Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hump Day Treat, Well Done, Sister Suffragette! Edition

It's the final day of this year's Women's History Month, and I'm a little bit bummed about it. I write about women's history in various forms all year round, yes. But I feel like I've learned a lot about how and why we should document the history and also the present of what girls and women are doing in the past 30 days, and I don't want that to end.

In the past month, this blog has talked about mostly about how important it is to document what we and our activist friends are doing, but we've also touched upon issues of access, and how intersections with race, class, nationality, ethnicity, and other forms of so-called 'Otherness' impede access for some of our sisters (and brothers) in the struggle. The conclusion I've come to after a month of thinking about these issues is that feminist punks really need to look at media, especially mainstream media, and we need to look at how media manages to divide us. Yes, media can connect us, and it's important -- but it can also have a more nefarious role in the production and control of culture.

This is a different discussion for a different day though. Rock and the Single Girl will be back next week to open up that dialogue, but in the meantime, enjoy some punk feminism, courtesy of The Distillers, on this hump day. (p.s.: How much do you love that there is a serious punk song about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony? Big ups to Brody Dalle for even knowing who they are!)

(The audio is not great on this video, so if you would like to hear the studio version, click here)

BONUS JONAS: For anyone else who gets the reference in the title, and who watched Mary Poppins just to sing this song, enjoy a subtitled, sing-along version of "Sister Suffragette"!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Doing Women's History with Reclaimed Punk Feminist Figures*

Of the seemingly endless list of things in this world that offend me, nothing upsets me in the way that sketchy and rude treatment of Yoko Ono does. I've heard my own BFFs accuse women linked to their favorite male artists of being "Yokos", and even when my friends do it, it makes me really angry.


For those of you who might not know, Yoko Ono is an artist, musician, writer, and activist. Her late husband, John Lennon, was a musician and artist in his own right. (HA, SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) Yoko met John in 1966 at an exhibition of her 'conceptual' art work. According to rock/romance legend, at this time Yoko didn't even know who John was. She allegedly didn't recognize him either when he walked into the gallery space where her work was being shown, or when he inquired further about her work.

Yoko and John were a married couple. They were partners, artistic collaborators, and parents together. But both pop music history and pop culture alike have reduced Yoko Ono to a little more than a band-destroying, genius-distracting, performance -ruining' harpy. She is portrayed as the woman who swept into John Lennon's life, alienated his friends and bandmates from him, and thusly robbed the world of the Beatles' collective brilliance.

The piece that ensnared John Lennon's heart. Read more about it here, here, and here.


There are a few issues with this narrative. Yeah, it's blatantly sexist, in the way that it puts the responsibility for the actions of four grown men on one woman. It's also wrong, and completely ridiculous in the way it ignores the reality of what it means to play in a band with people! The hard truth is that the Beatles broke up because of the Beatles. Ten plus years of being so isolated and so famous is enough to wear down anyone, and enough to make anyone sick of the few people who were there. And from what I understand, John Lennon and Paul McCartney went into this whole thing not really like each other all that much.

Being in a band is kind of like being married, in that it involves a serious commitment, constant proximity for all parties involved, and making a lot of major joint decisions. Like marriage, being in a band is a complex bond that is affected by many factors. Like all aspects of marriage, and bandhood, divorce and band break ups are almost always too complex to blame on a single person or event.

Yoko and John, making a statement. I kind of love this picture.

We need to face this reality about the Beatles and about bands in general not only for the sake of Yoko Ono, but also for activists and artists. We need to face the reality that collaboration is difficult, and that isn't anyone's fault. Working with other people, talking stuff out, hammering out compromises, and learning to respect people's different ideas and put up with their flaws is really hard. Scapegoating a convenient bystander is the easy way out, and doing so obscures the reality of being a musician as well as Yoko Ono's individual accomplishments.

This does double duty for the capitalist rock machine: it effectively marginalizes a powerful and creative woman, and it also feeds the myth of the Rock Star, aka: a skinny white dude who simultaneously sings and fucks his way across the world and then tells us all about it. The Rock Star and his decadent lifestyle help to sell rock music, so the music industry can't have anyone interfering with this illusion. They don't want the truth of being a working artist (and trust me, it is damned hard work if you're doing it right) getting in the way of the stories they spin to keep the masses entertained and buying cds, concert tickets, and merch.

