American Culture discussion

BoasianScholarsandCulturalRelativism
Franz Boas had a tremendous influence on the emergence of anthropology as a rigorous, systematic study of culture. He profoundly changed the way that scholars approached the study of culture, while avoiding the trap of biological determinism and its claim to a scientific approach. Before Boas, scholars who focused on social groups tended to be armchair academics. That is, they read reports and field notes written by others and sought to find similarities to make broad claims about those groups. Boas argued that the best way to really understand a social group was to learn their language and observe them in the field for extended periods of time. Only by intense immersion in a culture, could you begin to understand and analyze culture.

As the head of Columbia University’s anthropology department, Boas trained many scholars in his methods. Most of the work we read today, what we know about “other” cultures comes from this group and the majority of today’s anthropologists would trace their intellectual genealogy to Boas or one of his students. For this topic, you should chose one of the four famous anthropologists below. Examine their biographies and see what you can learn about their contribution to the study of culture.

READING

Pick at least one of the following links to well-known Boasian trained scholars and read their biography. Pay attention to their biography and the contribution they made to the production of knowledge about culture.

Ruth Benedict

Margaret Mead、

https://www.notablebiographies.com/Ma-Mo/Mead-Margaret.html

Zora Neale Hurston)

https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199766567/obo-9780199766567-0160.xml

Ella Deloria

http://zia.aisri.indiana.edu/deloria_archive/about.php?topic=ella

Disscussion

Boasian Scholars and Cultural Relativism

Students must submit their individual post about one of the scholars and respond to another’s post about a different scholar.

This discussion can draw from:

Ruth Benedict

Margaret Mead

Zora Neale Hurston

Ella Deloria

Identify the scholar you chose to research and one idea or point of interest that stood out for you from the assigned readings. Explain why you felt this was important. Cite the reading with proper in-text citations. Discussions are graded pass/fail. Follow all instructions to pass. If you do not include any element, you will fail.

Topic 1: Formal legal equality of corporate and human persons

In the U.S., corporations are considered persons in some limited ways under the Constitution.

The fourteenth amendment guarantees that states, like the federal government, cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In 1868 the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution freed slaves, but it has been used 10 times more in court cases to defend the rights of corporations which are considered, in legal terms, “‘artificial’ persons” (Pruitt). As you saw in the video, the Supreme Court has upheld and extended corporate personhood over the last 150 years.

Since the middle of the twentieth century, the power of corporations in U.S. society has also grown until, today, it outpaces that of citizens and perhaps even governments. During the Fordist compromise of the middle of the last century, labor unions, corporations and governments shared power and profits, ensuring that worker-citizens’ rights were protected and wages grew. During the rise of neoliberalism since the 1970s, corporations and governments have successfully weakened labor unions and challenged worker rights. Union membership has dropped from 20% of workers at the beginning of the 1980s to only 10% today. The minimum wage, a key measure of workers’ power, has actually declined by more than 25% in real terms (purchasing power of money adjusted for inflation) since 1968.

In other words, the power balance between corporations and workers has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, and that may have something to do with the “legal fiction” of corporate personhood.

For one thing, treating corporations as legal persons give them an advantage over human persons. Corporations can’t die, which means they cannot be executed for their crimes. They also can’t go to jail. Corporations typically only face monetary fines, and unlike most human persons, many of them budget for regulatory actions in advance.

As the “law” keyword points out, the law is supposed to be a “neutral arbiter of fairness and justice” (Spade 149), but just as Adam Smith believed contracts needed to be made only between roughly equal individuals, the law must also apply to roughly equal individuals to be fair. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that since corporations and individuals enter contracts all the time, and particularly for credit, corporations should be treated as persons so as to be equal to individuals. But as the keyword reading also points out, law in the U.S. is actually quite unfair when it operates on the “formal legal equality” of individuals rather than the “material inequality” that stratifies U.S. society.

A key example here is money bail. Many U.S. states allow judges to impose money bail on individuals arrested for crimes. Those individuals with money to bail out may never spend a night in jail, while those too poor to do so may spend as much or more than a year in jail, without being convicted of a crime, just awaiting trial. Two individuals could be equally guilty of a crime, while one enjoys freedom outside of jail before trial and the other is incarcerated, all because of their material, financial inequality.

Bail bonds services are poverty lending services that take a one time fee from a defendant (or their family on the outside) of 10 to 15% of the required bail in order to lend that defendant the money they need to bail out. If the person arrives for their court date, the money goes back to the bail bondsman and all is well. If the person “skips bail” a bountyhunter may be employed to find them so that the bail bondsman does not forfeit the bail they lent. If appear in court, the poor person never gets back the fee, meaning that they pay more than the wealthy person to live in their home as they await trial.

When it comes to corporate lenders and the individual consumers borrowing from them, material equality also exists beneath the formal legal equality of these two persons. The corporate lender will likely have an army of lawyers and lobbyists, draw up complicated, lengthy contract language that the individual borrower cannot change if they wish to use the service.

What’s more, even if corporations are fictive persons, they are one particular kind of person. For-profit, especially publicly traded corporations have a fiduciary duty (legal financial requirement) to increase the profits of their shareholders by whatever legal means necessary. They cannot take into account the impact of their actions on communities, the environment or other stakeholders, as long as they are acting legally. Therefore, corporations spend billions of dollars each year lobbying Congress and other public officials to get policy in place that helps them profit more. Some of that money goes to political action committees to elect corporate friendly politicians. Since the 2010 Citizens United decision, such donations were deemed to be “free speech” protected under the first amendment for corporate persons. With such rights secured, corporations have the money and power to continue to increase their money and power, something only a tiny sliver of human persons can do.

Pruitt, Sarah. “How the 14th Amendment Made Corporations Into ‘People’.” History.com, October 15, 2018,

https://www.history.com/news/14th-amendment-corporate-personhood-made-corporations-into-people (链接到外部网站。).

Formal legal equality – Corporate Personhood Debate

Debate the following proposition: Corporations should be treated as people.

If your last name begins with a letter between A and M, you are FOR corporations being treated as people and must argue this perspective.

If your last name begins with a letter between N and Z, you are AGAINST corporations being treated as people and must argue this perspective.

Each participant must make at least one post and two responses. Use the facts and context you learned in this topic to support your arguments.

Discussions are graded pass/fail. Follow all instructions to pass. If you do not include any element, you will fail.

Topic 1: Securitization and deregulation

Securitization is the process of turning something (usually debt) into a security that can be traded in financial markets. Fannie Mae was the first securitizer in the United States. It bought debt from mortgage lenders, bundled it and sold it to investors. In 1968, that market began to slump, and so the government intervened again to assure that Americans had access to mortgage. Fannie Mae was split into the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) and the new Fannie Mae. The former was tasked with administering the FHA insurance program. Fannie Mae was privatized, but retained a government charter and mission to stabilize and invigorate mortgage markets by buying non-government backed “conventional” mortgages, i.e. mortgages that adhere to certain guidelines but are not federally insured. In 1970, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) was created to do the very same thing, but buying specifically from savings and loans institutions rather than mortgage companies. These “government sponsored enterprises” (GSEs) went about funding the secondary market for mortgages in a wholly new way, by selling mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Unlike the original bundles Fannie Mae sold, mortgage-backed securities gave investors a slice of a diversified pool of loans.

