Punk sees itself as an oppositional subculture, one which fights against many of the dominant norms of society it considers to be oppressive. Within punk, however, there has long been a battle for equality between men and women. Many female punks are forced not only to battle sexism in wider society, but also in their chosen subculture. The resistance to the sexism inherent in today’s hegemonic masculinity has taken, and continues to take, many forms. This essay will examine some of the ways in which hegemonic masculinity, and more specifically sexism, exists, and is resisted, within the youth subculture of punk.
The roles played by female punks within the punk subculture are diverse and wide-ranging. In some instances, female punks are able to claim a position of influence, as shown by Griffiths, who states that “female anarcho-punks – un-marginalised – have played a central role in organising gigs or music shows in New Zealand’s major cities” (239). This is not always the case however, with McRobbie noting that women are in fact often marginalised and defined as “the people who were dancing over in the corner by the speakers” (cited in Born, 306). These contradictory positions show that while female punks may have social power in some situations, this does not mean they are participating in punk on a truly equal level with male punks. Even in the example given by Griffiths, female punks are playing what can be considered to be a traditional female role, that of sorting out logistical issues, even if the setting – a punk music venue – is slightly different from that which most people may encounter.
Rape and other forms of intimate violence are prevalent throughout society, so it is therefore no surprise that it occurs within the punk subculture. Through these forms of violence, men display power over women. However, this blatant form of misogyny is not the only way that this power is displayed. In a subculture such as punk, where anti-sexist beliefs are often seen as a requirement, and the police are regarded with mistrust, some men have taken it upon themselves to deal out what they see as justice to abusive men. In many ways, this form of community justice serves to reinforce hegemonic male gender roles, and to further marginalise the status of women within the community. Female punk Lauraine Leblanc relates a story in which her male punk friends attempt to stand up for her by assaulting a man who had insulted her, despite the matter already being resolved to Leblanc’s satisfaction. “Having been inducted into the local punks’ ‘tribe’, it seemed that I was theirs – the guys’ – to ‘protect,’ regardless of whether or not I wanted or needed such protection … I was angry that these boys, most of whom were a decade younger than I, assumed I was in need of their protection … Punk lives, and I guess chivalry’s not dead either” (104). This example shows that, even when attempting to escape hegemonic masculinity, men can act in ways which serve to reinforce it.
The riot grrrl movement, a subset of punk, was created in the early 1990s to explicitly oppose the sexism that it’s members found in the punk subculture (McKee). One of the major aspects of riot grrrl was the creation of ‘zines, which provide “an opportunity for women to voice their experiences, opinions, stories, and criticisms of culture in a photocopied ’safe space’” (Holtzman, Hughes & Van Meter, 7). In creating women only spaces, the riot grrrl movement attempted to avoid the most harmful effects of hegemonic masculinity. Some women, however, felt that even in these spaces, they were still not able to escape sexist behaviour. “What is disturbing is that women are not being called on the shit we do to hold ourselves back, in part, because there is an attitude that women have nothing to do with continuing sexism, because we’re victims. Ultimately, I don’t see equality in sight until we confront ourselves” (Bartchy, cited in O’Hara, 109). O’Hara notes that the power of our societal conditioning makes it harder to escape hegemonic masculinity (Ibid), in a further example of hegemony’s ability to shape human behaviour, even when that behaviour is an attempt at resistance to hegemony.
As an oppositional, confrontational subculture, punk’s examples of hegemonic masculinity and how that hegemony is able to shape resistance is especially relevant to those interested in how structures of power operate. While, as noted by Osgerby, riot grrrl “confront[ed] subjects such as misogyny and physical abuse” (122), it was by no means a complete solution to the problems of hegemonic masculinity’s expression within punk. This is in part because, as a (partially) separatist movement, it did not attempt to change male behaviour, but also because the social conditioning of the women within it meant that their behaviour reflected some of the problematic parts of the hegemonic masculinity. The ongoing processes of negotiation and accommodation through which the prevailing hegemony is reproduced are not done from an equal standpoint, but rather one in which the hegemonic position itself is able to define the boundaries of that negotiation.
List of cited worksBorn, Georgina. “Modern music culture: on shock, pop and synthesis.” Popular Music: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. Volume 4: Music and Identity, Simon Frith, ed., London: Routledge, 2004. 306. Print.
Griffiths, Richard. “Wicked Wardrobes: Youth and Fashion in Aotearoa New Zealand.” Cultural Studies in Aotearoa New Zealand: Identity, Space and Place, Claudia Bell & Steve Matthewman, eds., Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2004. 239. Print.
Holtzman, Ben, Craig Hughes & Kevin Van Meter. “Do It Yourself …and the movement beyond capitalism.” Radical Society: A Review of Culture and Politics, Timothy Don, ed., New York: Radical Society, Ltd, 2005. 7-15. Print.
Leblanc, Lauraine. Pretty In Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1999. 104. Print.
McKee, Michael. “ Riot Grrl”. The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest. 2009. Web. 7 June 2009.
O’Hara, Craig. The philosophy of punk: more than noise. Oakland: AK Press, 2001. 109. Print.
Osgerby, Bill. Youth Media. London: Routledge, 2004. 122. Print.