November 10, 2009

How to empower women (who want to be): encourage machismo

Today I was listening to some '70s rock (which lasted into 1981 or '82, before new wave took over), and it struck me how strong the female stars are -- Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, Blondie, even tiny Rachel Sweet. According to feminist dogma, it should have been the opposite: given how openly masculine and gender-insensitive that period of rock music was, women should have felt intimidated, perhaps even disgusted, and stayed away.

Contrast that period with the alternative rock period of the early-mid '90s -- the famous women are all of the neurotic trainwreck type. Sure, some of them yelled a lot, but then emotionally fragile people are prone to doing that. It hardly makes them strong. And just as before, this pattern among the women mirrored that found among the male stars, most of whom were afraid of their own balls (aside from Red Hot Chili Peppers, who formed their identity back in 1983). Dude, they're like, latent instruments of oppression, man...

It's easy to see that if the trend in pop culture favors the masculine, this will propel masculine men and women both into the spotlight, while if it favors moping, wusses of both sexes will crowd out their stronger alternatives. But we miss this simple truth when it comes to the jobs that we're supposed to worry about -- business, law, medicine, politics, academia, etc.

The roles, mores, and so on, that are expected in those institutions select for certain types of people. If we're supposed to re-fashion those roles so that they are more typically feminine, then guess what -- self-defeating, passive-aggressive people of both sexes will rise. Among men who were in the workforce before women's liberation, one of the main benefits of the old system was not only that they themselves could get shit done more easily, but that the women who did pass the test were close to them too -- unlike the catty, bitchy career women of today. Now everyone has to waste a lot of time and effort dancing around all sorts of "touchy" topics.

To make it simpler, how would you make girls physically stronger than they are now? It's not a trick question -- by putting a greater emphasis on strength in gym class! Make weightlifting regular, or at least have the kids do push-ups or toss medicine balls every day. The boys and the girls would grow bigger muscles. However, strip away the focus on strength -- say, by turning gym class into an aerobics class -- and suddenly the boys and girls alike will become weaklings. (Most people who you see exerting themselves lifting weights look to be in decent shape, while the people who you see riding bikes or jogging around town tend to look like hell.)

Of course, many girls -- probably most of them -- would just sit it out and maintain their pleasantly soft figure instead of bulking up. And women who couldn't hang with the men back in the pre-women's lib days would have happily taken a more feminine job instead. We don't really have to worry about that. But what about women who could become Olympic athletes or competent businesswomen? If the zeitgeist constrains the roles to be less masculine, then they will never be pushed to succeed and will remain underdeveloped. (Same goes for the men too, of course.)

Before women's lib, we had greater diversity in roles -- from very feminine to very masculine -- allowing a wider range of specialization and greater choice for individuals. But by biasing the roles systematically toward the feminine side, current institutions choke off half of the source of social and cultural dynamism, as people of both sexes who would thrive on the masculine side must join what they see as the namby-pamby side.

One encouraging sign comes, for once, from the obstreperousness of little boys. At least we know that the tolerance of emasculated social roles is beaten into them, rather than easily impressed upon a blank slate. Higher costs make it less stable over time. Most of the time when you hear some brat throwing a fit in public, you want to go over and put him in his place. But I make one exception, when I'll actually shoot him a nod of respect -- "ah maaaaaan, i don't wanna. that stuff's for girrrrls!"


  1. "Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, Blondie, even tiny Rachel Sweet."

    Don't forget Chrissie Hynde.

  2. Don't forget Chrissie Hynde


    couldnt -- that Back on the Chain Gang tune is not only artistically tough, it's v male-friendly in its observant lyric

    i've yet to hear ONE decent song on the radio deriving from the last 15 years' output of the new female alt-rock/folk crowd

    they all sound like clones of each other, same chord changes, same vocal inflections, same choral patters, same pore-me high-end plaintinve waif-y wailings

    the affirmative-actioning of music

    yet they keep churning these (pseudo) "stars" out, along with these endless talentfree black divas, based on demographics rather that musical or artistic merit

    when i was young, there were only two pop music stations in the bay area, KYA and KFRC, and if you wanted your song to appear on one of those stations, and to reach the transistors of the peeps -- even with payola "inducements" -- it had to be a unique and outstanding tune

    no free ride for wispy correctoidness masquerading as talent

    merit moved the songs up the charts, not pandering to demographic mediocrity

    janis joplin NEVER played the victim, she LOVED guys, and it shows in her work

    i'll toss laura nyro out there too -- many of her songs compare favorably to the best that guys were producing at that time, so she got the attention she deserved

    that's all gone now, many of the best songwriters probably dont even bother anymore -- no sense struggling a couple decades to produce a good song or two, when the culture fetes the fakes

