PUNK AS FEMALE EMPOWERMENT CULTURE
Updated: May 8
As we head off into a new thematic month on music is her passion, we dive headfirst into one of the most exciting musical genres in terms of female empowerment: "PUNK". Throughout May, we will travel the genre through different articles in which we examine the strengths of this exciting lifestyle in which women around the world participated as protagonists from the beginning on. As opposed to many others, punk is a musical genre used effectively to position women away from secondary players and instead as leaders without the need for anyone to protect them. In today's article, we will review the first years of this empowered genre.
Looking at it from a contemporary point of view, I risk saying that since its beginnings, the place that punk occupies at a social level for much of the Western world was a rather critical concept for the longest time, simply for being perceived as alien to mainstream society. Since its conception in the UK in the mid-'70s, punk culture was mostly perceived through its outward presentation: mohawks, leather clothes, raging music. Because judging young people by their appearance was an easy task for society, punk was always a countercultural genre but never let itself be governed by what people would say. To this day, punk continues to be a phenomenon not limited to music and an aesthetic but even more so as a social movement, because punk is not just a two-minute song or a pair of broken boots, punk is a genre liberated from many mandates. It is a lifestyle manifested through various arts, revolving around the struggles against many miseries and inequalities of Western society as the role of women, the struggle for equality and human rights.
Since punk's very beginning, the role of women has been more than a musical manifestation, but also as a social tool to promote feminism, naturally contributing to the integration of women in rock, breaking industry stereotypes of female presentation by creating its own aesthetic and positioning women in a decisive role in the performance of music through roles as instrumentalist musicians and singers transformed into icons. Punk has always empowered women who transgressed through their empowered ideals.
"Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard".
Fragment of "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" by X-Ray Spex
Also known as "Punk Poet Laureate", Patti Smith is considered the great precursor of this phenomenon. She is an artist exuding talent and daring who unintentionally inspired a generation of young artists through her own intention to change the world. She is known for challenging socially constructed norms, such as beauty stereotypes of how women in rock "should be". Meanwhile, on the other side of the ocean, in England, artists like Poly Styrene, became one of the most popular punk singers, leading X-Ray Spex, one of the pioneering and most important female punk bands. X-Ray Spex was an empowered band that constantly argued against gender conventions. By the end of the 70s, the female presence in punk was already loud and proud, thanks to groups like The Slits and artists such as Siouxsie Sioux, Chrissie Hynde, singer of The Pretenders, or Debbie Harry, among many others.
The Riot Grrrl movement was the most important turning point in the struggle for gender equality inside the music scene.
The Riot Grrrl movement (also know as Third-wave feminism), created in the early '90s, and led by powerful women - among which was Kathleen Hanna, singer of Bikini Kill - was perhaps the most important turning point in the struggle for gender equality. It created a space where the discussion about inequality in the music scene raised its voice massively to never again be silent. This space raised the flag for female empowerment in the music scene in general, inspiring many women in the industry to unite in the fight against the pervasive sexism in the music scene by fostering an environment where women can express themselves with the same freedom as their male counterparts, allowing many women to position themselves on an equal footing in the punk scene.
From its beginnings on, punk culture was characterized as nihilistic by the outside of society, yet it remains a relevant genre to this day: The social and political concerns that punk advocates from the beginning, such as gender inequality or the defense of human rights, remain the main topics to this day. Thousands of female punk artists have been transformed throughout history into not only musical heroines, but also empowering examples for many women. The strength, convictions, ideas, and voices of all the women who made this musical genre a more egalitarian movement within the music industry, have become a huge inspiration for many other artists of other genres, women who stand up against patriarchal injustices, women who go to the front, women who proved that punk is as loud as it is liberal.