If us punk feminists really want to challenge this exploitative system, we need to recognize these and other industry methods of exploiting and silencing vocal dissenters and people who don't fit the myth. We need to recognize that all forms of rock are inherently capitalist and patriarchal, being the products of a patriarchal, capitalist system -- and that it's a challenge to this system at the same time (or, it's supposed to be). What makes rock a unique musical tradition is that it's both the system and the fuck you to the system. We have to reclaim that paradox, and make it our own if we're going to make space in music for our voices.


Now that we're on the issue of space, let's bring this back to Yoko, as she is the point of this post.

Back when I was in high school I somehow got to talking about Yoko with my music teacher, Mr. Mora (I've mentioned him before). Himself a fan of the Beatles, Mr. Mora, despite being really smart, had apparently bought into the Yoko myth. He spoke at length about Yoko's notorious performance with John, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Mitch Mitchell on The Rolling Stones Rock'n'Roll Circus.

"She started screaming," Mr. Mora explained, "and you could see the look of disappointment on Eric Clapton's face!" Mr. Mora then proceeded to reenact Eric Clapton's pained expression. (Which, in itself, was priceless, and I wish I had a photo of that to share, but alas, I do not.)

What I do have is a video of this performance. Skip to the end to see Yoko's part and The Face.

Um, WTF is Eric Clapton wearing here? He looks like Ugly Betty...

What's happening in this video? Watch, and try to not see four of the most famous men in rock history. It's a band of four British brahs playing a song about how one of these wealthy, British, rock star, brahs is just so depressed and wants to die. It's four white guys continuing the tradition of Anglo co-optation of rhythm and blues. (In John Lennon's defense, he allegedly admitted to being self-conscious about this.)

Yoko gets on stage and she starts making weird sounds. Why? To disrupt this sausage and wank fest. To make her voice heard. To make herself, a feminist, peace activist, immigrant woman visible against a background of upperclasswhitedudeness. Yoko is doing more than making strange, uncomfortable noises with her voice. She's using the sound of her voice to queer the entire situation.

I wish Mr. Mora were here so I could tell him all of this, and suggest to him that maybe Yoko's awful voice is the butt of a lot of jokes because deep down, people realize that Yoko's disruption was a significant challenge to the pop-rock, cock-rock oriented music industry. Who knows -- maybe John Lennon got that, about both that moment and Yoko herself, and maybe after years of churning out hit after hit and hook after hook and ear-pleasing melody after melody, even he wanted to express something different, and maybe he thought Yoko was the creative partner who could help him do that.

I would like to think that Mr. Mora would respond to these suggestions by saying "Why, I never thought of it that way!" (No one accepted differing opinions as graciously as Mr. Mora.) I would like to think that Mr. Mora would get that Yoko Ono was not some crazy, screaming, scheming, using harbinger of band doom, but an artist, activist, woman, mother and survivor who married into the rock and roll boys club and then made herself heard -- just as any true feminist punk heroine would.

*The ideas in this post are largely influenced by the work of rock sociologist Simon Frith, pioneer of the rock as paradox theory, and rock and gender media analyst Marion Leonard. Check them out, their stuff is tight.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Punk Feminist Cults of Personality, Part 2: Knocking them down

So last week I wrote about how we need to be careful with our feminist punk heroines. I wrote about how we we have to listen to each other, be respectful, and be constructive about keeping our egos and our heroine-worship in check. This week, it's time to turn the knife counterclockwise, and talk about heroine bashing -- or, if you want a not that clever play on words, heroine abuse.

If there's any single person in the punk feminist universe whose persona has grown to mythic proportions, it's Kathleen Hanna. She clearly isn't comfortable with being singled out or treated as Riot Grrrl's sole originator, ideologue, and/or spokesperson, but it doesn't change the fact that Bikini Kill and Le Tigre have been influential, and it doesn't change the fact that Kathleen is a public figure, and that love her or hate her, people tend to pay attention when she speaks.

