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Why I love Pussy Riot and will not be seeing Magic Mike

So, in case you have had your nose stuck in the Prima Pars of the Summa this summer, and are wondering why I have so rudely used the word “pussy” in a blog post, perhaps begin with this explanation here.  As someone who has been known to raise a ruckus in front of a religious icon (namely, Duke Chapel) with minimal cost to my own hide, I am impressed by these women.  I hope to be more like them when I grow up.

I may receive a few notes accusing me of Protestant insensitivity to the issue of “religious hatred” that these women supposedly displayed.  But I would counter that, in their refrain “Mother of God, Cast Putin Out,” we see a compelling use of holy language – a call for separating mere nationalism from true faith.  One comment, from “TG,” on the Slate article’s website put the matter helpfully:

They [the Russian hierarchy] can get away with it because older Russians take their Orthodox Christianity very seriously, and a lot of them (especially xenophobic right-wing nationalists who support Putin) really do equate “religion” with “society.”

You know how Xtian fundies in the U.S. and Western Europe talk about their religion being a defining part of nationality (“the US is a Christian nation!”) which acts as a bulwark against the Muslim hordes and gypsies and undocumented immigrants and anyone else with an accent and dark skin? Unfortunately we all do.

Now multiply that by 1000 and factor in that the semi-permanent ruling party buys into it to a certain degree. That’s why it’s more than the government being a killjoy or engaging in philistinism (although there are elements of both of those at work, too).

Thank you, “TG,” wherever you are.  The state prosecutor argued for a “real deprivation of freedom” in response to their now-viral blow against the toxic religious/communist tyranny that is Russian nationalism.  One striking quote I heard on the BBC from one of the band members went something along the lines of “while being in prison stinks, I feel freer for having spoken.”  To have remained silent would have meant true bondage.  Although silence can be powerful (as my dear friend Shannon Craigo-Snell argues here), women receive a multitude of subtle cues to smile and remain dignified about the indignities around us.  In Russia, the messages are not so subtle, and the cost for unladylike behavior is high.

I want to contrast their bravery to a kind of mistaken courage I find alluring but just plain wrong.  To cut to the chase, I hate the new yogurt ads with John Stamos, and I don’t think that the movie Magic Mike does women any favors.

Before I explain, one caveat.  I don’t believe that there is such a thing as “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism.”  Yes, I know, most of us have seen what appears to be either, but those are cases of prejudice, or even discrimination, not sexism or racism.  There must be power-writ-large backing up prejudice and discrimination to make up racism or sexism.  There are isolated settings wherein men suffer from prejudice and white people experience discrimination, but these settings are not part of a larger system that perpetuates the race or gender power differential.  Racism and sexism are words for a thorough matrix of oppression.
So, with that in mind, I have been seesawing back and forth about the movie Brave, which I endorsed in my last entry.  I really, really hate that all the male characters in Brave are totally bereft of, well . . . character.  They are caricatures, not characters, and I would have stormed out of a Disney movie that depicted female roles that way.  It truly is a shame that someone had the not-so-bright idea to promote girl power by contrasting the feisty princess with a bunch of pathetically war-mongering creeps.

Someone might make the case that turn-about is fair play.  But I am thinking that turn-about in a stupid game is still a stupid game.  Girls against the boys in gym class always pissed me off, and I don’t think that switching up the gender dynamics to mock males is going to get women where we want to go.

Take the new yogurt-goggle ad with John Stamos.  The schtick is that this Greek yogurt brand will make the man in your life look like John Stamos.  Two regular dudes walk in the back door, and the women are delighted when instead they turn into John Stamos.  (Confusingly, just one John Stamos – don’t expect magical realism here.)  Another regular dude comes in the back door, and the women start spooning faster so he will also disappear into the Stamos-sphere.  Now, women still make woefully less than men for working the same job.  Women make up an infinitesimal number of national leaders, CEO’s, etc, etc.  So the ad isn’t sexist, per se – but it is crappy.  Making men feel self-conscious about their hairy backs and expanding guts, encouraging them to look in the mirror and wonder if their beloveds wish they looked like John Stamos, is a stupid way to make things better between the sexes.

It would be fun to try to sort out how this is different than Michelle Shocked’s video for “On the Greener Side.”  In response to Robert Palmer’s inane 1985 video for “Addicted to Love,” Shocked dances around amidst preening, buff, identically dressed men.  The rhetorical effect is to make the whole enterprise of sexy videos seem silly.  I think that this story, on TV and the London Olympics, is similar: seeing a bunch of male bahookeys and crotches helps show how ridiculous it is for photographers to take such photos of women.

I have been trying to screw up what I first thought was courage to go see the movie Magic Mike.  I wanted to write a blog post contrasting it with The Full Monty, a movie I remember loving when it came out.  But, from everything I hear about Magic Mike, I don’t really need those images swirling around in my brain.  According to Fox, it is “the best girls’ night out ever,” and I have heard from many girlfriends that they enjoyed it thoroughly.   But I blush while watching “She’s the Man” (with the same lead actor) and – much more importantly – it seems more akin to the stupid Stamos ad than the whimsical Michelle Shocked video.  It does nothing more than equalize the body-image mess that we should throw out altogether, making men into objects for women to ogle, and – please note – putting underemployed men (in at least one scene from the trailer) in military uniforms.  To yelp in desire for aesthetically normative men who, due to the second great depression, have to shake their booties for tips seems at least unpleasant to me.  I think it may also be just plain wrong.

Now, don’t get it twisted (a phrase I just learned), I want men to be able to dance around naked in their yards whenever they darned well please.  (I guess, although I need to think that one through more . . . But you get the idea.)  And I think that this may be the sort of anti-repression impulse that has some of my church girlfriends delighted with the movie.  That, and the fact that women are not supposed to want men, regardless of our middle-aged hormone surges and such.  It may seem like progress for us to be offered up muscles and a cute smirk on the big screen, but I don’t want my godson to grow up self-conscious about how girls – and then women – look at his physique.  I want for him what I want for my girls: to grow up un-self-conscious, free, and with a fierce look-out for his own inherent worth as a beautiful child of God.  I don’t want to extend the cruelty of the Hollywood sexy-myth.  I want to tear it all down, smash it up, remix it with cookie dough and create something totally different!

So, I won’t be watching Magic Mike.  But I will keep cheering for Pussy Riot, and for women everywhere who, in our often confused and sometimes offensive ways, try to live and to create life-giving stuff in the midst of tyrannies large and small – gendered or nationalistic or both.  That is the kind of hooliganism I pray for.

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