By Kristy Diaz
I’m at a punk show in the city I live in and I’m talking to one of the bands. They’re friends of mine, and we’re chatting about the interview we did a few months ago. The promoter comes over, who is also in one of the bands playing the show. I don’t know him but I recognise him.
He comes over and asks me who I am, accusingly.
“Are you from Leicester?”
“How do you know these guys?”
I’m flustered and confused and fall ungracefully over my words. Yes, I’m from Leicester, these guys are my friends.
He goes on to motion to someone behind me and tells me not to worry, he’s not looking at my tits and having been thrown by the earlier interrogation, I tell him with regained confidence that I know, they’re not on my head, which is where he was looking.
Over the past 15 years of going to shows I’ve had fights, I’ve been groped, I’ve got scars earned in mosh pits, and I’ve fallen face down on wooden floors.
And yet, this is the most intimidated I’ve ever been at a show. A reminder that, as a woman in punk, you constantly need to defend yourself against challenges of space, ownership, and identity to justify that you’re cool enough to be standing where you are.
The ‘cool girl’ is a concept coined in a book I’ve never read (Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’) but became familiar with through feminist and pop culture writing. It describes a particular trope of woman that seems to exist to satisfy the desires of men – she shares their interests, is attractive but low-maintenance, is basically ‘one of the guys’.
“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl.”
“Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl. Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl.”
I was the punk rock version of the ‘cool girl’ trope for years.
The punk rock cool girl likes real music. Good music. Proper music. She’s into the latest hot hardcore band playing to 15 people right now. She knows every word to The Shape of Punk To Come. She doesn’t listen to pop music, or dance music, or stuff that Other Girls like. Her favourite Braid record is the Correct One. She only sings along to Panic! At The Disco ironically. She can hang out with your musician mates and hold her own in a conversation, but she won’t point out the ways in which even punk rock, this glorious utopia we inhabit, has the capacity to oppress.
And, much like the original concept, she’s not real.
She loves music. That is real, to the point that it defines her. But she’s learned the performative nature of punk fandom, the language we use to talk about which bands we’re allowed to like, and which ones we aren’t. She knows that liking the ‘wrong’ bands will make her less credible. She exists within a set of boundaries, and edits herself accordingly.
Being a woman involved in punk in any capacity is an exercise in navigating a constant, shifting set of hypocrisies. Often, it’s the microaggressions that ring loudest.
The fear of being labelled a ‘fangirl’, or a ‘poser’, or a ‘scene kid’ runs deep; heavily gendered insults thrown in the MySpace era I grew up in. This didn’t stop me from levelling them at other women. The women I wasn’t like.
Internalised sexism manifested in ugly ways, from disguising my own femininity and sneering at women who wore heels to shows. The entitlement of identity and wanting ownership over music, dismissing others as scenesters who weren’t serious about music. Mirroring the behaviours of men.
Consider the ways in which women are treated, however, and this becomes a logical but destructive defence mechanism. Armour against the onslaught of expectations. Expectations that you’ll have the right networks, know the bands, the promoters, the labels, but can’t hang out with your friends at a show without your status being questioned.
Expectations that you’ll wear the right band t-shirts. Project onto other women instead of pointing out the irony of articles calling out hardcore bands for being meatheads whilst declaring that the definitive sign of their succumbing to the mainstream is a conventionally attractive woman wearing their t-shirt at a gym.
However, at one point in time I’d have said exactly the same thing. I’d have thought she was a poser who got into hardcore whilst it was trendy. I had listened so much bullshit that I believed it.
It isn’t just hardcore. The narrative surrounding ‘real emo’, whilst often well-meaning and with legitimate arguments about the media persistently conflating ‘emo’ with ‘guitar music that is sad’, has perpetuated an exclusivity that has been hard to shake off. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to reconcile my love of the genre across its ‘waves’, as though knowing your history meant you couldn’t enjoy your present.
Your music knowledge is going to constantly come into question, though, so make sure you’ve read up. The very coolest of cool girls are being ‘taught’ about music. Invisible, malleable girlfriends who need to be educated about the right bands.
These unsolicited recommendations exist everywhere, from online discussions to entire songs. For example, in Moose Blood’s ‘Bukowski’, the language used is one-way, the subject completely passive.
“I’ll introduce you to Clarity
Teach you the words to The Sound of Settling
Make you watch High Fidelity”
There are plenty of lyrics like this, and from some of my all-time favourite bands. I had to go back to Brand New’s ‘Your Favourite Weapon’ and Glassjaw’s ‘Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence’ and really reflect on some of those lyrics.
It is a difficult position to take when the music you love contributes to something you don’t. But, for me, being able to examine it critically played the biggest role in stepping out of the ‘cool girl’ trope.
It allowed me to realise that other women are not the problem. Like me, they are also having their credibility questioned, being sidelined as the voiceless subjects of songs, and being indirectly told that the music they are so deeply passionate about is selected based on who they are sleeping with, or want to sleep with. That they are always one badly curated mixtape away from knowing anything about music.
As a DJ at a successful club night I found myself up against countless men every week telling me that I wasn’t good at my job. Whilst playing to a packed dance floor, they would ask “Why are you playing this? No-one likes it.”
Play my request.
Give me your number.
This song is shit.
It didn’t matter if I was playing Q And Not U or Girls Aloud. They would never be appeased. It wasn’t Shellac, or the Stone Roses, and I was still a woman. I couldn’t gain the level of respect I so desperately wanted. I had to stop trying.
Being the ‘cool girl’ is not a solution. It is a parasitic distraction, and it takes away from everything else about you. Reduces you to a record collection. Highly unrecommended. Zero stars.
It’s okay to be uncool. Forget the notion of cool, and forget the notion of cool as defined by anyone else other than yourself. One of the most liberating things I’ve unlearned is looking for the approval of men, and since abandoning those constraints I enjoy music more. I can allow myself to not like things I feel I ‘should’ like. I embrace all of my wide-ranging tastes. I listen to infinitely more music made by women than I did ten years ago. I’m learning to stop comparing myself to other women, and viewing them as competition.
Let that shit go. Never deny yourself the music you enjoy. Sing and scream along with every breath. Collaborate with women and other marginalised groups in punk, rally around each other, protect and support each other and invest energy in creating. Never apologise for an inch of space you occupy and answer to no-one. Fuck it up at DIY shows and dance to pop music recklessly, wearing heels and glitter and jeans and cut up t-shirts. Be taught nothing. You know everything.