At first, she [Viv Albertine] writes, she was worried she’d be stereotyped in an all-girl band. But after Vicious threw her out of their prior band, the Flowers of Romance, before they’d ever played a gig, she found in the Slits a girl gang that made her feel strong. In her band mates—Ari Up, Tessa Pollitt, and Palmolive—she found partners in crime who had her back, figuratively and all too literally, especially when the Slits’ confrontational and unfeminine performances led to actual physical assaults, onstage and off. “We march down the street four abreast and people scuttle out of our way, or spit on us or swear at us and it just makes us laugh,” she writes. “We’re invincible together.” On tour with the Clash and Subway Sect, it was the Slits whose appearance and behavior freaked out bus drivers and hotel managers. In one city, she writes, the manager took one look at them—“in a mixture of leather jeans, rubber dresses and knickers on top of our trousers, matted hair and smudged black eye makeup”—and threw them out of the hotel.
But there have been too few protests that embrace feminism’s confrontational side, even as disruptive protests for racial justice erupt across the country, many of them led by young, queer black women. As Jennifer Pan noted in this magazine last spring, when young activists protested NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly’s speech at Brown University by making so much noise that Kelly left, prominent feminist and liberal commentators like Katha Pollitt wagged their fingers at young activists for being badly behaved. Yet those same commentators rightly lament the sad state of feminist affairs today and call for more vibrant activism. We will not change the world by asking nicely. Women’s bodies remain a site of political conflict that no amount of “leaning in” will change, so why not embrace the mess and the discomfort they so obviously cause in some men (and some women, too)?
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