interesting discussion over here: “It Ain’t Sexism, It’s Punk Rock!”
which goes over the same ground we covered in the past couple of years in discussions within the ladyfest collective:
- Cristina reviewed Pretty in Punk here
- and there was quite a bit of exploration in the comments here: “femininity? (BECAUSE us girls…)”
– a post wherein i quoted heavily from “Results of a Misspent Youth: Joan Jett’s performance of female masculinity” by Kathleen Kennedy and gave some links for further reading
- in romanian, we have a few texts in the ladyfest zines #1 & 2 that take on several of the same issues:
“nu imi plac fetele (versiunea 6)” (andreea)
“A fi ‘unul dintre punkisti'” (Cristina)
“When Feminism Rocks. Revolution. Grrrl-style.” (Ioana)
“manifestatie, concert, violenta acceptata…” (HxI)
and there’s some more thoughts from Cristina: “Hai sa ne-ntelegem” & “Macho-punk again – Romania si aiurea”
looking at the comments over at bastante already, i can’t help but be surprised (and kind of saddened) by how little of an opportunity people seem to have had for these kinds of discussions, how little information there seems to be out there about books like Pretty in Punk or even about the riot grrrl movement… again, i find “Results of a misspent youth” so useful to revisit:
… For a brief period, punk created opportunities for women that had previously not existed in rock music. As punk resisted traditional musical forms, it opened the door to musicians who did not have access to classical training and experience. North American punk began with the Detroit underground bands of the late 1960s, art house rock and crossdressing bands like the New York Dolls and Jayne/Wayne Country. Dissatisfied with stadium rock, the early punk bands developed a ‘Do It for Yourself’ ethics that encouraged women like Debbie Harry, Mo Tucker, and Patti Smith to join bands. Punks rejected traditional musical traditions, including those that dictated that women could not play instruments and were wedded to sentimental, gentle and confidential lyrics. In Chrissie Hynde’s words:
The best thing about [punk] for me was that I didn’t have to rely on being a female guitarist as a gimmick. Punk was very liberating like that. For the first time I could do what I wanted to do and being a girl wasn’t an issue. It would have been uncool for that to be a problem. Punk allowed anyone in – you could be a dwarf, short whatever – but that was only true for about six months.
Whereas rock depended on more traditional gender images, the punk [aesthetic] encouraged men and women to play with gender conventions and gave women the freedom to be ‘ugly’ as well as to parody sexual conventions. [Joan] Jett was a fan of punk and quickly integrated its sensibility into her music and performances. Specifically, punk provided Jett with the symbols from which she could explore gender and sexual inversion. These symbols were available to Jett because at least in its beginning, punk enabled women to reimagine their roles in rock music; they could portray themselves as sexualized, desexualized or anti-sexual subjects. This variety led to a number of different punk images for women that ranged from Debbie Harry’s ironic parodying of the pin-up, to Siouxsie Sioux’s theatrical gothic to Jett’s performance of masculinity.
As some punk bands attained mainstream success, however, they played down punk’s critique of class and gender. Even punk bands like Blondie that attempted to maintain punk’s parody of middle-class gender roles discovered that it was difficult to translate punk ideals to a broader audience. Mainstream marketing techniques often converted irony and parody into conventional statements that offered women as sexual objects for male consumption. As significantly, internal changes within punk began to re-emphasize masculinity and its central place within rock music. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, all-male bands such as the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and Fear were experimenting with ‘hard core’ punk which stressed accelerated rhythms and angry lyrics. At the same time, thrashing, a form of punk ‘dance’ that involved flailing one’s arms and lifting one’s knees, took over the mosh pits of many punk shows. The mosh pit, that area directly in front of the performer where fans would ‘mosh’ or dance, would later become an important arena for negotiating sexual politics as women’s punk bands reclaimed it for women and girls. Both physically and musically, hard core rejected the gender ambiguity of the early punk era, replacing it with a unisex masculine musical style and emphasis. In the words of critic Lorraine Leblanc, hard core ‘edged women out of the scene.’ While some women, like Lydia Lunch and Wendy O. Williams, briefly thrived in punk during the early 1980s, other women’s bands like the Go Go’s turned to more conventional musical styles like pop and new wave. In part, Jett’s significance lies in her ability to use and invert rock and punk’s masculinity to create a space for herself at the precise moment in which that space closed for most women.
