women in punk 1975-1980

(The following originally
appeared in Interrobang?! #2)

Respect is due. Women have been playing in punk bands since the beginning, yet only a handful have gotten recognition. I decided to compile a list of women in punk from 1975-1980 because most things I've read on punk history either focus on the many bands with men in them or on the few, more well known bands with women. I picked '75-'80 because that's when the first punk explosion hit. It's these women who first inspired me to play guitar in an all-girl band (back in 1981), and it's the era in punk history that preceded the more macho '80's hardcore.

It's amazing during this time period how many girls picked up instruments and formed bands, how many women were in all-female bands, how many women were in experimental or non-traditional bands. I want to rewrite rock history. I want to show the continuity of women playing music. I want to break down the barriers that say that all female bands sound alike or that women can't play their instruments or that girls can only be in pretty sounding pop bands. Once we realize the variety of bands out there that have existed and can see these women as our role models, maybe more girls will have a sense as to the long cycle of women expressing themselves musically. Just because the media is now honing in on the numerous women in bands, doesn't negate all of the women that have come before. It's a gradual process.

Women have constantly been denied access to the male-dominated music world. I believe it has to do with society being threatened by women or girls up on a stage, displaying themselves in a manner that puts them in the public gaze, but in a way in which they have control. Women have traditionally only been allowed to express their creativity in areas where they're not seen. And women are certainly not expected to express themselves in an aggressive manner (ie-loud guitars, screamed vocals, angry lyrics) because we are taught to be nice, nurturing, accommodating. Just this year I went to the showing of a film on women in punk where afterwards people from the audience were allowed to ask questions. Several of the women in the film were present and most of the questions directed towards them were variations on "Why are you so angry?" As if anger is not a universal emotion, and as if women have nothing to be angry about.

We must reclaim our rightful place in history. If women are to be truly recognized for the innovations we bring to music based on our creative expression and not on our gender, than the whole structure and mythology of rock 'n' roll criticism/history has to change. What can we do?

1. Stop denying the continuous history of girls playing music. Learn as much as you can about the history of rock 'n' roll/punk and women's involvement in it.

2. See the music put out by your girlfriends in the context of the larger music scene. Girls do not create in a vacuum. Women do not sound like other women just because they are all female.

3. Accept girl anger as a valid voice. Women are not necessarily "man-haters" just because we sing about our anger towards men. If this standard were to hold true for us, then in all fairness most boy bands of the past thirty-five years would have to be seen as "woman-haters."

So, remember- the struggle is ongoing. Get up on stage and play your heart out. Say what you're really thinking even if it upsets people. Find your voice by expressing yourself creatively. And remember your connection to the women that have come before you.
©1994 Sharon Cheslow top of page