Judging women: ‘You Overdid it Doll’

(Yes, this blog is back from the dead, hopefully permanently, but that all depends on how much sleep I get, how exhausting work and teaching experience is, and, apparently, by how often something enrages me.)

I just heard You Overdid It Doll by The Courteeners on the radio, and it inspired me to resurrect this blog, something I’ve been trying to for a long time. How did it do it? By enraging me. I seem to have a very few topics that I return to again and again, and this song epitomises one of them – the way women are judged and have their behaviour dictated to by men.

You Overdid It Doll is basically about a man saying how much of a mess the ‘doll’ of the title is, she seems to be his ex-girlfriend, but now ‘Your teeth are starting to go, 5 nights a week its starting to show’, but it’s ok, because though she takes ‘it’ to an extreme he doesn’t, ‘it’ be drinking and social drugs or it could be harder drugs, suggested by the phrase ‘I shoot it like a Tommy gun’, not far from the “shooting up” of heroin.

The content of this song is essentially the same as Thrash Unreal, by Against Me!,which I have written about before. Both are from a male’s perspective, about a woman who is beginning to suffer from the effects of a party lifestyle, for lack of a better term. But there is one very big difference – the narrator of You Overdid It Doll is judging his ex, it’s obvious in the title of the song, and it is obvious the whole way through. He criticises her appearance, ‘Your teeth are starting to go’, ‘Dark shadows around your eyes’, and her personality, ‘the taming of the shrew’. Ah yes, throw in a Shakespearian comparison, which incidentally sets him up as just the man to “save” her, because shattering her spirit, just like in the play, is such a wonderful thing to do. He judges her and finds her failing, and then proceeds to dictate to her what her behaviour should be, all the while showing hypocrisy because whatever it is she is doing, drink or drugs, it is fine for him to do, in moderation or not.

This is rather different from the acknowledgment in Thrash Unreal that the woman is her own person, ‘If she wants to dance and drink all night then there’s no one that can stop her’, her situation is presented rather than judged, in fact the narrator appears to sympathise with her, ‘We do what we do to get by’, ‘they keep getting younger don’t they baby?’ Here the pet name is one of solidarity, but, of course, the use of ‘doll’ in the title of The Courteeners song grates with me, it’s patronising and a reminder that the woman is the narrator’s ex, as in not his girlfriend any more, and so nothing to do with him, and yet he still looks at her and judges her.

It really annoys me that while I was doing research for this piece all I found was people raving about how good the lyrics are. Hah, they’re sexist, prescriptivist, high and mighty and just a little bit creepy. I think I’ll stick with Against Me!, who show that men can write about women as people, to be understood and sympathised with, whether their actions are agreed with or not.

Hi, is there anything I can help you with?

I know people have got fired  for writing unfavourable things about their jobs on their blogs, but I can’t see that this post will get me in trouble, even if any of my managers read it. Still, I am going to be very vague about where it is I work – lets say I’m a sales assistant in the men’s department of a fairly large, well known clothes shop in central London. First, I should make it clear that I love my job, I don’t even really mind the early starts or the late finishes, and the people I work with are all great, and retail is what I know and what I’m good at.

However, though I’ve worked in retail for six years now, including in one of the largest fashion clothes shops and a large comic/ book shop, I’m noticing something I’ve never come across before. Sexual harassment at work is a big issue, especially legal, but what do you do when the harassment is not coming from the people you work with, but from the customers? I feel like I should make it very, very clear that I have no problems with any of the people I work with, but if I did I know exactly what I would, I know my rights, and also I would feel comfortable and able to object to any behaviour that made me uncomfortable, it’s just not the same with customers.

As a sales assistant I often feel very submissive, an interesting position for a often rather outspoken feminist, but what I’m there for is to basically do whatever the customer asks me to, and do everything I can to make them happy (and make them spend lots of money). The more worrying implications of this became apparent rather early on, within days I learnt it was just day to day life for the female sales assistants to chatted up by the male customers on a regular basis, I’d been there six days when I was asked out for a drink. Most of this is rather innocent, and understandable to an extent, after all, we are smiley and friendly to everyone, it’s our job, and the guy who asked me out did look nearly as embarrassed as I felt.

