Pussy Riot, Free The Nipple, and a Culture of Rebellion

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11:  Director Lina Esco attends

NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 11: Director Lina Esco attends “Free The Nipple” New York Premiere

Recently, on Netflix, I watched Lina Esco’s film, Free The Nipple. The film is about a woman named Liv who leads a movement to decriminalize female toplessness. Based on true events, the women who participate in the movement take a stand for gender equality by going topless in New York City. In the early stages of this protest, several of the women are arrested, in spite of the fact that female toplessness is legal in New York. The women are able to get a lawyer to defend the legality of their actions, and as time goes on, they are able to grow the movement to include more women. After finding it difficult to release the film, Esco starts the #FreeTheNipple campaign to bring more attention to the issue.

At first glance, this film and movement might seem a bit shallow. After all, there are more important issues than a woman’s right to walk around without wearing a top. However, the film makes several valid points. If a man wants to walk around topless on a hot summer day, he is free to do so. If a woman wants to this, it is socially unacceptable, and in many places, illegal. The more important issue that this movement addresses is the fact that it is illegal for women to breastfeed in public in 35 states. In some places, an exposed nipple can land a woman in jail for up to three years and can cost up to $2,500 in fines.

Supporters of the movement argue that female breasts are not so different from male breasts. Both men and women have nipples, and yet on women, they are somehow considered to be more provocative in our culture. In the film, one or two women who go topless for the movement have breasts that have been scarred or altered, presumably by cancer. This highlights the fact that a woman’s breasts are not always meant to be sexualized. In fact, they don’t have to be sexualized at all. In some countries, women walk around topless out of convenience, because it is hot and they are doing strenuous activities, like carrying large containers of water. Sexualizing a woman’s breasts is a learned behavior, not a natural one.

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 26:  Pussy Riots  Maria Vladimirovna Alyokhina and Nadezhda Andreyevna Tolokonnikova performs at the Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton on June 26, 2015 in Glastonbury, England.  (Photo by Danny Martindale/WireImage)

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND – JUNE 26: Pussy Riot

Another film I watched on Netflix is Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. This film is a documentary about the Russian, feminist, punk-rock protest group, Pussy Riot. In February, 2012, five members of the group staged a performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. They performed their song, “A Punk Prayer,” in which the lyrics include phrases like “Banish Putin!” and “god shit” (referring to their desire for a separation of church and state). This was not the first time that the girls performed, but it is the performance that got them the most attention, and the performance that got them arrested. Three of the members, Nadezhda, Maria, and later, Yekaterina were taken into custody by the police. The other two members managed to escape, and are said to have left Russia in fear of prosecution.

In addition to calling for a separation of church and state, Pussy Riot’s performance in the Cathedral was meant to protest the Orthodox Church leader’s support of Putin during his campaign. However, they’re message may not have translated the way they may have hoped. Many members of the church were insulted by band’s performance, and felt that the members disrespected them in their own home. The three women who were arrested were charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. After a long and high-profile trial, they are each sentenced to two years in prison.

In their final statements, the women apologize for insulting the members of the church, explaining that this was never their intention. They argue that the reasons for their imprisonment are invalid, and that they have nothing against religion or the church. Their protest was strictly political and their way of standing up for human rights, as well as protesting a leader who they consider to be a dictator. One member, Yekaterina, is freed, after it is argued that she never actually had the chance to participate in the performance before the arrest occurred.

While I had heard of Pussy Riot, I never knew their full story before watching this documentary. Many people in the U.S feel that the Pussy Riot members should not have been sent to prison. Famous figures and organizations such as Madonna, Sting and Amnesty International have spoken out against this arrest for peaceful protest and creative expression. I agree, and feel these women were brave to express themselves the way they did (and the way they continue to do so today).

TORONTO,  - JUNE 28, 2015 - The Grand Marshalls for this year's parade. From left, Celina Jaitly, David Furnish, Cyndi Lauper, Pussy Riot (Petya Verzilov, Gala and Nadya Tolokonnikova) and Youth Ambassador Brendan Jordan. Toronto Pride 2015 took over the downtown core as the annual Pride Parade wound itself through the downtown. Photographed on JUNE 28, 2015.

TORONTO, – JUNE 28, 2015 – Pussy Riot: Toronto Pride

'Free The Nipple' Fundraiser Hosted By Russell Simmons

‘Free The Nipple’ Fundraiser Hosted By Russell Simmons

    So, what do Free The Nipple and Pussy Riot have in common? The first and most obvious is that both involve protesting against the social and/or political structures that have been established in their societies. While I would say that Pussy Riot is dealing with the heavier issues, both films portray women who are willing to fight for freedom. They are willing to go against popular opinion. They are willing to risk getting arrested for what they believe in.

One thing I found interesting about Free The Nipple was that the film occasionally showed television clips about the tragic Colorado shooting in 2012. The audience sees someone who committed a terrible crime getting arrested by the police. Then, the audience also sees Liv and other women getting arresting for the (perfectly legal) act of walking around topless. I thought this was an important comparison, and I thought about it later when I watched the film about Pussy Riot. The definition of crime can be something as terrible as a mass shooting, but it can also be something as nonviolent as a woman exposing her breasts or a group of musicians singing a song.

You can say what you want about the Free The Nipple campaign, and you can say what you want about Pussy Riot. But there’s one fact that cannot be denied– Rebels make waves. As mentioned earlier, Pussy Riot has attracted the attention and support of many public figures. Free The Nipple has also gained support from celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Lena Dunham, and Liv Tyler. Pussy Riot continues to fight for freedom, social justice, and LGBTQ rights. And the Free The Nipple campaign continues to fight for gender equality. Both groups are proof that we can change the world if we are willing to use our voices to fight for what we believe in, even if it means going against the grain.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11:  Director Lina Esco attends

NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 11: Director Lina Esco attends “Free The Nipple” New York Premiere

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 26: Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot perform on The Park Stage during the Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton on June 26, 2015 in Glastonbury, England.  Now its 45th year the festival is one largest music festivals in the world and this year features headline acts Florence and the Machine, Kanye West and The Who. The Festival, which Michael Eavis started in 1970 when several hundred hippies paid just £1, now attracts more than 175,000 people.  (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND – JUNE 26: Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot perform

#MyThoughts

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