Beer and Pavement

Womyn’s History Month

Posted in Activism, GenderBender by SM on March 9, 2010

OK. So, I don’t know that this piece is post-worthy or not. I’ve had no time to work on it and really don’t care anymore. There were to be pictures and videos and possibly more footnotes than you could shake a stick at, but I’ve done as much with this as I can. It’s time to move on. Be nice in the comments. I have things to say in the coming days and weeks. Don’t unsubscribe just yet.

I used to teach fourth grade1. Every year, I’d make my students study up on Black history in February and women’s history in March. One student asked why they had to study about women for a whole month. I explained that every other month was men’s history month. The boys in the class thought this was great, but I squelched their celebration with the revelation that this isn’t fair to only recognize the contributions of women for one month a year, something they understood as poor African-Americans in the inner-city2. I earned a lot of respect from my girls that day.

So, it’s March again and it’s still Women’s Womyn’s History Month whether I’m teaching or not. It’s sad that we have to set aside a whole month for such topics just to insure that kids are presented with a balanced perspective on history3, but that’s how it is.

If I wanted my daughter to follow in the footsteps of any female rocker of the past century, I’d choose Katleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre fame4. In the late 80’s/early 90’s, even the underground rock scene was terribly sexist5. Hanna and her merry band of grrrls stuck it to the hardcore boys in the most punk way possible: They made uncompromising, vag-to-the-wall punk rock. Bikini Kill and the like stood up to the boys and put them in their place6.

It wasn’t just about the music. Hanna and others lead a revolution within feminist ranks, calling attention to the racism, homophobia, and classism that once plagued the movement7. Some refer to this era as the onslaught of third wave feminism. Whatever it’s called, Hanna and the Riot Grrrl movement broke down a lot of barriers. Suddenly, it was kewl8 to be feministy and not so hippie-dippy9. Hanna’s brand of feminism spoke to those not totally sure about its causes10.

For a taste of what I’m talking about, check this interview she recently did for GritTV here. Also, one can peruse Bikini Kill memories as told by their fans in the ultimate demonstration of community building over at the Bikini Kill Archive.

Of course, Hanna is just one of many feminists/female-rockers-who-may-or-may-not-be-feminist I’d love for my daughter to look to for inspiration. A top-10 list is below…

1. Kathleen Hanna (Read above.)

2. PJ Harvey – No one rocks or takes more control of their sexuality than Polly Jean Harvey. She is so ridiculously bad-ass that she the same effect on her listeners as a  Mick Jagger or Iggy Pop. She’s not classically beautiful, but she gets your attention and tells you how it’s going to be.

3. Kim Gordon – She married a younger man in band mate Thurston Moore. She doesn’t stand out just because she’s the only w0man in the band, but because she’s friggin’ awesome. All that and she invented the baby-t.

4. Beth Ditto – I have never seen more of a punk rock moment than the night six or seven years ago when I witnessed Ditto take it off for the crowd, flaunting her voluptuous body for all the dykes11 in the house. The best moment of that show was when she called out the kid in the “Feminist Chicks Dig Me” t-shirt and informed him that they didn’t.

5. Kim Deal – I know she’s had a rough go of it with the drugs and alcohol, but she is arguably the most successful of all the former Pixies…in terms of record sales. That and she’s from Dayton.

6. Liz Phair – My early exposure to feminism happened when I first listened to Exile in Guyville. It’s been downhill from there.

7. Bjork – Unapologetically weird but not in that creepy, Tori Amos sort of way. No one sings like Bjork or attacks paparazzi like her either.

8. Thao Nguyen – Cool and self-assured, I don’t think any other musician I follow on Facebook sends me more political messages than Thao.

9. All of Sleater-Kinney – They should probably be higher on this list, but it’s not a contest. One member is maybe the best two or three drummers in indie. One member writes the best music blog on NPR’s site and makes a good viral video now and again. The third just belts shit out. When is their reunion tour?

10. Herself – Lucia, my daughter already has demonstrated a love and proficiency in music.I only hope that I will do enough to encourage her growth. Either way, she should always look to herself for inspiration in both her feminism and musicianship.

I know I’m missing someone. Who are you honoring this Womyn’s History Month?

Bonus Non-Rocker: Angela Davis – How many folks have ever had a former Black Panther as their professor? Davis talked the talk and walked the walk way before the Riot Grrrls. She is still one bad mother.

