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.