Tag Archives: sexism

feminist rage for your wednesday

A lot of times when I read about women’s rights issues — everything from rape culture to clueless men being ignoramuses to major corporations pushing oppressive and outdated gender-bashing agendas — I want to write about them for Cartoon Heart, but I get so full of feminist She-Hulk rage that I can barely see straight, much less type a coherent sentence.  So instead of trying to get past my blind anger to comment on these items, I’m just going to assemble them here so you can rage with me:

Richard Dawkins thinks he has the right to tell American women whether or not we should feel oppressed. Edited to add: Here is a great blog post about this situation.

An incredibly sexist new ad campaign for milk rides on the stereotype that women are PMSing bitches who need to be placated.

A Texan woman is fired for refusing to dye her gray hair.

– We already know those fuckers over at the Westboro Baptist Church are totally fucking crazy, but now someone over there is claiming that “anybody who defines themself as a feminist probably doesn’t have the, um, a proper fear of the lord.”

Michele Bachmann continues to be a total fucking lunatic.

This woman is writing an advice book for teenage girls.  As if teenage girls need any more of this type of advice.

The Daily Mail thinks SlutWalks prove feminism is “irrelevant” to women’s lives.

What kind of things are sending you into a feminist rage lately?

what I’ve learned from being in an all-girl band

I’m in a band called Cunt Sparrer with my best friend Jennie.  We cover songs by Cock Sparrer, an old-school British oi band with a fanbase largely consisting of big, burly, intimidating skinhead dudes.

Even though Jennie and I both consider ourselves proud feminists and the word “Cunt” was right there in our name from go, we didn’t initially think of Cunt Sparrer as a feminist project.  However, we’d always been aggressive about our femininity as a band — not in a Pussycat Dolls way or even a Spice Girls way, but just in a way that’s like, “Yes, we’re girls, and we’re happy that we’re girls, and the fact that we’re girls informs the way our music sounds.”  Cock Sparrer’s songs are intrinsically male, and our renditions strip them of their testosterone and give them new context.  Still, the idea that this was somehow a feminist act didn’t really occur to us at the time.

Then we started experiencing some sexist ‘tudes from folks in the scene, and that rankled me to the point where I now absolutely think of the band as a feminist project.  I feel like I’ve become really finely attuned to misogyny in the scene — in fact, these days I might actually cry “sexist” too much about punk rock.  I can’t help it, though.  My understanding of punk has always been that it’s about solidarity and equality and autonomy and standing up against discrimination, so experiencing the level of sexism that we have in the scene is ugly and hypocritical to me, and I want to talk about it.

With that in mind, this post will be self-serving and probably more than a little rambling, but these are some things I’ve had on my mind for a while, and I want to share my experiences with my readers and get your opinions and feedback.  Excuse me if I come off a little bitter at times — I don’t mean to, and I try to be light-hearted about this stuff, but this subject is really close to my heart.  I never would have learned these things about punk rock had I not started my own band.

1.) No musical talent is required to start a band, but balls help.
My lack of experience playing music kept me from starting a band for years, even though it’s always been a fantasy of mine.  I can sing and arrange harmonies, but when it comes to playing an instrument, I had barely any discernible musical ability when Cunt Sparrer started up in January of 2010.  Childhood piano lessons and the most rudimentary grasp of country guitar chords were all I was working with.  But you know what?  I decided to say “to hell with it, I’m going to try it anyway,” and I faked it, and I made it work, and now I actually kinda know what I’m doing.

What I learned over the course of my first months with Cunt Sparrer is what boys have known all along — the only thing you have to have in order to start a band is confidence.  Seriously.  Half the dude bands that you see playing at your local venue on any given night?  They had no idea what they were doing when they started, and chances are good that they still kinda don’t.  But boys are born with confidence and raised to believe they can do whatever they want, while girls are trained by society to second-guess themselves and not to get overambitious.  Having learned that just having balls and pretending you know what you’re doing is all it takes to start actually figuring out what you’re doing, I now really think this is the main reason there are so many more men in music than women — not because men are more talented or more driven, but simply because they have the cockiness to believe they can.

2. How you look is more important than how you play.
Cunt Sparrer started out by putting our practice videos on Youtube, and word of mouth got us to where we are now.  I should have realized that as women, by putting our music out there on the Internet for people to judge, our appearances were bound to go on the chopping block as well, but I guess, naively, I just didn’t think about it.  After all, why would our looks matter?