It’s a long story, but I may find myself back in a classroom yet.
2I mean, Black History is not only given a month itself, but it’s been relegated to the year’s shortest month. What kind of racist shit is that?
3Of course, I realize even these special months do not insure a balanced approach to history. For that, we must depend on Texas to make the right decisions and we know how fruitless that will be.
4Actually, I’d choose her mama, but in the interest of keeping this blog universal and devoid of too much personal information, I’ll leave her out of it. I’ll just say that my partner is the smartest and most thoughtful person I know, a perfect role-model for our daughter.
5Sans a more-enlightened rocker like, say, Ian MacKaye. Either way, there was not a lot of room at hardcore shows for girls and women. Hell, there wasn’t even a lot of room for those of us guys who don’t need to thump our chests and tear off our shirts.
6I could insert some emasculating idiom here, but it would defeat the point. The idea is to turn shit around on the boys. It’s always about sticking women back in the kitchen and all that, but why don’t we make the boys fix our sandwiches??
7OK. It still plagues the movement and many other movements. However, what Hanna and the Riot Grrrl movement did do was teach us to critically look at all perspectives, especially those that have been so embraced by our communities for a certain length of time.
8Sorry for the Carles slip there. I have been reading too much Hipster Runoff lately. Lucky for you, I am usually able to avoid such a miscue.
9FYI, I really don’t care for hippies, but I now just find them harmless, useless.
10By this, I mean boys like myself who were pulled in by the rock rawk.
11I mean this only in a loving way. I am reclaiming the term for my lesbian sisters and brothers.

25 Responses

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  1. Zach B said, on March 15, 2010 at 6:34 am

    One glaring omission from your list: Patti Smith, practically the prototype for most of the girls you mentioned. We could mention a bazillion incredible female musicians, but I think you nailed it as far as some of the ones that actively broke the “man’s world” mold AND were awesome at what they do.

    Also, I know we’re not equating beauty to worth here but… you mention PJ Harvey as not being classically beautiful? I have always thought PJ Harvey was a stone cold fox. I’m pretty sure I’ve thought that since I was 9 years old, and it’s still the case. I guess that’s all in the eye of the beholder though…

    • builderofcoalitions said, on March 15, 2010 at 1:36 pm

      I did consider Smith, but she was pretty anti-feminist to the point of almost being anti-woman. Of course, that may have had more to do with punk’s rejection of anything middle-class, intellectual, or mainstream.

      Don’t get me wrong. I think PJ Harvey is hot as well, but she doesn’t have what Cosmo covers tell me is feminine beauty. She has that kind of ugliness normally reserved for male rock stars. You know how many frontmen are pretty ugly, yet female fans scream for them and guys want to be them (and other cliches).

      Wait. You’ve thought PJ Harvey was hot since you were 9? Man, I’m old.

      • Zach B said, on March 16, 2010 at 12:27 am

        I guess I never thought Patti was anti-feminist or anti-woman, but maybe I’m listening to the wrong albums – it seemed like a lot of her lyrical content was just provocative and not necessarily 100% sincere (“Rock N Roll Nigger”, for instance, is pretty racist at first glance, though I don’t believe in my heart of hearts that she is not racist at all). To me, she represents out-punking the punks (the boys, anyway) as far as outlandish shit you can say or do in a song. I think it’s also easy to mistake being anti-PC as anti-intellectual, which is not necessarily the same thing.

  2. Nathan said, on March 15, 2010 at 11:20 am

    An AV club list that coincides with your post:

    17 well-intentioned yet misguided feminist anthems,39169/1/

    Bikini Kill makes the list.

  3. builderofcoalitions said, on March 15, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    That is a funny list. What’s even funnier is how many of those songs are decidedly not feminist, but I guess that was the point.

  4. builderofcoalitions said, on March 16, 2010 at 1:18 am

    It’s not what Patti Smith sings in a song. It’s about some of the things she’s said over the years, all but denouncing feminism. I still love her, but I don’t think she fits on this list.

    • Zach B said, on March 16, 2010 at 3:43 am

      I would love to see what she said. My impression of her is based completely on her music as I have not read a single interview (for shame). The impression I always got of her was that she was post-prejudice, if that exists/makes sense. I don’t know if this is a destructive idea, or if it makes me a dick for liking it, but eventually there’s going to be these people who are part of discriminated groups who just go ahead and do whatever they want, and say whatever they want as if discrimination never existed.