There are less innocent examples – twice I’ve come across people avoiding specific customers because, for want of a better word, they are being stalked by them, and one girl was asked to be a customers wife, she thought he was joking, as you would, he told her he was serious. And, best of all, something that happened to me the other day. I was on the fitting room, I always lead customers to a free changing room (saying ‘if you’d like to follow me’, and feeling like I’m basically asking them to stare at my arse) and put the tag with how many items they have on the wall for them, which means I go into the room then come out, so of course one customer pretty much leers at me and says ‘are you coming in with me?’ And of course all I can do is smile politely and go away, feeling disgusted, and unable to do anything, because my job is to be nice to the customers, no matter how they act towards me. I would much rather a customer being rude or angry than leching all over me.

The worst thing was hearing a fellow sales assistant complaining about a customer talking to her breasts for ten minutes then saying ‘I guess it’s my fault for not wearing a cardigan’. But of course it’s not, only the victims are made to feel like it’s their fault because there is nothing we can do, unless we’re actually being physically threatened, and I do at least feel like if I was being physically threatened the company I work for would be supportive of me. But the thing is that in a way the behaviour I’ve been on the receiving end of isn’t that bad, while thinking about this issue I stumbled across this article, which shows the extreme lengths that strangers sexual advances can go to. Obviously death isn’t a common result, but maybe I am lucky that I mostly get harassed in a safe environment, if I can’t retaliate in the way I would on the street I also know there are other sales assistants and security guards around if I am being physically threatened. The fact that I can attach the word ‘lucky’ to any sort of repeated harassment is so wrong though, especially when I do feel like I, if not invite it, make it appear more welcome, by the way I behave, when all I am doing is my job.

If I could think of a way to act against this then I would, but while ignoring cat calls on the street works I have to carry on smiling and being polite to the men who lech at me, I have to laugh at their suggestive jokes, I have to worry if I’m being ogled while I’m showing people to fitting rooms. I love my job, and I enjoy it, and really this isn’t a large part of it, but it is a significant minority of customers, and I don’t want it to be something that makes me dislike my job, or does the same for any of the people I work with.

‘Got to find a reason for the lady of the night’

I’m writing a big essay about Big D and the Kid’s Table, but until that’s done I thought I’d write something shorter as a filler, and I’ve been meaning to write this piece for a while, so this seems a good time for it. Incidentally, this might be the most antagonistic thing I’ve written, at least in a while, I feel like I should have some kind of warning, ‘careful: feminism ahead’.

Guana Batz are one of the classic UK psychobilly bands, I have the best of album and I love it. It’s mostly simple, stripped down and fairly aggressive, with loads of songs that make me want to dance, and a few slower songs, with an interesting variety of subjects and themes. However, there is one song I really have a problem with, little as I want to.

I have no problems with the sound of Lady of the Night, but the more I listen to it the more the lyrics worry me. The refrain is ‘Got to find a reason for the lady of the night’, and the song essentially tells of the narrator’s struggle to understand why a woman who once turned him down is now a prostitute. It begins with a fairly typical description of a woman as admired by a man, though ‘the big old moon up above, looking lonesome and oh so cold’ is a foreshadowing of what is to come, especially as the moon is such a typically female symbol. The chorus makes it obvious that the woman being watched is a prostitute, a lady of the night, and ‘looks so different in the cold daylight’, ie when she is no longer the object of lust of the male viewer, here the typical stereotypes of the prostitute begin to creep in.

The association of the cold moon and the woman is revealed in the line ‘you know she used to have feelings’, she is being set up as the femme fatale, the hard woman who has done what she had to survive, this seems to be the ‘reason’ the narrator is searching for, but there is more. It become obvious that ‘you could have been away from all this, if you’d only said yes when I asked’, in other words, she rejected the narrators advances, ‘because of her foolish pride’. This pride seems to be the reason the narrator is searching for, though why pride would cause someone to not only reject a man but become a prostitute, after all, it ‘hurts me to see you put yourself through all this’, ie her profession is her choice, is unclear, at least to me. I can’t see the link between pride and a profession so often associated with shame and desperation.

The overall message of the song is clearly that it is the woman’s fault she is a prostitute, because she was proud and she rejected the narrator. I suppose the view is that she thought she was too good for him, but it’s ok because now he’s too good for her. Read like that the song becomes the story of some kind of karmic revenge upon the woman. Apart from the statement that she chose her profession, unless I’m reading too much into that, and ‘chose’ simply means “deserves everything she gets because she had the cheek to turn me down.” Not especially flattering to the male narrator involved, in fact I find it totally disturbing, the song takes, presumably, a strong-willed independent woman and punishes her for that independence, all too like the Victorian morality tales where vanity and pride were the start of the slippery slope to prostitution and death in the gutter.

