Slits/Sarah Jaffe
May 22, 2015 10:37 AM   Subscribe

I am feminist punk.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:52 AM on May 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

If feminism needs to become less sanitized, I'm not sure punk (even an idealized version of 70s punk) is the answer.
posted by MetalFingerz at 11:41 AM on May 22, 2015

Is this going to turn into one of those tiresome "I'm too lazy to RTFA so I'll just drop a bit of snark about the title" threads? It's actually an interesting piece about Viv Albertine, the Slits, and feminism. Here are a couple of paragraphs that might whet appetites:
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)?
posted by languagehat at 1:19 PM on May 22, 2015 [19 favorites]

Oh, and Slits previously on the blue.
posted by languagehat at 1:22 PM on May 22, 2015

Hm, an interesting piece about an interesting woman, though I'm not sure I fully agree.

I love the idea of audacious, disruptive protests, but I feel there's no better way to be dismissed by those you're trying to reach or displace. These people monopolize the means of communication (not to mention the money) and get to say their piece, looking like a victim, pleading for "moderation" and so on. It's kind of the Occupy Wall Street situation.

But at the same time, the more visibility, the better. Women didn't get the vote because men got together and decided "well, gentlemen, it's time." But the ones who are threatened are so often the ones in power that they will always find a way to turn things to their advantage, at least in the short term. Anyway, thanks for the link.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:31 PM on May 22, 2015

Great, thanks for the link. Reminded me to go back and listen again to The Vermilion Border, her solo album from 2012. I think she's great, and I enjoyed the article.
posted by frumiousb at 4:56 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, this is lovely. Thank you.

Some time in relatively recent history, a coworker and I had discovered we kind of ran in the same circles when we were younger, so we'd reminisce every now and again and try to figure out if we'd crossed paths. And she asked me one day if the hippy creepers had anything to do with the attraction of punk. I had not articulated it that way before, but it sure rung true.

We were both too young to actually be hippy contemporaries, but it seemed like, wherever there were young sort of rebellious girls, there were creepy old hippy dudes on the periphery, interjecting themselves and trying to sell some kind of free love bullshit or ply them with drugs. It was like you couldn't even go smoke pot in the park without bossy old men showing up and shaming you for your sexuality, except in the opposite direction. Like some David Crosby looking motherfucker calling you uptight to try to get your clothes off.

And I think my coworker was really onto something. There was something so satisfying about saying Fuck you to all of those guys who were trying to control us. To not only not perform up to their standards, but to actually subvert them. You could actually piss bossy old men off by just cutting off your own hair! They would helpfully inform you that your shaved head wasn't attractive to them, and you could say, "Good. It works, then. Now fuck off."

There was something fundamentally empowering about actively rejecting the submissive, pliable young girl mold that everyone from every angle seemed to be trying to put you in, and just sort of wearing a big Fuck You on your sleeve. At some point, you tone that part down to get jobs and integrate and such, but it's always still there.

So I'm 50 whole years old right now--older than most of the perverts I was repelling back in the day--and every now and again, someone will try to shame me for not being pleasant or accommodating enough to deserve their respect, and I'll think (usually) to myself, "Good. It works, then. Now fuck off."
posted by ernielundquist at 6:12 PM on May 22, 2015 [26 favorites]

I think about this a lot, with my two bedroom townhouse and husband with a job and a beard and my blonde-haired daughter playing with her dolls. I think about the ways politics and professionalism have destroyed something of the aggression. It's an aggression I'm not sure I ever had, and if I did, it was all in the same mess of words I use now. But, like ernielundquist says, there are these small things that disrupt. And oddly enough, right now, in my suburban boring house and body and life, I also have a shaved head.

