One of the first things that happened when I transitioned from grade school to high school was I grew very rebellious and did not want to be associated with the popular kids. I became friends with a large group of boys who liked alternative music and I made it my music. It was around that time that I started to dress like Kurt Cobain and listened to Nirvana on my discman and in my car all the time.
My CD collection made a dramatic shift from entirely female artists to mostly male artists within the course of just two years. I loved grunge and I can recall listening to Hole in middle school but then when I got to high school and saw the reaction I got when I said I liked Courtney Love, I started to believe that she was a villain murderer and stopped listening to Hole altogether.
In my thesis last summer I examined the cultural reactions to Courtney Love and the narratives around her life with Kurt Cobain. One of the most compelling findings of my thesis was that women are either completely invisible in alternative music or they are demonized as vixens who bring down talented men (think Yoko Ono).
The first thing I noticed in the narrative about Cobain’s life was that Bikini Kill is often completely erased as an influence. Kurt dated Tobi Vail and was good friends with Kathleen Hanna for years. They even moved him to feminist activism. How that part of the story gets erased is nothing short of remarkable. It takes intentional and deliberate storytelling on the part of biographers and music critics. The sheer insidiousness of that erasure stuns me. And it is not only Bikini Kill it is the whole Riot Grrrl movement that is not part of the story.
Of course there are many layers and ways in which fame was deployed as a tool by Cobain who claimed to eschew all of the trappings of his celebrity while at the same time being the biggest advocate for his own success. Part of the “coolness” of grunge was that the artists did not wish to be cool… supposedly. Considering that, it is especially interesting that Cobain used his celebrity as a platform to put forth ideas about queerness, gender, sexuality and feminism. That was part of who he was and that part is completely erased in the biographies, reviews and stories told about him in mainstream culture.
At any rate, all of these things are swirling through my head lately and I get passionately angry when I listen to alternative radio these days. You could go days and I mean DAYS without hearing a single female voice on the alternative radio stations here in
Then just yesterday my partner told me that he wants to go to Q101’s Jamboree and he asked if I’d be interested in going. I said if even one of the headliners was a band comprised of at least half women I’d go. Guess who’s not going? This blogger! Three Days Grace, Seether,
Let me assure you that there are many women in alternative music. I like The Gossip and Metric lately. Why are they invisible on these radio stations, at these events and in these publications? The only answer I have is outright and unapologetic misogyny. Alternative music is deeply afraid of women as anything other than muse, groupie or sexual conquest.
Please feel free to suggest any awesome female alternative artists in the comments!