This impression is aided by the mention of all the troubles she’s faced but no mention of what they are – is she a prostitute to support her habit? Her children? Because she has no other options? If so there is no mention of those factors, just like the Victorians who blamed prostitution on the woman’s nymphomania and vanity, not her lack of skills, job opportunities and extreme poverty. Then there’s the fact she ‘used to have feelings’, so she doesn’t have them any more, which is awful for a number of reasons. 1 – it’s contradictory, because the narrator also talks of watching her ‘put yourself through all this’, implying her situation is as distasteful to her as it is to him, but if she doesn’t have feelings then she wouldn’t care. 2 – more horrible stereotyping of prostitutes, she becomes inhuman in her lack of feelings and connection with the ‘cold’ moon, it’s a type of objectification, perhaps a way of the narrator distancing himself from the lust he still feels for her, despite how ‘different’ she looks from previously. 3 – It’s the same objection as most of my other reason for disliking this song, but seriously, dumping someone makes you emotionless? That’s just stupid.

The more I think about The Lady of the Night the more it annoys me, and though there are lots of different things about it that annoy me they all come back to the same thing – this song is basically a working illustration of the male gaze in effect. This song is not about the woman, not really, it’s totally about the male narrator, and though he may go on and on about the unnamed (of course) woman’s terrible pride, really his whole motivation seems to be revenge and wounded pride. And why does he need to find a reason for the woman being a prostitute? She dumped him, she shouldn’t be anything to do with him any more. I think he needs to find a reason so that his pride can heal, and the fact that she became a prostitute after dumping him, though there’s absolutely no proof in the song that the two are in any way related, is some kind of odd boost to his ego. Again, everything in the song is about the man, and I thinks it’s this that makes me dislike it so much, be self-obsessed if you like, but don’t pretend to be concerned about someone else to cover up that self-obsession.

On green hair and women’s bodies

At the moment half my hair is dyed green. This is not a big deal to me, I’ve had unnatural coloured hair for over two years now, and for another year or so before that, my hair is part of my identity but at the same time it’s something that’s as unusual to me as my glasses. This is not true with a proportion of society, and for some reason the green really seems to attract much more attention than any other colour I’ve had.

Sometimes this attention is fine, overhearing a child on the tube ask her mum if I was wearing a wig, and when correcting announcing she wanted to dye her hair was adorable, and most of the comments I get are genuinely flattering. However, some of the time it is fairly obvious ‘I like your hair’ really doesn’t mean they like your hair at all, and it’s just like being a 15 year-old goth with men shouting at me out of their car windows all over again. The other one I get is ‘you’ve got green hair!’ Well, yes, I know. These I can ignore, my appearance has always got me more attention I’d rather not have.

Buying something in a shop and having the sales assistant reach over and touch my hair however, I can’t ignore. Ok, so she complimented my hair, but she also totally violated my personal space. At the time I was shocked, and a bit amused, now I’m really quite angry. Just earlier today I was sitting in a cafe at my uni, drinking tea, reading The Waves and listening to music, and some guy said ‘I like your barnet’, and it’s nothing, I just ignored him, but for me to have been able to hear it over my music he must have said it really loudly, because of course I want everyone to stare at me.

All these little events aren’t much on their own, but together they make me think how much my body is assumed to be common property, just because I stand out. It’s not always men of course, but it does often make me think of the theory of male gaze when it happens, and of the way women’s bodies are under so much scrutiny. I can sympathise with the way famous people have to deal with being told they look too fat, too thin, too old, but more I can sympathise with ordinary women who deal with this not because they choose to stand out in some way, after all I don’t always mind the attention my hair and clothes gets me, but because they happen to have large breasts or, worse, walk along a road. How dare they?

The second of those links I’ve only just seen, the timing of it is odd, and it makes me think maybe I’m getting off lightly. I think I’d rather be insulted than have suggestive comments made, maybe my punk-inspired clothes, glasses and perpetual pissed-off or terrified expression help me, they’ve always felt like a bit of a mask. Still, my immediate reaction on hearing a car beep shouldn’t be to swear at it, one day it will be someone I know.

