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Why I Think Educators Should Be Talking About Pussy Riot (Yes, You Read That Correctly)

I’ve been struggling trying to figure out how to talk about Pussy Riot with my fellow educators. Even that sentence sends a bristle down my spine – how many people have already stopped reading because of the name? And isn’t that the point of naming a band something like Pussy Riot or Fucked Up or The Negro Problem? If you are a feminist punk band shouldn’t your name anger and piss off “the man” (probably both figuratively and literally in this case)?

To be honest, I don’t have as much a thesis about Pussy Riot and education as much as I have a hunch.  My hunch is this (and I kind of hope #1 is wrong):

  1. Most educators aren’t aware of Pussy Riot, Pussy Riot Solidarity Gatherings, or even that (after being detained for five months) members of the Russian punk band have been SENTENCED TO TWO YEARS IN PRISON FOR HOOLIGANISM “DRIVEN BY RELIGIOUS HATRED.”
  2. If a larger group of educators were aware of and able to comfortably discuss Pussy Riot and the global organizing that has resulted in support of the group, discussions of how similar strategies may apply within educational labor struggles, discussions of potential allies, and discussions of how to leverage fomenting frustration for social change would ensue.
  3. Perhaps even more importantly, the people that would benefit from a discussion of Pussy Riot are precisely the people that are unlikely to get it (at least in a formal school setting): students. Because of their name alone, I do not feel like I would be able to engage in the precise conversation about feminism and voice and anger that the band encourages. Even if I were allowed to do this as a secondary teacher, I know I would squirm uncomfortably doing so. (It is a similar feeling I used to get when I taught Huck Finn and sustained a conversation about American language and the “N-word.” The difference, however, that the canonical value of Twain’s work assured such conversations –though uncomfortable –  were “safe.”)

This post isn’t about explaining Why Pussy Riot Matter (please look at that link for a comprehensive primer and this discussion from Riot Grrl Kathleen Hanna). However, considering that in the past two days a Pussy Riot e-book was announced (proceeds will support their legal team) and the Russian Prime Minister has called for the members of Pussy Riot to be released, I am surprised that I have not seen any of my fellow educational organizers, teachers, or researchers interested in what Pussy Riot can mean for education and student conceptions of civic participation.

Anyone else willing to bite the bullet, say the “P-word” and help me make sense of this from an educational perspective?

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