Showing posts with label classism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classism. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Staking claims in all the corners

I love punk music.

There is an ongoing theme of isolation and justified outrage combined with crass, irreverent humour that appeals to pretty much every part of me.  Many bands have songs about personal experiences with mental illness or of being labelled as crazy (The Ramones, Suicidal Tendencies, DRI, L7 to name a few).  This music - along with other heavy, hard or weird music of the ‘80s and ‘90s - was my lifeline as I stumbled through adolescence. Today, it is still my go to music when I feel overcome by frustration, anger or stress.  There’s nothing quite so cathartic as belting out “You can’t bring me down” by Suicidal Tendencies.

But the problem is that punk music doesn’t love me.

When I was fourteen I remember watching a video of some live punk show in which the male lead singer pulled a woman onto the stage and punched her.

That was when I learned that my beloved punk scene was no safer for me as a woman than anywhere else.

The misogyny and homophobia, both overt and implied, is so rampant in punk music that I quickly grew weary of trying to find new bands.  These days at least I can search online for lyrics and get a sense of their overall vibe but in high school the best I could do was borrow tapes from friends and fervently read the liner notes.

Mostly I look for bands that don’t have more than one or two objectionable songs, for example Suicidal Tendencies is not bad but only if I don’t listen to this song. Occasionally I find a band that is persistently offensive but has one or two songs that standout; Dayglo Abortions has very little to recommend them lyrically (this, for instance) – sad because their sound is kickass – but I can’t get enough of rocking out to “Homophobic, sexist cokeheads”.  Often the best I can hope for is that they don’t make me want to punch them.

But every once in a while there’s some ray of light like Liza and Louise by NOFX. When I was sixteen and newly out I was hanging out in the skate shop, looking through the 45”s when I saw this.

Without hesitation I bought it and instantly fell in love. Who knew that a bunch of straight dudes could write a song about lesbians that was actually about lesbians and not some porn fantasy for the male gaze (or ear as it were).

My relationship to punk music is complicated to say the least.

And this brings me to something that many people I follow on Twitter have been discussing lately, namely that Chris Brown’s violence against Rihanna is being held up as evidence of the misogyny in rap culture.  This black rap artist is being held up as the poster boy for male violence while Charlie Sheen (to name only one example) manages to skate right past his history of abuse.  Even when you compare those two narratives there are telling differences in how people explain the two men’s behaviour. Charlie Sheen’s offensive behaviour was due to his addictions and mental health while Chris Brown’s is due to his involvement in hip -hop culture – a convenient shorthand for blackness.

I have heard many black feminists talk about their love of hip-hop and the ways in which it is complicated by the misogyny so often lamented by mainstream white feminists and pop culture commentators alike.

And this is where my love of punk and a black feminists’ love of hip hop meet and shake hands.

What is it about punk music and rap music that makes them so hostile towards women? Is it the male bravado? Is it the blackness? Is it the anarchy?

No, decidedly and absolutely not.

Because the misogyny and homophobia we find in these genres is not what sets them apart from mainstream culture, it is the thing that ties them to it.

There are many things that define what rap and punk are: they both arose out of a sense of disaffection and alienation from the larger culture, at their core they are both about speaking truth to power and refusing to be defined or confined by a classist, racist society.  The one thing about them that is not unique is the way in which they both often wind up reinforcing cultural hostilities against women, queers and other marginalized groups.  The problem isn’t that they’ve stepped too far out of the dominant culture but that they have not stepped far enough.

So yes I love punk music and I like a lot of rap music, what I don’t love is the fact that so many of its creators have utterly failed to see how their regurgitation of objectifying, hateful and outright violent attitudes towards women is aligning them with the very system against which they so passionately speak out.

So before you throw the baby out with the bath water, remember that there is no corner of our culture that isn’t home to someone spewing hateful bullshit.  And the best thing we can do is not to say “This corner sucks, I’m going back to the centre” but to stay put and point out just how naked that punk ass emperor is.

I love my punk, and no amount of hostility from the macho men involved will keep me from it.

Women who rock, 10 essential punk songs
Violence and Punk  Musichttp

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

White trash my ass (or why Roseanne Connor was my hero)

I miss the show Roseanne.  I miss that, for a little while, we were reminded that being poor and white did not mean you were an ignorant, racist shit.  Poor white people are no more racist than the anyone else, they just haven’t been trained in the subtle art of talking out of both sides of their mouths.  Here’s another difference, they don’t have the power to enact systemic racism.  Bob from the parts plant may have some choice epithets, but Geoff at head office sets the corporate climate that prevents people of colour from advancing.

And lets talk about language for a minute.  I’m not going to talk about how important our word choice is here, that’s been talked to death.  And while I generally agree, I have seen too many privileged, educated women use their book learnin’ to silence women who are using the only words they’ve got.  Rather than hearing what she is saying they are like heat seeking missiles waiting for her to ‘slip up’ with the wrong word choice.  Perhaps we should give some credit where credit is due.  Why not give some voice to the woman whose criticism of the kyriarchy comes from her gut, without the benefit of a degree in women’s studies.

I watched my friend who was working for shit wages in a garment factory get driven out of a feminist collective because they treated her like a moron.  This while she deals with the reality of being paid half as much as the men at the factory up the road and gets forced to do overtime by her union rep.

So what does all of this mean?  Poor white people are an easy target.  Instead of engaging in some meaningful dialogue, and finding ways to include them in all levels of discourse, we dismiss them out of hand because they have bad grammar.  How many times have you, or someone you know, dismissed an online comment because of a spelling or grammar mistake?  I come from a family of grammar nuts but that? That is classism my friends.  This is why the Tories and Republicans do so well when they talk about intellectual elitism. 

So maybe before we go off assuming that being poor and white means you’re racist and ignorant we should recognize all the ways in which we exclude them from the conversation and the movement.