Holding whole mortgages meant that any default on a loan would reduce the wealth of the investor. Buying a share of a pool of mortgages “brought enough diversification, it was believed, to overwhelm any outlying bad loan” (Hyman 231). What’s more, even though only the mortgages bought by Ginnie Mae actually carried FHA insurance and therefore a guarantee, other GSE’s MBS seemed official and safe since they were sold by government sponsored entities. Mortgage securitization grew rapidly and transformed the mortgage market from one dominated by large institutions like insurance companies into one where many different kinds of investors participated.

In the 1990s, banks start doing private label securitizations with non-conforming (subprime) loans. These were loans that did not conform to FHA guidelines and were given to borrowers with bad credit. They were therefore riskier, but also paid a higher rate of return to investors. Just like government MBS, private label MBS were a popular investment.

As investors bought up MBS, mortgage lenders were incentivized to originate more and more mortgages, something that would eventually play a key role in the financial crisis. But during this time, another process was unfolding that would also facilitate the process: the deregulation of Wall Street.

The Glass Steagall Act, passed after the Great Depression, prevented banks from engaging in both investment and commercial banking. In other words, banks couldn’t gamble on the stock market with their customers deposits. However, by 1998, there was enormous pressure on Congress to relax these regulations and allow large banks to merge with other financial institutions. This was nowhere more evident than in the case of the merger of “financial services powerhouse Travelers Group” and retail bank Citibank (Tett 73). When Citibank applied for the merger in 1998, Federal Reserve Board approved it despite the Glass-Steagall Act should have preventing it, by authorizing a 2-year exemption.

The fact that the merger was allowed to take place with this exemption shows that both the financial industry and government were confident that Congress would repeal Glass-Steagall. The two companies spent enormous time and money in the merger, and wouldn’t have done so without feeling sure they wouldn’t have to undo all that work at the end of the exemption period. They were right. In 1999, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act officially repealed Glass Steagall, setting off a wave of consolidation in the banking industry and setting up the era of the too-big-to-fail bank.

One year later, in 2000, there was discussion about regulating over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives–of the kind that would again play a large role in amplifying the losses in the financial crisis. However, when the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was passed, it explicitly prevented the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from regulating OTC derivatives.

Why did Congress carry out all this deregulation? Your readings in this topic offer some possible answers. While you’re reading, think back to the topic on corporate personhood, and consider the way that it may have played a role.

Hyman, Louis. Debtor Nation, Princeton University Press, 2012.

READ

LangleyBoom.PDF

Deregulation Redux.” Financial Crisis Inquiry Report. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, 2011, pp. 52-66,

https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-FCIC/pdf/GPO-FCIC.pdf (链接到外部网站。).

Topic 2: The financial crisis and its aftermath

The government’s long history of promoting home ownership by pumping capital into the secondary mortgage market transformed the culture of “home” in the United States. What was once a place to live became both a way to demonstrate wealth and an investment to help you accumulate wealth. On the one hand, the rise of real estate television on networks like HGTV demonstrates that homes became status symbols just as worthy of makeovers as our wardrobes. On the other hand, “the meanings of both housing and home ownership have been fundamentally recalculated: rather than being seen as a social right or basic need, or as a way of demonstrating national belonging, they have been recast in explicitly financial terms as investment vehicles, as a means of accumulating wealth, and as objects of financial speculation” (Allon and Redden 380).

President George W. Bush famously called for an “ownership society” – and committed billions of dollars of GSE funds towards increasing subprime mortgage lending, or lending to people with low credit scores and poor borrowing history. Such “government initiatives to expand homeownership opportunities repeatedly reinforced this message of the home as ‘asset’” and “the homeowner was called upon to be a ‘citizen-speculator’ and embrace financial market risk” (Allon and Redden 281). These developments fit into the paradigm of neoliberalism, your keyword for this topic. The changes that occurred in U.S. culture in economy beginning in the 1970s, including increasing individualism, promotion of consumer identity over citizen identity, financial innovation, deregulation, and increasing economic inequality are often lumped together under the idea of neoliberalism, or a new kind of corporate driven, market focused society.

The problem was that it wasn’t just homeowners who were encouraged to buy homes as a way to express their identities and make money. The securitization of mortgage debt was increasing incentives for mortgage originators to lend more as well. And when they ran out of quality borrowers to lend to, they just relaxed their rules for who to lend to (known as underwriting guidelines), increasing subprime lending. Securitizers were making money on selling repackaged mortgage debt, mortgage originators were making money on selling mortgages to borrowers, and for a time, some borrowers were making money on the increasing value of their homes. But all of this was a classic financial bubble. Prices were climbing quickly simply because everyone was buying, and thus demand was pushing prices up. As soon as mortgage borrowing started to slow, the entire system seized up.

The results on Wall Street were disastrous. Many banks held subprime MBS that lost a great deal of value very quickly when the underlying mortgage borrowers defaulted on their loans. Banks and insurance companies had also traded a form of financial insurance known as credit default swaps, promising to pay each other in the event of a large scale default. However, these were the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives that Congress voted not to regulate in 2000. Without oversight ensuring counter-parties had sufficient capital, many of these companies simply did not have the money they promised to pay each other. The stock market fell. Some firms, like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, failed.

The results on the rest of the economy and American citizens was even greater. The U.S. economy lost over 8 million jobs between 2007 and 2009. The unemployment rate rose to over 17%. Banks ceased lending. Businesses stop hiring. People who lost their jobs could no longer afford their homes, and defaulted. Housing prices dropped 32%. There were nearly 8 million foreclosures.

The impact of all this damage was striking and far reaching. People set to retire in the years near and after the crisis lost large amounts of their retirement savings in crashing financial markets. Homelessness increased. States lost revenue from taxes and federal government support and withdrew funding for social services in response, at exactly the time when people needed them most. States also reduced funding for state universities, setting off an increase in tuition that would contribute to a new crisis in student debt.

As a result of the financial crisis, the recession it created, and the suffering of millions of Americans, an anti-Wall Street protest was formed in September of 2011 known as Occupy Wall Street. The movement sought to occupy public spaces, first Zuccotti Park that adjoins Wall Street itself, but later many other public squares and buildings. The movement attempted to be radically democratic–rather than setting up a typical hierarchical structure and making specific policy demands, it wanted to give voice to the “99%” of people who were powerless to impact the corporate and financial forces that shaped their lives. Because of this lack of structure, it has been criticized for not accomplishing any specific goals. However, Michael Levitin challenges this notion in your reading for this topic.

