Jun 24 2005


Reader Ellie, perturbed by some patriarchy-blaming remarks I made in connection with of one of her favorite bands, the Ramones, writes to ask the musical question: do I consider any kind of rock music appropriate for a feminist?

No. Yes. No.

OK, how about this: whatever music appeals to you is appropriate (although maybe, just on principle, draw the line at the Teen Fluffer’s Union Jug Band).

I would, however, urge the feminist consumer of popular culture to take a gander at the tiresome misogynist subtext underlying the whole rock ethos. My premise is that pop music does not exist in a vacuum, so, like painting or literature or history, it necessarily absorbs the hegemony of the larger culture, which happens to be a woman-hating culture.

The riot grrls took a valiant stab at it — because goddammit chicks can too rock, assholes! — but the thing is, they were merely infiltrating an existing paradigm; the models of rockstardom and sexgod cockworship were slightly retooled to accommodate women performers, but this was not so much an authentic women’s art form as it was girls rockin’ out according to a male code (this is a common rockdude criticism of the riot grrl school, but I don’t mean it dismissively; there was no other conceivable outcome, and besides, that shit was a blast. Unlike Ellie, who would rather “gouge out [her] eardrums” than listen to a riot grrl band, I got a big bang out that whole dealio, viz. my all-girl punk band, circa 1997.)

I contend that there can be no authentic women’s culture as long as we, no matter how brainy or talented, are judged first and primarily on how we measure up as sexbots. Furthermore, for a woman to appreciate rock’n’roll, she must enter into a state of sympathy with the oppressor, temporarily agreeing to the terms and conditions of modern sexism. Any euphoria we experience at a rock show is purely vicarious; because our culture sees us as variants of normal, we are not invited to life’s rich pageant, and we’ll never know how it really feels for the world to be our oyster.

So, to answer Ellie’s question, a feminist’s enjoyment of rock’n’roll pretty much depends on her tolerance for pain. Let’s face it: rock’n’roll is sort of about rebellion, but it’s mostly about sex, and sex, in our culture, is about the sublimation of the male boner.


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  1. rhondda

    I agree with you for the most part. I think alot of women just block out the words and go with the music.

  2. Lauren

    Ooh, I like the song. Did you sing? What was the band name?

  3. homossouri

    Can’t ignore culture, can’t erase its patriarchal provenance, can’t immolate it and start from scratch. It’s quite a pickle.

    But also we’re speaking in generalities. Each act of creation occurs in the immediate moment. Any exchange between creator and audience offers the possibility of being experienced on its own terms, free of history, in that moment, IF both parties are willing to attempt it. It’s super-difficult to achieve, but this potential for transcendance is what makes music so powerful a tool for change. Or, in the wrong hands, its opposite.

    mmm. pickles.

  4. Tony Patti

    “a feminist’s enjoyment of rock’n’roll pretty much depends on her tolerance for pain.”

    The pain of being marginalized. The pain of living with contradictions that arise from monolithic certainties.

    Girls can rock and create a space where paternalistic gestures are subverted and deflected.

    It’s possible to acknowledge the vast and overwhelming influence of the patriarchy in our lives only if we can also recognize any little cracks in the foundation we choose to see. Otherwise life is just too bleak.

  5. Twisty

    A doff of the Twisty tiara to Homossouri, whose glass is more half full than mine.

    Lauren wants to know if that was me singin, and the answer–if one is liberal with the definition of “singing”–is yes.

  6. Eric

    Psst, band name was Johnny Magnet. The singing, it should be noted, was in no need of a liberal definition.

  7. Skip

    Since no human endeavors or cultural artifacts exist in a vacuum, is it then fair to say that any and all endeavors/artifacts of our culture are imbued with patriarchy, blogs included? Or does this only apply to pop music, history, painting, and literature? Your line of reasoning would seem to be able to be extrapolated to absurdity. Since you grew up in a patriarchal society and not in a vacuum, did you too not absorb the patriarchal cultural hegemony?

    How is cultural hegemony subsumed by, say, music and musicians? Since the blues did not exist in a vacuum, did it absorb the racism of the early 20th century?

    How does this whole process work?

  8. Cecelia

    This is, perhaps, an extremely expendable comment and I’m four years back-dated, but let’s put these things aside. I more than appreciate your commentary on rock music, and music in general, and the shows, and the culture, and the disgustingly hush-hushed patriarchy of the whole “scene” for that matter. I’ve been trying to identify myself within this “scene,” or what have you, since age fifteen, and no wonder I feel so goddamn horrible anytime I go to a show. I’ve recently immersed myself in feminist literature and finally am able to attribute my paralyzing social anxiety to its real cause – the patriarchal skeleton of even the most “forward-thinking” sects of society. It’s as though “punks” are more willing to martyr themselves for Animal Liberation, double bike frames, or sustainability culture than recognize the hyper-sexual, misogynistic “values” they advocate. More sickening than anything is the fact that such a patriarchal construct has long been masked in progressive thought and that flakey “rebellion-against-The-Establishment ethos attitude” you mentioned in your original post about the Ramones documentary.

    I liked the song, too.

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