights in the USA”.
III: Feminism, Secularism, and Religion
Pussy Riot have on numerous occasions cited an eclectic range of western feminist influences and, since the Punk Prayer, have themselves been cited as influential and at the vanguard of contemporary feminisms. Yet they have also taken care to emphasise that, firstly, their feminism is a unique product of and response to Russian society and secondly, their feminism, in Russian terms, is new. One anonymous member told feminist journalist Laurie Penny in June 2013 that “[t]here are two reasons why we frighten people. The first thing is that we’re a feminist, female group with no men in it, and the second is that we don’t have leaders.” In Russia, she added, where political power is emphatically masculine, “this activism comes from a place people do not recognise.”
If a collective of women protesting a desecularised and increasingly undemocratic state as women is hard to recognise for Russians, the presence of churches and prayers in their protests together with their respect for devout believers is also foreign to the secular west and more specifically to secular feminism. Modern feminism’s origins are both secular and religious, but as it has developed and diversified, the gulf between secular and religious feminisms has increased. Many western feminists in the twentieth century came to regard religion as antithetical to any feminism worthy of the name, but in the twenty-first century this position has become difficult to maintain given increasing cultural diversity and that the majority of women in the world engage in religious and spiritual practice. The post-secular turn in the contemporary global political landscape has intensified the need for a more wide-ranging feminist critique of religion. Notable feminist responses to some of the developments that come under the broad banner of ‘post-secularism’ – such as the rise of religious fundamentalism and the shifting demographics of secular societies – have included affirmations of feminism’s commitment to gender equity over and above multiculturalism and extended debates over whether or not feminism and Islam can ever be compatible. While responses such as these reiterate feminism’s assumed secular orientation and thus maintained a gap between ‘western feminism’ and its ‘others’, contemporaneous developments have also included a resurgence of Islamic feminisms and powerful feminist critiques (from religious, agnostic and atheist perspectives) of the ‘macho’ atheism that has also been a feature of this period. Western feminism has, in turn, been renovated by these developments – over the last decade, key feminist thinkers Joan Wallach Scott, Judith Butler and Rosi Braidotti have questioned western feminism’s affinity with secularism and the axiomatic link between secularism, modernity, gender equality and human rights.
In 2011, Niamh Rielly drew on Butler and Scott for an important essay in which she continued the call for a “rethink” of the interplay between feminism and secularism. Intellectually and politically, Reilly sought to find some feminist common ground in response to the persistence and spread of the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis, the expansion of postmodernist critiques of the Enlightenment to religion and sustained critiques of the secularisation-as-modernity thesis. As Rielly points out, feminism can be found within the genealogies of all these intellectual and political projects, either as part of the critique or in response to it, and Reilly sought to bring these feminisms to the surface to get past some of the cul-de-sacs or blind spots in feminist theorising on religion. One noticeable tendency is an implicit alignment between feminist political theory and secularism, played out along a North-South axis in which it is assumed that however important religion is to some women in some places, it will inevitably diminish as a result of modernisation. Further, there is little proper dialogue between feminists working and thinking from ‘within’ religions and ‘secular’ feminist academics and activists. The challenge, as Reilly sees it, is to find ways of speaking across this divide, to identify a non-oppressive feminist politics committed to women’s equality, human rights and democracy that was also under no illusions about secularism as the end-of-history or of the harmful consequences of the fusion of authoritarian religious forces and the state.
While wide-ranging and attentive to the politics of location, Reilly’s essay largely overlooks the post-socialist world, which is understandable given that one of her goals is to destabilise the ‘clash of civilisation’ thesis and its essentialist premise that the west is secular and rational in contrast to an irrational and oppressive Islam. Yet, as Jennifer Suchland has argued, the relative absence of post-socialist societies, and more particularly second-world women, from the global turn in Anglo-American women’s studies towards transnational feminism has produced its own essentialisms: the Global South/Global North axis has supplanted the three worlds paradigm while maintaining or expanding a double essentialism about second and third-world women, underpinned by notions of racial and ethnic difference. On these grounds, transnational feminism has not been immune from the ‘end-of-history’ logic that greeted the collapse of communism in the first world and, accordingly, second-world women are often assessed in terms of the shift to democratisation and Europeanisation rather than as (for example) critics of their own governments, of western feminism and/or of neoliberal globalisation. Further, as Nanette Funk has argued in a comprehensive appraisal of key feminist concerns and projects across the post-socialist world during the transformation period, “the struggles, timetables, and priorities of women in the region differ from those in the United States” and are characterised by distinctly ‘eastern’ forms and critiques of liberalism in which, for example, the Anglo-American public/private split has not had the same salience in feminist thought and activity.