Allon, Fiona and Guy Redden. “The Global Financial Crisis and the Culture of Continual Growth.” Journal of Cultural Economy, vol. 5, no. 4, 2012, 375–390.

LISTEN

355: The Giant Pool of Money,” This American Life, from Chicago Public Media, 9 May 2008),

https://www.thisamericanlife.org/355/the-giant-pool-of-money

READ

Levitin, Michael. “The Triumph of Occupy Wall Street.” The Atlantic, 10 June 2015

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/the-triumph-of-occupy-wall-street/395408/.

Global Financial Crisis and Coronavirus Recession Discussion

This discussion will explore the cultural differences between the GFC and the current recession.

In one post, answer the following two questions:

Based on the readings, what are the lasting cultural impacts of the GFC? How did it change how Americans’ understand their lives? How did it change what they believe about capitalism? Government? Opportunity?

Based on your own experience of the coronavirus recession, how will it affect the way people understand their lives? How will it change what they believe about capitalism? Government? Opportunity?

Respond to one of your classmates posts. You may agree or disagree, but offer some additional context to support your view.

Discussions are graded pass/fail. Follow all instructions to pass. If you do not include any element, you will fail.

As you will see, this module does not cover “rock” in any comprehensive sense; rather, it focuses on a very specific case study, which is the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s. We examine this movement because it is key for understanding certain dynamics in popular music: 1) the coincidence of sound and the social construction of gender, 2) the way that popular music discourse can implicitly gender certain sounds, and 3) recent shifts in the way that feminism figures into popular music.

In the first topic, we will learn about the Riot Grrrl movement in terms of its sound, politics, and history. In the second topic, we will learn about “rockism” and “poptimism”, two broadly identifiable attitudes to popular music that are gendered in different ways. Finally, between the two topics, we will consider what kinds of feminisms we see in popular music today, and how these have shifted since the days of the Riot Grrrl movement.

After this module, you should be able to:

Articulate the connection between Riot Grrrl sounds and Riot Grrrl politics.

Situate the above in relation to other versions of rock music.

Describe the difference between “rockism” and “poptimism”.

Consider different ideas of feminism in popular music.

Topic 1: Riot Grrrl Rock

As you have seen by listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the history of rock and roll is a diverse one, in which sounds that have now been codified and sectioned off from one another mixed more loosely. That is to say, before we had invented the language to designate and identify “rock and roll”, the sounds that we would now consider to belong to rock mixed with other genres (the blues, most specifically, itself a hybrid form). But by the 1970s, rock had become coded as a white male genre, largely through the kinds of historical erasures that have elevated figures like Elvis over and above the Black men and women who inspired him. It is in response to this kind of white-male rock that, in the 1990s, the Riot Grrrl movement explodes.

On August 20-25, 1991, “Girl Night” was held at a rock festival called the “International Pop Underground” in Washington. From this event and ones like it, many DIY and punk-inspired rock bands began pushing for a movement among and for women in rock. Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile describes the early approach as follows: “Like, okay, if most boy punk rock bands just listen to the Ramones and that’s how they write their songs, then we’ll do the opposite and I won’t listen to any Ramones and that way we’ll sound different.”

This movement was not only about music; significantly, it also involved an emergent zine culture, which saw women all over the country producing their own, low-budget publications, which they would hand out at shows and mail to one another. In the days before the internet, zine culture constituted a primary form of communication and community for women rock fans. Eventually the movement that linked together such sentiments would be known as the Riot Grrrl movement.

In the readings for this unit, you will read the Riot Grrrl manifesto, and you will also learn more about the kind of cultural phenomenon that this was. For now, some of the key political points that they stood for are as follows:

Girls to the front

Reproductive Rights

Positive sexuality

Explicit discussions of rape, sexual abuse, incest (Suck My Left One)

Threats against them, death of Mia Zapata

Effort to control public image/struggles with media

DIY in politics as well as music, organizing conventions

Form of authority—self questioning

Blind spots—Race and Class, privileged by whiteness and economic stability

Early Key Figures:

Tobi Vail, dj at KAOS, (Evergreen college) coined ‘grrrl’, founded Jigsaw fanzine 1989, founding member of Bikini Kill (d, v), 1991

Molly Neuman, founding editor Riot Grrrl & Girl Germs zines, Bratmobile, (d)

Allison Wolfe, co-founder Riot Grrrl & Girl Germs, Bratmobile, (v)

Kathleen Hanna, spoken word, stripper, Riot Grrrl, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre (v,b,g)

Corin Tucker, Heaven’s to Betsy, Sleater-Kinney (v,g)

READ

Body” (KACS web), Cherniavsky (link)

Gottlieb and Wald.pdf

Riot Grrrl Manifesto

https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/riotgrrrlmanifesto.html

WATCH

Sleater Kinney, “Surface Envy”

The Punk Singer, “Bikini Kill, Girls to the Front”

Bikini Kill, “Double Dare Ya”

Topic 2: Isms

In this module, we are thinking about pop, rock, and gender from a broader perspective. As you read the two articles, pay attention to the way that gender figures in the arguments of each author. As usual, you will have a good head start on the discussion assignment if you take notes: Can you identify the main arguments in each essay? Do you agree with one or both authors? Disagree? Why?

READ

Kelefa Sanneh, “The Rap Against Rockism” (链接到外部网站。)

Robin James, “Poptimism and Popular Feminism”

Poptimism and Popular Feminism

Discussion: Music and Feminism

2

This full discussion has two components:

1. Reflect on the following questions:

Compare and contrast the feminist project developed by the Riot Grrrl movement with popular feminism in today’s popular music. Can you think of contemporary examples of pop musicians whose music you hear as “feminist”? How have things changed, and does anything remain the same? What do you make of the way that feminism and popular music connect to each other?

2. Respond to one of your classmates. Do you have a strong reaction (agree/disagree/relate/add) to someone else’s thoughts? While being courteous and respectful, please weigh in.

Discussions are graded pass/fail. Follow all instructions to pass. If you do not include any element, you will fail.

Music and Identity

The introductory material for this unit consists of the video below, “Music and Identity”. The content referenced in the video is linked below, in this video guide.

SONG 1

(:30-1:20)

SONG 2

(:27-1:22)

Bobby McFerrin Demonstration

Gracyk, Theodore. Listening to Popular Music, University of Michigan Press, 2007.

READ

“Sound” (KACS web), Kun (link)

Hopper_Accessible. Pdf

This first reading is a web essay adjunct to our Keywords text. To find it, click on the link above. The second reading is a short essay from Jessica Hopper, the prominent pop-music critic pictured to the right. When reading, notice any place in the text where you see Hopper’s social life coming together with her musical listening.