Related to this is the case of Sophie Lancaster, kicked to death because she was a goth. I was lucky when I was a goth, I think the only physical thing that happened to me was having stones thrown at me on the beach, by kids from my school of course. Oh, and the very first time I remember going out in obviously gothic clothes, aged 13, I got ‘Pippi Longstocking’ shouted at me by significantly older boys because of my striped socks, I’d been told my dad had dies maybe ten minutes before. At least I had more important things on my mind than taking much notice of some idiots. The fact that nearly 9 years later I’m still taking abuse from people I don’t know because of my appearance is sad, as is the fact I don’t even really get angry very often now.

It seems that as a female who identifies as belonging to an alternative sub-culture I get to either be abused or leched at on the street. I refuse to change the way I dress, this is not my problem, this is the problem of people who think perving on under-age girls is acceptable, but I do wish I could think of some productive way to make them realise how unacceptable their behaviour is.

Geek Style and the female gaze

Yesterdaystumbleupon gave me this link, from the blog Painfully Hip.It’s kind of old now, and these kind of articles aren’t that uncommon, but this one made me stop and think. I’m used to talking about the male gaze, after all, I read comics, I spend much of my time sighing at the stupid, revealing costumes, indistinguishable faces, hips that just won’t unsway and general, unrelenting sexiness of the women. But what about the female version?

The article, much as I do sort of agree with what the author has to say, geeky boys really are cute, and the bog glasses have developed into a worrying obsession with me, I want some as my next pair, I have a few issues with it. For a start, the title: ‘The Modern Nerd’s Guide to Getting Laid, No Sympathy Involved’, way to perpetuate the stereotype that all men think about is sex, or the one that geek’s are unattractive, which is ironic considering the topic of the article.

Then there’s the whole concept of the article – a woman telling a man how to dress, because of course men, especially geeks, are unable to dress themselves and there is nothing more important than appearance. Though I have done this myself, two of my female friends and I took one of my male friends shopping, I was pretty shocked by the facts that he didn’t know what size he was, bought clothes way too large and never tried anything on, and yes, we did pretty much tell him what looked good and to buy it. This to me seems to be the female gaze, the act of moulding the way a man looks, of infantilising them, especially enforcing the stereotype that geeks are unable to cope with ‘normal’ society, unable to looks after themselves.

Still, I do like the lack of trying to change the type of person,”but you are a geek and that’s probably never going to change” is a relief from the usual total change of personality seen on makeover shows. The article is sympathetic to the whole idea of being a geek, as long is it is the sexy, hipster type, but, where is the mention of female geeks? Do we not need to be told what to wear? Do we not exist? Is there even a stereotype of what a female geek looks like? I doubt me with my punk/psychobilly style counts, but just get me talking about comics or Warhammer books or Dungeons and Dragons, or rather try to get me not to.

It seems that, while simultaneously trying to embrace and break the geek stereotype the author of the article actually reinforces some of the most depressing parts of it, which is a shame, especially as she is right, geek boys are hot, and so are geek girls.

We all have to burn something…

Recently I have been thinking about feminism and politeness, two things that I’ve been thinking about on and off for a long time. Politeness is obviously deeply encoded behaviour, and I do think it’s important, and one of the aspects of my English Language A level I found interesting was all the stuff on politeness theory. However, as I’ve become more aware of gender roles and feminist politics I’ve begun to have some issues with politeness.

For example, waiting at the bus stop, and the bus arrives, an old man signals for me to get onto the bus before him – what do I do? If I get on, and smile, and say thank you I’m doing the polite thing, but I also feel like he’s only doing it because of enforced gender roles, because I’m female, and it’s not like I need to get on the bus first, I’m a healthy 21 year old, and I end up being resentful. If I don’t get on I look rude, and what with the great reputation many young people have that is that last thing I want to present, it was bad enough working in a charity shop and having old people express their surprise at how nice and polite I was. If only I could give every person who offered something like that a little talk about how just because I’m female I don’t need to be coddled, to have the door held open for me, to go first, to be helped with stuff when I’m not really struggling.Of course they are probably just doing it to be polite, not because they think I’m some helpless little woman.

Normally I opt for doing the easiest thing, accepting their help if it would be rude not to, smiling and saying thank you, and I hold the door open for anyone, no matter of gender, age, etc. It does still annoy me, I can’t help projecting my awareness of stereotypical roles onto other people, I probably should give them the benefit of the doubt really.

That’s one part of politeness that annoys me, but I feel a bit trapped by, on one hand it feels irrelevant, on the other hand for me the personal really is political. The other part is something I noticed today, and it made me more annoyed at myself than at the other person.