Kathleen Hanna, back in her Bikini Kill days

I'm going to admit that I fall on the 'love her' side of the debate. And I didn't even know that there was a strong and seemingly pretty righteous 'hate her' faction, within the queer activist community, until I read a particularly nasty comment war attached to an article about Kathleen donating her papers to NYU. The central issue of debate in the comments? Kathleen's credibility as a feminist in the wake of her support of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

For those who don't know: the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (MWMF) is just what it sounds like: an outdoor concert festival for womyn, no boys allowed. The concert organizers adhere to a strict and unfortunately named 'womyn-born-womyn' policy, meaning that transsexual and transgender individuals are prohibited from attending. The idea behind the festival is to create a safe space for the womyn in attendance, and the claim is that biologically male bodies might negate the 'safety' of the setting.

The more I think about this policy, the more I dislike it. I think it reflects a complete misunderstanding of trans issues and quite possibly of gender in general. I think it makes the organizers and the MWMF seem horribly transphobic, and I agree with those who have protested and boycotted this. But I just can't get on board with this idea that Kathleen Hanna is a transphobe, too, because she performed at this event.

I'm more than willing to admit that I'm biased here, and that part of my struggle with this has to do with the fact that I've been listening to this woman since I was 17. Her work has been a huge part of my adolescence, and I've never done anything but look up to her.

MWMF poster. I'll keep my snarky comments about it to myself.

But there's more to it than that. As an adult, feminist, and student, I'm not convinced that Kathleen Hanna is a transphobe because I simply haven't seen the evidence. Every time I read about what a transphobe she is, the only example of her apparent transphobia is her involvement with the MWMF. There are no quotes about gender or about trans-issues from Kathleen, no excerpts from personal essays or her zines or anything like that. I'm guessing that these quotes exist, but I have yet to see them. And I refuse to tar and feather a person based on a guess that something exists.

I also refuse to label any individual a transphobe for performing at the MWMF if I don't know the entire story of that person's involvement with the event. The organization itself seems questionable, if not utterly bigoted. But I don't know Kathleen's thoughts on the policy or the festival. I don't know why she and Le Tigre chose to perform, and I'm guessing that most of the people judging Kathleen for this don't know the whole story either. Again, I feel as though there must be information out there, that I haven't been able to find, about Kathleen's position on the festival and its trans-excluding policy. Again, I find it impossible to make a decision based on information I haven't looked at myself.

Whether Kathleen is a transphobe or not, I find the treatment of her alleged reputation really disturbing. I find it appalling and frankly offensive as a writer that people are parroting the same story about the MWMF, seemingly without too many facts, and passing it off as either journalism or good blogging. (Here's a hint: it's neither.)

Even worse, it's another example of media tearing down another female public figure. This is an example of institutionalized sexism, a woman-hating bias so deeply ingrained that even female and feminist writers buy into it. (I'm no exception, as anyone who's ever heard me rant about Patti Smith or Chrissie Hynde knows.) Kathleen is unfairly targeted because of her sex as well as her involvement with feminism. You don't see this happening to people like Ian MacKaye or Eddie Vedder. You never would have seen it happen with anyone like Kurt Cobain, or Joe Strummer, or Joey Ramone.

Tearing women down like this feeds into this myth that such public figures, especially feminist leaders, are supposed to be perfect. Guess what -- they aren't. Is transphobia acceptable? No, of course it isn't. But the fact of the matter is that even the most evolved of us feminists have issues and prejudices. Every single one of us is the product of a kyriarchal system. Most of us have some sort of privilege or another, and all of us have some kind of power, that we may or may not exercise effectively.

And no matter how smart or aware or sensitive we are, we're all eventually going to say something stupid. All of your feminist leaders, your punk rock heroines, your favorite radically fierce female artists, are going to fuck up at some point. So prepare yourself.

But not for disappointment. Yes, someday, somewhere, someone you admire might say something that offends you and it might be disappointing or even hurtful -- but that's not what you need to be prepared for. What we, as feminist artists and leaders in our own lives and circles need to prepare for, is how to deal with and learn from these situations.

I think, before we can do anything else, we need to know ourselves, and we need to know what we can tolerate. A voice of reason emerged in that comment war I mentioned earlier, and it said that we have to decide, as individuals, what flaws we can stand in our heroines. Would it bother me if Kathleen Hanna were a transphobe? Yes, it would. But it wouldn't keep me from listening to Bikini Kill, and it wouldn't invalidate her feminist ideas or the impact they've had on me.