While it is obvious that Pussy Riot and Femen have become international phenomena and are duly comprehended as such – indeed in 2014 Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina shared a stage and conversation with Butler and Braidotti who each made speeches about the enduring global significance and politics of Pussy Riot – both collectives also bring a distinctly post-Soviet perspective to so-called ‘global’ feminism and to feminist debates about religion, secularism and post-secularism. As I have hopefully established, there are crucial differences between them – differences in ideology but perhaps most markedly, differences in terms of their stances towards religion, necessarily taken in their post-Soviet societies. One of the key points of this article has been that without some analysis of their origins and post-Soviet emergence, whatever politics each group seeks to convey is diluted. While both Femen and Pussy Riot have generated enormous attention globally, they have also inspired political debate within their own countries about what freedom means within authoritarian, post-secular societies. Each do this explicitly as feminists, though Femen’s activism, given their provocative statements such as a ‘Muslim feminist is an oxymoron’, have brought their feminism into question. For Pussy Riot, there can be no proper freedom if church and state are aligned, including religious freedom. What they share is a resistance to the patriarchal, neo-traditional gender ideology embodied by Putin’s hyper-masculinity, hence their startling body politics. Both collectives have been spurred by their insistence that moves towards authoritarianism in post-socialist states has set women back, constituting a “gender regime change” – the shoring up of political power with religious authority is a striking feature of the neo-masculinism of these societies. Both collectives offer fresh examples of feminism’s ever-imaginative and nimble capacity to mobilise against patriarchal orthodoxies – be they cultural, political, or religious. While western feminism most broadly put has been provincialised by the presence of religion in these battles with patriarchy, major feminist theoriticians in the west have responded by pondering what an effective political engagement on behalf of women might look like in a desecularising, transnational landscape. The native feminisms of the post-soviet world are breathing examples of just such a feminism.
Adewunmi, Bim, ‘The inconsistency of Femen’s imperialist “one-size-fits-all” attitude, New Statesman, 5 April 2013, http://www.newstatesman.com/bim-adewunmi/2013/04/inconsistency-femens-imperialist-one-size-fits-all-attitude
Alyokhina Maria, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yetakerina Samutsevich, ‘Pussy Riot Closing Statements’, translated by Bela Shayevich, N+1, 13 August 2012, www.nplusonemag.com/pussy-riot-closing-statements/http://www.nplusonemag.com/pussy-riot-closing-statements/
Alyokhina, Maria, Riot Days, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2017)
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Bennetts, Mark, Kicking the Kremlin: Russia’s new dissidents and the battle to topple Putin, (London: One World, 2014)
Butler, Judith, ‘Sexual politics, torture, and secular time’, The British Journal of Sociology, 59: 1, 2008, 1-23
Braidotti, Rosi, ‘In Spite of the Times: The Postsecular Turn in Feminism’, Theory Culture Society, 25:1, 2008, 1-24, 18
Elder, Miriam, ‘Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison colony for hooliganism’, The Guardian, 18 August 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/aug/17/pussy-riot-sentenced-two-years
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EXit FEMEN, https://www.facebook.com/pages/EXit-FEMEN-The-truth-about-Femen/
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Femen with Gulia Ackerman, Femen, translated by Andrew Brown, (Cambridge: Polity, 2014)
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Johnson, Janet Elise and Aino Saarinen, ‘Twenty-First-Century Feminisms under Repression: Gender Regime Change and the Women’s Movement in Russia’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 38: 3, Spring 2013, 543-567