So I know this guy at uni, he’s friendly and stuff, and I was kind of amused talking to him last week, it was a mix of the ‘I’m a nice guy’ sexism and plain sex-obsessed stereotypical lad conversation, two fairly extended conversations with him over two weeks have taken it from kind of amusing as I wasn’t taking him very seriously to a bit creepy as the more he talks the more I think he’s serious. God, blatant misogyny is worse in real life than it is online, even is the actual words are nowhere as offensive. Crude jokes rarely bother me, two of my best friends are male and we make some terrible jokes, but I know they’re joking, today I was really not so sure, worrying when a proportion of the misogyny was directed at/about me. (Note to self: don’t let slip that you’re queer, polyamorous and in an open relationship around someone like that.)

The thing that’s made me annoyed is my reaction, I was polite, I ignored it more or less, and talked to other people and changed the topic of conversation, and was pleased that when the subject of my relationship came up another guy basically agreed with me that it’s not really a big deal. But – I was polite. If I was online I’d have been a hell of a lot less polite, I’d have made it obvious I was beginning to be a bit offended actually, and maybe I’d have got in a stupid argument, but I’d have done something. I’ve never thought of myself as a coward, or hypocritical, and now I kind of feel like I’ve let myself down.

So, next week, I’ll see what happens, and if it’s the same again, well, it won’t be. If he says the same sort of things he has been I’ll just make it very clear, in firm, polite language, how I feel. Hopefully this won’t end up in a silly, big argument, but if I have to sacrifice politeness to get my point across, and to do what I think is right, well, whatever.

This all comes back to my initial, and recurrent feelings, that somehow politeness holds me back, and holds feminism back, in the obvious ways such as enforcing gender stereotypes, but in less obvious ways such as the way we automatically, perhaps unconsciously censor what we say. Maybe this is just me, but I certainly think it’s something that I want to look into more.

Male Feminism in Alternative Music essay

This essay was written for my Text, Art and Performance unit last year. Basically, the theme of the unit was that anything can be a text, which can be read, and the final essay of the unit was entirely up to us, we came up with the question, did the research, just had a little bit of guidence. I couldn’t think of anything to write about comics, so it was obvious I was going to write about music. If I wrote it now some things would probably be different, I think I may have pushed the interpretation slightly too far in places, and it’s written about obscure bands even in the alternative scence, but I’m incredibly proud of it, and the fact I got a first for it helps too.

Sex, Appearance and the Male Gaze: Male Feminism in Alternative Music.

The original plan for this project was to explore the relationship between feminism and music, it soon became clear this would be too large an undertaking, and the project needed to be more focussed. To write about alternative music seemed obvious, as it is what I know, the decision to write about male feminism came about as I made a preliminary list of feminist songs.

Though feminism is most associated with women men can also be feminists or produce texts that are feminist. I have chosen several songs, all of which I perceive to be feminist and are written by men.

One of the preoccupations of feminism is equality of the sexes, or lack of it, this is one of the topics of both Male Chauvinist Gig[1], by Five Knuckle, and Fuck Machine[2], by Propagandhi. Another central preoccupation of feminist theory is sex, this is a theme in all the songs, but especially in Date Rape[3], by Sublime, which explores rape in an unexpectedly comedic manner. Little Baby Nothing[4], by The Manic Street Preachers, is concerned with sex, and the pressures society places women under, this can also be seen in a more general way in For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge[5], by Sonic Boom Six, which is especially concerned with appearance. All these songs are written by men, though they are not necessarily solely performed by men.

The songs all seem to be influenced by the main preoccupations of modern feminism, as would be expected, though these influences have led to several very different songs, one of the main reasons for this difference being genre, the reggae influenced Date Rape has a totally different sound to the hardcore punk of Fuck Machine. I intend to explore these different ways of presenting and representing feminism, both through the text of the song and through the music as art and performance.

One of the themes that is obvious throughout the songs is the acknowledgement of the presence of the male gaze. Every song I have chosen deals with the way women are looked at, and look, either explicitly or implicitly, and especially with the way women are looked at by men. Fuck Machine deals with the male gaze most brutally; the narrator’s eyes unwillingly ‘rape the innocent womyn, children, humyn beings’. This is obviously a criticism of the way men look at women, though from a different viewpoint than a female feminist would present the same criticism, it is the guilt of the perpetrator rather than the anger of the victim.

