In ‘Never Mind The Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock’ – Amy Raphael’s 1995 examination of women in rock subcultures – Huggy Bear bassist, Niki Elliott, announced: “True punk rock feminism will never die.”
“Of course it won’t!” we all thought, high on the empowerment and political discourses that riot grrrl had brought us dissatisfied, alternative girls. “Revolution Girl Style Now!”, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna screamed at us over and over again.
And truly, we furious girl writers, girl musicians, girl photographers, girl rockers, felt like maybe, together, we could create a musical environment in which none of us would ever be groped in a crowd again; in which female musicians would not be dismissed more quickly than their male counterparts, or judged more on their appearances than on their ability to write a good song; and in which girls could go to shows and not be treated like a boyfriend accessory or a groupie.
It was easy to feel pretty invincible in the 1990s. L7 were busy throwing tampons at Reading Festival audiences and mooning the entire country on ‘The Word’; PJ Harvey was ‘Mansize’ and, apparently the most un-self-conscious woman alive; Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon was untouchable, teeming with growling derision; Babes In Toyland were shrieking uber-women in babydoll dresses; and, before her husband’s suicide (and plastic surgery) had ravaged her, Courtney Love was a bona fide inspiration, outspoken about women’s right to play rock, as well as about her own personal experiences of sexual harassment and assault. The list goes on.
So what the hell happened? We had Brody Dalle of The Distillers for a few years, earlier this decade, but marriage and motherhood seem to have sapped her of rage. The only female currently prominently performing anything even approaching punk is Paramore‘s Hayley Williams. Intelligent? Absolutely. Outspoken? Nope. Controversial? Not unless you count her Christianity.
Riot grrrl encouraged us to talk openly about the female sexual experience and in 2003 a website decided to take all that work we’d been doing on honest sexual expression, exploit it and turn it on its head.
There are multiple reasons women have recently lost their voice in rock but SuicideGirls.com – and the copycat sites that have sprung up since – has arguably been the most damaging thing to happen to women involved in alternative music ever. These sites have given young women the impression that the best way to be an asset to the subculture is simply to get some tattoos and piercings and get their kit off.
It has fetishised punk rock girls to a degree probably never seen before, and taken all those bold, young potential musicians, writers and photographers and reduced them to a voiceless sea of breasts and body art. Under the guise of personal self-expression, these sites have actually taken alternative women’s voices away.
In much the same way that riot grrrl and grunge were a hair-metal backlash, what we desperately need now is a Suicide Girls backlash. Without one, young women will be forever reduced to the naked accessories in an all boys’ club.
Revolution Girl Style Again! Please?