women in punk

I was making a mix CD for a certain special someone yesterday, specifically the ULTIMATE punk collection, and I started going through old mixes to see if there were any awesome punk songs that I had forgotten. While looking through a mix CD I made for Desirina once, I spotted a song by the Donnas, and I said, “Aha! That’s an awesome song that is missing from my ultimate punk collection!” I stuck it into the mix, and then I observed the song in its new context to see how it looked… suddenly, something jumped out at me.

This was the only band which had obvious female members on the entire CD! The first band, the Anniversary, has a female singer/keyboardist, but she’s only singing backup vocals on the song that I selected. I thought, “hm, that’s no good, if my mysterious special someone is going to punk out, she’s going to need some role models,” so I started digging in my dozens of gigabytes of music to see what I could come up with. I pulled out another song or two played by women which had been stuck in my head at some point or another, but the fact was that most of the punk rock that I listen to is written and played exclusively by guys, and that seems to be pretty much true for punk rock in general, not just my listening tastes (although I can’t stand some influential women in the genre, such as Bikini Kill, I think they’re kind of annoying). In fact, it might be true of rock in general.

What’s to be done? Why aren’t there more girls who like to sing/play loud music? Is it just a masculine aggressive thing to make noise? One website I visited said that guys have support networks where they can learn guitar licks, learn how to silkscreen, etc. and girls don’t, so it’s kind of a catch-22. I dunno if that’s true, but clearly girls need to rock out more.

16 thoughts on “women in punk

  1. some of the fans of my cousin, juliana hatfield, complained that the only reason she wasn’t more famous was that she didn’t have a penis… i don’t know enough about music or her specifically to know about that, but i can imagine that as for women in general, it’s hard for women in rock who don’t conform to a certain image…

  2. I remember liking Crass, which I believe is mainly female vocal.

    A friend mentioned some research (that was her thesis?) that suggested men decide what to try based on what they think they can do whereas women decide what to try based on whether other women have already succeeded at it. But there’s always got to be that first woman who succeeds at something and is willing to take the crap for it.

  3. There’s always the Riot Grrrl movement, but they’re sort of over. I don’t know why more women don’t play punk music today.

    If it’s any help, the Riot Grrrls tended to complain that they felt really out of place in the general punk scene- men felt weird about letting them mosh with them, there was this sense that female punk wasn’t hard/aggressive enough, and other subtle traces of misogyny that people didn’t quite want to face. So they had to make their own girl-punk scene. Like all scenes, they eventually sort of fell apart, and their name has been horribly coopted and appropriated by mainstream punk (e.g. – Good Charlotte), in which they’re sort of seen as merely punk boys’ rebellious girlfriends, not people with voices and creative energies of their own. Sadly, I haven’t noticed anything else taking their place… except possible for the punk-inspired singer/songwriter folk bands like Ani, Bitch and Animal, or Tegan and Sarah.

    • I know what you mean about men feeling weird about letting women mosh with them, but doesn’t it also go the other way? As this site for parents of kids who want to go to Warped Tour says,

      – Young girls & crowdsurfing: don’t do it. While you may find this horribly sexist, it’s based on what they all saw. Any girl crowdsurfing got groped, and it was a really negative thing.

      I may get hate mail and emails from girls who said they did crowdsurf and nothing bad happened to them.. but be that as it may. Tell your daughters just because the music is cool doesn’t always mean the audience is too. Stay safe. Keep your feet on the ground.

      This implies that girls may also feel awkward about moshing etc. with guys, for good reasons, because some men can’t handle the responsibility.

  4. Erm, you mean Save Ferris, right? It would be pretty funny if they had an evil twin band named Kill Ferris, with an evil lead female singer and all.

  5. I really enjoy loud/hardcore female vocalists in punk/rock, but it is sadly in the minority. Pretty Girls Make Graves is not “punk” as such, but is very cool.