  3. I don't think the early/mid 90s were so bad. Babes in Toyland and the Gits beat the hell out of Blondie (though the latter's "Spear and Magic Helmet" is now an unfunny aneurysm moment due to Maria Zapata being raped and murdered). I don't mind the abrasive screaming stuff that much so I also think Made Out of Babies/Battle of Mice (singer from MOoB, guitarist from Red Sparrowes and more laidback in sound) are good. It works for the weird post-metal sound they're angling for.

    When I first heard of them I was practically the manifestation of everything Kill the Man Who Questions hated, but ignoring the politics its good hardcore. Though I like hardcore, I think some of the sense of fun in 70s punk was lost in the transition to its modern form (the Slumlords are an exception). Oi retains a lot of the old spirit while avoiding the opposite extreme of "pop punk". Recording quality aside, female-fronted oi bands Deadline and Travis Bickle outshined the original versions of Cocksparrer classics Riot Squad and Runnin' Riot (if not some later live versions). Since they're preserving a style of music from your golden era, that just might confirm your point.

    It's not quite Janis Joplin, but the BellRays have some good soulful rock. Another bigger gal with strong pipes is Eva von Slut of the White Barons. They do a pretty good job of capturing the punchy but catchy riffs & tuneful bellowing of the Misfits absent the B-horror obsessions and campy maliciousness. If it's the latter you're after (or you're a hipster with a "no fat chicks" policy) try Schoolyard Heroes.

  4. Just remembered the Adam Cadre page which gives a name to the 90s style that annoys agnostic: "frock rock".

  5. Babes in Toyland beats Blondie -- lol. Anyway, we're talking about pop music. You can always find someone you like in any given year. The hard thing is finding someone who was also incredibly popular.

    Remember, the alternative rock heyday was before the internet, file-sharing, itunes, YouTube, etc. If you weren't high up on the charts (and especially if you weren't there at all), you were basically unknown.

    There were the used record store flunkies, and maybe a couple of kids from around the area who hung on their every word, but other than that no one knew much about "obscure" bands. The best you could do was watch Beavis and Butt-head (that's how I was introduced to the Dead Milkmen in 8th grade).

    The female singers who you were actually exposed to were the whiny trainwreck type -- Courtney Love, Fiona Apple, etc. The type who would stage a concert called Rock Against Domestic Violence. No lie about the name.

    There's third wave feminism festering under just about all of that stuff. I don't judge it harshly because of its ideology, but often the ideology causes the product to stink. As the late '70s through the mid-'80s were pretty free of ideology, pop music was a lot more fun and catchy.

  6. I was trying to think of an all girl or girl fronted band from the 90s that I liked and came up with Kittie, but they're both late 90s and come from a masculine scene.

    Plenty of good bands with a girl as the bass player. They tend to get dumped into that role, but if you're looking to minimize someone's impact they should really be given rhythm guitar (assuming a four-piece).

  7. Kittie suck, but so does the scene they came out of.

    I thought Hole was actually a pretty good band. If the Celebrity Skin riff comes from Billy Corgan then props to him.

    RF is right about bass. TV Tropes used to have a have a page called "The Suzi Quatro Principle" about that, but it appears to have been removed.

    Scott Ian is the most well-known member of anthrax despite being a rhythm guitarist. It almost seems wrong to call Keith Richards a rhythm guitarist, but that's what he is. In the main you're right though. James Hetfield would probably be as well known as Malcolm Young if he weren't frontman.

  8. Suzi Quatro in the 70s. A great favourite of mine - very cute and sexy, but assertive. I recently attended a concert of hers (she is in her fifties now) here in Australia (she has always been big here) and the poster announced that "She kicked down the door and the rest followed." A good slogan, but not really true. She was unique. The women that came after her were far less powerful. Debbie Harry might have had something of Suzi Quatro about her, but there were precious few successors.

    And Suzi was inspiring to men like myself. She never seemed to dislike men, and her lyrics were rather pro-male, although I notice that she has recently elided some of them a little ("she'll do what you want to do" has become "she'll do what she wants to do").

    But Mama's Boy and Rock Hard are almost reactionary in their sentiments.


  9. A couple more from the '70s: Patti Smith and Lene Lovich.


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