The image of women as objects recurs several times throughout the songs. Though the title Fuck Machine only hints at the objectification of women the lyrics make it obvious that it is women who are the fuck machines of the title, in some cases willingly being objectified. The song is directed not just at men’s objectification, but also at women’s allowance of it, the narrator asks ‘Do you really want to be our fuck machines?’ Women are also compared to toys in Little Baby Nothing, in the line ‘beauty and virginity used like toys’, as well as the mention of ‘Barbie Doll futility’, the specifically female toy has connotations of stupidity and shallowness, as well as childishness.

Another form of objectification of women presented by the songs is in the form of names; especially those women are called by men, such as the ‘baby’ of Little Baby Nothing. It is infantilising, suggesting helplessness and dependence, a more extreme version of the innocence that is stolen, as well as suggesting the youth of the girl or girls being sung about. This is especially relevant and disturbing considering the female singer, Traci Lords, gained notoriety for featuring in pornographic films while she was underage.[6] The use of the diminutive name ‘baby’ is no less disturbing in Date Rape, where the rapist repeatedly calls his victim ‘babe’ or ‘baby’. The fact she has no name both depersonalises her and makes her into an everywoman, a warning and perhaps an inspiration. It also illustrates the rapist’s total knowledge of what he has done, especially in the line ‘Now baby don’t be sad, in my opinion you weren’t half bad’, acting as a contrast to the way someone who would call a woman by a pet name would normally act towards them.

The association with names and sexuality is further continued in several of the songs, especially in the form of insults. In Date Rape the rapist says ‘she lies, that little slut’, here the common accusation levelled at rape victims by defence lawyer is attempted, she is called sexually promiscuous, so it could not have been rape. However, the judge is aware the rapist is lying and he is sentenced to prison.

There is also reference to ‘the useless sluts that they mould’ in Little Baby Nothing. At first sight this seems insulting to women, and distinctly antifeminist, as much of the lyrics do on paper. However, it is here that the difference between text and performance becomes crucial. The line is sung by the male singer rather than the female, who, throughout the song, takes the role of men in general, and it follows the line ‘You are pure, you are snow’. It is this line that seems to refer to women, as earlier in the song the male singer explicitly uses the pronoun ‘you’ to refer to women. So, the pejorative term ‘slut’ here seems to refer to men, unusual for such a sexual term, as insults to men often refer to lack of sexuality or misplaced, homosexual sexuality.

However, a similarly gendered insult is again used against men rather than women, in Male Chauvinist Gig. The song is directed at men in bands, especially lead singers as they often act as the spokesperson for the band as a whole, the line ‘speak out loud your slutty fantasies’ is explicitly directed at singers. Again, ‘slutty’ is an insult usually directed at women, especially in regards to appearance. Here the normative form is reversed, it is used in the context of respecting women rather than judging them as well as making clear the shallowness of the singer’s fantasies, disguised as lyrics.

Despite the feminism of the songs chosen women’s appearance is still a feature of a number of them, notably For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. It acts as a critique of celebrity magazines and the people who read them, so appearance is central to it. This is obvious in lines such as ‘Oh but her dress is not right, and her legs are all cellulite’, a common accusation of magazines to celebrities, it is sung by the female lead singer, reminding the listener of the practise of women judging women, a reversal of the sisterhood aimed at by feminism. The voice set up for the magazines is authoritative, a new diet ‘you have to try’, and the repeated command ‘read all about it’.

Despite this it is the readers of the magazines they ‘buy to tutt about the daft slag’ who are become the real object of ridicule of the song, with the deft reminder ‘she gets a Prada handbag, so who’s laughing last?’ This not only suggests the pointlessness of judging others by looks alone but also that the root cause is jealousy, and possibly insecurity. This insecurity, also apparent in the lines about diets, is echoed and expanded upon in the final verse, with the repetition of ‘And now we’re ugly sisters’. This self-loathing is a learned process, from ‘Watching our ugly mothers’, sung by the female lead singer it comes to represent all women, who judge each other as they judge themselves.

Sex is a major concern of many of the songs, whether it is consensual or not. Part of this concern is an underlying sense of the lyrics attempting to confirm heterosexuality.

The line ‘And though I long to embrace’, in Fuck Machine, is about heterosexual desire, but the right sort of desire for women, ‘I got hormones, hormones too’, in Male Chauvinist Gig, follows the same pattern. As well as criticising sexist men for blaming their behaviour on hormones or desires they affirm heterosexual desire, so denying homosexual desire and asserting masculinity. As such the lyrics are in effect saying ‘I respect women, but that does not make me gay’.