Jones, Jonathan, ‘A gloriously crude topless ‘jihad’ from a Femen activist’, The Guardian, 6 April 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/05/femen-topless-protest-gloriously-crudehttp://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/05/femen-topless-protest-gloriously-crude
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Kappeler, Andreas, ‘Ukraine and Russia: Legacies of the imperial past and competing memories’, Journal of Eurasian Studies, 5, 2014, 107-115, 111
Karpov, Vyacheslav, ‘The Social Dynamics of Russia’s Desecularisation: a comparative and theoretical perspective’, Religion, State and Society, 41:31, 2013, 254-283
Larsson, Milene, ‘Femen: We’re not run by men’, Vice, 5 September 2013, https://www.vice.com/read/talking-to-femen-about-their-shadowy-leader
Llewellyn, Dawn and Marta Trzebiatowska, ‘Secular and Religious Feminisms: A Future of Disconnection?’, Feminist Theology, 21:3, 2013, 244-258
Miller, Ashley, The Non-Religious Patriarchy: Why Losing Religion has not meant losing white male dominance’, Cross-Currents, 63:2, June 2013, 211-226
Moghadam, V. M. “Islamic Feminism and Its Discontents: Toward a Resolution of the Debate,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 27, No. 4, 2002, pp. 1135- 1171
Mohanty, Chandra, Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses’, Boundary 2, 12.3-13.1, 1984, 333-358
Moller Okin, Susan et al. Joshua Cohen, Matthew Howard and Martha C. Nussbaum, eds. Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999)
Nelson, Sara C., ‘Muslim Women Against Femen: Facebook group takes on activists in the wake of Amina Tyler topless jihad’, 5 April 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/04/05/muslim-women-against-femen-facebook-topless-jihad-pictures-amina-tyler_n_3021495.html
Nemtsova Anna and Shaun Walker, ‘Free Pussy Riot members say prison was a time of ‘endless humiliations’’, The Guardian, 24 December 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/23/freed-pussy-riot-amnesty-prison-putin-humiliation
O’Keefe, Theresa, ‘my body is my manifesto! Slutwalk, FEMEN and femmenist protest’, Feminist Review, 107, 2014, 1-19
Penny, Laurie, Laurie Penny on Pussy Riot: ‘People fear us because we’re feminists’, New Statesman, 22 June 2013, http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/06/pussy-riot-people-fear-us-because-were-feminists
Pussy Riot, Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom: Letters from prison, songs, poems, and courtroom statements, plus tributes to the punk band that shook the world, (New York City: The Feminist Press, 2013)
Pyzik, Agata, Poor but sexy: culture clashes in Europe East and West, (London: Zero Books, 2015)
Reilly, Niamh, ‘Rethinking the interplay of feminism and secularism in a neo-secular age’, Feminist Review 97:2011, 5-31
Rubchak, Marian, ‘Seeing pink: Searching for gender justice through opposition in Ukraine’, European Journal of Women’s Studies, 19:1, 55-72
Salime, Zakia, ‘New Feminism as Personal Revolutions: Microrebellious Bodies’, Signs, Vol. 40: I, August 2014, 14-20
Schroeder, Rachel L. and Vyacheslav Karpov, ‘The Crimes and Punishments of the ‘Enemies of the Church’ and the Nature of Russia’s Desecularising Regime’, Religion, State and Society, 2013, 1-28
Scott, Joan Wallach, ‘Sexularism: On Secularism and Gender Equality’ in The Fantasy of Feminist History (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011), 91-116
Semchuk, Kateryna, ‘Sex Workers March in Ukraine: “We Have the Right to Work”, Krytyka Polityczna and European Alternatives, April 7 2017, http://politicalcritique.org/cee/ukraine/2017/sex-workers-march-ukraine/
Steinholt, Yngvar B., ‘Kitten Heresy: Lost Contexts of Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer’, Popular Music and Society, 36:1, 2013, 120-124
Suchland, Jennifer, ‘Is Postsocialism Transnational?’, Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society, 366: 4, 2011, 837-862
Taylor, Jeffrey, ‘Topless Jihad: Why Femen is right’, The Atlantic, 1 May 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/05/topless-jihad-why-femen-is-right/275471/
Yablokov, Ilya, ‘Pussy Riot as agent provocateur: conspiracy theories and the media construction of nation in Putin’s Russia’, Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, 42:4, 2014, 622-636