WATCh

Sound Garden, “Black Hole Sun”

Bikini Kill, “Rebel Girl”

These two songs are exemplary of the kinds of music played by Soundgarden and Bikini Kill, two of the bands that are referenced in your reading by Jessica Hopper. While listening to this music, pay attention to the sounds that you hear. What do they signify or symbolize? How would you describe these songs? What do they sound like? In the case of Soundgarden, you also have a video to consult for clues. What kinds of imagery are used in the video? What do you think that it’s “about”, and what do you notice as being significant?

Discussion: Music and Identity

This discussion will use Hopper’s text as a jumping-off point to discuss your own musical listening habits and how you understand their relation to your own identities. Throughout the course of your response, please address the following questions:

After listening to Soundgarden and Bikini Kill, what do you think it was about the music that caused Hopper to identify with one over the other? Include at least one quotation from Hopper and use proper in-text citations with page numbers.

Changing gears, what kind of music do you most identify with, and why?

Discussions are graded pass/fail. Follow all instructions to pass. If you do not include any element, you will fail.

most tepid, predictable adulteration of Miley’s emblematica lly p�re

image would be sensational, that it would have the power to horrify

us.

Miley’s Bangerz-era story is a transformation fantasy built on prox­ imity to what she was, how we knew her, how fast she went fro’:11 supersweet to superfreak, suggesting that, yes, she wa� � aut�ent1c bad girl all along under that darling disguise. Her dnftmg orienta­ tion from the Mouse mothership is meant to tell us �s much about who she is now as when she cried real tears and writhed nude on a wrecking ball for Richardson’s camera. This is her ceremony to show us, whether we want her or not, she belongs to us now.

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LOUDER THAN LOVE:

MYTEEN GRUNGE POSERDOM

EMP Conference paper, Spring 2005

There was a time, not too terribly long ago, when I was not cool. In 1990, I was 14, almost 15, and just entered the ninth grade at the largest high school in Minneapolis and was orbiting somewhere be­ tween loner dork and amorphous weirdo. My wardrobe consisted of a lot of black clothes, a lot of orange clothes, my mother’s busi­ ness apparel from the ’80s; I wore cowboy boots and long, unbelted tunics that made· me look like I was in a cult. I spent a lot of time alone, sewing hats and reading news magazines to keep up on in­ ternational politics. The music I knew about was from the radio. I had a few tapes I liked: the B -52’s Cosmic Thing, Deee-Lite, the first Tracy Chapman album. I mostly listened to the tapes on the week­ end, when I was delivering my newspaper route, though sometimes I would lay in bed at night and listen to the Tracy Chapman tape over and over and cry a little.

Six weeks after I started high school, I was sitting on the bleachers during freshman gym class, which I was already failing for refusing to dress for class, along with all the other weirdos, who were also refusing gym on principle. Andrew Semans, also of the ninth grade, came and sat next to me and asked, “Are you a punk or a hippie? I can’t tell.” I told him I liked The Clash, and he started drilling me about a million bands I had never heard. The next day he handed me a cassette tape, a mix made from a very specific subsection of his big brother’s record collection. Butthole Surfers, Babes in Toyland, Boredoms, BALL, Big Black, Bongwater on side one; Pussy Galore, Voidoids, Stooges on the flip. By week’s end I was a convert and punk-identified.

As punk rock began to ravage and motivate my life, so did my ado­ lescent hormones. I began to pine for for the attention of punk boys, of which I knew three. One of which was Andrew and we could barely stand one another but were bonded by conversations about Sonic Youth. His friend Ted who wore a Jane’s Addiction T-shirt and was on JV bowling; he thought All Shook Down was the best Replacements record-making him a no go. Then there was Andrew

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Beccone, who was in the tenth grade, who wasn’t so much punk as

he was proactively grunge.

He became my crush by default, by virtue of the fact that he knew my name and he knew who Hüsker Dü was, and at the time that was more than I had going with anyone else. His look was proto grunge,

he wore his hair long and in a middle part, all his jeans were ripped,

he wore a faded Mudhoney Superfuzz BigmuffT-shirt and a flan- nel. He played drums in a cover band of sorts with his college-age brother; they were called Korova Milkbar and their only gigs were

in their basement. Their repertoire read like a best-of Sub Pop sam-

pler: Tad’s “Loser,” Nirvana’s “Lovebuzz” and “Floyd the Barber,” a

Soundgarden song, a Screaming Trees song, and they usually closed

their set with a Mudhoney medley that included an infinite version of “In ‘n’ Out of Grace” that would alternate between the chorus

and long drum solos. Because I “loved” Andrew and wanted him to love me back, and though I was approximately 4 feet tall, had a mouth full of braces and looked as much like a 14-year-old boy as I did a 14-year-old girl, I took the only route available—I became a

grunge devotee.

The process was simple: I made the rounds to every record store

in the ffWin Cities, spending my hard-earned babysitting and pa- per-delivery savings on anything with a Sub Pop logo on it, every re-

lease in multiple formats—Mudhoney, Nirvana, Fluid, Tad, Dwarves, Soundgarden, L7 and Dickless. I saved up $100 for the out-of-print

Sub Pop 100 compilation. I mail-ordered five Mudhoney, two Fluid,

and one Soundgarden shirt and then made my own Nirvana shirt with a Sharpie.

I parted my hair in the middle, ripped holes in the knees of my jeans, scrawled the names of every band I liked on my Chuck Tay- lor high-tops in pen. I am not sure why I thought dressing exactly like Andrew Beccone might lure him to me, but I wanted to show

him we were kindred spirits in the world, toughing out our teenage times with Tad’s 8-Way Santa in our Walkmans.

Alas, the pose did not end there. I did things like casually wander

past his classes as they got out, holding nothing but a Mudhoney tape in my hand, as if that was the only supply one needed for ninth grade. I took the same Russian class as him so that I would have

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the chance to tell him such things as I was considering getting a tattoo of Mudhoney bassist Matt Lukin, “once I got the money to- gether.” My project for film class was a documentary on his band, and it was 20 minutes of carefully edited footage of band practices

in his parents’ basement, and nothing but (I got a C-). I went to see

Fluid twice that year, despite hating them, in hopes of seeing him at the show. When I saw him that following Monday, as I was artfully lingering outside his AP English class, I said “I figured I would have seen you at the show last night,” he told me he was no longer into Fluid. I was crushed. I had spent dozens of hours listening to their

records—which I found to be unbearable—fantasizing and prepping

for conversations about Fluid minutiae that we would one day have.

All soul soon left my pose. My obsession with detail slipped. I was coming to the agonizing conclusion that all of this, my teen-girl masking, was in vain. I’d dedicated several months and several hun-

dred dollars on trying to cultivate a connection that was never going

to be. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to give up the masquerade.