  5. lauren said, on March 16, 2010 at 2:54 am

    Hi Zac,
    Zach B sent me here and I have to say that I am impressed w/ your post and your parenting skills. I do have a few ladies to add here:

    Joan Jett, Joan Jett! She was unapologetically bad-ass, and an obvious influence on Hanna (who is my FAVORITE, by the way, i’m so glad she got top billing here). Also, Pat Benatar. She shimmied her way right into my heart as a young lass.

    Going back a little further, Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, although they would be poor role models for your little one in terms of what addiction did to them, with joplin obviously suffering a worse fate.

    Tina Turner could arguably be added as well, since she emerged as somewhat of a hero in the then-fledling domestic violence movement. Also, Aretha Franklin’s not a rocker, but hopefully your daughter will take ‘respect’ to heart, and expect all the folks she dates to take the time to find out what it means to her. i could go on and on with folksters, too. but i shant! thanks for writing about this. and thank you thank you thank you for ensuring women’s history was taught in schools.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on March 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm

      All great additions. Thanks.

    • Zach B said, on March 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm

      Which is the worse fate – dying young from drugs/alcohol, or living a long time and eventually recording “We Built This City”, or really anything off of Starship’s album Knee Deep in the Hoopla?

      I think I’d rather go out like Janis.

  6. lauren said, on March 16, 2010 at 3:00 am

    oh, and PS, i know everyone will hate me for this, but:

    Yoko Ono. Check out this piece for an analysis of how she has been treated by Beatles fans over the years, and why she is important to (feminist and all) music:

    • builderofcoalitions said, on March 16, 2010 at 1:48 pm

      I love Yoko and she’s received a bad rap. It’s pretty typical of folks to blame the Beatles’ demise on a woman.

      • Zach B said, on March 16, 2010 at 9:11 pm

        Man, I feel like a stooge for not even thinking of Yoko. Blaming the breakup of the Beatles on anybody but the Beatles themselves (especially in light of how well documented their whole falling out is) is pretty WTF. She also collaborated on or inspired some of my favorite work of John’s (“Two Virgins”, “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band”, a fistfull of his post ’68 Beatles contributions).

        I think these days you’ll find that it’s mostly only douchebags who still blame Yoko Ono, or use her as an example of the female who “broke up the band, dude!!” / somehow negatively effected a beloved male musician. Apparently people used to shout “Yoko!” at Heather Larimer at Jicks shows when she and Malk were still dating and she was in the band, which is terrible no matter what you think of her.

  7. carriethewade said, on March 16, 2010 at 6:47 am

    I’m going to go out there and say that this whole “is it feminist or what”? question is bullshit.

    I don’t think feminism is as strictly about being woman unafraid to show her stuff or be loud and aggressive or sexually “aware,” “in control” and “antagonistic” as you make it out to be in this post (granted, this is just my read on it, your intentions may be different). And this is what turns off a lot of people to feminism, unfortunately.

    For me, being a Feminist is as basic as just thinking that women should be able to do whatever the fuck without having to make a big show about it or trying to “out-man” the men (though some opt to take this path, and that’s fine by me too). And that’s what Patti Smith is to me, and that’s why I like her as well as other assorted female musicians–because even without being explicitly feminist they still are whether they want to or not. It’s about ignoring the lines–as Zach said, “post-prejudice–and just being a human being and not someone defined by labels like “woman” “man” or even “feminist.”

    for more of my thoughts on females in music, consult this post:
    (I also realize in retrospect that an entry on Nico should have been in order)

    Also, I enjoy how stuck in 1997 this post is.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on March 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

      Ouch. No, you’re more accurate than you know.

      Honestly, this post is a mess. (See the disclaimer at the beginning.) I wanted to just write about Kathleen Hanna, but I ran out of steam the second or third time I tried to work on the post. Part way through, I decided to make it about women’s history in general, but that fell through as I lazily pieced together a list of other famous women. Then I decided to cut out the other women and make it just about rock stars. Unfortunately, most rock stars are judged on how much they act like Mic Jagger or not.

      I just read some things about Patti Smith that gave me just enough of a case to cut her out and suddenly make the post about my daughter. It’s lazy.

