When I started reading Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band for the upcoming book club show, I was skeptical. I was never a Sonic Youth fan and didn’t know much about Gordon’s career. As I read the book, many of Gordon’s words stayed with me. I wanted to talk about the book. I needed to talk about the book.
One awesome passage in particular stood out to me:
“In general, though, women aren’t really allowed to be kick-ass. It’s like the famous distinction between art and craft: Art, and wildness, and pushing against the edges, is a male thing. Craft, and control, and polish, is for women. Culturally we don’t allow women to be as free as they would like, because that is frightening. We either shun those women or deem them crazy. Female singers who push too much, and too hard, don’t tend to last very long. They’re jags, bolts, comets: Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday. But being that woman who pushes the boundaries means you also bring in less desirable aspects of yourself. At the end of the day, women are expected to hold up the world, not annihilate it. That’s why Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill is so great. The term girl power was coined by the Riot Grrl movement that Kathleen spearheaded in the 1990s. Girl power: a phrase that would later be co-opted by the Spice Girls, a group put together by men, each Spice Girl branded with a different personality, polished and stylized to be made marketable as a faux female type. Coco was one of the few girls on the playground who had never heard of them, and that’s its own form of girl power, saying no to female marketing!”
— Kim Gordon, Girl in a Band
The first half of this passage rang so true to me because I’ve stood by while my closest male friends preach that women are “crazy” with a religious fervor Jimmy Swaggert would appreciate. Here’s the thing, I’m fucking sick of it. I’m tired of women being dismissed and discarded and then later expected to take care of men when their wounds need licking. I’m ready for “the less desirable aspects” of myself to be accepted. Immediately, I had to know how the women of Bushwick reacted to this passage, so I asked them.
Here is what they had to say.
JM: My own style of music and creative flow likely falls into the “polished and controlled” side, but it’s a choice. Because of incredible pioneering female artists, women in music today are more and more able to decide what level of construction or deconstruction they prefer.
KG: Julia’s band Julia Massey and the Five Finger Discount are performing at Conor Byrne on June 4th with Jake Hemming and the Bereaved. Comedian Brett Hamil is opening the show. I guarantee you that this is going to be a not-to-be missed performance. Julia is awesome! Jake is awesome! You’ll have fun or your money back! (I promise!)
TS: As a 14-year-old girl, I stood arm-to-arm with a boy in my grade. In a dingy garage, we held our arms together as a friend dropped a lit cigarette into the crevice between our limbs. We held our muscles taut not wanting to show weakness, not wanting to back out first. The smell burned into my memory.
I won. I didn’t flinch first. I won the battle of the sexes in my own naive, rebellious teenage way.
This is what being a female in the music business is like; you are going head-to-head with doubt with those looking for the cool, the calm, the collected female. Kim captured this in her passage, “Craft, and control and polish, is for women.”
The scar I bear reminds me how much I can be haunted by seeking approval of others.
KG: Whoa! Thank you so much for your beautiful response Tai. Tai has a few shows coming up, she’ll be at Stone Way Cafe on May 14 and at East of Lenin for a Panel Jumpers Live show on May 27. Bushwick Book Club member, Emmett Montgomery will also perform at that event which promises a “celebration of the magic of sequential storytelling-comic books.”
AW: This passage struck me, too. I’ve had experiences working with male musicians in a band setting, or otherwise, where their tendency is to expect me to fill a role as a mother figure or nurturer, though I never signed on for that role. I identify so closely with Gordon’s thought that “At the end of the day, women are expected to hold up the world, not annihilate it.” Since I was a kid growing up with two older brothers, I’ve observed the freedom that males appear to have to self-destruct or destroy if they want to – I mean, it seems like culturally, male aggression and destructive behaviors are more socially justifiable and even somewhat acceptable. Yet, if a woman exhibits these kinds of behaviors or emotions, then it’s totally unacceptable, profane, unfathomable. It’s a lot of pressure and restriction – to be an artist, and a human being, and lack that sense of freedom to explore darkness and destruction in art and life because people expect you to be the one to put things together and make them whole; they expect you to make them comfortable.
KG: Yes! Women’s role as the mothers of our children has somehow morphed into being the mothers of everything. We’re band moms, team moms and the caregivers of so many things often without a safety net to support us when we want to explore more aggressive ways of being.
Amanda will be performing at the Girl in a Band Bushwick show and she has an album project in the works, but it is as yet untitled.
CS: Something about her comment about “faux female types” and her crowing about Coco not knowing who a girl band was really rubbed me the wrong way. And I feel like I’m always the grouchy nay-sayer.
Look, I don’t think strong women should be knocking ANY other ladies, we should have each other’s backs. I mean, I can’t believe I’m defending the Spice Girls here, but is the branding and styling done on them any worse than what is done to boy bands? I think it’s more of an exaggeration of girly “types” than some female marketing. It’s all role playing. It’s only dangerous if you buy into it too much.
I love Kim Gordon, and I think she has had some admirable moments as a ground breaker, boundary pusher. But something about this quote bothers me. It feels like the cool girl in high school telling us what we are supposed to think and do.
KG: If there is one thing we’ve learned from Gloria Steinem’s and Madeline Albright recent shaming of female Bernie Sanders supporters, we know that women don’t like being told what to do. I agree that the end of this passage does turn that way and feels very judgemental. Also, I believe that Gordon overlooks the fact that the Spice Girls were most likely many young women’s introduction to female led groups and hit them at an age when empowerment is very important to growing self-esteem. If the Spice Girls molded young girls into feminists then it doesn’t matter if it came out of a marketing machine.
CC: I think this is true for writers, too. Women don’t get to be the next Hemingway or Hunter S. Thompson; female authors get published if their work has been proofed and polished and revised. There are many, many great literary (male) figures who were coached into their greatness by attentive, patient editors; Maxwell Perkins is famous for babying Fitzgerald and Wolfe, and Gordon Lish edited Raymond Carved into a minimalist master. Can you imagine if a young, unknown female writer had tried to get an agent with one long, messy scroll of a book, as Jack Kerouac did with On The Road? Gordon says, “At the end of the day, women are expected to hold up the world, not annihilate it.” We have to be Hillary Clinton, while our male counterparts get to do all the fun parts—shaking their fists and shouting for revolution.
But here is my hope: that the more we see women climbing the ladders of these systems, the more we’ll see women getting the freedom to do the work the way they want to do it, tearing down the walls and such.
KG: I let out a sort of snorting guffaw when I read your line on Jack Kerouac. Thinking of what would have happened to that manuscript if a woman wrote it is absurd! It would have been trashed or labeled as pornographic smut by every editor that came in contact with it. Also there is rarely a mention of how Kerouac was able to write that manuscript. Who do you think supported him and brought him food and coffee during those long hours? It was his wife Joan Haverty who went on to divorce Kerouac when he denied fathering their baby, a daughter he refused to acknowledge during his entire life. All Kerouac did was annihilate his world and he’s a hero for it.
I’m so happy I asked some of the women of Bushwick about this passage from Girl in a Band. Being around these thoughtful ladies is so inspirational to me. Now it’s your turn.
What do you think about this passage from Gordon? What do you think about what we had to say?
Let us know in the comments.