Then the comments started.  Several band crushes were formally declared, and Jennie fielded a volley of marriage proposals, but there was also a lot of surprising cruelty.  When I would Google the band, the discussions popping up about us on punk message boards seemed to be focusing not on our interpretations of Cock Sparrer’s songs, but on our appearance.  I mean, whole threads, three pages long, about what we looked like, how they’d like to date Jennie and, conversely, how I was horsey-looking and needed to be “replaced.”  One commenter suggested I be “taken out to pasture and shot.”

The most off-putting comments, though, were vulgar sexual ones about what people wanted to do to us.  It disgusted me that because we were women who had taken the risk of putting our work on the internet, we had unwittingly opened ourselves up to this level of sexual harassment and close-minded, solely gender-based cruelty.  These men seemed to  be under the impression that because we had put our music out in the world for public scrutiny that our bodies were also being offered up as part of the deal.

We’ve had drunk guys holler at us to take our tops off at shows.  When we performed with the U.S. Bombs last summer a (male) show promoter incorrectly and rudely inferred that we were only on the lineup because Duane Peters wanted to fuck us.  People have told us that we should welcome the attention we get for our looks — both positive and negative — because it also draws attention to the band.  I have a hard time imagining any of these statements being directed at male musicians.  Yet people seem to think that because Cunt Sparrer is an aggressively all-girl band in a male-dominated scene we’ve somehow waived our right not to have our physical appearances picked apart along with our music.  We’re told we should “expect” this, that we’re “asking for it” (doesn’t that sound familiar?), even that we should be grateful — but I refuse to accept sexism in any form.  I grew up with the understanding that punks fought oppression in all its forms, and this kind of behavior is oppressive to women.

3. How you dress is even more important than how you look.
What’s been even more surprising for me than the chauvinism is the amount of people who are really, really pissed off that girls who don’t look traditionally “punk” have the audacity to cover punk rock songs.  People threaten to beat us up if we ever come through their towns (this has never happened), people tell us that Colin, Sparrer’s singer, would hang himself if he ever heard our covers (he has heard them, and he’s still very much alive), people telling us to throw ourselves under trains (not going to happen) or to “get out of oi forever!” (also not going to happen, though it does make for a funny t-shirt).  It’s one thing if people don’t like our interpretations of the songs — hell, to each his or her own — but the vitriol tends to be aimed more often at our haircuts and wardrobes.

See, Jennie and I don’t look “punk” or “skin” enough for some people.  We have long hair instead of Chelsea cuts, and we tend to wear silly dresses and cardigan sweaters rather than Fred Perrys and bullet belts.  But we both grew up punk, and we’ve both been there, and we both truly love Cock Sparrer and everything the scene is meant to represent.

At 25 years old, I thought I had finally escaped that whole high-school mentality involving looking a very specific way in order to prove something.  My experience in Cunt Sparrer has taught me that some people really never grow out of that phase.  There are plenty of grown-ass, fully adult men out there who have absolutely no qualms about wishing violence upon women they have never met merely because we don’t look like their idea of what a punk is.  I feel confident that it’s not our twee sound that gets people pissed off about our covers — if we were a couple of skinbyrds, I’m certain we wouldn’t be getting so many bilious comments.  Rather, it’s that people still get so hung up on outer appearances that it’s nearly impossible for them to readjust their opinions, even when their opinions run against what they supposedly stand for.

Punk was born on the concept of going against the grain, which is why I find it so strange that all these punks and skins should be so mad that two girls who don’t look traditionally punk rock should still love the music and be active in the scene.  People almost can’t believe that there’s any way we could (because if we did, wouldn’t we dress a certain way?) — on Youtube we get told all the time to leave oi to “the real fans,” and we’ve even had commenters claim we’re “making fun of” or “taking the piss” out of Cock Sparrer with our covers when this is clearly, clearly not the case.  We’ve even had people in the industryexpress skepticism about our motives, saying that we don’t look like punks and suggesting we do our research.  Why on earth would we be in a Cock Sparrer tribute band if we weren’t real fans?  It’s not as if covering a band that’s hardly known outside the oi scene would be giving us any hipstery indie cred.