But it's not going to be that way for everyone, and we need to learn to live with that. Once we know our own perspective, we have to learn how to be respectful of others'. Does it bum me out that some people detest Kathleen Hanna for her involvement with a single festival? Yeah, it really does. But it's also completely legitimate, and I have to accept that some people don't consider her a model feminist leader.

Ultimately, what we need to learn is that we're all human. The leaders we look up to, the friends and fellow activists we admire, the coming generations for whom we hope to pave the way: we're all human, and we're all imperfect. For that reason, we all deserve both respect and a little slack. Because if we can't treat our leaders that way, well, no one else will, either. And it's time for that to stop.

p.s. For more on MWMF, try Crabigail Adams (a former zinester whose zine I totally used to read, how weird is that?) and/or Pam's House Blend, a generally awesome site.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hump Day Treat, Power of Facebook Edition

For all my bitching about the social networking phenomenon, now and then Facebook gifts you with something worth writing home, or a blog, about. Par example: last night I was paging through my 'news feed', and saw that my friend Bri had posted a video by a band called Kitten Forever. She affectionately called them 'bratty grrrl punk', so of course I had to watch:

And then of course, I had to I had to youtube them, and was hence rewarded with a fantastic live video. And of course, I then decided to post it here, for all of you to enjoy. Bratty grrrl punks riding in cars and being awesome on this hump day, and EVERY day!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Punk Feminist Cults of Personality, Part 1: Putting them on the pedestal

I know I already said this, BUT: I had a really great time at the Sarah Lawrence Conference. My presentation went much better than I thought it would, and just as I was starting to fret that it hadn't provoked any thought, I got a bunch of questions.

For me the defining moment of the panel was the last question I received. Beth, who I don't actually know, but have seen at Brooklyn shows, asked me why I choose to do a study of a single person, when it sort of feeds into the 'cult of personality' that the record labels are always trying to push on us? (Also, for the record: I swear that Beth's actual phrasing of her question was much more eloquent than I just made it sound, but unfortunately, this was the best my spotty memory could do.)

Beth's question has stayed with me for the reason why criticisms usually stick with us: because we fear that they might be accurate. Since my proposal's acceptance, I had been joking about how it was just hero worship disguised as scholarship. I even mentioned this during my presentation, while trying to explain how it had developed into something else while I was working on it.

While worship isn't a productive method of doing research, I do believe that there are at least two good reasons for doing studies of individual punk feminist artists. After my presentation I was talking with a student who's writing her master's thesis on an African American activist whose name I unfortunately can't remember, and we got to talking about how people connect with individuals, and that they need hero(in)es. We discussed that all things, all art, all dissent, all organizing start with an individual, and grow to include more people if you're lucky and work really hard. I think studying the people with whom things start is necessary.

Which brings me to my second reason. Current scholarship on Riot Grrrl is rather general, and it tends to see it as a social movement -- not as an important genre within the rock tradition. Riot Grrrl needs to be understood and respected as a musical form, and it won't be unless we start studying the individual bands and musicians who were involved. And we won't understand the real value of Riot Grrrl on the whole unless we study both its ideology and its art.

That said, I do think that Beth's question is valid. I stand by my belief that we need our heroines, but I also believe that we need to understand them realistically, and as human beings. I think we benefit more from them when we see them, and the context in which they live and work, clearly.

Beth's question also hinted at the way in which the record industry constructs nebulizing, half-myth personas around its stars. This is the capitalist system at its insidious work of turning people into brands and artistic output into yet another commodity. The impact that this has on artistic output is something that does need to be addressed, both in general, and with any study of popular music.

Beth's question is particularly important because the only way to keep my research from devolving into hero worship is by keeping the issues Beth has brought up on my mind -- all. the. time. And that's how it is for all of us: as feminist activists, researchers, and artists, it is our responsibility to keep ourselves in check and think critically at all times. Critical thinking isn't something you tack on at the end; it doesn't work if it's an afterthought. Critical thinking to the point where you break everything down until nothing is whole anymore has to become part of our constant consciousness. Halfway or only part-time simply won't do. Going all the way with taking everything apart is the only way you can put it all back together.

But it's also our responsibility to constantly be conscious of the way we talk to each other. Maybe the real value in the dialogue between Beth and I is that it gave us both some practice in discussing these issues. That's right: questions like Beth's are not only important because they improve research and are essential to the production of worthwhile knowledge, but they're important for the simple fact that they are a form of communication.

