Imagine this: The three men sit in court, awaiting their verdict. The youngest, a experienced dissident described by the media as a “sultry sex symbol” with “Angelina Jolie lips”, glances at his colleague, an activist praised by the Associated Press for his “pre-Raphaelite looks”. Between them sits a third man, whose lack of glamour has led the New Republic to label him “the brain” and deem his hair a “poof of dirty blonde frizz”. The dissidents – or “boys” as they are called in headlines around the world – have been the subject of numerous fashion and style profiles ever since they first spoke out against the Russian government. “He’s a flash of moving color,” the New York Times writes approvingly about their protests, “never an individual boy.”
If this sounds ridiculous, it should – and not only because I changed the gender. These are actual excerpts from the Western media coverage of Pussy Riot, the Russian dissident performance art collective sentenced to two years in prison for protesting against the government. Pussy Riot identifies as feminist, but you would never know it from the Western media, who celebrate the group with the same language that the Russian regime uses to marginalize them. The three members of Pussy Riot are “girls”, despite the fact that all of them are in their twenties and two of them are mothers. They are “punkettes”, diminutive variations on a 1990s indie-rock prototype that has little resemblance to Pussy Riot’s own trajectory as independent artists and activists. “Why is Vladimir Putin afraid of three little girls?” asked Huffington Post columnist Ron Galloway, intending it as a compliment.