October 30, 2009

American Hardcore = Sausage Party

The first time I saw the film American Hardcore all I could think was where were all the girls?

There were women in the scene and yet the movie had practically left them out completely. Even more interesting to me was when I mentioned this to male friends who also saw the film I was amazed at how none of them picked up on this at all. I then realized they didn't notice because women were often pushed to the sidelines by this male dominated scene so why would a community who placed such little importance on women suddenly pay attention now. To put it simply, they wouldn't

A friend recently posted a link to a college thesis called "Not Just Boys' Fun" - The Gendered Experience of American Hardcore by Siri Brockmeier and as the title suggests, it investigates just that. It is a long but interesting read and hopefully something that will be be expanded upon more deeply in book form at a later date.

The paper brought back many memories for me as well as got my gears turning in regards to how I felt about hardcore and why I preferred other music scenes. In high school and my early twenties the second and third generation of hardcore was in full swing. I liked some of the music, had friends who liked the music, and on record it was something we all shared as a group of friends in spaces where I never felt lesser for my gender. The problem was shows. The minute this music was being produced from a group of people standing on a stage, I felt as if the scene turned on me. I went from being an equal outside of a venue to a lesser being pushed to the back of the room, turning into a coat rack or key holder for the male friends I had gone to the show with as they opted to join the pit. I tried fighting my way to the front of shows but not only were there rarely any other girls in sight, you became a target for others meaning boys in the crowd got their kicks by punishing me or other girls for crashing their sausage party. They used violent dancing techniques that bordered on boxing to push you out of their world. I felt like a stain that a group of men around me wanted to remove which was incredibly disconcerting besides the fact that being threatened with violence is terrifying, especially when it is done in mass.

I eventually got fed up with this behavior and decided risking my body's safety wasn't worth trying to get closer to the stage. Besides if men weren't trying to oust me, the flipside was being blatantly man handled and molested. In a crowd it would be nearly impossible to pinpoint who was doing what to you... so suddenly a hand would grope a part of my body and it was done quickly enough that I couldn't guess who had done it. Once again, it didn't matter how much I liked the music, no assault to my body was worth it.

Eventually I pretty much gave up on hardcore. I know when I am not welcomed and what was also interesting was the lack of bonding between women who did go to these shows and their varied attitudes about what their role was in the scene. Some bought into terrible stereotypes of being clingers and groupies while others tried to practically become boys themselves. Many women felt, and this to me is still one of the most insulting aspects, that there were certain places women didn't belong within that scene and what that really meant is that they had bought into the rules of the scene produced by these sexist men. They believed women belonged in the back or on the sideline and most of all , should be excluded from the stage itself. There were almost no women playing in these bands which ultimately fueled me to go elsewhere. It isn't that I needed a female role model on the stage but why in the world would I want to support a scene that didn't welcome any woman who chose to do so?

The band I eventually joined as a singer was not what I would call hardcore although I suppose post-hardcore and emo is a sub genre. I often dealt with the same sexist stupidity that stemmed from that scene and played many a show where men (and sometimes women) would walk out because they saw a girl on the stage. The assumption was that I would suck, be weak, and couldn't offer the kind of angry release they were looking for.

Numerous times when we walked into a venue I was asked whose girlfriend I was, it never occurred to them that I could actually be in the band. I hate to say that you get used to it, but I did. Instead of being angry about it I chose to take the higher road and correct them and then just carry on.

I have never spent a minute thinking, shit I am girl, how am I going to tackle this day. If I didn't feel like an environment wasn't female friendly or inspirational to me, I left it. Instead of dwelling on feeling like an outsider or being excluded, I opened my own doors. I took it upon myself to satisfy what I felt like I was missing. If I was disappointed with the lack of women playing music in my scene then the only way to combat that truly was to become one. Judgement be damned.

I get it, not everyone is meant to be in a band and placed in a spotlight but creating a voice in a place where I before that point had none was more important to me. Since I didn't have a female hero or role model in that scene I would become my own. I didn't want to hold jackets forever. I didn't deserve to punched in the head for wanting to be in the front row while a band played. In the end could be more empowering than becoming your own hero?

Maybe the boys needed their brotherhood but I learned something much more valuable, I just needed me.

PS: Not to be a jerk but I would like to correct a false statement in the thesis. It is not Ian MacKaye on the cover of that first Minor Threat record, it is in fact his brother Alec.

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