At the end of the school year, I managed to get invited to a party

where all three of the school’s grunge cover bands were playing. I

would soon have the chance to see my crush-object one last time before the span of summer. I went to the party wearing a Sound-

garden Louder Than Love T-shirt, which I had purchased for the oc-

casion. I slouched up against a wall, peacocking my ennui, sipping a Miller Lite and pretending to be way into that, too. I was stand- ing next to Andrew’s best friend, Mike, who was setting up a bass rig. I ventured to ask him what was this awesome record we were listening to? He gawked at me, appalled, “Uh? Louder Than Love?” I scrambled, mortified, and insisted I was too wasted to recognize

Soundgarden, the most distinctive band of the grunge genre.

I then had the torturous experience of then watching Mike walk

over to Andrew and relay this anecdote and then Andrew look to- wards me and snicker. I left the party, walked home and cried my- self to sleep.

Less than a month later, I picked up a compilation called Kill Rock

Stars. While my purchase was initially fueled by the inclusion of Nirvana and Melvins tracks, both potential conversation topics

with Andrew, but something entirely different happened when

59

Beccone, who was in the tenth grade, who wasn’t so much punk as

he was proactively grunge.

He became my crush by default, by virtue of the fact that he knew my name and he knew who Hüsker Dü was, and at the time that was more than I had going with anyone else. His look was proto grunge,

he wore his hair long and in a middle part, all his jeans were ripped,

he wore a faded Mudhoney Superfuzz BigmuffT-shirt and a flan- nel. He played drums in a cover band of sorts with his college-age brother; they were called Korova Milkbar and their only gigs were

in their basement. Their repertoire read like a best-of Sub Pop sam-

pler: Tad’s “Loser,” Nirvana’s “Lovebuzz” and “Floyd the Barber,” a

Soundgarden song, a Screaming Trees song, and they usually closed

their set with a Mudhoney medley that included an infinite version of “In ‘n’ Out of Grace” that would alternate between the chorus

and long drum solos. Because I “loved” Andrew and wanted him to love me back, and though I was approximately 4 feet tall, had a mouth full of braces and looked as much like a 14-year-old boy as I did a 14-year-old girl, I took the only route available—I became a

grunge devotee.

The process was simple: I made the rounds to every record store

in the ffWin Cities, spending my hard-earned babysitting and pa- per-delivery savings on anything with a Sub Pop logo on it, every re-

lease in multiple formats—Mudhoney, Nirvana, Fluid, Tad, Dwarves, Soundgarden, L7 and Dickless. I saved up $100 for the out-of-print

Sub Pop 100 compilation. I mail-ordered five Mudhoney, two Fluid,

and one Soundgarden shirt and then made my own Nirvana shirt with a Sharpie.

I parted my hair in the middle, ripped holes in the knees of my jeans, scrawled the names of every band I liked on my Chuck Tay- lor high-tops in pen. I am not sure why I thought dressing exactly like Andrew Beccone might lure him to me, but I wanted to show

him we were kindred spirits in the world, toughing out our teenage times with Tad’s 8-Way Santa in our Walkmans.

Alas, the pose did not end there. I did things like casually wander

past his classes as they got out, holding nothing but a Mudhoney tape in my hand, as if that was the only supply one needed for ninth grade. I took the same Russian class as him so that I would have

58

the chance to tell him such things as I was considering getting a tattoo of Mudhoney bassist Matt Lukin, “once I got the money to- gether.” My project for film class was a documentary on his band, and it was 20 minutes of carefully edited footage of band practices

in his parents’ basement, and nothing but (I got a C-). I went to see

Fluid twice that year, despite hating them, in hopes of seeing him at the show. When I saw him that following Monday, as I was artfully lingering outside his AP English class, I said “I figured I would have seen you at the show last night,” he told me he was no longer into Fluid. I was crushed. I had spent dozens of hours listening to their

records—which I found to be unbearable—fantasizing and prepping

for conversations about Fluid minutiae that we would one day have.

All soul soon left my pose. My obsession with detail slipped. I was coming to the agonizing conclusion that all of this, my teen-girl masking, was in vain. I’d dedicated several months and several hun-

dred dollars on trying to cultivate a connection that was never going

to be. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to give up the masquerade.

At the end of the school year, I managed to get invited to a party

where all three of the school’s grunge cover bands were playing. I

would soon have the chance to see my crush-object one last time before the span of summer. I went to the party wearing a Sound-

garden Louder Than Love T-shirt, which I had purchased for the oc-

casion. I slouched up against a wall, peacocking my ennui, sipping a Miller Lite and pretending to be way into that, too. I was stand- ing next to Andrew’s best friend, Mike, who was setting up a bass rig. I ventured to ask him what was this awesome record we were listening to? He gawked at me, appalled, “Uh? Louder Than Love?” I scrambled, mortified, and insisted I was too wasted to recognize

Soundgarden, the most distinctive band of the grunge genre.

I then had the torturous experience of then watching Mike walk

over to Andrew and relay this anecdote and then Andrew look to- wards me and snicker. I left the party, walked home and cried my- self to sleep.

Less than a month later, I picked up a compilation called Kill Rock

Stars. While my purchase was initially fueled by the inclusion of Nirvana and Melvins tracks, both potential conversation topics

with Andrew, but something entirely different happened when

59

I heard a band on side A, Bikini Kill. Kathleen Hanna’s rebel yell

posted the bail from my teen grunge prison; I had found music that meant everything to me. The band’s Bikini Kill fanzine and the cas-

sette demo meant I no longer had a reason to be obsessing over mu-

sic that meant nothing. I was liberated from my days spent walking past some boy’s locker, loudly humming Nirvana songs. Bikini Kill songs taught me something that neither Mudhoney, nor Andrew Beccone ever could—that my teen-girl soul mattered. That who I was mattered, what I thought and felt mattered, even when they were invisible to everyone else.

60 61

I heard a band on side A, Bikini Kill. Kathleen Hanna’s rebel yell

posted the bail from my teen grunge prison; I had found music that meant everything to me. The band’s Bikini Kill fanzine and the cas-

sette demo meant I no longer had a reason to be obsessing over mu-

sic that meant nothing. I was liberated from my days spent walking past some boy’s locker, loudly humming Nirvana songs. Bikini Kill songs taught me something that neither Mudhoney, nor Andrew Beccone ever could—that my teen-girl soul mattered. That who I was mattered, what I thought and felt mattered, even when they were invisible to everyone else.

60 61

For this reflexive essay, take a moment and think about about the three units you have studied: Identity and Belonging; Music and Sociality; Debt and Power. What was the most interesting thing or something new you learned from each one of the units? Identify two outcomes from each unit you achieved. Make sure to provide specific evidence from the course to support your claims.

This reflection should be 6 pages.