Yusupova, Marina, ‘Pussy Riot: A Feminist Band Lost in History and Translation’, Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, 42:4, 2014, 604-610
Zychowicz, Jessica, ‘Two Bad Words: FEMEN & Feminism in Independent Ukraine’, Anthropology of East Europe Review, 29 (2), Fall 2011, 215-227
Zychowicz, Jessica, ‘Performing Protest: Femen, Nation and the Marketing of Resistance’, Journal of Ukrainian Politics and Society, Vol 1:1, 2015, 79-104
 Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yetakerina Samutsevich, ‘Pussy Riot Closing Statements’, translated by Bela Shayevich, N+1, 13 August 2012, http://www.nplusonemag.com/pussy-riot-closing-statements/
 Anna Nemtsova and Shaun Walker, ‘Free Pussy Riot members say prison was a time of ‘endless humiliations’’, The Guardian, 24 December 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/23/freed-pussy-riot-amnesty-prison-putin-humiliation
 Femen with Gulia Ackerman, Femen, translated by Andrew Brown, (Cambridge: Polity, 2014), 143-4
 Femen with Ackerman, Femen, 145
 Ian Bateson, ‘On Femen, Pussy Riot and Crosses’, Kyiv Post, 5 October 2012, http://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/op-ed/on-femen-pussy-riot-and-crosses-313994.html
 Femen, 145
 Ian Bateson, ‘On Femen, Pussy Riot and Crosses’, Kyiv Post, 5 October 2012, http://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/op-ed/on-femen-pussy-riot-and-crosses-313994.html
 Marc Bennetts, Kicking the Kremlin: Russia’s new dissidents and the battle to topple Putin, (London: One World, 2014), 132
 Andreas Kappeler, ‘Ukraine and Russia: Legacies of the imperial past and competing memories’, Journal of Eurasian Studies, 5, 2014, 107-115, 111
 Vyacheslav Karpov, ‘The Social Dynamics of Russia’s Desecularisation: a comparative and theoretical perspective’, Religion, State and Society, 41:31, 2013, 254-283, 274-5
 Ian Bateson, ‘On Femen, Pussy Riot and Crosses’, Kyiv Post, 5 October, 2012, http://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/op-ed/on-femen-pussy-riot-and-crosses-313994.html
 Femen, 149
 For more detail see Rosi Braidotti, ‘In Spite of the Times: The Postsecular Turn in Feminism’, Theory Culture Society, 25:1, 2008, 1-24, 18; Niamh Reilly, ‘Rethinking the interplay of feminism and secularism in a neo-secular age’, Feminist Review 97:2011, 5-31
 In November 2017, Pussy Riot released a song titled ‘Police State’ taking aim at the authoritarianism of both Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.
 For details and further critique see Jessica Zychowicz, ‘Performing Protest: Femen, Nation and the Marketing of Resistance’, Journal of Ukrainian Politics and Society, Vol 1:1, 2015, 79-104, 79-80
 Maria Alyokhina, Riot Days, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2017, 3-12
 Femen claim membership outside their key locations in Ukraine and France, including in Brazil, the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Bulgaria, Turkey, Tunisia, and their international protests frequently incorporate local women. In January 2013, a third national branch opened in Germany and there are also active branches in Turkey and Israel.
 Members of Femen are arrested on a regular basis, usually for vandalism or charges of a similar ilk. In June 2013, three Femen members were charged with indecency and sentenced to four months in prison for a topless protest in Tunis in solidarity with Amina Sboui. The Femen members served a couple of weeks in prison before the convictions were lifted.
 For example, Theresa O’Keefe, ‘my body is my manifesto! Slutwalk, FEMEN and femmenist protest’, Feminist Review, 107, 2014, 1-19
 https://www.facebook.com/femenmovement/ – viewed 19 March 2018.
 Jeffrey Taylor, ‘Topless Jihad: Why Femen is right’, The Atlantic, 1 May 2013,
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/05/topless-jihad-why-femen-is-right/275471/ ; Jonathan Jones, ‘A gloriously crude topless ‘jihad’ from a Femen activist’, The Guardian, 6 April 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/05/femen-topless-protest-gloriously-crude
 https://www.facebook.com/pages/EXit-FEMEN-The-truth-about-Femen/ – Exit Femen were founded on February 22, 2013 and their Facebook page at the time of writing had not been updated since May 2014.
