Life as a Girl in a Guy's Punk Rock World
Find the girl in the pic
As a girl in the punk rock scene, I am severely out-numbered. I'm reminded this when I go to shows, when I meet new people who share my love of punk, and even when considering my own close, long-standing friendships. In fact, I have to admit, before meeting Jessica (my Mable Syndrome partner in crime), I had nevermet a woman I liked as a friend who had the same taste in music as me. My friends are all guys, my musical acquaintances are all men, and this has led me to reflect on my past 23 years as a "girl in a guy's punk rock world."
I can run with the guys...but I'm still a girl
I've always been a tom-boy. My best friend growing up was a boy named Steven who used to run around with me outside and play Star Wars. But even then, the lines would get blurry. When we were 6, we kissed one day and then pretended it never happened.
Some people believe that girls and guys can'tbe friends, that there is always some sexual undertone. I don't actually believe that, by the way, but many people do. I think that growing up in the 80's and 90's (and if you asked kids today), mixed-gender friendships are much more common now than they were previously. Girls and guys hang out all the time. Do the lines get blurry? Depends how many beers are involved. Ha. But, seriously, of course the lines get blurry. We are sexually-inclined humans after-all, especially teenagers and young adults!
Being a girl who "hangs with the guys" can be tough. I genuinely enjoy spending time with guys more often than girls. In college I enjoyed skateboarding, snowboarding, and playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater, so obviously my friends were guys. And my taste in music led to more male friendships too. Punk, ska, metal, hardcore...this is the kind of music that catches my heart and soul on fire. It's nearly impossible to find other ladies who can relate.
Inequity: From Attitudes, to Headliners to T-Shirts
Being a woman in the punk rock scene can be difficult. We're called "groupies" "lesbians" or "riot girls." Guys at shows often don't know what to do with us when they see us. A girl who likes the same kind of music...no way! I've been challenged, stereotyped, quizzed, hit on, pushed and ignored (sometimes all by the same guy in the same night).
And there is a serious lack of women performers at the "big name" punk festivals and shows. This isn't because they aren't out there making phenomenal music is it? Is it harder for them to book gigs? Is it less welcoming backstage for them? I've heard that the answer is yes.
But there are amazing women punk rock artists on the current scene. Louise Distras, Bad Cop Bad Cop, Aimee Interrupterof The Interrupters, The Muffs, and many more...they are out there kicking major ass and taking names! These are ladies who rock, hang with the dudes, and make it look easy.
But lets also talk about hidden inequity. This might sound trivial to some, but it's a real issue that every punk rock lady experiences. I love buying band t-shirts; it is one of the best ways to support a band you like. Rarely do bands offer shirts for women. Or, if they do, they may offer one design, while offering 8-10 different shirts for guys. Does this make sense? Somewhat. Of course you will provide more options for the larger demographic. However, upon trying to buy the shirt of a favorite band at a recent show, I was disappointed that the only option for women was a weird 80's style crop top. C'mon people.
"I have hundreds of band t-shirts hanging in my closet, shoved in drawers, filling rubber maid bins. I wear about 6 of them. Why? Well mostly because they are too small, crop top, teeny tiny tank top types, or they are huge men's sizes... but I buy them anyways to support the band I love. The lack of seriously good band merch for the ladies is so apparent. Thankfully we ladies are getting better and better at wielding scissors and hacking these shirts apart to make them more wearable. Thanks Pinterest."
- Jessica, Mable Syndrome
Am I a groupie????
Here we go. Are you ready for this? Because we are taking this one head on. According to the dictionary, one definition of groupie is just "an enthusiastic supporter." Yup, that's me. But, common knowledge is that a "groupie" is someone who has sex with the band members. Thats notme. But sexism within the music industry makes it so that I haveto make it very clear who I am not. Guys don't ever have to worry that their love of a band could be misconstrued.
Because I am so sensitive to the word "groupie", I spent 20 years avoiding the very artists that I admire. Hang out after a show? No. Introduce myself to a member of the band? No way! See the band play and then bolt; that's what I did. I have never, ever hooked up with anyone in a band.
Have I met musicians or fans that are handsome, and awesome, and funny? Yes. The late-night + beers + opposite gender math problem could have lead to trouble. But I value more substantive relationships and have never been the "hook up" kind of girl.
" I have spent my entire life avoiding this word. I hate it. I mean I really HATE it. The countless number of times I have downplayed my experiences with musicians to avoid the response of someone telling me I am "just" a groupie. How is it fair that my male best friend can love a band the same why I do, but its constantly insinuated that I want to have sex with the band members, or that I am only such a huge fan because I must think they are hot? I mean, how demeaning is this to the band even? To simply suggest I can't love their music as much as the ten dudes next to me in the front row. Infuriating to say the least."
- Jessica, Mable Syndrome
But, I don't think it's fair that women are so quickly judged if they are the "hook up" type. Recently, a woman in a NOFX Facebook group said she once slept with Mike right after his divorce. He was feeling bad and she, a huge fan, wanted to make him feel better. She was immediately criticized and called a "groupie." Aren't we sexually mature and educated enough not to "slut shame" someone for sleeping with someone they like?
And, can't it be said that the music we love is so inspiring, so communal, that it would make sense for a "fan" to want to share, or make, love with the very artist who created it? Historically, the way women often show appreciation or adoration for a man is with sex. So I understand how and why groupies do what they do, and I have no problem with it. It's not for me, but sister, you go do your sexually liberated thing!
And, how are women supposed to show/ demonstrate/ share their love of a type of music, or an artist, without it having a kind of sexual undertone? How can we hang around after a show to tell an artist how much they mean to us, without lingering and looking like a "groupie"?
Being a punk rock girl in a guy's world is full of double-standards and loneliness. I go to shows alone now because my guy friends tell me their wives won't "allow" them to hang with me. So now I'm on the search for rad punk rock ladies, which is one of the main reasons I started Mable Syndrome with Jessica. I thought, just because I don't know any other cool ladies right now doesn't mean they aren't out there. And we need each other. We need to have one another's back and be positive in our support for our love of the music. Amazing punk rock women ARE out there...it's just hard to find them in the sea of dudes.
We are proud to be the only punk website for women, by women, but why on earth did it take so long? And why did it take me until well into my 30's to feel that I had opinions and thoughts worth sharing? The punk rock world is a man's world. Is it changing? Slowly, in small increments. There are new and amazing female-fronted bands and musicians, and with ladies in the scene are uniting via social media , meeting up at shows, and, hopefully with the birth of Mable Syndrome, we won't have to look so hard to find them.
I love being a tom-boy, and I love my punk rock guys. The guys that stand beside us as strong supporters kick ass. They walk us back to our cars safely after a late night show, and help pick us up off the floor of a sticky slimy mosh pit. You guys rock, we love you and thank you.
"Things also need to change. Our punk rock guys we love so much, the ones who help us out and support us... they need to stand up against the shit the see out there. If they hear a girl get called a groupie, don't let that slide. If they see a girl get slammed to the floor of the pit and someone says "she deserves it for being here"... help her up, don't let this be the norm"
- Jessica, Mable Syndrome
It's a challenge sometimes to feel alone in a sea of punk rock dudes, but I can handle it. Life's thrown way bigger obstacles my way. I wouldn't give up being a "punk rock girl" for anything, and punk rock is my first, true love after all.