We Are Not Men: Women in Punk: By Roxy Epoxy / Photo by Chrystaei Branchaw

Oct 16, 2012

Originally ran in Razorcake #38

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I am Roxy Epoxy. No, it’s not my real name, but it works. I answer to it.

I have a college degree in photography with a lot of focus on women’s studies. I graduated in 1996 and started my career. I could say that I succeeded in that career with a nice, stable staff job. I had benefits. I had income. Then music continued taking me over. It was time to stop just singing in the car. I left my nice, safe career to do music.

I sing and write for a band called the Epoxies. We’ve been together about six years and it is pretty much my first band. And, oh yeah, I am the only female in the band. Therefore, I’m not in just any band. No, I’m in a “girl fronted” band. I’m not in rock. I’m a woman in rock. I’m a rocker girl. Pussy power. I can’t possibly rock out with my cock out.

The Epoxies and The Start have played a couple of shows together. Aimee Echo is the singer for The Start. Oh yeah, she is the only female in the band, too. I try my best to see The Start play when they pass through Portland and I’m in town. Yes, I do like the band very much, but it is afterwards that I enjoy even more. The boys always seem to grab some beers and guitars and go for it. Aimee and I end up under piles of blankets with her dog, Eno, and some red wine. I adore Aimee Echo. She is a fantastic and inspiring woman. The last visit involved a lot of the new Battlestar Galactica. We also picked up where we left off on our bizarre lives in this world of music. We tell stories. We compare notes. Oh yeah, we bond, baby. Ladies in boyland, unite!

We might be underground figures, but we are still in the public eye. We are both pretty down-to-earth people and can deny this fact all we want, but it’s true. We are both able to dig up shared stories of weight, age, sexuality, and clothing being defining factors that are heaped on us. We take it in stride because we have to. All women grow up with a degree of commentary and objectification. It’s the way it is.

No matter how far underground our worlds of music might reach, we still deal with a version of the same reality. Gender equality has never existed in music as a whole. On top of this, mainstream gender prejudice has increasingly seeped into our world of punk rock. Oftentimes, girls and women are not really allowed to be themselves rather than a version of femininity that has been dictated to them. We are things to be defined. We are things to be objectified. It is an anomaly that we haven’t slept around to get ahead. These are just a start of the assumptions that we face.

To some degree, Aimee and I are able to laugh it off. On the other end of things, our curiosity grows. Our analytical side kicks in. Our need for activism and change arises. We laugh and we cringe. We still do what we do in the face of the commentary.

True, there are many instances where equality is increasing. There are many instances where gender isn’t given a second thought. So, what is our current reality?

Let’s look at our current situation in pop culture. We are constantly inundated with the world of cutaway, primped, pulled, and not-so-intellectual starlets. These women are often famous and admired for nothing in particular besides a pretty face, skinny ass, and a deep inheritance. These women are famous for a singing or acting career based on a highly stylized, marketed, researched, and branded creation of thin and sexy.

Sure, we’ve been in the midst of the feminist movement for years and we’d like to think that many equality issues are in the past. However, this is what so many girls are emulating these days: an increasingly vacant consumer culture that seeps into every aspect of our lives. Girls are still being fed the idea that their worth is based merely on sexuality and youth. These ideas come not just from magazines and TV. These ideas are now found on bus stops and in schools. Sure, we see headlines that thirties are the new twenties, forties are the new thirties, and so on. However, in a lot of cases, the examples used for this theory seem to be based on how well these women have aged. We see examples of how well the plastic surgeon exercises their craft.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average U.S. woman is 5’ 3.7” (162 centimeters) tall, weighs 152 pounds (69 kilograms), and wears size 10 to 12 clothing. Interestingly enough, it is very heard to pin down what these sizes mean from brand to brand. I currently have four different charts open from Overstock.com, American Apparel, Wikipedia, and Answers.com and they all vary slightly. On average, a size 10 is determined to be a 32.5” bust, 25” waist, and 34.5” hip while a size 12 is a 34” bust, 26.5” waist, and 36” hips. At a quick glance, my current pair of jeans has a 34” waist, so I wear between a size 16 and 18. Nice to know; I rarely weigh myself and have always bought clothes by fit. Now I know where I really stand!