  6. What, the sky is blue? (Sorry Nelson. 🙂 ) The sad thing is most people who listen to punk music don’t notice, and if they do they don’t care. (Ask the panhandling punk kids around Oldtown Portland.) I don’t know much about punk, but have you tried the Epoxies? Siouxie?

  7. You remember when I was gushing to you about Letters to Cleo? Kay Hanley is a goddess to me. (Yes, even when she’s in the process of selling out. I watched that godawful Generation O cartoon because she sings in it.)

    Yeah, yeah, it’s pop “punk”, go peddle your purism somewhere else.

    (The excellent comic book Y: The Last Man has a great scene about this, where the protagonist — the Last Man on Earth after a horrible plague kills every human with a Y chromosome — is in disguise talking to a girl his age, and they suddenly realize that just about every rock star they used to idolize is now dead.)

  8. this is a common problem in many music scenes, and especially punk. we live in an extremely patriarchal society and one of the places that male privelege is most evident is in the music scene. boys are much more frequently encouraged to play “punk” instruments (guitar, bass, drums), whereas societal pressures delegitimize women who attempt the same thing. furthermore, to make it in the music biz, you have to constantly promote yourself, and it is much more “okay” in our society for men to go around promoting themselves than it is for women. i have so many female friends who write incredible songs and are much better guitarists than i am, but they are really uncomfortable performing in front of people because they were told over and over from such an early age that that is not okay, unladylike, not sexy, etc.
    this is just scratching the surface of an ENORMOUS problem within the music scene, and especially the punk scene. now that we’re talking gender, should we even begin to get into issues of class and race in the punk scene? now there’s a can and a half of worms.

    so yeah, in short, it’s not that girls need to rock out more, it’s that guys need to shut up more and make more space for women to rock. it’s that we need to create an encouraging and supportive scene that is receptive to all kinds of music coming from all kinds of people, and support and encourage our friends to make music.

    as a final add-on, here are some names of kick-ass female-led (or mixed-gender) punk stuff:

    Anna Roland (Riot-Folk! Records, genderqueer funk folky punk.)
    Brenna Sahatjian (also Riot-Folk. sounds like Ani on speed.)
    Evil Robot Us’ (m/f screamy-singy catchy folk-punk. on fistolo records.)
    The Syndicate (awesome punkrock with a violin)
    Del Cielo (all-grrl riot-punk)
    Witchhunt (philly female hardcore, on Profane Existence)
    Madeline (folky, awesome. on plan-it-x records.)
    Rachel Jacobs (awesome fem folk-punk-rock, http://www.racheljacobs.net)
    Pamela Means (www.pamelameans.com)
    Emma’s Revolution (www.emmasrevolution.com)

    there’s a billion others. when i think of more i’ll post again.


  9. For the honor of Greyskull, I am….

    Hello! You haven’t posted any pictures of She-ra or my slutty nurse friend and I’m a little disappointed. I went through the trouble of finding your journal and…nothing (except a corner of my face in a picture of you, which I’m not even counting).
    And I find this entry incredibly upsetting. There are plenty of chicks who rock out all the time. Por ejemplo: Siouxsie Sioux, Lora Logic, Nina Hagen, Cynthia Sley (Bush Tetras), Patty Smith, Patty something.. (The Waitresses), Lene Lovich, BLONDIE!!, the many many vocalists of Kleenex/LiLiput, the lead singer from Stinky Toys, and billions more. Plus, Stokes and I are starting a band to be THE band of all bands that will make you feel like you got your ass kicked and you liked it every time you listen. So there.
    PS I have your invisible monster footprints and plastic sword in the backseat of my car. Let me know if you need them.

    • Re: For the honor of Greyskull, I am….

      The whole photoshoot is now posted on my flickr page, as a prelude to actually trying to work them into a comic. That way, anyone can use the photos if they think that they can make a better photocomic than I can 😉

      And if you could give the plastic sword and monster footprints to Lauren, I’m sure I can get them from her next time I see her.

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