33 Songs That Document the History of Feminist Punk (1975–2015): A Playlist Curated by Pitchfork

Women have always been cen­tral to punk rock, even though they had to fight very hard to get and stay there. As vet­er­an punk jour­nal­ist and musi­cian Vivien Gold­man writes at Pitch­fork, “Resis­tance to our exis­tence was an acknowl­edged fact of life.” And yet, “punk freed female musi­cians,” she argues. She knows of what she speaks, hav­ing observed first­hand the “lad­dist boys­town” of rock before punk broke bar­ri­ers for women, and hav­ing been a part of that bar­ri­er-break­ing her­self. Gold­stein’s essay intro­duces us to a playlist (stream it above) com­piled by the Pitch­fork staff called “The Sto­ry of Fem­i­nist Punk in 33 Songs,” which in a way acts as a crit­i­cal com­ple­ment to a recent pub­lish­ing trend.

In the past few years, we’ve learned a lot about what cen­tral moments in punk looked like in mem­oirs from big names like Son­ic Youth’s Kim Gor­don, the Slits’ Viv Alber­tine, and Sleater-Kinney’s Car­rie Brown­stein. In Girl in a Band: A Mem­oir, Gor­don describes scrap­ing by in the “postapoc­a­lyp­tic hell” of New York cir­ca 1979; Albertine’s book shows us the “aston­ish­ing lev­el of vio­lence” the Slits faced on the streets of Lon­don around the same time; and Brownstein’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy immers­es us in the mid-90s Pacif­ic North­west scene and her band’s attempt to “expand the notion of what it means to be female.”

That’s not even to men­tion Pat­ti Smith’s Nation­al Book Award-win­ning mem­oir or Kath­leen Han­na’s pub­lic remem­brances. The wave of press does risk obscur­ing some­thing cru­cial, how­ev­er; punk has always had its stars, but its pri­ma­ry appeal has been that any­one, no mat­ter who, can do it, and all of the women above began in that spir­it. Even if many of the women who left their stamp on ear­ly and lat­er punk did not become famous, their fans remem­ber them, as do the many thou­sands of peo­ple who heard them and then went out to start their own bands.

But the angle in Pitch­fork’s com­pi­la­tion is not sim­ply “women in punk.” Their 33-song playlist fol­lows the spe­cif­ic thread of what they call “fem­i­nist punk,” mean­ing “songs that make their fem­i­nist mes­sages clear—not just songs by punks who are fem­i­nists.” The rubric means that in addi­tion to all of the artists men­tioned above, and obscure bands like The Bags and The Brat, the all-male Fugazi get a men­tion for their song “Sug­ges­tion,” in which Ian MacK­aye sings from a woman’s per­spec­tive about “the aggres­sive objec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women’s bod­ies.” The song is a “tent­pole for male fem­i­nism in punk,” and we can think of it as a kind of benign tokenism and an impor­tant moment for oth­er male punk bands who fol­lowed suit in denounc­ing the patri­archy.

The playlist spans four decades, begin­ning with Pat­ti Smith in 1975 and end­ing with Down­town Boys in 2015. The best-known artists hap­pen to arrive in the late 70s and the mid-90s (Han­na makes the list thrice with three dif­fer­ent bands). Not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, these are the moments—in Eng­land and the U.S.—when fem­i­nist punks made the most noise, and Gold­man points out just how much the women in these eras had in com­mon:

Because women’s con­tri­bu­tions are so often hid­den from her­sto­ry, when the riot grrrl move­ment began in Amer­i­ca, those women were vir­tu­al­ly unaware that their UK sis­ters had been fight­ing par­al­lel bat­tles two decades ear­li­er. But the Amer­i­cans were way bet­ter fund­ed and orga­nized than we had been, lurch­ing through no-woman’s‑land to make our­selves heard. It took awhile before Kurt Cobain cham­pi­oned the Rain­coats and Son­ic Youth bond­ed with the Slits.

Punk may be dead, or it may remain what Gold­stein calls the “glob­al music of rebel­lion.” Either way, Pitchfork’s playlist—with its crit­i­cal com­men­tary on each selection—offers young female artists mak­ing music in their bed­rooms a sense of con­ti­nu­ity with a long line of most­ly DIY fem­i­nist punks who made “fis­sures and cracks, some crum­bling walls” in the edi­fice of rock’s boy’s club. Gold­man warns her tar­get readers—who so clear­ly are those young bed­room gui­tarists, singers, pro­duc­ers, etc.—against com­pla­cen­cy, but also leaves them with some clear, con­cise advice: “Where pos­si­ble, please cre­ate a com­mu­ni­ty with com­ple­men­tary skills. Nowa­days, it often starts online. Still, try and find a way to actu­al­ly, phys­i­cal­ly be with your new cre­ative cohorts. Because noth­ing beats jam­ming with your sis­ters.”

See Pitch­fork for the full, anno­tat­ed playlist with Goldman’s intro­duc­tion and hear the full playlist in order at the top of the post.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Four Female Punk Bands That Changed Women’s Role in Rock

Chrissie Hynde’s 10 Pieces of Advice for “Chick Rock­ers” (1994)

Pat­ti Smith Doc­u­men­tary Dream of Life Beau­ti­ful­ly Cap­tures the Author’s Life and Long Career (2008)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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