 See for example, Homa Khaleeli, ‘The nude radicals; feminism Ukrainian style’, The Guardian, 15 April 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/apr/15/ukrainian-feminists-topless-campaign
 Following Saudi blogger Nora Abdulkarim’s theorisation ‘personal revolutions’ to describe the new feminisms that are made possible by cyberspace, Zakia Salime has persuasively argued that these new feminisms mark a departure from the old feminism that appeals to the state and the ‘return of the repressed: the body and sexuality’ in North Africa, post-Arab Spring. Zakia Salime, ‘New Feminism as Personal Revolutions: Microrebellious Bodies’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 40:1, August 2014, 14-20, 18
 Sara C. Nelson, ‘Muslim Women Against Femen: Facebook group takes on activists in the wake of Amina Tyler topless jihad’, 10 April 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/04/05/muslim-women-against-femen-facebook-topless-jihad-pictures-amina-tyler_n_3021495.html
 Huffpost Maghreb, Amina Sboui Quits Femen, ‘I do not want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organisation’. The World Post, 20 August 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/amina-sboui-quits-femen_n_3785724.html
 For example, Bim Adewunmi, ‘The inconsistency of Femen’s imperialist “one-size-fits-all” attitude, New Statesman, 5 April 2013, http://www.newstatesman.com/bim-adewunmi/2013/04/inconsistency-femens-imperialist-one-size-fits-all-attitude
 See the chapter ‘Naked rather than in a niqab!’ in Femen, 128-149
 Agata Pyzik, Poor but sexy: culture clashes in Europe East and West, (London: Zero Books, 2015), 141
 Jessica Zychowicz, ‘Performing Protest: Femen, Nation and the Marketing of Resistance’, Journal of Ukrainian Politics and Society, Vol 1:1, 2015, 79-104, 90
 Ibid., 97
 Marian Rubchak, ‘Seeing pink: Searching for gender justice through opposition in Ukraine’, European Journal of Women’s Studies, 19:1, 55-72, 56
 Rubchak, 57
 Femen have acknowledged Syvatski’s formative role – ‘he showed us – in a practical model – what a patriarch was’ – but have since kicked him out of the organisation. Milene Larsson, ‘Femen: We’re not run by men’, Vice, 5 September 2013, https://www.vice.com/read/talking-to-femen-about-their-shadowy-leader
 ‘We protested against prostitution, dressed as prostitutes’, Femen, 56
 Femen, 65
 Femen, 61
 Jessica Zychowicz, ‘Two Bad Words: Femen & Feminism in Independent Ukraine’, Anthropology of East Europe Review, 29 (2), Fall 2011, 215-227, 219
 Natalia Anatova, ‘Femen’s Anna Gustol on sex tourism and short skirts in Ukraine’, Global Comment, September 11, 2009, http://globalcomment.com/femens-anna-gutsol-on-sex-tourism-and-short-skirts-in-ukraine/#
 Cerelia Athanassiou and Jonah Bury, ‘On caretakers, rebels and enforcers: The gender politics of Euro 2012, European Journal of Women’s Studies, Vol. 21:2, 2014, 148-164: 159
 Ibid., 160
 One report of the International Sex Workers Rights protest in Ukraine noted that the spokespeople were feminists from NGOs and social workers, while sex workers themselves wore masks as a ‘symbol of social stigma’. Kateryna Semchuk, ‘Sex Workers March in Ukraine: “We Have the Right to Work”, Krytyka Polityczna and European Alternatives, 7 April 2017, http://politicalcritique.org/cee/ukraine/2017/sex-workers-march-ukraine/
 Zychowicz, 2015, 90
 Femen, ix
 Femen, 154
 Femen, 151
 Zychowicz, 2015, 95
 Ibid. 99
 Masha Gessen, Words Will Break Cement: the passion of Pussy Riot, (London: Granta Books, 2014), 40
 Gessen, 104-107
 Rachel L. Schroeder and Vyacheslav Karpov, ‘The Crimes and Punishments of the ‘Enemies of the Church’ and the Nature of Russia’s Desecularising Regime’, Religion, State and Society, 2013, 1-28, 9
 Bennetts, Kicking the Kremlin, 137
 Pussy Riot, ‘Art or Politics?’, 23 March 2012, in Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom: Letters from prison, songs, poems, and courtroom statements, plus tributes to the punk band that shook the world, New York City: The Feminist Press, 2013
 Schroeder and Karpov, 2013, 9
 Gessen, 121
 Yngvar B. Steinholt, ‘Kitten Heresy: Lost Contexts of Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer’, Popular Music and Society, 36:1, 2013, 120-124, 123
 Miriam Elder, ‘Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison colony for hooliganism’, The Guardian, 18 August 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/aug/17/pussy-riot-sentenced-two-years
 Pussy Riot, ‘Art or politics?’, 23 March 2012 in Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom: Letters from prison, songs, poems, and courtroom statements, plus tributes to the punk band that shook the world, (New York City: The Feminist Press, 2013), 15-17
 Marina Yusupova, ‘Pussy Riot: A Feminist Band Lost in History and Translation’, Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, 42:4, 2014, 604-610
