Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Punk Women

The internet: slow. Me: searching the library's online databases for any source at all that might help me get through a 15-page essay on the women of the punk movement. We read this book for class, Please Kill Me. It's an "oral history" (meaning it's composed entirely of excerpts from hundreds of hours of interviews) of the punk movement. At first it was fun. Everyone was so blase about all the sex and the drugs. After a couple hundred pages it got a bit redundant.

But I'm interested in the women who were present during that whole time. My class has been trying to define "punk," and we've been doing a great job of it. We've come up with lots of definitions: it's an attitude (rebellion, apathy, experimentation, whatever. Really: "whatever."), it's a musical/artistic style, it's a state of economic poverty (i.e. Is Green Day, with all of its lucre, actually punk?), and on and on. Regardless of the basic definition, it's apparent that much of the movement was dominated by men.

Quick: think of a punk rock group.

Did you think about the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Clash, Iggy Pop? All men.

Yeah, the Velvet Underground had Nico, for a while (and frankly, she sounds a little masculine). Yeah, Patti Smith is iconic. Yeah, there were groupies.

Wait: groupies. Tons of them. Everywhere. The book is filled with women's voices. Mostly groupies. But let's not demean the groupie. The more I think about it, the more I realize that groupies are inextricable from any responsible interrogation of the punk movement. But why? If punk was/is by definition a musical phenomenon, women were largely uninvolved. But sex. Sex was so important. In fact, many of the female punk bands had sexual names: The Raincoats, The Slits.

These women were tough. They had attitudes. Connie Ramone was always beating the living hell out of someone. But they also had sex. Lots of it, whenever they wanted. With whomever they wanted. It's probably not a coincidence that the rise of punk - and the presence of all of these tough, sexual women in the midst of it - coincides historically with the strengthening of the feminist movement. In some ways what these women did was completely antagonistic to feminism: they defined themselves according to who they slept with. And there's this anecdote somewhere deep in the book about Patti Smith being proud about "washing her man's clothes." But part of what made Patti Smith punk was her androgyny, her rejection of a "feminine" appearance. There's this feminist/anti-feminist dualism in the attitudes and the lifestyles of these women. That's what I want to write about.