Whether or not it’s true, the mainstream images that are flashed before us brag of fitting into a size 0 to a size 4. I’ve also seen some mentions recently of the creation of the new size 00. My research states that this size came into existence for the naturally very petite woman tired of shopping in the kids section; however, seems to be gaining bragging rights in gossip circles. In my own estimation, I think I probably would have fit into a size 00 in sixth grade. Also, most girls I know buy pants that they wear on their hips, rather than their actual waist—and most pants are now designed to fit like that, but they still use the top (where the pants ride) measurement as the waist measurement. So, if you have 34” hips, and that’s where you wear your pants, you’d be in a higher size range than if it were based on the waist measurement.

Women are still pitted against each other in a variety of contests ranging from body image to sexuality. Both men and women increasingly use the term “whore.” I turned on the TV the other night during some insomnia and came across a show that I believe was called Parental Control. This show pitted two women against some guy’s current girlfriend so he could choose if he liked these other women better. The parents and the current girlfriend would then sit back and watch the date while they insulted each other. The current girlfriend would whip insults at the chosen dates.

The catfight is now commercial television. I think other examples can be found in America’s Next Top Model and those Bachelor shows. We can’t go to the store without being informed about which celebrities are having some sort of feud, who stole whose boyfriend, and who is too fat, too skinny, or a cokehead. There’s been an obvious increase in the amount of tabloids available at the checkout counter.

So, what the hell might this have to do with women in punk? Isn’t punk an underground thing? Isn’t punk separated from what commercial culture thinks? Perhaps, in some circles, it is.

Punk music and the punk scene have had their time in the spotlight over the years, but nothing blew punk out of the underground like Nirvana in 1991 and Green Day in 1994. That was it. It was up for grabs, marketed, and accessible to anyone who was interested in any capacity. Just like anything else that might make a buck. (Yeah, yeah. If you’re reading this Razorcake magazine you’ve gone a bit beyond that. I know. I know. Hear me out.)

At this point in time, I am by no means a pioneer as a woman in a band. The path has been blazed and it has been blazed well by Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, Penelope Houston, Exene Cervenka, Patti Smith, Theo Kogan, Kathleen Hanna, Sinéad O'Connor,and countless others. All of these women have been idolized and scrutinized and are still performing. However, women in bands are still the rare and criticized breed. We are still sexualized and held to mainstream standards no matter how DIY our bands might be. We are still held as sub par by so many, whether it be performance, vocal ability, musicianship, or plain old looks. We are often still not allowed to get aggressive onstage without the risk of backlash. So many still prefer us ladies to be “girly.” (But, fuck, I’ve never, ever been girly.) So many still prefer us to be defined.

As mentioned, I am new to the world of being in a band and creating music myself; however, I’ve listened to music for as long as I can remember. I probably heard classical music the first week I was alive. My father has thousands of records and plays them every chance he gets. I now use the record player he had when I was born. I’ve been to the symphony, the opera, the ballet, and Broadway shows. I listened to Top 40 before I knew there was something more intriguing out there.

I first came across punk rock in 1985 or 1986. My best friend’s older sister had Dead Kennedys’ In God We Trust, Inc in their room and I was immediately interested in the song titles. (“Nazi Punks Fuck Off!”) I didn’t yet know what to make of what I heard on the tape, but the punk and alternative music and lifestyle eventually took over my life. Years down the line, I ended up in a band and nothing will ever be the same.

So, why did I turn to this lifestyle in the late ‘80s? Why did so many of us end up in the middle of all of this? Because I never fucking fit in. I wanted to hear some different ideas. I was always the geek and always the loner. I was the one they kicked the most kickballs at. I thought differently. I joked differently. I farted too much. I liked frogs and ants and lizards. I cracked open poor Mike M.’s head when I shoved him into a locker. My peers told me that I was not normal. I was told by society that I was not a normal girl. At that time I had one “positive” thing going for me which I was often praised for: I was very, very skinny. Some superficial views of positive never change.

