474theMiX Rock Radio Blog Archive

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Evolution of Feminist Punk Rock

  On January 21st several million women in cities all around the world gathered in solidarity for the Women’s Walk on Washington to demand rights and equality. One day after the inauguration these people stood firm against threats of back-sliding in categories including wage disparity and reproductive rights under what could be the most conservative administration this country has ever seen. So on the note of celebrating women, this week I decided to write about strong female singers and settled on the punk rock genre. Punk rock is steeped in stereotypes of hair gel, eyeliner, and fighting the “man” (no gender pun intended here). What better platform for feminism to enter the music world?

Any discussion of the genre would be incomplete without mentioning The Runaways, some of the earliest and most influential punk rockers. This all-girl punk rock band consisted of now legends Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford, Sandy West, and Jackie Fox. Best known for hits like “Cherry Bomb,” a song about rebellious teenage rejection of parental control, the band was never terribly huge in the United States. When the band broke up, though, several of the women went on to have successful solo careers. Joan Jett (and the Blackhearts) are known for “I Love Rock and Roll,” “Bad Reputation,” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” Lita Ford had “Kiss Me Deadly,” and “Close My Eyes Forever.” This music encouraged women to take control of their own lives, to push against expectation and tradition, and to not take any lip for doing so. It is all very strong music. Which is why the genre carried on instead of being a passing cultural fad.

In the 80s and 90s, punk rock was much the same as it was in the late 70s. A few newcomers on the scene helped strengthen and expand the genre. Pat Benatar not only matched the sound, but her look, with a short pixie haircut, screamed punk. It’s nearly impossible to list all of her hits, but some of the most notable are “Love is a Battlefield,” “Heartbreaker,” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” More songs about strong women making strong choices. However, next to “Cherry Bomb,” probably the greatest feminist punk anthem is “Just a Girl” by No Doubt. Like The Runaway’s hit, “Just a Girl” is from the point of view of a teenage girl who feels trapped by her parents. She is sick of rules like having to hold her parent’s hands and not being allowed to drive late at night because of all the things that could happen to a young girl alone in the dark. It pushes back against the ways young women are raised to be cautious while young men are not under the same restrictions. Gwen Stefani has argued that the song was not written with a feminist agenda, but rather her literally complaining about her father prohibiting her from driving alone at night. Maybe it is this stark honesty that makes the song so good.  

The early 2000s were full of male punk rockers with the same eyeliner and black hair, the only difference was that some of it had spun off into a subgenre known as “emo.” One of the strongest women of the time, Pink, kept the original look, but over time altered the sound by adding a splash of pop. “Sober,” “So What,” “Perfect,” the list goes on. Many of her songs contain themes of being different, like the bucking of tradition and expectation in early punk rock, but the difference is after several generations, these ideas are more normalized. That’s where Pink’s brilliant adjustment to the genre has succeeded, instead of simply creating music that is rebellious, she has written music that is also focused on self-esteem and self-love. It takes the next step forward in giving young listeners confidence and strength. Some other notable punk rock artists include Patti Smith, Pussy Riot, Cat power, The Pretty Reckless, Alanis Morissette, Paramore, Kitten, and Evanescence.

So the real question is this: how will punk rock react to our current political climate. We’ve already seen Green Day’s Revolution Radio, filled with the echoes of American Idiot, but what will the women of the genre come up with? Perhaps the inspiring energy of the Women’s March will be translated into music. After the signing of an executive order immediately removing federal funding from any organizations that ever perform abortions, most notably Planned Parenthood, reproductive healthcare and reproductive rights are on the line. Now more than ever the women of punk rock need to stand up and say we’ve been here, we’re still here, and we aren’t going anywhere.

Sarah Mueller
474theMiX Rock Radio
Station Promoter/Blogger

No comments:

Post a Comment