6

The Boom in Everyday Borrowing

Introduction: £1.3 Trillion and Rising

In the closing months of 2004, fears about the scale of borrowing by individuals and households in the UK reached fever pitch in the main­ stream media. For the first time, the outstanding financial obligations of households grew to over £1 trillion. While the lion’s share of the £1.05 trillion owed by UK households at the end of November was related to mortgage borrowing (£867 billion), it was the £58 billion owed to credit card companies and the further £125 billion of obligations arising from other unsecured consumer lending that especially attracted the media’s attention (figures from FSA 2005: 57). It was highlighted, for example, that households in the UK account for roughly two-thirds of the outstanding credit card obligations of the entire European Union (Halligan 2005). The overall scale of UK household borrowing had not only reached new heights, but the gradual and relatively steady increases of the previous few decades had given way to rapid growth. The ratio of household’s outstanding obligations to post-tax income increased from roughly 100 per cent to 150 per cent between the late 1990s and 2005 (Bank of England 2006a: 39). In 2004 alone, the annual growth rates for lending to UK households by the major UK banks were a staggering 25 per cent on credit cards, and 15 per cent for both unsecured consumer loans and mortgages. While these annual growth rates subsequently slowed to stand at between 6 per cent and 8 per cent for all categories of lending by the first half of 2006, the total outstanding financial obligations of UK households nevertheless reached in excess of £1.3 trillion (p. 25).

Individuals and households in the UK have, of course, been far from alone in their borrowing binge. As part of what he terms the ‘global debt bomb’, economic historian James Clayton (2000) traces, in quantitative

139

Chapter 40

Joanne Gottlieb and Gayle Wald

SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT

Riot grrrls, revolution, and women in independent rock

N THE METEORIC RISE OF QUINTESSENTIAL Seattle grunge band Nirvana 1 from indie obscurity to corporate rock fame, a rumor emerged among rock circles nationwide: that the cryptic title of their megahit ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was the

invention not of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain, but of his neighbor Kathleen

Hanna, who jokingly scrawled it on the wall of Cobain’s house prior to his ascen-

Sion to rock stardom [Arnold, 1992]. From this one gesture and its retelling ensue multiple ironies, dizzying in their cumulative effect. First, the anecdote hints at the

creative invisibility of a woman behind what was to become a ubiquitous, industry- changing, Top 10 hit for a male rock group. The story additionally implies the male appropriation of Hanna’s own ironic reference to a brand name deodorant marketed

to teenage girls (Teen Spirit). While the pointedness of Hanna’s reference gets lost

in Nirvana’s translation, she uses a brand name which itself conjures not of female

teenage identity, group activity and group solidarity; in short, in an ambiguous use

of ‘teen’ which actually refers specifically to female teens ‘Teen Spirit’ creates a

marketable fantasy of female youth culture. Moreover, in contrast to her previous

invisibility, Hanna now suddenly occupies a position of mass visibility as lead member of Bikini Kill, a band that has gained particular prominence, both within the independent music scene and in the corporate rock press, for its role in fostering

the Riot Grrrl ‘movement’ of young feminist women in underground rock. Given these origins, Henna’s slogan consolidates several themes that we propose to

explore in this essay: namely, girl-specificity within commodity culture and youth

subculture; the historical invisibility of women in rock; the newfound prominence Of women bands; the relation between performance gender and sexuality; and the possible links between women’s musical production, feminist politics and feminist

aesthetics.

We will examine these themes in the context of the recent explosion onto the independent or underground rock scene of all-women bands or individual women

356 JOANNE GOTTLIEB AND GAYLE WALD

artists making loud, confrontational music in the ongoing tradition of punk rock.

The appearance of these bands and their widespread recognition in both the main-

stream and alternative presses would seem to signal a heady change, one that situates

the broadened access of girls and women to the transgressive potentialities of rock, and especially punk, subculture within the larger narrative of gains made by women

in the wake of feminism. At best, this change promises to expand the possibilities

for women’s public self-expression, individual or collective gender identifications, at least within the bounds of white, middle-classand transgressive behaviors

culture in which this scene is primarily staged. The recent visibility of women in rock not only signals greater access for women to male-dominated realms of expres- sion, but also specifically frames these expressions in terms of femininity and

feminism. [.. •l

Our optimism is tempered, however, by two crucial observations: first, despite the advances of particular female performers, the ongoing tradition of rock is still

deeply masculinist; and second, because of patriarchal restrictions, the youth cul-

tures of girls historically have been defined by very different parameters from those

of boys. As a result of this second circumstance, girls may have different access to

the expression of, or different ways of expressing, nascent teenage sexuality and

rebellion against parental (that is, patriarchal) control, two themes that predominate

not only in rock music, but in the formation of Western teenage identity in general.

The conjunction of these two terms intimates that the forms of resistance offered by

rock culture are closely linked with the music’s frank expressions of sexuality.

This means that rock ‘n’ roll is a potentially, though by no means an inher-

ently, feminist form; indeed, among male punk and hardcore performers, there is a long tradition of this rebellion being acted out at the expense and over the bodies

of women. . .

Punk spawned a tradition of male bands semi-ironically naming themselves after

exaggerated phallic symbols (Sex Pistols, Revolting Cocks, Dickies, Meat Puppets, Prong, Fishbone) , as well as bands that identified themselves with distanced and object-

ified references to women, women’s genitals, or women’s sexuality (Mudhoney),

from which they derive a certain self-conscious masculinity. Conversely, many of the

new women’s bands name themselves in response to a ubiquitous and negative vocab-

ulary for the female body, calling themselves Hole, Burning Bush, Thrush, Queen Meanie Puss, Snatch, Pop Smear, Ovarian Trolley, and Dickless. Women bands have also employed names to communicate a succinct critique of masculinity, as in the

names Pork, Thrust, Spitboy, and Weenie Roast. In one particularly interesting exam-

ple, a band that used to call itself PMS later adopted the name Cockpit, combining references to both sexes. Self-naming here becomes a tactic not only of reclaiming

and recirculating masculinist terms (and thereby depleting their potency), but also of

outing or enabling women’s uses of vocabularies otherwise forbidden to ‘good’ girls,

who are never supposed to swear or speak to loudly in public, let alone refer explic- itly to their genitals and what they do with them.

These bands find a precedent for their parodic self-naming in the example of

the Slits, one of the greatest and earliest all-female punk bands of the late Seventies.

This brings us to another aspect of the ‘women in rock’ phenomenon: despite its

RIOT GRRRLS, REVOLUTION, AND WOMEN IN ROCK 357

arent novelty, its roots date back approximately fifteen years, with the emer- app ence of women out of the 1970s punk movements in Britain and America. Women could participate in punk in part because the lack of musical experience — or even prejudicial beliefs about female musical incompetence — were relatively unimpor- tant in punk, which rejected technical virtuosity and professionalism in favor of

amateurishness, iconoclasm, and a do-it-yourself aesthetic. [. . .

