I wrote this back in April and submitted it to the I Stopped Talking an Hour Ago zine (which will be availabe at this Saturday's Big She-Bang! - http://myspace.com/thebig_shebang). I re-edited it and have just submitted it to Scene not Heard, which is due out at some point next year.
punk as paradox
To begin with, punk is a paradox. It simultaneously represents the best thing that ever happened to me, and the worst. It gives girls and women like me the chance to reclaim our voices, yet it silences us as much as the white, male, hetero-dominated mainstream culture. This could be because punk does not exist in a bubble, it exists within the patriarchy; therefore, it reproduces the patriarchy.
As a girl involved in punk, feminism became accessible to me. The consciousness of DIY punk culture nurtured an interest in social movements, including those against the racist, patriarchal establishment. Though alienated in the beginning, I started forming close bonds with the girls around me. It was friendship, but it was also feminism in practice. The acrimonious shit-talking of my youth seemed to start dissipating as I became closer with women. Growing up became a little easier when I had female friends to bounce ideas off of, to talk about sex with, and to gripe with – often about the consistently male-dominated subculture we were a part of. I was inspired for the first time by my peers – they were smart, sassy, creative, and outspoken.
Though this was the case, it took great effort for all of the girls involved to create these relationships. As young girls within a patriarchal, heteronormative culture, we vied for male approval. This had been the case in middle school and high school, as it was instilled in us socially. Punk subculture was not exempt from this behavior, and we worked hard to create something outside of what we knew. Nearly every show was booked by boys, nearly every band was comprised of boys, and almost all the art we saw was created by boys. I loved the music and the subculture, but the alienation I felt was very, very real. It was this alienation that eventually led me to abandon punk for awhile.
Then there is also the question of the male struggle against sexism in punk. DIY punk ethos has contributed to this particularly interesting conundrum of men who claim to work against patriarchy, yet simultaneously exert their male privilege. Of course we appreciate them trying. But it's difficult to watch a bunch of boys finger point, dance, and sing along to songs that are about allying themselves with women, the women's struggle, and fighting patriarchy - especially when the songs are written by men. I find myself standing off to the corner, so frustrated with the complete irony of the situation and the helplessness I find in this outlet, watching a room of mostly boys singing and dancing about my struggle, my frustration. Whether they realize it or not, this is just another exertion of power by men, taking the one thing that women can claim as our own: our struggle. Do they have to take that, too?
It's really difficult for me to take songs, bands, or projects like this seriously, being well-aware that myself and the women I know are extremely frustrated in these communities. We are struggling to create understanding across gender barriers regarding the issues we are faced with daily. It is so easy for the men and boys involved to shrug it off when they decide they want to stop fighting. When they're too tired. We can't escape this: it is our existence. So please, before you decide to tokenize our strife, think about whether or not you'll be by our sides a year from now. Think about whether or not you will be willing to support us if we have to call out you and your friends.
We should talk about sexual assault. Some background information: the current statistics of women who have fought off a forcible rape in their lifetime is 1 in 4. 1 in 4 women. Punk never really gave me the voice to talk about this reality, that clarifies why women, why myself and my friends, live in fear. The men I know never really wanted to hear it when the criticism of unwanted sex came into play; it was all a little too personal. What to do now? Not only do we feel helpless, but ignored, silenced, and like the validity of our concerns are in jeopardy. I thought I had lost all faith in punk when I finally began to process my own assault.
I was assaulted more than once by boys that I loved and trusted. These were boys that I met and formed deep relationships with through the punk community. Granted, most instances of sexual assault and rape are perpetrated by acquaintances, but it must be said that punk is not and never was immune to this. Where do we find the language to deal with this? What is the responsibility of a “conscious” subculture in taking accountability for these actions? Assault has always left me with more questions, frustration and anger than answers.
In the end, instead of talking about what punk did wrong, I would like to state what punk did right, and that was this: it bred some amazing women, whether they worked with punk, worked against punk, or made punk work for them. Now we have some actual role models to look up to. The amount of women playing music has skyrocketed due largely to radical projects such as Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. Groups like Philly's Pissed! and Support New York work with assault survivors to have their demands met, and work to educate the communities around them, diminishing the silence that surrounds sexual assault. As for my personal experience, my friends and I formed a collective to deal with all of these issues in our community. We started booking women-oriented shows and events and held discussions about gender and sexism. We tried to deal with assault together. Punk is my frame of reference; it has influenced every creative and social decision of my adult life. I will continue to struggle to make it work for the women and girls around me, and the ones who have yet to find it.
Kate Wadkins, April 2008.