As a woman “of a certain age” (as I refer to myself,) one might view me as simply a woman in nondescript clothing with a nondescript haircut leading a normal life. However inside my head I’m listening to a song by Void or Dirt or Red Cross or X. The outer me no longer conveys what is going on in my head and heart like it did when I was young.
When I was younger, I never felt at home with any of the favored styles most girls wore, and therefore lopping off my long blonde hair was a simple choice. It was the perfect excuse to kick to the curb the exhaustion I felt trying to find my place among other teenage girls. I became a pariah which was a pure, liberating freedom that never gave me reason to look back. I made the rules for myself and I liked it. Wear clothes from thrift stores and the Army Navy surplus stores? Yes. Wear black eyeliner and dark lipstick? Yes. Makeout with a boy you just met and never will see again? Yes. I had only myself to answer to.
Looking back at my early time in the punk rock scene, I became aware very quickly what a boys club it really was. The boys were there like cocks in the barnyard strutting around, yelling, hooting, hollering. The pit drew them into its center. They leaned into the crowd at the front of the stage shouting the lyrics to favorite songs whenever the lead singer offered the mic down in their faces. They got into mindless and drunken brawls. When they bounded out on the sidewalk after the show, their energy could be seen in their wild eyes. It could be felt pouring out of their sweaty skin. It could be heard in their chaotic laughter and high fives with their friends. I was too shy to go into the pit or near the front of the stage. I never wanted to get hit. I avoided getting a boot to the side of the head by stage divers. I didn’t want to get a painful punch to the face in the pit by a smelly sweaty boy.
All the photos of bands I see from the early to late 80s are full of sweat soaked boys as far as the eye can see with maybe one or two girls dotting the edges of the crowd or way in back. But why was it such a boy’s club? Was it the aggressiveness and ugliness of punk rock that young women shied away from? Was it years of conditioning from the fashion and cosmetics industries telling women to look a certain way that made teen females take pause with shaving their heads, donning black eyeliner, or wearing black combat boots? Was it cultural conditioning for women to keep their voices down about their discontent? Why did the boys like the pain of the pit and the girls did not? Why were there so many all-male bands and so few punk bands with any women? Did girls not have the same feelings of rage and isolation inside that boys did? I know I did: this is what led me to want to belong to punk rock. In the early 80s and into the 90s I seem to recall very few all-girl punk bands…but they were few and far between. The Ruggedy Annes from Manitoba, Canada, L7, Babes in Toyland. I am probably missing many acts but I don’t remember any shows from the early to late 80s that had an all girl band. Why is that? I often wonder about this.
By the 2000s, women seemed to catapult into the landscape of live music which then changed forever. I don’t know who to thank. Sub Pop? Grunge? Plain old rage and rebellion? The female presence was now visible, loud, and glorious more than I had ever seen in the past. The Lunachicks, Hole, Bikini Kill, Red Aunts, Le Tigre, the Lovedolls, Shonen Knife, L7 – they were all suddenly there and in your face. I am thankful for the riot girls, the punk rockers, and the grunge bands that featured women. And thank you to all the ladies out there that I looked to and listened to when I was a young lass… Bobbi Brat (Swoon! Girl crush!), Siouxsie Sioux, Lorna Doom, Belinda, Jane, Kathy, Margot, Gina, Charlotte, Tracy Lea, Janet Housden, Alice Bag, Poly Styrene, Kira, Exene, Penelope Houston… just to name a few of the extraordinary women who probably had some of the same feelings for punk that I did.