*Whilst I’ve had releases from Sleater-Kinney and Girlpool on repeat of late, I’ve been teetering between riot grrrl and girly girl for as long as I can remember. The top comment on a new SK track on Youtube (“welcome back ladies… save us from beyonce, j-lo, nicki minaj, taylor swift, and the rest of these pop ho-bags.”) got me thinking about whether it’s possible to embrace seemingly opposing cultural output. (Clue: it is) This is also the question at the centre of Roxane Gay’s half-memoir/essay collection ‘Bad Feminist’, which I highly recommend.
Am I a bad musical feminist? A little bit of context: at 11, I had convinced myself that I was a half-decent songwriter. Every echoey middle eight, however, betrayed a love of the bubblegum pop of Britney, Xtina et al. Even when I was ploughing through visceral chords – stripy rayon tie and twelve Claire’s Accessories crucifixes around my neck – my lyrics were all based on my maths class crush, the Aaron Samuels to my Cady Heron (minus the Lohan looks and plus a little caustic acne). I was effectively a one-woman Xenomania.
Somewhere between 13 and 14, I started listening to the kind of XFM-endorsed Noughties indie which makes me highly nostalgic nowadays. I had a nu rave phase along with half of the free world, followed by the obligatory Converse-and-Nirvana era, followed by a few months spent lurking around Camden Market chowing down lukewarm curry. Somewhere along the way I even got into Joan Jett. I had a guitar, an amp…and neighbours who probably wanted me dead.
(I looked like a bit of a wee rebel didn’t I?)
And YET, I couldn’t quite shake off my frivolous, whimsical, girly self, nor my acute awareness of my love/hate relationship with my gender. My MySpace page was a homage to Donnie Darko and Oscar Wilde (cool) but also featured copious paragraphs on my love for miniature Japanese toys (not so cool). And then it happened: I stumbled upon (via MTV2 maybe?) the duality of the riot grrrl sound, the not-so-latent anger that came with a side order of heartbreaking harmonies. Plus, ripping to iTunes was all the rage, so you could pick up a lot of quality cast offs at charity shops and the second hand section of HMV.
I wanted to be like the L7 girls, Veruca Salt, Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinney, even Courtney Love (my first blog was, of course, written anonymously by a Miss Love-Cobain), but even when I saw the subversive femininity of these artists at work, I struggled to reconcile this with the part of my being that unironically owned a dance mat.
In the end, I grew up, started writing this blog, listened to everything going and somehow avoided making a proper decision about it all. Oh, and the great postmodern vortex that is the internet continued to mess with the idea of “high” and “low” culture. Latter obsessions with Elliott Smith, Suede and Aztec Camera coincided with an interest in following every two-bit talent contest going, obvs.
I do sometimes still look at myself in the mirror, however – head-to-toe Topshop, a couple of unrebellious piercings – and feel as though I could have made a choice. I could’ve got better at the guitar instead of spending my late teenage years listening to Pitbull remixes in sweaty West End clubs. I could’ve embraced the “unnatural” hair.
But hey. “DO I REALLY GIVE A FLYING FUCK???”, I think, downloading the new Taylor Swift album, and giving female peace a chance. Being a full time Riot Grrrl would be too contrived and maybe a little exhausting. You’ll find the real me reading books with titles like ‘Bad Feminist’, teetering precariously between Joanna Gruesome and Little Mix, and having occasional existential crises on the internet. I wouldn’t – and probably won’t ever – have it any other way.