I’m pretty fascinated with negative statements in general. I like psychology. I love the psychology of being in a band. It’s one big psychological and sociological experiment. I find this very close parallel between this scene of ours and the mainstream very interesting. The two are definitely overlapping circles if I were to draw a diagram. So many fall face first into the overlap.

In our punk scene, we’d like to think that we view things differently and are more open-minded than the norm, but it often seems this is very much not the case. So often, women in bands are still viewed as “the other.” The woman or women in a band are always pointed out or the band is flat-out labeled as a “girl band.” I’m not sure I’ve ever read a review that took pains to point out an all-male lineup.

In the case of women on stage, it is all up for comment because we have been taught as such. We are still objects and the “other,” no matter how hard we try and just do what we do. This is where the mainstream filters in, no matter whom you are, and what you have to say. We are bodies. We are sexuality. We are labeled by our age. We are what we wear. We become embodied purely by the opinion of others and so often that opinion is shaped by what we are fed by the media. We are bellies, butts, and boobs. We are hair and clothes. We have voices and musical skills that are dismissed by so many because they just don’t like female singers or they simply think that girls can’t play the drums.

Did you know that girl bands aren’t selling well these days? Yes, “girl band” is a fucking genre. “Women in rock,” “girl bands,” and “girl-fronted bands” are all terms that have come to annoy me. The fact that these terms are still commonplace indicates that women are still separate in music.

This whole article will probably label me as a militant man hater. Not pointing any of this out, ignoring it, is what I’m supposed to do. Feminism, to many, has become a dirty word. Many deny that they are feminists due to the stigma of being labeled a man hater. Most those who call themselves feminists merely want equality between the genders and, as far as we’ve come, we still aren’t there.

In some circles, we’ve come a long way since the days when women and girl groups were directed solely by men on their image and musical output. In the mainstream, many of the women who are thrust into the spotlight are still ruled by the powers that be. (What’s that show? Making the Band?) However, we know that women can write their own songs, play their own instruments, and take control of what they are interested in creatively.

The critiques I have often read about myself mention—not performance or quality—but the clothes I wore a particular day, how tired, “spent,” or old I looked, whether I am worth fucking, whether I sleep with women, or how much coke I did that night.

In my own case, I’ve never done coke and I always perform completely sober. I don’t happen to be a lesbian, but wouldn’t be ashamed if I were. I’m not the oldest and I’m not the youngest performer out there. I am actively involved in the songwriting in my band. I’m not the best singer out there, but I try the best with what I have and with everything I do. In fact, I’m a bit obsessive when I get involved with projects. I don’t think there is a single one of us out there who rises above being a human, but there are so many who are superior at what they do.

But, do you know what really sucks? It’s the fact that I am on this rant and I have still bought into some of this shit. I want to be free of it, but I’m not. I have a slight degree of body dysmorphia, a self-degrading personal image of what my body looks like. (Michael Jackson would be a very extreme example of the disorder with the pains he has gone through to surgically alter his entire appearance.) I worry that I look old. I am thirty-three years old. I hear I look about twenty-five. I worry that I have a double chin. I worry that I’ve gained fifteen pounds over the last five years. I worry that I’m becoming less attractive. What a hypocritical asshole I am! Where did this come from?

I find it amusing when the beauty industry tries to deny its part in influencing anything from full blown eating disorders to other self esteem issues. I certainly feel as if my own issues have stemmed from this. I am fairly positive that the three models who died from anorexia this past year were related to this. What about all the women who end up in this or that publication with their eyes blacked out and their “muffin tops” (the little roll of fat squeezing out over the top of pants) circled as a no no? How do they feel about it? What about the women with the cheek implants or the liposuction?

