Oh Bondage Up Yours: The Punk Rock Sexual Revolution

punkfeminismI promised I would post the remarks I made for the Punk Feminism and The F Word shows in Stanford and Oakland last week. The first half of my presentation, with images from the slide show and notes of music cues, follows. I’ll post the Patti Smith critical karaoke another day. The lecture began with music: X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage Up Yours.”

Punk is a female energy.

Look it up, in the Oxford English Dictionary. The first use of the word punk dates back to the 17th century and meant strumpet or whore. Later, the word referred to catamites, aka homosexuals, and then petty thieves. Etymologically, punks are gender outlaws – the OG victims of slut shaming and fagbashing. PunkwomenMusically, punk is the sound of dissonance, of dissent against even the hegemony of dissent. Making noise and ugliness virtues in a culture obsessed with harmony and beauty, punk’s means are destructive, but its impulse is creative. Sometimes, in its frisson of friction, lies escape.

Ever since Maureen Tucker pounded the Velvet Underground’s drums with malletsmaureen_moe_tucker400px and Poly-Styrene shrieked “Oh Bondage Up Yours!”, women have found liberation in punk– and punk has been shaped by gender disruption. Through punk’s inversions and perversions, women have been able to blast away the boundaries of how they are allowed to sound and look, what they are allowed to say and who they are allowed to be. Think of those first words of “Oh Bondage,” that childhood admonishment recited politely: “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard.” Then Poly-Styrene erupts: “But I think, Oh bondage, up yours!” Think of Alice Bag and her bandmates, cockblocking looksism

The Bags

The Bags

by performing with bags over their heads and wailing about diet, hunger and body image. Think about Allison Wolfe and the other Riot Grrrls,Kathleen prowling the stage like rebel cheerleaders, words such as “Slut” and “Dyke” scrawled across their stomachs. Think of Pussy Riot,

Pussy Riot painting by Jean Smith

Pussy Riot painting by Jean Smith

invading the throne of Russian religious patriarchy to chant a prayer to the Holy Mother, their faces hidden by balaclavas. Think about America’s quintessential 21st century tween sweetheart next door, busting out of gender binaries by running away with her Blackhearted BFF. miley-cyrus-joan-jett-laura-jane-grace-adrogynous

Forget what your boyfriend told you: punk is for girls. A formidable feminist oeuvre has been created through the affordances of this art form. Today we’re going to explore the connection between raw power and girl power. I’m going to start by looking at two groundbreaking figures.

(Music: “American Nights” by the Runaways)QoN_9780306820397_sidebar

The Runaways were an all-girl teenage hard rock band from Los Angeles in the mid 1970s. They were the first band of future Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famer Joan Jett; their members included Cherie Currie, Lita Ford and Sandy West. They are also the subject of my most recent book, Queens of Noise. One of my arguments in Queens is that the Runaways do not get enough credit for having created many of the sonic and stylistic standards that became punk, in the way that their peers and friends the Ramones and Sex Pistols do. Their attitude was all teenage rebellion, a finger in the face

LOS ANGELES - APRIL 1976: Rock band 'The Runaways' pose for a portrait on the beach in April of 1976. (L-R) Lita Ford, Cherie Currie, Jackie Fox, Sandy West and Joan Jett.(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES – APRIL 1976: Rock band ‘The Runaways’ pose for a portrait on the beach in April of 1976. (L-R) Lita Ford, Cherie Currie, Jackie Fox, Sandy West and Joan Jett.(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

of the flowery and pompous country rock and pop that dominated radio, particularly in Southern California, at the time. In some ways, the Runaways were also counter-revolutionary: They were seen as puppets of a domineering male manager, Kim Fowley, and overtly used a sexualized jailbait image to sell their music. But they were one of the first bands to tap into the power of girls plugging in their instruments and banding together to make noise.

The clichéd story of the band’s birth has Fowley and Jett discovering Currie in a teen club – this is a very retro, Hollywood origin story, a fable about the mastermind’s power over the ingénue female. Instead, I start Queens at the jam session that formed the band’s nucleus.

And then I read from chapter two of Queens of Noise. Actually, that’s what I did at Stanford; at Studio Grand I flipped the script a bit and read from chapter one.

Coming soon: Patti Smith Critical Karaoke.

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2 Comments

Filed under Evelyn's articles, Queens of Noise

2 responses to “Oh Bondage Up Yours: The Punk Rock Sexual Revolution

  1. Pingback: Punk Feminism at Stanford Podcast | Populism

  2. Pingback: Patti Smith’s “Till Victory” De/ReConstructed: A Critical Karaoke | Populism

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