Emo: Where the Girls Aren't by Jessica Hopper

A few months back, I was at a Strike Anywhere show. The band launched into “Refusal”; a song offering solidarity with the feminist movement and bearing witness to the inherent struggle in

women’s lives. It is not a song of protection; there is no romantic undertow. It’s a song about all people being equally important. Everyone was dancing, fanboys and girls at the lip of the stage screaming along—like so many shows at the Fireside. By the first chorus of the song, I was in tears. I have often been so moved to shed small wet tears at Strike shows, but this time was for AN entirely different reason—A mournful new awareness: I am here, at the Fireside Bowl probably 75 times a year for the last five years. The numbers of times I have genuinely felt, or even sensed my reality or the reality of the women I know portrayed in a song sung by male-fronted band— that number was at zero and holding. The ratio of songs/shows/expressed sentiment-to-affirmation of feminist struggle/girldom is staggering. This song was the first.

No wonder most of my girlfriends and I have being growing increasingly alienated and distanced from our varying scenes, or have begun taking shelter from emo’s pervasive stronghold in the cave-like recesses of electronic, DJ or experimental music. No wonder girls I know are feeling dismissive and faithless towards music. No wonder I feel much more internal allegiance to MOP songs, as their tales of hood drama and jewelry theft FEELS far less offensive than yet another song from yet another all dude band giving us the 411 on his personal romantic holocaust. Because in 2003, as it stands, I simply cannot conjure the effort it takes to give a flying fuck about bands of boys yoked to their own wounding AKA the genre/plague that we know as E-M-O. Songs and scenes populated with myopic worldviews that do not extend beyond their velvet-lined rebel-trauma, their bodies, or their vans. Meanwhile, we’re left wondering how did we get here?

As hardcore and political punk’s charged sentiments became more cliché towards the end of the ‘80s—as we all soon settled in to the armchair comfort of the Clinton era—Punk began stripping off its tuff skin and getting down to its squishy pulp heart. Forget bombs and the real impact of trickle down economics, it’s all about elusive kisses and tender-yet-undeniably-masculine emotional outbursts. Mixtapes across America became soiled with torrential anthems of hopeful boy hearts masted to sleeves, pillows soaked in tears, and relational eulogies. Romance of the self was on.

I think somewhere right around the release of the last Braid record, is where we lost the map. Up until then, things seemed reasonable, encouraging, exciting—thus far we were sold on vulnerability, there was something revivifying in the earnestness. New bands cast their entire micro-careers from bands we all liked: Jawbox, Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate etc. In those bands, there were songs about women, but they were girls with names, with details to their lives, girls who weren’t exclusively defined by their absence or lensed through romantic-spectre. Jawbox’s most popular song, “Savory” was about recognizing male normative privilege, about the weight of sexualization on a woman (“see you feign surprise / that I‘m all eyes”). In Jawbreaker songs women had leverage, had life, had animus and agency to them. Sometimes they were friends, or a sister, not always girl to be bedded or pursued or dumped by. They were accurate, and touched by reality.

And then something broke—And it wasn’t Bob Nanna’s or Mr. Dashboard’s sensitive hearts. Records by a legion of done-wrong boys lined the record store shelves. Every record was a concept album about a breakup, damning the girl on the other side. Emo’s contentious monologue—it’s balled fist Peter Pan mash-note dilemmas—it’s album length letters from pussy-jail—it’s cathedral building in ode to man-pain and Robert-Bly-isms—it’s woman-induced misery has gone from being descriptive to being prescriptive. Emo was just another forum where women were locked in a stasis of outside observation, observing ourselves through the eyes of others. The prevalence of these bands, the omni-presence of emo’s sweeping sound and it’s growing stronghold in the media and on the Billboard chart codified emo as A SOUND, where previously there had been diversity.

from Punk Planet 56

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