And the first day I walked my daughter to school she noticed, immediately, the way people changed, the looks, the way some people ignored me. And, in this kind of breath-taking five year old version of 'fuck you', she dragged me all around her two classrooms and ostentatiously hugged me and rubbed my bald head, making it super clear that she would take no shit over this. Then that night asked to shave half of hers - not all, we don't want to be the 'bald family' afterall, but half. I just can't help being proud of this kid, this tiny little blonde girl who gets so much attention and approval for being girly, saying "nah, fuck that". I think of Britney Spears - something my student brought up - and how it really just seemed like a beautiful kind of 'fuck you' rather than a breakdown. I think of all the times I ate just that bit more than I should have, because being fat was another kind of fuck you. I think of all the times I wore men's clothes, or refused to shave, because I was just so tired of choking back the words.

And I think of all the times feminist protest seemed to be just as restrictive. God forbid I show up fat and hairy, god forbid I show up unfuckable to slutwalk. I mean, I know the world, I know there's some fetishist in the corner desperate to tell me how fuckable I am, but slutwalk just felt like the McCafe of protesting, greenwashed, or in this case, pretty-washed, for maximum consumption. Same with hard femme and radical housekeeping and returning to the land. All things that are valuable and some things I do, but it's all palatable and reinforcing in a way that is the antithesis of 'fuck you'.

Of course, I then psychoanalyse it down, because god forbid I be proud of my child for being counter-culture. And that it only works this way because we're white, we're middle class, I'm an academic and just outside the realms of the usual to be admired/repulsed rather than reported.

But yeah, great piece, thank you.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:24 PM on May 22, 2015 [17 favorites]

"That rebellious streak defined her post-punk days studying at London College of Printing under legendary feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey—in between classes, she would take a black pen to the pages of as many library books as she could, adding “/she” to every “he” and “woman” to every “man.”

That's the kind of fuck-you that I related to as a Southern California punk girl in the early 80s. The Slits were a focus of one of the books that cost me tons of U.S. $ when I was hungry for news of Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene and the person called Catwoman. In it, the journalist Caroline Coon described just how much more threatening to the status quo were the Slits than the punk bands they were allowed to tour with. I no longer have the book, but Coon reported that the teenage singer Ari Up was made to sit down rather than appear in lobbies of the hotels the tour would stay in. I read that at fourteen and thought, fuck this shit, I'm standing up.

Am still standing up as I career into middle-age, though maybe not as much as possible. Guess it's the right time to listen to Typical Girls and to Viv's new music.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:01 PM on May 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

And ernielundquist: exACTly. How frustrating was it to make ourselves the opposite of attractive according to then-current strictures and STILL get hit on?
posted by goofyfoot at 11:13 PM on May 22, 2015

This is great!

Reminded me to go back and listen again to The Vermilion Border, her solo album from 2012.

How did I miss this?
posted by Dip Flash at 11:21 PM on May 22, 2015

Aging punk ladies don't tend to get all the press attention, sadly. I think it's really great-- but I've always been a huge Slits fan.
posted by frumiousb at 2:38 AM on May 23, 2015

Thanks for this.
posted by evilDoug at 6:41 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

God forbid I show up fat and hairy, god forbid I show up unfuckable to slutwalk. I mean, I know the world, I know there's some fetishist in the corner desperate to tell me how fuckable I am, but slutwalk just felt like the McCafe of protesting, greenwashed, or in this case, pretty-washed, for maximum consumption.

I don't know about the Slutwalks in your city, but as someone who was actively involved for years, organized a local Slutwalk, and is in close communication with other Slutwalk organizers around the world - there has never been an expectation of minimum attractiveness to attend a Slutwalk. I'm super hairy and not at all normatively attractive and I showed up multiple times as a marcher, organizer, speaker. The only people who assume that Slutwalk requires attractiveness are people who haven't been involved with any part of it and are just guessing based on the name.

Hard femme also strikes me as not really caring about normative attractiveness, and really works hard at breaking down notions thereof (hence "hard" femme, as opposed to regular femininity).
posted by divabat at 7:19 AM on May 23, 2015

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