Before moving on to a specific consideration of the riot grrrl phenomenon, we want to explore the problematics of women in subculture, and specifically women in rock. To do so, we draw on two figures in British cultural studies: Simon Frith,

who has written key texts on youth, music, and politics; and Angela McRobbie, who has worked on the culture of girls, and who has attempted a feminist rereading of

male-authored theories of subculture. The study of the gendering of subculture helps

in part to explain why girls historically have not participated as actively as boys in rock culture — both because of the patriarchal restrictions on girls, and because their pleasure and identity-formation, in response, tend to take a different form from

those of boys. Social restrictions on girls, their limited access to the street, and their

greater domestic role make the public spaces in which subcultures are acted out

(clubs, the street, bars) prohibitive and exclusive for them. The street often poses

a threat to girls and women, insofar as they are liable to male heckling, harassment

or assault. Though women historically have participated in street culture as prosti- tutes, such access is nevertheless regulated by patriarchal ideologies that designate

women sex-industry workers ‘unfit’ to occupy domestic roles. Therefore, while

male youth culture is public, oriented around the street, girls’ culture often takes

forms that can be experienced within the home, such as dressing up, or engaging

in the creative consumption of mainstream pop idols, including fan-oriented visual

materials such as magazines, photographs and, most recently, videos. The conclusions of Frith and McRobbie suggest that rock ‘n’ roll subculture is

not the place to look for female participation, especially in terms of rock’s produc-

tion, and at first glance rock history seems to bear this out. In the past, when women have participated in rock culture, they have tended to do so as consumers and fans

their public roles limited to groupie, girlfriend, or backup singer, their primary

function to bolster male performance. When women performed, Frith writes, it was ‘almost always as singers, fronting a performance or record, their musical abil-

ities confused with their visual images and style.’ Frith accounts for the exclusion

Of Women from rock production as part of an ideology of rock growing out of

bohemian culture. Rock was a place for male friendship in a resistive unregulated life-style, where women represented unwelcome demands for ‘routine living,’ for the provision of money for food and rent [Frith, 1981: 85—71. Moreover, rock culture, like other forms of oppositional culture that McRobbie describes, devel-

Oped signifying systems that privileged masculinity, systems in which ‘[tlhe meanings

that have sedimented around other objects, like motorbikes or electronic musical

equipment, have made them equally unavailable to women and girls’ [McRobbie, 1991:291.

[However,] [wlhen the traditional asssociation of love and romance with popular

music (as well as the association of sex with pleasure) came apart in punk, women’s

voices began to emerge, ‘shrill, assertive, impure, individual voices, singer as subject

not Object [Frith, 1981: 243—41. As punk performers, participating in a new way,

358 JOANNE GOTTLIEB AND GAYLE WALD

these women ‘brought with them new questions about sound and convention and

image, about the sexuality of performance and the performance of sexuality

[Plunks opened the possibility that rock could be against sexism (Frith 1981, 244).

What precisely are women punk rockers saying about the sexuality of performance

and the performance of sexuality? In order to answer this question, we need to look back to the what male rock

in other words, what male rock performance means.performers have done Women punk rockers emerged out of a decade of male rock experiments with gender, such as those of Gary Glitter or David Bowie. That is, the trajectory of

(male) rock up through the late Seventies was marked by increasing androgyny and

gender ambiguity. The male gender bending of Seventies glam-rock forms an

important node in this history: breaking with the heterosexual romance paradigm

of Elvis or the early Beatles, the glam-rocker elevated the erotica of performance

to a high narcissism, alternately playing alien, outcast, deviant, prophet, high priest,

and messiah. [. . •l

Glam-rock produced some freakish results in the form of heavy metal cock-

rock, which attempted to recoup this performance tradition for masculinity. In this

genre, glam’s camp and sexual ambiguity became cockrock’s baroque staging of

a phenomenona peculiar form of longhaired, becostumed hypermasculinity easily parodied, for instance, in the documentary spoof film This is Spinal Tap. The

progression from glam rock into cockrock (the masculinity of which is actually

ambiguous and conflicted) suggests that within rock performance, there is a struggle

with femininity that may stem from the feminine gendering of the performance

position itself. [. . .

.1

Women performers [thus] go through complicated contortions as they both appropriate and repudiate a traditionally masculine rock performance position which

is itself premised on the repression of femininity, while they simultaneously contend

with a feminine performance position defined primarily as the erotic object-to-

be-looked-at. These complexities are also played out historically. Although male

experiments with gender did not translate into an equal flexibility for women, glam and disco helped to erode the necessary association of popular music with romance

and heterosexuality, thereby preparing the way for female performance in punk rock. Introducing explicit homoerotics onto the rock stage, male glam-rockers

like their female punk successors — revealed the performativity of gender. Ironically, the same years which saw women emerge as punk artists also witnessed the estab- lishment of a new cultural form — M TV. The advent of music video provided a space for women rockers based on traditional aspects of female musical perform- ance — the visual and emotive connotations of the female vocalist [Lewis, 1990: 69]. A generation whose teenybop idols included for the first time women who displayed not only sexuality but also some degree of independence and sexual power, Riot Grrrl emerged from punk via Madonna.

If MTV provided multiple images of women rockers, including Madonna’s street smarts and her easy assumption and rejection of various feminine roles, punk’s

staging of defiance and impropriety allowed female punk performers to negotiate

the paradox of femininity on the rock stage by enacting transgressive forms Of

RIOT GRRRLS, REVOLUTION, AND WOMEN IN ROCK 359

for instance, in frighteningly unconventional hair, clothing styles and

femininity, . ] In one of the most outrageous examples of the feminist appro- stage activities. [. riate and adaptation of male punk stage antics, one member of the band L7, in response to heckling from a male audience member at a concert in Boston in fall

1992, reportedly pulled down her pants, pulled out her tampon, and threw it at Aside from raising the question of what happens when women exercise their

ower in the form of an aggressive and confrontational expression of their sexu-

takes the notion of a woman’s being ‘on the ragality, this act — a reverse rape? and literally hurls it back at patriarchy.

In one response to the complexities and contradictions of their performance

positions, women rockers, from Yoko Ono and Tina Turner and continuing up to

Bikini Kill, have resorted to the strategic use of the scream, a radically polysemous

nonverbal articulation that can simultaneously and ambiguously evoke rage, terror,

pleasure, and/or primal self-assertion. In the examples of Ono and Turner, we link the female scream with two divergent musical traditions — the performance art tradi- tion in which Ono was a germinal figure, and the R & B tradition embodied in Turner, especially in her role as a crossover artist. Gaar notes that ‘shouting and

screaming’ figured highly in the R & B tradition from which Turner’s musical style emerged (Gaar: 89). Screams work as linguistic signs, having no particular referent outside of the context in which they are uttered; the scream can be read as a kind

of jouissance, a female body language that evades the necessity to signify within

male-defined conventions and meanings. But far from being a fluid signifier, screams

are also emotional ejaculations bearing specific associations with highly charged

events — like rape, orgasm, or childbirth. Often associated with femininity at its most

vulnerable, the scream in its punk context can effect a shocking juxtaposition of sex

and rage, including the cultural terrors of the open expressions of female sexuality,

or feminist rage at the sexual uses and abuses of women. If female screams are often

associated with women’s sexual violation and rape, then these examples seem to

voice a collective outrage at such abuse. An attention-getting device, the scream publicizes private or internal experience. These girl screams, moreover, voice not

only rage, but rage as pleasure, the scream as orgasm. Taken together, they seem to be suggesting something new — not just that women are angry, but that there’s pleasure in their performances of anger, or even just pleasure in performance; the

scream thereby replaces the pleasant, melodious and ultimately tame emotionalism

traditionally associated with the female vocalist. Conversely, these screams can

COmmunicate a profound ambiguousness about consent and coercion, a fine line

between orgasm and rape, as when Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland chillingly apposes the chanted phrases ‘I’d love to/ I had to’ and punctuates them by a piercing