 A July 2012 poll conducted by the Levada Centre found that 42 per cent of Russians who had heard of the action regarded it as blasphemy or a sacrilege of a holy place; 29 per cent as ‘hooliganism’; 17 per cent as a politically motivated act against Putin. See Schoeder and Karpov, 19
 Ibid, 21
 Steinholt, p. 124
 Schroeder and Karpov, ‘The Crimes and Punishments of the ‘Enemies of the Church’ and the Nature of Russia’s Desecularising Regime’, 14
 For example, two witnesses, candle seller Lubov Sokologorskaya and security guard Sergey Beloglazov, claimed to be insulted, as Orthodox believers, by the word ‘feminist’ used in church. Pussy Riot!, 49-51
 Ilya Yablokov, ‘Pussy Riot as agent provocateur: conspiracy theories and the media construction of nation in Putin’s Russia’, Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, 42:4, 2014, 622-636, 628
 Bennett, Kicking the Kremlin, 145
 Schroeder and Karpov, 9-13
 Karpov, ‘Social Dynamics of Russia’s Desecularisation’, 272
 Karpov, 274
 YabloKov, 633
 Excerpts from appeal statements, Pussy Riot!, 117-118
 Bennetts, 200
 Chirikova told journalist Marc Bennetts, ‘it was really disgusting what they did. …But it was also disgusting to detain young mothers over this. That’s also unchristian’. Bennetts, 146
 Judith Butler, Oslo, 12 May 2014, 6
 Janet Elise Johnson and Aino Saarinen, ‘Twenty-First-Century Feminisms under Repression: Gender Regime Change and the Women’s Movement in Russia’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 38: 3, Spring 2013, 543-567, 546
 Miriam Elder, ‘Feminism could destroy Russia, Russian Orthodox patriarch claims’, The Guardian, 10 April, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/09/feminism-destroy-russia-patriarch-kirill
 For example, in 2011, high-ranking Church official Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov claimed that “thanks to feminism, we have 40 million women who do not have husbands and experience deep unhappiness”. As cited in Johnson and Saarinen, 585
 Johnson, 588
 Laurie Penny on Pussy Riot: ‘People fear us because we’re feminists’, New Statesman, 22 June 2013, http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/06/pussy-riot-people-fear-us-because-were-feminists
Dawn Llewellyn and Marta Trzebiatowska, ‘Secular and Religious Feminisms: A Future of Disconnection?’, Feminist Theology, 21:3, 2013, 244-258
 Susan Moller Okin, et al. Joshua Cohen, Matthew Howard and Martha C. Nussbaum, eds. Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999)
 V. M. Moghadam, “Islamic Feminism and Its Discontents: Toward a Resolution of the Debate,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 27, No. 4, 2002, pp. 1135- 1171
 To draw on Chandra Mohanty’s important and enduring epistemological distinction first made in ‘Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses’, Boundary 2, 12.3-13.1, 1984, 333-358
 For example, Ashley F. Miller has drawn out a longer history of patriarchal dominance of organised atheism or the ‘non-religious movement’. See Ashley F. Miller, ‘The Non-Religious Patriarchy: Why Losing Religion has not meant losing white male dominance’, Cross-Currents, 63:2, June 2013, 211-226
 Judith Butler, ‘Sexual politics, torture, and secular time’, The British Journal of Sociology, 59: 1, 2008, 1-23; Joan Wallach Scott, ‘Sexularism: On Secularism and Gender Equality’ in The Fantasy of Feminist History (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011), 91-116; Rosi Braidotti, ‘In Spite of the Times: The Postsecular Turn in Feminism’, Theory Culture Society, 25:1, 2008, 1-24,
 Niamh Reilly, ‘Rethinking the interplay of feminism and secularism in a neo-secular age’, Feminist Review 97:2011, 5-31
 One exception is Poland, which is grouped with Ireland – rather than former socialist countries – as an example of the enduring Catholic influence on the state. Reilly, p. 20
 Reilly, p. 24
 Jennifer Suchland, ‘Is Postsocialism Transnational?’, Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society, 366: 4, 2011, 837-862, 839
 Suchland, p. 846
 Nanette Funk, ‘Feminist Critiques of Liberalism: Can they travel east? Their relevance in Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 29:3, 2004, 695-726, 716
 Funk, 713
 The First Supper Symposium, Symposium debate 12 May 2014 with Pussy Riot, Judith Butler, Rosi Braidotti and Viktor Misiano, http://www.thefirstsuppersymposium.org/index.php/en/program-2014/43-pussy-riot-meets-judith-butler-and-rosi-braidotti
 See Johnson and Saarinen, Signs: Journal of women in culture and society, 2013, 547-549
Zora Simic is a lecturer in history and convenor of Women’s and Gender Studies in the School of Humanities and Languages in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. She has published widely on the past and present of various feminisms.
© Zora Simic
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.