In my opinion, it all comes back to sexism again.  The same people that have told us we “don’t look punk” and to read up on Cock Sparrer’s history would never say the same thing to three dudes in jeans and t-shirts.  Why are men in punk rock bands allowed to dress like regular joes but females are expected to conform to some kind of male fantasy of what the punk rock girl looks like?  My days of leopard miniskirts, four-rows, Creepers and thigh-highs are over, but that doesn’t mean my days as a punk are or will ever be.  I’ve just learned as I’ve gotten older that how you dress doesn’t define you so much as it serves to refine you, and I think it’s kind of sad that so many punks — you know, that subculture that claims to reject the status quo — are so quick to judge us rudely because we don’t fit some kind of cookie-cutter punk image.  Hasn’t listening to the Angelic Upstarts taught these people anything?  And at this point isn’t it actually more punk to do something unexpected?

4. But there are a million things that make it all worth it.
Like meeting other amazing women who are forging their own way in the scene, like Christine “Cece” Sherman and Lisa Howe of Black Fag.  Like having girls come up to you after shows and tell you that you’ve inspired them to start their own bands.  Like seeing the look of surprise on door guys’ faces when you tell them you’re in the band.  Like having huge middle-aged skinhead dudes tell you they haven’t been to a show in ten years and that you were what made them come back out.  Like seeing a bunch of 14-year-old punks circle-pitting to your set.  Like inspiring the awesome Cheri Love Affair, a G.G. Allin tribute.  Like changing people’s minds about what is and isn’t punk.  Like realizing that for every anonymous asshole on the internet there are three people who can’t wait to sing along to every word of your set.  Like learning that there truly is still a spirit of solidarity in punk rock, if you look for it.  And, most importantly, being able to be involved in something bigger than you.  Being a part of Cunt Sparrer has given me more of a sense of purpose than anything else in my life: I get to spend time with my best friends, I get to play music, I get to meet incredible people and take part in some really fun shows, I get to have a voice and a platform, and most importantly, I get to be part of a catalyst for change within the scene.  That’s something that’s true of all women in punk rock, and that’s why every girl needs to go out immediately and start a fucking band.

If it sounds like I’m just bitching here, that’s not my intention.  There are a lot of things about the punk scene that make me feel angry and othered, but there are plenty of other things about it that give me joy and a feeling of unity.  I think being involved with the scene has been a huge part of my continued growth both as a feminist and as a person.  I wouldn’t trade my experiences in punk rock for anything — I just want girls and women to be able to be a part of it without feeling lesser than, which is why I think it’s so important for us to keep screaming until our voices are heard.

why slutwalk matters

Zoe Nicholson is a women’s rights and LGBT activist and one of my feminist heroes.  I’m also very fortunate to be able to call her a personal friend.  In 1982, Zoe fasted for 37 days in support of the Equal Rights Amendment (and wrote about it in her memoir, The Hungry Heart).  Last year she was forcibly removed from a public forum by President Obama’s security team for speaking up against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and recently she was featured in the documentary March On! about the fight for marriage rights.  Zoe spoke at the West Hollywood SlutWalk a couple of weeks ago, and when I asked her to write about it for Cartoon Heart, she happily obliged:

On the phone last week, with a very prominent woman who is president of a very famous organization, I almost lost it. I told her I was really proud to have spoken at SlutWalk Los Angeles, and she said she could not support anything with the word “slut” in it. EXACTLY THE POINT, I shouted. Whoa, I didn’t mean to shout, but really, really.

I have the good fortune to be 62, which places me right in the middle of two different waves of American women. I am not old enough to be a founder of the Second Wave of the women’s movement (ends in 1975), and I am young enough to be plugged in to the intersecting highway of the modern day equality movement. Mostly I find myself with a foot in each, serving as a translator, but some days, when they are missing one another entirely, I do just freak out.

I have been trying to figure out what is the crux of the problem, and I think it is that each of these generations of women have different history, different tools and entirely different issues. In 1966 a woman needed a man’s signature for a mortgage and could not get a credit card. There were no women’s studies classes or women’s health clinics. Back then gender was called sex and there were only two varieties talked about in polite circles. Today there are a lot more than two genders and they can change on a daily basis. Today women can sign contracts, have lots of credit/debt and, in some states, can marry one another. And today the primary issue for women, everywhere in the world, is safety. From lights on campus, to office politics, to trafficking, to ethnic cleansing; sexual assault is the #1 problem all women face around the globe.