You'd think that 'dialogue' is easy; it's just talking, right? Not exactly. Productive dialogue is often draining, because it requires those involved to think deeply about ideas and beliefs they take for granted, and have probably taken for granted for some time. It requires us to be sensitive to how difficult the process can be. It requires us to check our egos and our privilege, and it might expose us to painful exchanges, even in the best of circumstances. And because of that, it also requires us to trust each other. I can say that as hard as it is, it can and does form bonds between activists.

And that's the deal with feminist research, activism, and dialogue: taking everything apart to reassemble it in a way that benefits the greater good -- whether via music, other art forms, political organizing, or a conference paper -- by necessity requires us to also take apart ourselves. It requires us to take apart ourselves and each other, often in front of people, and sometimes after presenting a powerpoint and pretending for twenty minutes straight to not seem jittery or nervous about it. Yes, it's scary. But based on this one experience, and how much I've gotten out of it, I would say that it's worth it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hump Day Treat, "Morning" After Edition

Last night in Greenpoint, I had the opportunity to see some excellent bands who are on a short tour at the moment: The Two Funerals of Richmond, VA and Birmingham, AL's P.S. Eliot. Here are some old live videos of both, so you can try and imagine how intensely awesome it was on this sunny hump day.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A scorching, strategic case of cooties, OR: Doing Women's History (and present) with Cover Shows

Hey kids, remember when I got sick a few weeks ago, and I had to put off writing a 'big deal' post? Well, live in suspense no longer! Here it is, finally.


It all started on the Valentine's Day before the last. February 14, 2009.

When I heard that someone was doing an Anti-Valentine's Day Riot Grrrl Cover Band Show, I couldn't quite believe it. It was such a good idea that I couldn't believe someone was actually doing it. I went partly because I knew I wouldn't believe it unless I saw it for myself.

But I also went because the show's organizers were releasing a cd that night called Gimme Cooties, a compilation of live recordings by local girl bands that I absolutely had to hear. That morning, my platonic date for the show almost canceled on me, I didn't feel like getting dressed, and I worried that it would be weird or awkward if I showed up at this event where I wouldn't really know anyone. I ultimately decided that I didn't care, because I needed that cd.

Flyer for the first anti-V Day show

Fortunately things worked out. My friend Alma came with me, and yes, we were both a little awkward. We spent time between sets at the Dominican bodega across the street. During the sets we were stuck sort of in the back of the room, and we couldn't see what was going on, but we still managed to push up front for Bikini Kill's set. Afterwards I went to the For the Birds table, which was stacked high with zines, albums, and vegan cupcakes and got some cooties of my own. And then we went home.

It was nearly 2 am when I got in, and the first thing I did was look at the album's liner notes. A small collage of simple drawings and typed text on graph paper, the liner notes bare incredible resemblance to a zine.

The text is a message from Kathi Ko (Each Other's Mothers, Zombie Dogs), who put the cd together. "This is GIMME COOTIES," she says, "a comp featuring live tracks of all girl/girl fronted bands in Brooklyn and the surrounding east coast area." The notes explain that purpose of the album is to "document a new wave of badass girls playing music."

The text after this sent little waves of excitement/nausea running through my hands and up and down my spine:

GIMME COOTIES is a declaration of grrrlspace. It's proof of something that's happening right scheming challenging creating gettingshitdone supportive cootie-swapping grrrl love. I want to see truckloads of girl hands storm in and reinvent boring boy scenes in ways we've been dreaming of. seeing and hearing other girl bands...I swear, it's a catalyst to start yr own. don't get yr cootie shots. listen to this comp. now go start a band with yr girlfriends. xo, kathi

Gimme Cooties cd

I couldn't sleep that night. I was lying awake in bed, thinking about the liner notes, not just what they said, but how they said it...I recognized the style of writing, I recognized the layout: it was the rhetoric of the original '90s Riot Grrrl movement. I had this funny feeling that I couldn't entirely articulate, and I kept thinking to myself, "Something that's happening right now..."

I spent the next month listening to nothing but Gimme Cooties. I wanted to blog about it, and I even contacted For the Birds, and then Kathi about reprinting the liner notes. But I just couldn't seem to get a post written on it, I didn't know why. I couldn't capture how the liner notes or the show made me feel.


