Yesterday I had Kerrang! TV on all day, eight hours of non-stop rock, but during those eight hours how many women did I see? Women making music I mean, not the ones in between who were trying to sell me diet pills, tampons, and razors – the answer? Two. Two females in eight straight hours of music. Don’t get me wrong, I totally dig Paramour and PVRIS but they’re kind of tame, beautiful singer-girls, where are the angry thrashy punk women? Where are the women shredding guitars and beating the hell out of drums? Does punk really still have a problem with female musicians?
Female punk is by no means a new thing, in the seventies The Runaways exploded onto the scene and completely changed the world for female musicians for generations to come. But they weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Lead singer Cherie Currie remembers the negativity they were faced with. ‘I can see why at first we were laughed at. We were brave and we believed that age, if you were fighting for something you believed in, wouldn’t matter. We had to be sure and we were…Anything new is going to be scrutinized, dissected, and we were pushing the envelope big time. We put blinders on and focused. As much as those that put us down, we knew they had made up their minds long before they gave us a chance.’
Twenty years later, the early nineties Riot Grrrl movement brought female punk back to the forefront of the scene, and this time they were angry. Building on the Third Wave of Feminism that was happening around them at the time bands such as Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, and Jack Off Jill used their stage as a platform to address issues such as rape, domestic violence, and sexuality. Riot Grrrl shows enabled women to express themselves in punk music the same way men had been doing years but, in the same way that the Runaways were ridiculed, the Riot Grrrl bands were met with male aggression and derision; their shows would frequently turn violent, with men hurling abuse of “man-haters”, “dykes”, and “bitches.”
We move forward another twenty years and now, rather than being met with anger female punk bands are now almost invisible. Yes they are out there, if you look hard enough, but why, in 2015, are female musicians still fighting for visibility and to be taken seriously? People still find it necessary to refer to these bands as ‘all-girl’ or ‘female-fronted’ as though ‘Female’ is in fact a genre on its own, but music is just music. This is something Rebecca of Trioxin Cherry feels particularly strongly about, ‘there’s a very fine line between promoting women artists to the forefront of the scene and turning us into a freak show. Often bands are platformed as being “female-fronted” or “all-female” on posters and flyers, and while this can provide more visibility it can also fetishize women musicians. It feels like it’s rare for women to be credited as competent artists with important things to say instead of just being something to ogle for half an hour before the all-male headlining band comes on.’
Fortunately, the scene does seem to be changing for the better, albeit very slowly, and luckily for us not all men are so dismissive of female musicians. Derek Zanetti AKA The Homeless Gospel Choir told me ‘when I hear a drum beat or guitar part I don’t think penis or vagina, I just think if I like the sound or not, it’s not an issue to me so I don’t often think of it.
Never one to back down from animosity I asked Cherie if she had any advice for any girl considering starting a band, or for any dream they are afraid to follow, this is what she said: ‘I believe we know our destiny at a very young age. The biggest mistake you can make is to ask anyone ‘if you should’ follow that voice that guides you. People are fearful of failure by trait and no one can ever give you the right answer since they have their purpose and it’s not yours. Follow your heart. Be fearless. Be yourself and go for it.’
Photo by Kimberly Koppen