However, something really interesting is happening in the Global Safety Movement: women are rising up. In Mangalore, India, the pink chaddi action was started by a group of young women who were threatened with marriages if they went to pubs. Women mailed thousands of pink panties in protest as the word spread around the world through facebook and twitter. In Uttar Pradesh, North of India, Sampat Devi Pal founded the Gulabi Gang, a gang of women in pink saris who help women who are trapped in domestic abuse. If it is known that a woman is being beaten by her husband or his family, the gang shows up at the door in their pink saris, carrying bamboo sticks, ready to return the beating blow for blow.

And now, closer to home, we have seen the amazing phenomenon known as SlutWalk.  On January 24th, 2011, a Toronto police officer said, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” This single sentence has lit up minds and streets around the world. Never has the earth seen such an organic, instant, global response. No corporate sponsor, no newspaper, no celebrity; only social media and thousands of people who declare enough is enough. NO IS NO. No is ALWAYS No.

Zoe speaking at SlutWalk West Hollywood on June 4, 2011.

From Toronto to Amsterdam, from Boston to Melbourne, from Buenos Aires to, upcoming, India — it appears that earthlings are coalescing to say enough is enough.  And to an activist like me, the big news is that the community of humanity is able to rise up in a cause just because they got the news about an action they can relate to. It doesn’t require an expensive campaign or months of planning. It unfolded around the globe organically; mostly by college kids. That is thrilling.

People have come together to say that what you wear, how you walk, where you are, how drunk you are, even if you want to stop in the middle — No means No.  If you are a baby, a senior, a patient, a sex worker — No means No. If you are in a school, a bed, basement, a church or a prison — No means No.

Calls us sluts, we don’t care. But we got the memo and now you do too – NO ALWAYS MEANS NO.

You can keep up with Zoe via her website, Online With Zoe, and on Twitter @onlinewithzoe.

why i’m still mad at ben weasel

As you probably already know, back in March Ben Weasel of Screeching Weasel punched a female fan in the face at SXSW because she threw ice at the stage after Ben spent the entire set complaining about the audience and generally exhibiting a pretty rude ‘tude.  I know this is old news by now — Weaselfest was cancelled, Ben apologized, the rest of the band quickly released a heartfelt statement and distanced themselves from him — but I’m not done being mad about it.

I’m not done being mad about it because the second the above clip hit Youtube, the Internet was awash with comments from people (mostly, I’m guessing, people of the male persuasion) saying really infuriating things  like “she deserved it” and “what did she expect?” and “that’s what punk is about.”

No.  I’m sorry, but no.

First of all, no, she didn’t “deserve” it.  What she deserved was to be reprimanded by club security and removed from the venue if she kept acting up.  She didn’t deserve to get hit in the face.  No one, regardless of gender, deserves to get hit in the face for drunkenly tossing some ice onstage because the singer of a band they’ve always venerated is acting like a total asshole.  What did she expect?  I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure she did not expect to get punched in the fucking face.  Second of all, that’s not what punk is about.  If punk was about hitting women I would not be a punk.  Maybe some misguided people think that because GG and Sid had issues with women it’s somehow a hallmark of the scene, but frankly, it’s fucking not, and the idea that people somehow think violence towards women is okay in a punk context makes me feel physically ill.

Okay, though.  He apologized for his outburst.  “Whatever my feelings are about fans crossing the line like that,” he said in his official statement, already pushing the blame back onto his victim for ‘crossing the line,’ “I wish I could have that moment back and deal with it in the same spirit as I did the preceding 60 minutes.”  My problem with this is that he didn’t exactly present himself in a stellar manner in the preceding sixty minutes either.  In the moments leading up to the altercation, Ben implored female audience members to beat this girl up, made vulgar comments to her about sucking him off and licking his ass, invited her to scrap with him and told her to get her “skanky ass” onstage because he “didn’t care” whether or not she was a girl.

It’s one thing to call someone out for being an asshole, which Ben would have been totally within his parameters to do in this situation.  But it’s another thing to make it about gender, and with the language he chose to use, Ben had proven even before any punches were thrown that he has zero respect for women.  Instead he immediately began belittling the girl sexually, making debasing comments that put him in the traditional position of power over her even though, as he was the one with the microphone, the stage, and the fanbase, he clearly already had the upper hand. He could have gotten his point across without bringing gender into it.  Instead he chose to take the low road, and I will never forget it.

The word “skank” is derogatory and sexist, and telling someone to suck your cock is harassment.  Ben Weasel may not think he’s a misogynist, but the fact that these terms fell so easily off his tongue tells a different story.  A person who doesn’t hesitate to say things like this into a microphone to a woman he does not know is a fucking sexist person.  And by doing so, he’s inadvertently made hundreds of impressionable teenage punk boys think that this kind of attitude towards women is okay; that there are scenarios in which a woman — or anyone — “deserves” or should “expect” to be hit by a man.  Punk rock is sexist enough without one of the most respected veterans in the scene spouting hate speech into a microphone for thousands of people to applaud on Youtube.

