Three days after Rolling Stone yanked the rug out from under the feet of its own source in a controversial, and deeply problematic, story about rape culture at the University of Virginia, my Riot Grrrl First Year Seminar met for our grand hurrah, a Ladyfest of student presentations. These young women, and one man, amazed me with the intense intimacy of the poems, songs, and critical karaokes they sang, spoke, and shouted in sometimes cracked, sometimes exultant voices. Along with the two Beyonce tributes, some of these bright students on the cusp of independent adulthood shared harrowing stories of family tragedies, battles with illness, and abusive boyfriends. Two of the 17 women spoke about having been sexually assaulted in the past year.
Rolling Stone has long had a female problem. As I discovered more than 20 years ago when I first started writing about women music critics, the magazine has a track record of shutting out female writers. Woman musicians, most notably Joni Mitchell, have repeatedly spoken out about the magazine’s misogyny. The fact that Jann Wenner’s men’s club doesn’t get feminist issues was clear from the hyperbolic, almost pornographic lede of “A Rape on Campus.” But I hoped that maybe this was a turning point for the magazine that, admittedly, I read avidly as a teen, that helped make me want to write revealing portraits of rock stars and smart reviews.
I couldn’t possibly have predicted how completely Stone would botch the job.
The tragedy of the Rolling Stone fiasco is that because of one magazine’s ineptitude, women with real stories like this might not get heard. I heard them the other night, and I honor those who are willing to speak up. It’s more important now than ever.