When I heard that there was going to be another Anti-Valentine's Day Riot Grrrl Cover Band Show this year, I still couldn't believe it. It was like looking out your window and seeing not one, but two unicorns, idly chewing on sidewalk grass.

Of course, I went. This time I went for the sheer spectacle, and because I wanted to hear songs by The Breeders, Stevie Nicks, Sleater-Kinney, and Bikini Kill live. But here's the thing: as soon as 'Bikini Kill' started, it became clear that they were doing more than playing Bikini Kill songs.

The long slate of 'opening' bands that night was comprised of many recognizable young women who play with a number of local New York bands. They were one night only combos of some of my favorite hometown punk feminist heroes (a.k.a. some of my favorite girls in the world.) They were all playing someone else's songs -- but these girls were all still themselves, playing someone else's songs.

Flyer for the 2010 Riot Grrrl and Women-fronted Band Cover Show

'Bikini Kill,' on the other hand, was clearly impersonating Bikini Kill. Before they began, 'Kathleen' had a volunteer from the audience help her write 'SLUT' on her stomach in lipstick. She mimicked Kathleen Hanna's voice perfectly, and began their set by announcing "We're Bikini Kill..." When the entire audience answered, "...and we want revolution, grrrl style now!" it almost knocked the wind out of me. Yes, last year's 'Bikini Kill' started their set the same way. But the feeling that you're not alone, that you're not the only one who still sings these songs never gets old.


In the days after the show, I tried to figure out what 'Bikini Kill' was doing. I had this feeling that they'd done something very specific and deliberate, but was having trouble describing it. I kept thinking that it felt more like a Civil War battle reenactment than a show, but I couldn't explain it any better than that.

A few days later, Tobi Vail helped me put it all together. A quote from her review of Marisa Meltzer's new book helped it to make sense. Vail writes, "The book made me think a lot about documenting history from a strategic perspective. How could this story be told to incite participation in girls?"

Why do people do Civil War reenactments, why do places like Colonial Williamsburg exist? They're strategic uses of history, meant to entertain, to educate, to commemorate events that are supposed to be significant to U.S. national history. Battle reenactments are rituals that enshrine the act of war, the spilling of blood, as a process central to the making of the United States as a nation.

I don't know about you, readers, but the act of war and the spilling of blood could not be less enshrined for me. However: Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Excuse 17, The Gossip, and Riot Grrrl and its descendants in general, are a different story.

These Anti-Valentine's Day shows, and Gimme Cooties, are rescuing the history of Riot Grrrl and bringing it to the center. Organizer Kathi Ko, with support from For the Birds (a feminist collective and distro), and help from surely many others, is taking this history, and everything it stands for, and making it apart of a current narrative. But this is about more than 'enshrining' or 'commemorating' a romanticized view of Riot Grrrl. This is about using history strategically, with the intention of opening up and continuing this history. This is about using shows, comp cds, and music from current bands to incite participation.

And the organizers of the show are doing so in a way that is fantastically subversive. These shows masquerade as just shows, as events with live music and liquor and general merriment. Both years, I went expecting nothing but music and general merriment, and I left feeling completely changed. I left those shows feeling inspired, feeling like I belonged to something, feeling like Riot Grrrl/punk/feminism, despite a lot of recent naysayery, are not dead, and neither am I. In other other words, I came out of that show with a scorching case of cooties. And I couldn't be happier about it.

Get your own case of cooties! Order a copy of Gimme Cooties from For the Birds!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Doing Women's History (and futures) with zines!

Readers, I'm pleased to help spread the word about these two upcoming projects: not one, but TWO zines pertaining to the Riot Grrrl legacy are being planned as we speak!

Fellow zinestress and blogger Amber is working on a perzine on the all important and all but ignored issue of jealousy, awkwardness, and self-consciousness amongst scene girls, and how girls can deal with it. The zine will include "reading recommendations, distro listings, perzine-y stuff and a brief outline of riot grrrl (and why I think that riot grrrl ideas are still relevant today)". Amber is interested in people's opinions, so go check out her blog post to find out more (and to also check out a sweet picture of a rad RG tattoo)!