This undercurrent of heterosexual desire and lack of homosexual desire becomes explicit in Date Rape. The song tells the story of a girl’s rape and her rapist’s trial and imprisonment, where he is in turn raped by another prisoner. Though the poetic justice seems like revenge it also exposes the homophobic subtext of the song, in the line ‘Well I can’t take pity on men of his kind / Even though he now takes it in the behind.’ The song suggests that anal sex is the worst thing that can happen to a man, not rape, and a case for pity in any case other than that of a rapist. It also portrays male rape as something to be ignored, though the female victim gets justice the male one does not, despite the prison guards full knowledge, ‘But the guards paid no attention to his cries.’

However, despite the confirmation of heterosexuality in some of the songs heterosexual desire is also problematised. Little Baby Nothing constructs heterosexual desire as oppressive and exploitative, the bridge ‘Used, used by men’ sums up the song’s attitude. Female sexuality is presented as being seen as dangerous by men, ‘Because it’s something real that I can’t touch’, in retaliation it becomes something they ‘steal’ and ‘destroy’. In stark comparison women are ‘hopelessly passive and compatible’, utterly reliant on the men who destroy them. This heterosexuality is emotionless, it seems to describe prostitution rather than relationships, all the men ‘leave behind is money’.

Though Little Baby Nothing clearly casts men as abusers and women as victims, sexuality in For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge is more complicated. The title, a contrived acronym for the word ‘fuck’, suggests a disallow of sex, the exact opposite of what is suggested by the song, with it’s authoritative ‘we all need to fuck’, here it is more a suggestion of duty or convention than desire.

Other mentions of sex in the song deepen the suggestion of sex as convention, the public are described as having an ‘obsession’, not just with the celebrity magazines, but with the sexual aspects of them, ‘all the spitroasts and the dildos’. Sex becomes a spectator sport, with the mention of reality television, the suggestive ‘maybe they’ll even…’ though despite the obsession with sex it is still a taboo subject, to be mentioned crudely or euphemistically only.

The songs were all chosen because they can be read as feminists texts, as has been illustrated above. However, there are also differences between them and most feminist texts, for example, that of perspective, these songs are all either mostly or exclusively from a male perspective, writing either about women or relationships between men and women. In this way they form part of the male gaze, even if they seem to criticise it, as Fuck Machine does. This leads to the presence of guilt in the songs, already discussed in relation to Fuck Machine. This can possibly also be seen in Little Baby Nothing, the male narrator does not totally separate himself from other men, the girl’s face offends ‘because it’s something real that I can’t touch’, though the use of the plural ‘they’ several times shows some disassociation, the narrator regards himself as guilty but not as guilty as others.

The songs are populated by a wide variety of female figures, many of them active, for example the female anchor in Fuck Machine, who progresses throughout the song from being passive to active, her ‘fists finally clinched’, the words ‘I’m not your fucking toy!’ are hers, and seem to sum up the ideal reaction of a woman to men’s sexism.

The rape victim of Date Rape is another strong character, meant to be pitied and respected. From the first line there is identification with her, she is ‘a girl that I know’, but the narrator’s attitude to her is mixed, though the girl’s spoken lines are in quotation marks the rapists are not always, so ‘Now babe the time has come/ How’d ya like to have a little fun?’ seems to come from the singer, he seems to become the rapist. This can be seen as a different expression of the male guilt that is found in the other songs, an awareness of the possibility of being a rapist.

The girl does not seem to be blamed for what happens to her, though she is ‘in a bar, by herself’ this seems factual rather than accusatory; there is also no mention of her appearance, the sole blame for the rape is placed upon her attacker. She is not a passive character at all, the most explicit act of violence in the song is by her, ‘she picked up a rock … hit him in the head’, and she takes the rapist to court where he is successfully prosecuted. The ending lines of the song enforce the message of female strength, ‘she didn’t want to / Take it!’, this is especially clear in performance, where the last two words are shouted, leaving a forceful last impression.

Despite the positive message of the song it in fact acts to cover up the reality of most rapes, perpetrating the myth that rape is committed by ‘a man she’d never seen before’, when in 2005 72% of rapes were committed by a friend, relation or partner.[7] Also, the prosecution of a rapist is in fact very unlikely, less than half of all rapes are reported, and in those cases that go to court the suspected rapist is found innocent in 15 out of 16 cases.[8] Though the song can be seen to address a difficult issue honestly and in a supportive manner it also reinforces several myths, and presents a more positive view of the aftermath of rape than many victims in fact experience.