Good God!’ in the song ‘Blood.’ A form of expression both denied to women in Public (screaming is unladylike) and devalued in private (women are so emotional), punk

screams are a wordless protest against the overdetermined femininity that

these female performers — performing as women — must occupy; the scream musters e ener

th gy Of the whole body to burst these constrictions. unruly and unexpected,

ese screams deploy punk values to violate the demand that women remain patient, uncomplaining, and quiet.

360 JOANNE GOTTLIEB AND GAYLE WALD

[In fact,] [ilnstead of tirelessly insisting on the right to be called ‘women,’ as

mainstream feminism has long been advocating, riot grrrls foreground girl identity,

in its simultaneous audacity and awkwardness — and not just girl, but a defiant ‘grrrl’ identity that roars back at the dominant culture. Indeed, reclaiming the word ‘girl’

and reinvesting it with new meaning within their own feminist punk vernacular has proved one of the most salient aspects of the riot grrrl revolution. Such a recuper-

ation of patriarchal language in part reflects the subculture’s celebration of preteen

girlhood — indeed, precisely those years in girls’ lives that Frith and McRobbie deem so crucial in understanding their ongoing relation to and participation within

subculture, and the same years on which feminist theorists Carol Gilligan and Lyn

Mikel Brown [19921 focus in terms of women’s relation to society broadly defined.

In their song ‘Girl Germs,’ for example, Bratmobile revel in the idea of their

toxicity to boys/ men; in the age of AIDS, they ironically relate germs to girls’ self-

protection and their ability to repel unwanted sexual advances. ‘Germs’ here also

suggests ‘germinal,’ the potential girls have to develop into powerful women; alter-

natively, it refers to girl-specific culture in its embryonic stages. While parody and

wordplay are central to the riot grrrl redefinition of ‘girl, ‘ there is also, admittedly,

a crucial element of fantasy in their self-construction — a nostalgia for the appar- ently close relationships between girls prior to the intrusion of heterosexual romance

and its spin-offs, sexual competition, and sexual rivalry. (In Bikini Kill, for one,

jealously is a favorite target of critique.) Bikini Kill’s song ‘Rebel Girl’ asserts the

importance of such girl solidarity as a response to the sexual commodification, cate-

gorization and subsequent or resultant (self)-division of women: ‘They say she’s a

slut,’ they sing, ‘but I know she is my best friend.’ Most important in light of our earlier discussion of the journalistic labels that have come to define women in rock,

the riot grrrls, in rewriting ‘girl’ as ‘grrrl,’ also incorporate anger, defiance, and

rebellion into their own self-definition, construing female rage as essential and

intrinsic to their collective punk identity.

Unlike some other women in the punk and postpunk alternative music scenes, riot grrrls draw upon their experiences of girlhood to emphasize female difference

in concert with female equality. In other words, riot grrrls both assume women’s

equality and understand that it has not necessarily been efficacious in securing them

recognition as ‘legitimate’ rock musicians.

The band Bikini Kill is in this regard both representative and exemplary. An

essential part of their ‘Revolution Girl Style’ is their attempt to encourage young,

predominantly white, middle-class girls to contest capitalist-patriarchal racism and

sexism, precisely through acts of individual transgression against the implicit or

explicit norms of ‘ladylike’ or ‘girlish’ behavior. The band links these individual

challenges to private (that is, domestic, local, or familial) patriarchal authority to

collective feminist resistance and struggle. McRobbie supports this notion in her

suggestion that many middle-class girls’ first political experiences involve escape ‘from the family and its pressures to act like a “nice” girl’ (32—3). Bikini Kill makes

this connection between personal transgression and progressive feminist politics explicit in a song such as ‘Double Dare Y a,’ in which singer Hanna screams:

RIOT GRRRLS, REVOLUTION, AND WOMEN IN ROCK 361

You’re a big girl now you’ve got no reason

not to fight

You’ve got to know

what they are

Fore you can stand up

for your rights

Rights rights Rights?

you have them, you know

.1 In concert, Hanna sometimes parodies Madonna, appearing on stage in a black bra and biker shorts, the word ‘SLUT’ penned in across her abdomen. The

ways in which riot grrrls perform on and through their bodies reaffirms the very

themes articulated in their songs. The abuses of girls’ and women’s bodies are

constantly represented by riot grrrls, both in their music and zines; since such abuses

are generally associated with women’s alienation from their bodies, the ability to

be embodied — the deployment of the body in performance — provides an antidote to its previous violations. Not only do girls wield their bodies in performance, but

they do so in such a way as to make their bodies highly visible: this visibility coun-

teracts the (feelings of) erasure and invisibility produced by persistent degradation

in a sexist society. Such performance recuperates to-be-looked-at-ness as something

that constitutes, rather than erodes or impedes, female subjectivity.

In this respect riot grrrl performances build upon (and surpass?) the challenge

to the male gaze that Hebdige describes when he writes that female punks of an

earlier generation ‘turned being looked at into an aggressive act.’ [1983: 851. The

current generation of riot grrrls derive their strategies from the first women punks,

who put on

the conventional iconography of fallen womanhood — the vamp, the

prostitute, the slut, the waif, the stray, the sadistic mistress, the victim-

in-bondage. Punk girls interrupt[edl the flow of images, in a spirit of

irony invert[edl consensual definitions of attractiveness and desirability,

playing back images of women as icons, women as the furies of classical

mythology • [ibid. 1983: 831

The current generation work changes on the iconoclastic methods of early female punks, replacing punk’s angry masochism with a deep sense of abuse and a

stronger critique of patriarchy, and relating it ultimately to what happens, not only

in the street, but also in the home. Rather than reducing the political to issues of

Self-esteem, riot grrrls make self-esteem political. using performance as a political forum to interrogate issues of gender, sexuality, and patriarchal violence, riot grrrl

Performance creates a feminist praxis based on the transformation of the private

into the public, consumption into production or, rather than privileging the tradi-

üonally male side Of these binaries, they create a new synthesis of both.