Revolution Grrrl Style Now?
Hmmm, for some reason, this reminds me of a discussion group that took place at the old Emma Center in south Mpls some years back – the topic was How Sexism and Homophobia are Tolerated Within the Radical Community. Ever notice how it is, actually?
I'm one of the "old school" boys on the team (or is it just "old"?), so my personal combination of age and gender has always left me confused by the whole "sexism in rock" thing. I grew up with a lot of soul music, and a smattering of 60's - 70's pop and folk, and even some country hits, so some of my earliest musical impressions were made by women. Names? Ever heard of Aretha Franklin, Martha Reeves, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Eartha Kitt, Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Ann Peebles, Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell, Melanie, Tina Turner...yeah, and the list could be a lot longer if I wasn't such a poor typist.
Gee, those aren't very punk names, are they? Not even rock, I’m afraid. Oh well, I daresay that more than half of those ladies on that list represented a fairly defiant female attitude that flew in the face of male chauvinist attitudes in their day. A side note to anyone who wants to belabor the point that a lot of their lyrics may have been written by men: please go painfully screw yourselves right now, you pissant. I didn't notice those pencil-pushin' geeks on stage, beltin' out their own lyrics - even the most seasoned corporate songwriters knew that they needed a strong female presence to pull it off, if their songs were gonna be worth a plugged nickel.
I've been writing about music for some twenty-odd years now, and it's struck me as somewhat odd that in the 80's and 90's, I've been hearing a lot of talk about how women in rock bands have been lacking strong feminine role models. Let's cut to the quick here - if playing follow the leader is someone's idea of personal empowerment, I'm sorry. Please do not ask me to care about what you do. If, on the other hand, you're willing to go out on a limb and try something because it feels right for you to do it, whether or not it has previously met with social approval, than it's likely that I will dig what you're doing on principal alone, even if the music isn't earth-shattering in its’ originality or presentation. Most people can smell bullshit a mile away, no matter how slick the packaging it's presented in. The whole essence of punk rock was originally, naively, gloriously, and innocently, all about ATTITUDE, was it not? Disregarding, of course, the lip service paid to punk culture by certain calculating suburban gits who thought punk seemed like a “fun” thing to get into, anyway.
Social issues? Of course there were - and are - social issues in punk culture. Even for those who felt too afraid or insecure to actually confront them directly, the statements were being made nonetheless, through the way people dressed, and they way they behaved. Traditional concepts of physical beauty were trashed, and people who weren't MENSA material were suddenly being thrust into roles as spokespersons for disenfranchised youth. The new order didn’t require anyone to fit into the conventional standards of beauty, to be a college graduate, or even be middle class. What mattered was sincerity and passion, plain and simple. Even the old right will begrudgingly admit at some point that the most ardent rebels are likely to be the fiercest patriots. Punk was no exception, to those who believed in it – you have to CARE about something in order to get pissed off about it.
The riot girl/grrrl movement is never over. It was called the suffragette movement in the nineteenth century, and the women’s liberation movement in the beginning of the twentieth century. It concerns women – and men – of all socio-economic backgrounds, and makes no distinctions of class. It will always be appropriate for gender inequities to be discussed, until they cease to exist.
It amazes me when people suggest that social issues have no place in rock music, since rock is itself steeped in rebellion. If you don’t wanna talk about it, fine, but if you do, don’t apologize for it. I personally know quite a few women who play in rock bands who would just as soon not talk about gender-related issues. These women do not identify themselves as being part of any type of women’s movement, and they uphold the idea that by ignoring something, you can make it go away. I also know a number of women who feel that if you turn your back on oppression, it will continue to kick your ass for as long as you let it. Depending on one’s personal walk of life, it seems both points can be valid – hey, different strokes, an’ all - so I guess it’s really up to the individual to decide how much of a crusade they wanna partake in. D.I.Y. vs. R.I.P., in other words. Oh yeah, and remember, if you speak out against anything, somebody’s gonna call you an asshole, no matter what. That may sound trite, but for some, it’s a tough call to make. The real question then becomes: is it worth it for you to do something you believe in, despite social repercussion?
J. Free is a middle-aged white guy who won't act his age, and desperately clings to the middle-class values that vanished in the early '70s, although he will never face a mid-life crisis, because, as he puts it, "the only force which could cause a disturbance in the American standard of living would be the introduction of order - we've already become quite comfortable with chaos." He will also never experience the guilt of having white skin, because the white folks want nothing to do with him, because he refuses to behave like a good old boy. For that matter, he will also never experience the guilt of the Original Sin, because it can be proven that he was actually switched at birth with an alien baby.
If it ain't one thing, it's another; here are a few of 'em:
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