I like Screeching Weasel, and I’m bummed by Ben’s outburst, but I’ve come not to expect too much from my punk rock icons (they can’t all be Kevin Seconds).  I get that he’s one of the more curmudgeonly dudes in punk and if nothing else I can appreciate that he apologized.  Considering that he’s the father of twin girls, too, I’m hopeful that this experience will help him to readjust his attitude toward women — and his fans in general — in the future.

What I do expect, though, is not about Ben Weasel or any other individual.  What I expect is for my scene to be about solidarity and support.  What I expect is to be able to go to shows without having to worry about whether or not other people think it’s okay to abuse each other because it’s “punk.”  What I expect is for punks to hold each other up, not oppress one another.  Violence and sexual harassment towards women isn’t punk, and perpetuating the idea that it is alienates half the members of the scene.  Females may not have the loudest voices in punk rock, but that doesn’t mean we’re not equally important, and we deserve to be treated as such.  Maybe I’m too sensitive, or I’m getting too P.C. in my old age, but I feel that punk rock ought to be a safe space for women, not one that enforces the male privilege we deal with everywhere else in our lives.

stop telling me what to do with my face

A couple of years ago I saw an interview with Henry Rollins where he said that people always ask him why he looks so angry all the time. He said his face is in a “relaxed state of aggression,” meaning his face at rest just looks, you know, kind of pissed off.  He’s not mad (well, except for in that “Liar” video), he just looks that way.  I can relate.  My eyebrows naturally seem to gravitate downward.  All too often I notice that I’ve been frowning — like, aggressively, like so aggressively that my brow is furrowed to the point where I already have wrinkles in it at 25 — for god only knows how long.  I can’t help it.  My face just wants to look that way.

Henry’s lucky.  He’s lucky because he’s big and scary-looking and intimidating and he’s a man, so when people assume by his default expression that he’s angry or upset, they simply give him a wide berth.  On a man, a constant look of mild annoyance says don’t fuck with me, and people don’t.  I bet that no one has ever stopped Henry Rollins on the street and told him to “smile!”

But if you’re a woman with a face in a relaxed state of aggression, you’re not so lucky.  When you’re a woman this affliction is called Bitchface and it causes people — well, men, really — to stop you on the street and say “Buck up!” and “It can’t be that bad!” and “Smile, honey!”

Chronic Bitchface” by Kris Atomic, an accurate representation of my daily life.

Why is this okay?  Why is it okay for men to tell women what to do with their faces?  Have you ever seen a man minding his own business get stopped and told to arrange his mouth in a fashion more aesthetically pleasing to those around him?  Probably not, because the act of telling absolute strangers to look happier is totally sexist.  I know that most men who go around telling women to smile are well-meaning, but still, why is it any of your business what my face looks like?  If I’m not crying or scowling then why can’t my expression just be neutral?  Does anyone actually just go around smiling like a loon all the fucking time?

Whether they realize it or not, men tell women to smile because if we don’t conform to their stereotype of charming flowers with heads full of glitter, it makes them uncomfortable.  A woman with a stern expression looks like a woman who’s thinking about Serious Things, and men are conditioned not to like that.  They want us happy, but more than that, they want us compliant.  Maybe they don’t think that’s what they’re saying to us when they tell we perfectly cheerful women without exceptionally cheerful faces to cheer up, but that is what they’re saying.  Every time I hear someone telling me to smile, I hear a man telling a woman to do something that he would never ask another man to do.

I have three stock responses when strange men tell me to rearrange my expression.  The first is to say “No, thank you.”  You’d be amazed at how much this simple reply takes people aback.

The second is to smile as horrifyingly as possible.

Guys love that.

The third response is best when I have a little bit of extra time or if the offender seems nice enough and merely ill-informed.  I like to tell men that if they want women to smile, instead of just shouting, apropos of nothing and for no legitimate reason, “SMILE!”, why not do something that actually elicits a genuine positive response?  Instead of a command, try an unsolicited compliment, a heartfelt greeting, or — who’da thunk — a smile.  If you want me to smile, do something that will actually make me smile.

Otherwise, stop telling me what to do with my face.