… Emerging from Olympia and Seattle, Washington and Washington, DC in the early 1990s, ‘the riot grrrls’ blended a punk rock [aesthetic] with a political commitment to feminism. Forming a number of all-women or mixedgender rock groups and producing fanzines – inexpensively produced newsletters that offered political commentary – the riot grrrls gave musical expression to previously ignored topics like violence against women. The riot grrrls sought first and foremost to directly challenge the misogyny in the traditional rock formula, consciously seeking to make women subjects rather than objects in punk and rock music. Some groups, such as L7, formed specifically political organizations like Rock for Choice and gained marketability through summer tours like Lallapalooza. The ideal of the riot grrrls was to voice the experiences of girls and to develop a less competitive and more supportive atmosphere for musical experimentation. The explosion of women rock bands provided a space for girls to experiment musically and receive some support from major record labels.
For many riot grrrls, Jett was an important role model who developed into a strong advocate. While Jett acknowledged some differences between herself and the riot grrrls, she defended them against their critics, a defense which reflected both old and new themes in her outlook. On the one hand, Jett expressed appreciation for the way the riot grrrls expressed themselves. On the other hand, she also credited the riot grrrls for giving voice to girls’ varied experiences. The riot grrrls ‘are trying to voice their own feelings,’ Jett explained to a reporter, ‘and people shouldn’t immediately throw up a wall and say “oh my God, they want to cut my dick off, so I can’t listen!” A lot of people have had experiences in life that maybe you and I haven’t had and it can’t hurt to listen. You don’t have to agree but you could say, “I hear what she’s saying and I understand how she could feel that way.” I think Riot Grrrl is really healthy. Too many women are afraid to express their opinions in a strong way.’
While Jett influenced the riot grrrls to sing and play rock music, they, in turn, helped jolt Jett out of a politics of indifference. After attending a Bikini Kill concert, Jett wrote ‘Activity Grrrl’ to reflect on how the riot grrrls changed her approach to music and politics. ‘She works real hard to try to make things right / To see if she can find a reason for what’s wrong / In life – she puts her thought into magazine form / An’ passes them all around her dorm / Showin’ me another way, another way to fight.’ In particular, Jett developed a desire, in her words, to ‘mend my ways to feminism,’ and to use her music to ‘empower women.’ Consequently, she became more involved with women’s issues, publicly advocating for the prochoice movement and joining the National Organization for Women, performing at their march on Washington where she apparently led its participants in a chorus of ‘fuck you’ to the anti-abortion members of Congress. It was the death of Mia Zapata, the lead singer of the Seattlebased group the Gits, however, that integrated Jett into the Seattle music scene and led her to make her strongest feminist statements. …
as well as all of this worse than queer stuff i quoted before in my “because us girls” post:
… riot grrrl journal entries, riot grrrl column, punk rock and race/opting out of punk rock colum (‘Thumbing through my cache of punk rock propaganda reminds me why I became an expatriate in the first place, why I continue to hold it at arm’s length. Nor is this simply a comment on race, as if I could even imagine race as a discrete category apart from others, like cans in a cupboard (my usual analogy). There is an unmistakable continuum I could trace, like a spiderweb or a breadcrumb trail, winding (or blanketing, maybe) across the landscape of punk rock cultural and political production. “Disco is for blacks and homosexuals,” a 1979 fanzine sneers; maybe it’s no accident that it was called Final Solution. “The United Negro College Fund is a sublime absurdity,” lambastes a Hitlist magazine columnist in this new year, and I remember that the same writer once argued feminists were too. There are the presumptuous disavowals of both racism (“punk is anti-racist”) and race (“there is no race but the human race”), familiar reformulations repeated when gender or class or sexuality or borders are invoked. And once swastikas were worn as accessories, could the iconic manipulation of Third World suffering for record sleeves and gatefolds be far behind? (In this sense, punk rock follows in the tradition of the white European avant-garde and its foundational myth of originality and refusal of accountability, but that’s a whole other story.) Indie rock girls ask why gays and lesbians want “special rights,” punk boys rape or beat girlfriends and acquaintances, and in between there are the innumerable insults, the slips of tongues, and the violent gestures.’) and it’s (not) a white world, hey.
(by Mimi Nguyen)
there’s much stuff to explore… i do like this comment @ bastante already, though!
the raincoats, “pretty”
parts 1 & 2,
“‘typical girls’ — a documentary film on women in (punk) rock”
+ more early punks
i got to the punk discussion via a post on feministe titled “Before I discovered feminism…” (by Latoya), which talks about the same problem of negotiating one’s involvement as a woman in an often misogynist/hostile scene (or anyway one mostly perceived as such) – but hip-hop in this case. it’s a pretty great piece!
all i can say is:
Sarah Jones, “Your Revolution”
and ALSO (read the whole post by Anxious Black Woman & see particularly the section on “hip-hop feminists”)
queen latifah, “ladies first”