The question of authorial intention is especially relevant in relation to songs, where the line between the author of the text and the voice of it is especially liable to become blurred, because of the immediate manner of delivery. So, a song with a feminist message does not imply a feminist author, though several of the songs used are by artists that are explicitly feminist, for example Propagandhi, who have a reputation as a political band. In the video of a live performance of Fuck Machine the lead singer introduces the song by saying ‘most of us were bought up to believe people should be treated differently because of their gender… and that’s just a bunch of shit’, an explicitly feminist statement. Their use of the terms ‘womyn’ and ‘humyn’ are also explicitly feminist, though controversially so. According to Dictionary.com womyn means ‘women (used chiefly in feminist literature as an alternative spelling to avoid the suggestion of sexism perceived in the sequence m-e-n)’, though it can also be used in the singular, the term humyn is used in the same way.[9] It is a term mostly used by radical feminists, and it is especially unusual to see it used by a man in a non-satirical or mocking context, showing Propagandhi’s commitment to radical politics.

In his book Music: A Very Short Introduction, Nicholas Cook draws attention to the three categories that make up a music GCSE syllabus, ‘composing, performing, and appraising’, writing that this implies that the three categories are totally distinct from one another, as well as introducing a hierarchy between musicians and ‘“ordinary” listeners (ordinary that is, in the sense that they are not musicians)’, before showing that in fact the categories are not distinct, implying that the hierarchy may be false as well.[10] Cook’s point that the categories are not distinct seems to be proven to some extent by alternative music, for example the popularity of live albums and videos, such as the video of Fuck Machine discussed above, where the noise of the crowd, the ‘appraisers’, becomes part of the performance. The blurring of the boundaries of performance and listening is especially interesting in the context of music with a political message, a crowd singing along to Little Baby Nothing are voicing the author’s opinions, even if they do not agree with them, they become complicit in the song to some extent.

Several of the songs used are violent, especially in their performance. With violence against women being such a taboo subject, and such a politicised one, it may seem strange for often overtly feminist music to be so violent, especially as the pit in gigs is often an overtly male space, excluding women. One of the reasons for this violence is undoubtedly genre, hardcore and punk by definition sound violent, the sound of Fuck Machine and Male Chauvinist Gig is not unique among Propagandhi and Five Knuckle songs.

The idea that gender and violence can be connected in music is not a new one, ‘gendered terminology and the undercurrent of violence have a long history in descriptions of musical form… a sonata’s first idea (or theme) should embody “such essentially masculine characteristics as force, energy, concision, and clarity”’.[11] Following this all of the songs can be classified as defiantly ‘masculine’; they are certainly all forceful and energetic. It seems that what was once an undercurrent of violence has now, especially in alternative music, become overt, and especially expressed in performance.

This expression in performance can be seen in videos of the songs, for example in the video for Date Rape, where the physical act of producing the music can be seen as violent, especially the drums, and there the violence of the pit can be seen in the audience.[12]

In investigating the similarities and differences between the chosen songs several themes that are in all or most of the songs have emerged, especially sex and women’s appearance. Not only are these themes very important to feminist theory as a whole, supporting the proposition that the chosen songs are feminist texts, they help create and overall picture of the concerns of male feminists, expressed through alternative music.

[1] Male Chauvinist Gig. Artist. Five Knuckle.

[2] Fuck Machine. Artist. Propagandhi. Album. How to Clean Everything

[3] Date Rape. Artist. Sublime. Album. 40Oz to Freedom. Author. Sublime. Label. MCA Records. 1992

[4] Little Baby Nothing. Artist. Manic Street Preachers featuring Traci Lords. Album. Generation Terrorists. Author. Nicky Wire and Richie James. Artist. Sony Music. 1992

[5] For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge Artist. Sonic Boom Six. Album. A Ruff Guide to Genre Terrorism. Author. Barney Boom. Label. Deck Cheese Records. 2005

[6] Traci Lords, Traci Lords: Underneath It All (Harper Collins Press 2003)

[7] Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 2005 National Crime Victimisation Survey, America


[10] Nicholas Cook Music: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998 )

[11] Cook

[12] YouTube, Sublime – Date Rape http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WBttO4UzSw