Sisters in the struggle Stacy Konkiel of Soul Ponies and Kate Wadkins have just put out a call for submissions for their International Girl Gang Underground Zine. Check out the sweet flyer:

I want to point out that both of these zines are open to a wide range of opinions on Riot Grrrl as a sociopolitical movement. As Amber says, her zine "won't necessarily be all "rah rah rah! riot grrrl rules!" If you're against the revival, feel free to share that opinion." In a special statement, Stacy and Kate disavow that "Riot grrrl, while being a vital movement within punk rock for many people, has a reputation for exclusion."

Amber, Stacy, and Kate aren't on some sort of nostalgia trip. They're committed to addressing the movement's failures and problems, and to adapting and creating a more inclusive punk feminist art culture. "I'm of the belief that we can talk about these things and try to improve upon them," writes Amber. Stacy and Kate are upfront about encouraging POC, trans/queer/genderqueer/ally folks, "including transguys and cisguys," to send in submissions.

In other words: these zines are the perfect place to start asking questions around big issues, and problems like the ones I was just blogging about earlier this week! If you have concerns about punk politics and activism, about building community across racial, class, sex, gender, and other social lines, about how to have productive discussions about these and other difficult topics, this is where you should start! So get out your Big Chief tablet, your Moleskine, your marble notebook, your word processor of choice and your favorite pen and get writing already. The movement needs your voice!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hump Day Treat, Ambivalent '90s Heroine Edition

So today, we're jumping into the ol' flying delorean and punching 1993 into the keypad on the dash. That's right, we're going back Liz Phair's celebrated debut release, Exile in Guyville.

A recent photo of LP, and one of her many very attractive guitars, in concert.

Ever since I saw a paper on Liz Phair listed on the Sarah Lawrence Women's History Conference, I've been on a bit of an old school LP kick. The paper was called "'If Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville Made You a Feminist, What Kind of Feminist Are You?': Heterosexuality, Race, and Class in the Third Wave", and author Elizabeth K. Keenan does a fine job of praising Phair's accomplishments, while still critiquing the way Phair has let the music industry and media meddle with her image. The paper hasn't been published yet, but I look forward to geeking out over it when it does. In the meantime, enjoy a very '90s looking Liz Phair video on this sunny hump day.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Doing Women's History at the Sarah Lawrence Women's History Conference

So, I wrote last week about how Women's History Month is useful because it provides with an opportunity to talk about women's history, and it gives us a time frame that we can organize around. Women's History Month gives us a chance to put together events to heighten our own, and others' awareness of women's history and how it's constructed.

This past Saturday, I attended a good example of this: The Sarah Lawrence Women's History Conference.

The theme of this year's conference happened to be sex, gender, and feminism within music (I'm still a bit shocked at just how perfect it was for me, personally). Not only did I get to attend, but I had also had the honor and privilege of presenting; I was a member of the Riot Grrrl History panel (Check out the full schedule). I spoke for twenty minutes about bodily images and experience in Corin Tucker's songwriting, and I was really thrilled at the questions I received afterward from the participants. Our entire panel was really interesting, and went very well, and I think everyone enjoyed it; or, I know that I certainly did.

But I don't want to talk so much about my panel and the knowledge that I am relatively comfortable with. No, today I want to focus on the questions that were on my mind after the conference. Because that's the point of this sort of event: yes, you share what you've learned and what you've worked on, and you chat with other people who are doing similar projects, and you nibble on delicious finger foods, and you feel all fancy for a single day out of your grubby grad school existence. But I think you're supposed to leave with more questions than answers.

After participating in my panel and attending the fantastic Womyn Song panel, and after spending a day in the company of feminist musicians and serious critical thinkers, I found myself thinking a lot about issues within Riot Grrrl and other '90s music made by women. I found myself thinking about issues I've already considered, but that I think I might have forgotten about in my excitement over the recent revival of feminist punk and art going on in my hometown. Here are a few of them.

1. Riot Grrrl and inclusivity. One of the greatest things about this conference was how inclusive it was. Theory and practice, history and present day issues, pop, folk, hip hop, Latin, and rock music, and especially issues of race and class in all these genres -- the conference covered all of this and more. But I, myself, picked a panel on Liz Phair, Lilith Fair, and the woman-born-woman policy at the Michigan Womyn's Festival. Both this panel, and the one I presented at, were attended largely by fair-skinned young women. This made me think about my attention to race within punk. I used to be much more concerned with the Latino presence in rock, and punk especially, but I haven't written about this in a long time. Lately, I've been focused on my own herstory with Riot Grrrl, but I haven't written about my experience as a fair-skinned Latina who listens to rock music and participates in other aspects of 'gringo' culture.

