Last Sunday, I had breakfast with a gallery owner who wanted to talk to me about submitting my knit bondage work in an art show of hers. I showed her some pieces I was thinking about submitting, and she loved them. She began discussing how the pieces are feminist and bring gender roles into question.
I was fine with that observation of my work because I am a feminist and I always bring gender roles into question. Hey, it’s what I do. But, to be honest, I made these pieces for the simple pleasure of combining sex gear and knit fabric. I just thought it’d be so interesting to see these pieces made.
Anyway, our conversation soon became a discussion of nothing but feminism and gender politics. About art and gender. The masculine brushstroke versus the feminine anonymity of a knit stitch. Things like that. Things I’m totally eager to/comfortable with talking about. Eventually she asked me, “How am I having this conversation with you? I feel like I could cry. I love that you’re talking to me about these things!” Obviously I’d struck a chord.
She went on to talk about how the feminist discussion wasn’t really something people wanted to have anymore, which was confusing to me because it’s a big part of what I think about. (Then again, I find myself living in my own world sometimes. Head in the ground. That kind of thing.)
Finally she asked me how I got involved in feminism. To which I responded most eloquently, “Um, I don’t know...”
The conversation then continued about the art show specifics, but -- very typical me -- my mind was elsewhere. How did I get involved in feminism?
It was a really lovely Sunday morning. Sunny and crisp. So, I decided to walk home after our meeting. I was in a good mood because someone liked my work enough to want to show it in their gallery. But, really, I wanted to think about feminism --and how I was introduced to it.
I know how feminism stays in my life. That is easy: I work at Seagull Salon on the weekends. Johanna Fateman, one of my favorite feminists, is my boss. Shaun SureThing, my other boss, has “RIOT GRRL” tattooed on his knuckles. Oh, and there’s a big, beautiful framed picture of Kathleen Hanna in the bathroom, which means Kathleen looks at me every time I use the bathroom. So, yes, feminism is stuck in my head. But how did it get there in the first place, I wondered?
It was at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, as I was about to enter Prospect Park on my walk home, when it finally hit me: I was 15. And there was this mix CD my younger sister brought home one day when we were in high school. Probably one of the most important CDs of my life. Scrawled on it in my sister’s messy handwriting was “GIRLS BANDZ! 13 SONGS”
My younger sister and I, being only a year apart, are very close. Sharing friends and music wasn’t something unusual for us. So, I pressed play on this mysterious GIRLS BANDZ! 13 SONGS CD, and it was like someone pressed the reset button on my brain and answered a prayer I didn’t even know I asked. I was blown away.
The first track was “Bruise Violet” by Babes in Toyland. And I think I can honestly say it’s the one song that changed the way I think about life and music and women.
This song absolutely demands attention, and there’s no way you can ignore it. It’s unapologetic. Everything about it. The drums, the guitar, Kat Bjelland’s vocals. When I first heard Bjelland scream “You fucking bitch, I hope your insides rot!” I knew this was the kind of music for me. It turned on a light for me. It woke me up. It was noisy. It was nasty. It was honest. And it was really fun. Just like the rest of the CD.Here’s the GIRLS BANDZ! 13 SONGS track listing for you in case you’re wondering what else was on the CD:
3. “Handsome and Gretel” - Babes in Toyland
4. “Killer on the Road” - Babes in Toyland
5. “Sweet 69” - Babes in Toyland
6. “I Like Fucking” - Bikini Kill
7. “Rebel Girl” - Bikini Kill
8. “Suck My Left One” - Bikini KIll
9. “Cherry Bomb” - Bratmobile
10. “And I Live in a Town Where the Boys Amputate Their Hearts” - Bratmobile
11. “PRDTC” - Bratmobile
12. “Seether” - Veruca Salt
13. “Volcano Girls” - Veruca Salt
All of this is really great. It made me want to throw away the rest of my CD collection. This music wasn’t poetic and not the easiest to listen to. But I didn’t want all the overproduced mainstream “alternative” crap MTV was trying to give me. I wanted rawness. I wanted anger and real punk emotion that wasn’t coming from some dude. I wanted to hear music that was real and imperfect and, most importantly, different.
You go through high school listening to a lot of different music, trying to gain some sort of identity for yourself like all high schoolers do. I listened to a lot of different things. I went down some regrettable paths. But this GIRLS BANDZ! CD really spoke to my soul.
So, I realized that Sunday morning on my walk home that my introduction to feminism wasn’t feminist theory. That came later in college. My introduction to feminism was the GIRLS BANDZ! CD. It was proof what women could do sonically, music that showed that female musicians didn’t have to express themselves just by being sexy. Women can be talented and independent without men. It all became clear to me.
Now if only I’d remembered all this when the gallery owner asked me how I got into feminism.