Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Dresses and pointy boots and stuff": Sara Quin Fights The System!

A facebook friend who likes to express her love for Tegan and Sara by posting numerous links to T&S-related articles, videos, and photos recently shared the following:

Here's the obvious soundbite from this interview: "...we showed up at this big photo shoot in New York and I get in there and I look at the rack of clothes, and it's like, dresses, and pointy boots and stuff and I was like -- I said to the photographer, the guy that was running the shoot, I said -- 'I wanna sleep with women wearing these clothes, but I do not want to wear these clothes myself.' And they didn't think that was funny."

I will admit to watching this video three times in rapid succession. I watched it a second time both to laugh at Sara's story again, and to make sure that she had, in fact said "I wanna sleep with women wearing these clothes...." I watched it a third time because I noticed the first half of the story, and couldn't believe that either:

"...recently, Tegan and I decided, we're not gonna be forced to wear clothes that we don't feel comfortable in."

I find it surprising, and a little depressing, that Tegan and Sara have this problem. Haven't they been touring and working for a while now? Aren't they kind of really famous? Don't they make a fair amount of money, and thus have the power to decide what they want to wear?

Of course, there's more than one interpretation of this story. Sara doesn't specify what parties have pressured her and her sister to dress 'more feminine', and it sounds like Sara could be referencing some sort of personal issue. Maybe the pressure she's talking about is some sort of internal pressure.

But that's not my instinct. I get the impression from what Sara says in the video that there's some history of coercion in her career, some on-going arm twisting regarding the way she and Tegan present themselves. That even Tegan and Sara have to deal with this veiled sexism and heterosexism is kind of crazy to me, but I guess the male gaze falls upon all of us at one point or another.

This is exactly the sort of thing that makes me truly appreciative of the local and independent bands I have access to. I'm really lucky, I get to to go local shows put on and attended by girl bands and their sometimes male friends and supporters, and it's an autonomous operation. Women and girls at these shows, both performers and spectators, are free to dress the way they want, because they don't have to dress to fit any sort of male gaze. The male gaze is a key feature of The System. These bands, and also the community-based and feminist organizations that work with them, appear to be dedicated to working outside of The System.

As cool as that might sound, it breaks down into a troubling dichotomy: comfort, or 'success'? Are those really the options? Must we choose between dressing as casually or comfortably or, gasp, un-femininely as we like, or attaining the level of recognition that bands like Tegan and Sara have worked so hard for?

But that's one of the many things I really respect about the local bands I get to see regularly: they don't labor under the traditional definition of success. I can't tell you how any of these bands actually define success because I haven't exactly asked them. But from what I've seen, it's kind of apparent that 'success' isn't about multi-million dollar record contracts or private jets or fashion magazines. In this context, success has more to do with creating a space and time, however brief, where you can make art and music with awareness and integrity both with and for your friends. Success is the act of resistance that is simply being outside The System, and existing in opposition to it. This is a type of success that I can happily get behind.

And what about those of us like Tegan and Sara who are in The System? Heinous and sexist as the music industry is, maybe it's not as bad as it seems. I mean, when was the last time you saw either Tegan or Sara in a dress? Or pointy boots? Maybe a video of Sara cracking jokes about her sartorial 'butchness' is representative of the progress women and gays are making. Maybe it's proof that The System is changing.

***Thanks to Kirie for posting the aforementioned video!

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