2. Rock and Imperialism. Listening to the delightful Julia Downes talk about her experience with Riot Grrrl in the UK reminded me that the movement did, in fact, cross many borders, and have an impact in many countries in Europe, and in several Latin American nations as well. I've done some reading on how Latin American governments felt the rock explosion of the 1960s was a colonialist threat to their cultures, and I'm working on a project about these issues as they pertain to Emo culture in Mexico City. So why haven't I questioned Riot Grrrl in this way? Why aren't we having conversations about punk, feminism, and the so-called 'Third World' -- both the 'Third World' outside of the US, and the 'Third World' that exists right here within our borders, within my city?

3. Only one way to deal with it. While hanging out by the For the Birds table later in the afternoon, I had a chat with tabler Jessy about some of these issues around Riot Grrrl and the difficulties it encountered in handling racism and classism. I think there's some opposition to the revival of Riot Grrrl on the grounds that it was a failure in this way, and we talked about bringing back this particular feminist punk movement as a way to question and maybe even solve these problems, rather than gloss over them. Writing a movement off because it wasn't perfect doesn't accomplish very much. But facing it head on, and finding other people who are willing to ask these questions and deal with these issues can be productive.

And after you find people to have these conversations with, you confront the futher difficulty of learning how to talk and express your opinions respectfully. You learn, or hopefully anyway, how to participate in meaningful dialogue that enriches everyone involved.

These are only some of the issues I hope to be more cognizant of in the coming weeks here at Rock and the Single Girl. I hope that I won't be alone in all of this, and I hope that readers out there will share your thoughts and concerns!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hump Day Treat, La Mamma Morta Edition

This song always reminds me of my mother. I'm thinking about her on this hump day, and every other day of my life.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

March Radness: It's Women's History Month!

You might be able to guess this just from reading this blog, but, as far as I'm concerned, every month is Women's History Month, especially here at Rock and the Single Girl. But I think that this institution exists precisely for the purpose of providing an opportunity to talk not only about women in history, but also to talk about what history, and its documentation, really mean for girls and women.

Musician and blogger Kate Wadkins and I have been talking about documentation, but this conversation is definitely bigger than just the two of us. Many of the so-called original Riot Grrrls, such as the members of Bratmobile, Emily's Sassy Lime, Heavens to Betsy, and Bikini Kill have participated in interviews for documentaries and museum exhibitions on Riot Grrrl. Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna recently admitted to currently being 'obsessed with archiving', having just donated her papers to NYU's Riot Grrrl collection, and former band mate Tobi Vail has been thinking about "documenting history from a strategic perspective." Bloggers like Kate, Stacy at Soul Ponies, and myself are interested in the same issues, and I think we're all interested in getting as many young women to join the discussion as possible.

But rather than merely 'discuss' documentation, the way to really understand why recording history is important is to actually do it yourself. As kids, we learn about History with a capital H, a grand and dominant narrative of conquest, war, plunder, and exploitative production. It's a narrative that has little to do with us, and which I imagine has little meaning for most kids.

What we don't learn is that history is happening constantly, that it's a process with no real end, and that it's built on the stories and lives of normal, everyday people. When we write our stories, our herstories, we write our own narratives, and this is an incredibly powerful activity.

When you take the time to write your story, you contribute your voice to History with a capital H. But I think it's more important to document your life for you! I think it feels really good to take time to focus on you, and the things you do on a daily basis that are important in your life. Even the most seemingly mundane details of your existence, like interactions with your family members and friends, the things that happen to you at school or work, the way you spend a weeknight where you choose to stay in, can be worth remembering. You are worth remembering, worth reading about, and your experience has the potential to illuminate future generations. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

So ladies, in honor of women's history month, and the women who've come before you: get out your diaries, journals and sketchbooks. Access your livejournals, blogs, and twitters. Break out your scrapbooks, cameras, and zining supplies, and get to the fun, frustrating, cathartic, liberating work of documenting your life. Get to the work of making a record of you.