      The whole thing is incomplete and horribly organized. Also, it is really stuck in ’97, the time when my own feminism came alive. I may have to return to this topic and write something more coherent, complete.

      • Zach B said, on March 16, 2010 at 9:19 pm

        I think it’s a sweet post that got some good discussion going. I appreciated it anyway.

        Your avatar hasn’t appeared as anything but Malk for months now, BTW – it might be cached as Archie Griffin in your browser. That, or it’s cached permanently as Malk in mine.

  8. builderofcoalitions said, on March 16, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Oh, BTW. I don’t know what’s going on with my avatar. I used this classic pic of Archie Griffin from the 70’s for a response on a sports blog, but it won’t let me change back to the pic of Malk I was using before.

  9. carriethewade said, on March 16, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    It’s only natural to revel in the glory days, mr. e.
    I didn’t really mean it to sound condescending or anything.
    also, I was semi-drunk when I wrote that.

    Sometimes you just need to check your passions.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on March 16, 2010 at 4:23 pm

      No worries. Your comment has inspired yet another post. Maybe I’ll finish it this time before posting. (Of course, I’m behind on record reviews. The blame for this squarely lies on Insound, UPS, Will Oldham’s denial of the digital, and Lucia.)

      I did sense a little alcohol/internet bravery in your response and decided not to take it too personally. Notice that I didn’t respond with a “shut up bitch” since this would immediately call into question any illusions that I might be a feminist.

      It’s too bad that I botched the post. As you can see from the other responses, it’s a worthwhile topic even when poorly executed.

      I’ll do better next time, ms. w.

  10. builderofcoalitions said, on March 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    I forgot about Heather Larimer. She was the one bouncing around, screaming into the mic and playing tambourine, right? I do vaguely remember some Yoko references around that time, but I paid them very little attention. I don’t know about that, but I did find her sort of annoying.

    It is interesting how often women are blamed for bands breaking up (Yoko, Larimer, Courtney Love, Stevie Nicks, etc.). Lost are the giant egos of the dudes in the bands, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with bands breaking up.

    • Zach B said, on March 16, 2010 at 9:38 pm

      Yeah, Heather also played drums occasionally (I think? When I saw the Jicks, I was so far away from the stage that I couldn’t make out anybody but what appeared to be a blurry dot that was taller than the other blurry dots on stage and whom I assumed to be Malk – that’s what you get for seeing them at the UMB Bank Pavilion on the lawn).

      It’s insane to blame Yoko for breaking up the Beatles, but it’s just batshit insane to blame Courtney for killing Kurt (!!!), and there are also tons of people who still attribute any good Hole song (anything off of Live Through This, which Kurt contributed very little) to his ghostwriting because it’s inconceivable that Courtney and the gang could have done it themselves.

      Yes, she is a drug addled, barely literate, probably not very good parent, but there’s absolutely no way that she put out a contract on Kurt Cobain, and – let’s face it – she was a pretty excellent radio rock star at one point.

      • builderofcoalitions said, on March 16, 2010 at 9:52 pm

        I saw them in a much smaller club. My sister got to talk Malk’s ear off and met Bob (who drove up from L’ville to sell t-shirts). She might have played some drums. His post-Pavement bands have always been better musicians than Pavement, but she was an exception. She was there to fill space, but I don’t think that’s because she was a woman. I just think Malk had a vision that still included the kinds of things Bob did for the band. Heather filled that role well for the Jicks.

        I’m with you on the Yoko/Love ridiculousness. It’s just some latent sexism coming to the surface. What can you do? Yoko is a pretty creative and incredible artist in her own right. Love is a little more complicated. She did enough drugs to make some rather spectacular music, but did too many to keep up the pace. I saw Hole a couple of times and absolutely loved her live show. It’s too bad she’s turned into the wreck she is.

  11. Jeff said, on March 18, 2010 at 4:19 am

    I’m going to throw out the universally respected and admired Joni Mitchell. According to allmusic: “When the dust settles, Joni Mitchell may stand as the most important and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century.”

    • builderofcoalitions said, on March 18, 2010 at 2:00 pm

      Well, if allmusic said it, it must be true.

      • Zach B said, on March 18, 2010 at 4:21 pm

        I’m pretty sure Neil Young would concur about Joni.

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