Punk rock can be defined as not only a music genre but a subculture. It is fashion, art, literature, and dance that is unique to the young people creating the genre in the 1970s. Punk is associated with youth rebellion and an artistic expression according to Sabin (1999). With careless attitudes, spontaneity, and an independent mindset, punk rock stole the show from 1976 to 1979 in Britain and the United States (Sabin, 1999). Seeing as these are some core elements of punk, there is a strong reasoning to believe that feminism had a part in punk rock. Feminism deals with the notion of masculinity and femininity and the belief that men and women don’t need to confirm to one. Punk Rock was a way for women to express their ability be more than feminine. By participating in the genre women showcased that they can accomplish more than the social norms society sets out before them. Following feminism in the seventies was seen as an act of rebellion as well. This concludes why it was seen as a form of women empowerment when women were apart or appreciative of punk rock. Women in punk presented women who could break social barriers, angry women, and women who could do it themselves, but there is some concern how stereotyping breaking these women really were.
Punk is full of contradictions due to its “don’t care at all attitude.” In a genre where one does not confirm to society’s standards it is quite strange that women had a harder time breaking into this specific music scene. Punk rock was and is a very male dominated genre just like its predecessor rock was. The reason for this relates to the notion that women do not have the ability to be more than soft and obedient. With punk rock’s core as rebelling against practically anything and the stereotype that women are not rebellious, its exclusion of women is contradicting. Women should be welcomed into punk rock with open arms for their very prescence in the genre is a rebellion against the world. When women entered punk rock, such as Patti Smith and the members of the girl group The Runaways, they broke social barriers. They played their instruments hard and sung about their distaste for society and politics just like the men did, but better because they had a different experience that was finally being recognize in a large way. In a way, the female punk rockers believed in, “gender is simultaneously a product and process of culture,” because they were a part of a genre that was anti-culture and everything from their performance, clothing, beauty, lyrics, and the way they carried themselves protested the culture of late 1970s (Moog, 2015). Women of punk rock were threatening to the very fabric of society. According to Downes (2012), “symbolically women were cutting and destroying the established image of femininity, aggressively tearing it down.” The inclusion of women in punk rock made it a rebellious and anti-culture genre of music.
In the 1970s we see that there is some change in the way women are viewed, and the journey to women’s rights is underway. Women are going back into the workforce after spending a generation at home as caretakers. They are adopting shorter and more reveling clothing. The Equal Rights Amendment is passed to provide legal equality to the sexes and prohibit sex discrimination. Women are beginning to be viewed as more human than they were before. Acknowledgement that they have the same capabilities, mentally, emotionally, and physically, as men had begun. That said, there was still the stigma that women shouldn’t be angry or frustrated. Anger is an emotion meant for men only. The female punk rockers proved that anger, lust, violence, and all the ugly emotions are felt and should be expressed by women. This was done not only through lyrics, but through instrumental use and image of the girl bands and singers. Roaring guitars, sneering faces, and androgynous style represented that women can be more than what society has said they can. Punk rockers of the female gender have shown the world that women are angry too.
Punk rock is described as a genre that is “do it yourself.” There is no need for a large knowledge of music. As long as you can pluck a couple of chords you have the ability to create punk rock. There is no guideline really, it’s a genre that is all about being authentic. You make music to explain how you feel. The idea of women making it on their own is still relatively new in the 1970s. Single mothers have increased in numbers due to the normalization of divorce, and women are getting careers instead of marriages. Suddenly, women are doing it themselves. This practice is integrating into the punk rock scene. Patti Smith combined her poetry with rock, Joan Jett created her own independent label, and Ari Up was only fourteen when she cofounded the Slits. Most of the women in punk rock are in the genre because they put in the effort and work to be there. This correlates with the second wave of feminism that was happening in America during the 1970s. The increase in women’s rights and visibility was due to women taking charge of the change they wanted to see. Women are all about doing it themselves, especially in a world that leaves women out of the picture.
All of this said, women were still a minority of punk rockers, and it was not always the easiest genre to be a part of. As mention earlier, punk rock is full of contradictions. It’s a genre that wants to break the rules, yet they support them in their sexist views. In punk rock women have to worry about their sexual activity being judge. This differs from their male counterparts who had no reason to worry about what their fans and fellow rockers felt about their sexual activity. They had to decide whether or not their identity was tomboy or the sex object (Downes, 2012). They had to conform to what the men of the genre wanted which was for them to condemn their femininity or become a woman that was meant to please men in the role of girlfriends, wives, or groupies. Many of the women in punk rock became one of the other and therefore, stopped partaking in the fight against the patriarchy. Yet, their presence in punk rock can still be considered a win in women’s empowerment. They were a voice for young women in expressing hard feelings that were not normally accepted by society from girls.
In conclusion, punk rock is a subculture that includes music, art, ideologies, literature, dance, and fashion. The genre is very male-centric due to the notion of women being submissive during the 1970s, yet women did break into the scene with their do it yourself attitudes that fit right in with punk rock’s values. While making their mark they accomplished breaking social barriers, showed that women have the ability to be angry, and that they can accomplish recognition on their own. The argument that they did little because they conformed with what their male counterparts and fans wanted, a tomboy or sexual object image, forgets that their mere presence in the genre is a win. Women in punk rock were important because they gave women a voice in a genre where they were not considered, and to this day still are not included in lists of the best punk rockers.