THE BLOG
02/21/2014 05:51 pm ET | Updated Apr 23, 2014

Pussy Riot Proves We Are Not Having a Post-Feminist Moment

Amidst the videos of kids with their hair full of soup, of dogs dressed in gnatty sweaters, of the latest, mind-blowing TED talk making the rounds, I scroll by a link that catches my eye. It is video footage of the members of the feminist performance art activist collective, Pussy Riot, being whipped and beaten by Russian Cossacks in Sochi. I do not want to click on this link. I want to curl up with the cute dogs, the adorable messy kids, the 14-year-old organic food genius giving her TED talk. I click. I watch, unbelieving that I'm seeing real footage of a real event. This is not a Portlandia sketch that will even out in some goofy reveal about celery or free-range chickens. This is real violence to real people. I watch again. The Russian Cossack bear the historical legacy of once leading pograms against the Jews. They are not friendly folk, they are not First Amendment-tolerant of a group of slight women performing a protest song. They advance on the group swiftly. There is no hesitation when they wield their whips, slashing the women across their abdomens. They reach out to savagely yank the girls' signature ski masks from their faces. One girl has her guitar wrenched from her and dumped in a trash can, another attempts to strike back at one of the Cossacks and receives a smack to the head for her trouble. The girls run off; they live to protest and perform another day. This time.

It's tempting to divorce ourselves from Pussy Riot's reality, to compartmentalize them as being a small, controversial group of women "over there" where limited freedoms are simply the reality. Oh well. And also, "Phew! So glad we don't have to worry about something like that happening here!" But we all know that's simply not true. What unfolded in Sochi could just as readily occur in the streets of San Francisco or Chicago. In fact, it essentially did happen to American women lobbying for suffrage in the early decades of the twentieth century. Women were regularly accosted by crowds during a historic suffrage march in Washington D.C. in 1913. A reporter for the Charlotte Observer wrote: "Five thousand women practically fought their way foot by foot up Pennsylvania Avenue through a surging mob that completely defied the Washington police, swamped the marchers, and broke their procession into little companies." In Britain, suffragettes regularly endured police violence, subjected to beatings and force feedings while incarceration. Many of these women did not live to protest another day.

You don't have to like or even understand Pussy Riot's political beliefs to understand that their persecution proves we are not having a post-feminist moment. The misconception continues to fester that the significant gains made by women warrants early retirement for feminism. Hey, you had a good 100-year run. Janet, in HR, has all your paperwork, please accept this crystal desk clock as a token of appreciation for your many years of service. I think the women in Texas denied healthy reproductive care, the female gamers harassed online or the young Malala Yousafzai shot for advocating for girls' education might disagree that feminism is so much window dressing and not really "a thing" anymore.

Women like the ones who make up Pussy Riot court both legal and physical retribution for speaking up for their beliefs signals that feminism is as relevant and needed in 2014 as it was in 1913. We do not need to rebrand feminism. We do not need to make it fun and cute to appeal to a generation of people who ask, "Feminism. Is there an app for that?" We do not need to dumb it down, to excise the messy and uncomfortable parts for the sake of pleasing everyone rather than including everyone. We need to crib from Sandberg's conceptual model and "lean in" to feminism, to use its political and theoretical frameworks to apply pressure to the places (global and local, public and private, large and small scale) where inequality erupts. Doing so reminds us that what's at stake -- the social, economic and political freedoms of both sexes -- matters not just to women who lived a century ago, or to women who live "over there," but to women (and men) in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our families, in our daily lives, right now.