Deconstructing the Punk Patriarchy

by blair morton

Across the nation, if you look hard enough, you may find a network of underground venues that showcase cooperative musical and art projects. These patrons of Do-It-Yourself communities are united together through four decades of non-conformity and counter-culture history. They are a coalition of culture makers — facilitating spaces of art, music, and performance. But if some say that gender is performative, why do genderqueer patrons feel out of place at these spaces?

DIY (which stands for do-it-yourself) is a movement in music communities that started in the 1980s in Washington D.C., although there were similar mobilizing efforts that were simultaneously beginning in the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, Gulf Coast, and New York City. DIY was an effort made by members of the punk scene to divest from large corporations and music labels that acted as the gatekeepers of music and culture. DIY musicians would record and perform their music in their living rooms or basements. They’d promote their bands through word-of-mouth, and some would even go one “media blackouts” if they reached some degree of fame — protesting any form of media that would promote their band. Coupled with the evolving DIY attitude was the rise of straight edge identities, where members of the community would vow to lead a PC lifestyle and abstain from drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous sex.  While the founders of DIY are credited to be men, those who have kept these communities alive have been anything but. In some ways, DIY has paralleled the waves of feminism. Throughout the 1990s, underground music communities saw an insurgence of women-fronted and women-centric music acts. These women, known as the “riot grrrls” demanded rights of inclusion, respect, and recognition. Today, while many women in DIY hold the same mentalities of the riot grrrls, the scene has evolved to be less female-centric and more queer inclusive. Out with the old and in with the new — asking what someone’s pronouns are is the new “grrrls to the front” mantra. Giving space and recognizing those who identify outside of the gendered binary is a way of advocating and facilitating a space that is safer for all gender identities, as well as a way to educate those who are a part of the music community but do not have access to information about queerness and marginalization.

I had the chance to sit down with Meredith Graves, singer of Perfect Pussy, after her show in Columbus in December. Graves is famously known for mixing her own blood in the first 300 vinyl pressings of her band’s first studio album, Say Yes to Love. Graves is leading voice in the music industry and its role in the promoting (and faulting) the presence of gender equity. “Women are called upon every day to prove our right to participate in music on the basis of our authenticity — or perceived lack thereof.” Graves wrote in a Talkhouse essay in 2014. Her views and writings on the intersection of identity politics and feminism in the music industry have yielded a new rise in awareness and inclusion in DIY spaces — and different methods of how band fronts and show runners should command their crowds.
credit: wilder street

“I feel uncomfortable making the call for all grrls to the front, because I do not want to out anyone — people at my shows could be battling with their identity, or may not have come out to their friends. I do not want to make anyone feel isolated or pressured.” Graves confessed in the dingy VIP lounge of Double Happiness. At a show that appeared to be overrun by what appeared to be cismen, an artist like Graves can feel disheartened by the aggression that plays out in the pit. The band debuted a song called “Women” where Graves sang about the difficulties of being a woman in a music community, while groups of large men moshed around, creating a somewhat hostile environment for anyone, mostly women and non-men patrons, who stood in their way. Ironic, Graves laughed. Graves states that physical and emotional safety should always be at the forefront of shows.

trying to keep my cool. (failing at it)