Interestingly enough, the men I have toured with have never made me feel like anything but an equal. Is it that these people have seen the dregs that we work in and have shoved gender rolls aside? Let’s see—Epoxies, Phenomenauts, Teenage Bottlerocket—me and fourteen men. Aquabats, Epoxies, Phenomenauts—me and seventeen men. Punkvoter Tour II: oh fuck, I don’t know!

Let’s talk about the reality of a DIY tour. Contrary to what some people think about the Epoxies, we are not raking in the money. There are no tour busses to be had, so we all live in close proximity in a van or RV that we hope will not break down. In fact, we don’t even have a vehicle right now because they all keep dying. On occasion, we all have a hard time finding showers and sleep. We sleep on floors next to litter boxes. A few years ago, we slept in an apartment that had many bags full of puppy poop. (How romantic!) We sleep in cars. We sleep in chairs. We deal with carrying our own gear. All traditional roles melt away and we just work on pulling our own weight. We just work on getting to the good part: the show itself. Other than that, we have a degree of survival mode. There is little room for “he versus she.” There is plenty of room for fart jokes and stinky feet. There has always been room in my life for fart jokes and stinky feet.

I’ve been asked countless times about what it is like to be the only girl on the road. The answer is that I hardly notice amongst the guys I am on the road with. The difference only seems to come from the outside. Once again, I am not the girliest girl out there, so being surrounded by three-day-old boy butt doesn’t really faze me. They have to be around three-day girl butt too.

Femininity can be so many things. Aren’t all women females? (Well, we could get into a discussion about transgenders here, but that would be a different article.) In that case, isn’t it up to all women to define femininity for themselves?

Granted, I have gone on a rant about the cookie cutter female. Perhaps that is narrow-minded of me, however, I’d like to think that the mind of all women can go beyond this definition. I’d like to think that some women go for the defined norm, not out of fear of being different, but because it suits their personality. I’d like to think that there is conviction behind who they choose to be. Beyond this, I’d like to think that femininity could be anything. Femininity can include anything from makeup and hair to the masculine side of things. Feminine can rock out with its cock (cockless?) out. Feminine can play the drums. Feminine can skateboard. Feminine can date a man or a woman. Feminine can be monogamous or polyamorous. Feminine is defined by the woman.

Ultimately, I am grateful for such programs such as the local Rock’n’Roll Camp for Girls (www.girlsrockcamp.org). Ideally, there would just be one big ol’ rock and roll camp for everyone who wants to rock, but we are still at a point where girls need a safe haven to learn that what they do is okay. I hope that programs such as this steer the participants away from the very common tendency of girls to gang up on each other and promotes a support system that is often lacking.

It is inspiring to see a woman on stage who is obviously enjoying what she is doing and is comfortable with herself. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of experimenting to figure out where that core comes from.

In that sense, let me take this last moment to flip some of the things I’ve mentioned on their head.

I once found a comment online about a stage outfit I once put together that consisted mostly of electrical tape on top—how could I wear such a thing if I viewed myself as a feminist? How could I portray my body in such a way? The answer is theatre, strength, character acting, and doing what feels right for any particular performance.

It might not be the case for all performers, but stage performance can be very theatrical. Music expresses ideas through its lyrics and its music and, in many cases, the potential theatre behind it can be left behind. Many a band decides to not participate in this aspect. That’s fine.

I find it very interesting that so many people interested in music choose to take the theatre of it and push it aside as a novelty. I think many a time the self-expression available through music is misunderstood. In the case of any performer in music, not only are our voices and instruments our tools, but our bodies are as well.

Women’s bodies have been long politicized in this country and the backlash has often ended up in a form of consumer-driven self-expression that I have mentioned previously. We are at such an interesting point. On one hand, the government is telling us to be in a constant state of pre-natal preparation and, on the other, we are pushing the boundaries of sexuality without really claiming that sexuality for ourselves. So, why not push these ideas in different directions?

There is such strength in women’s bodies and minds and there shouldn’t be shame in either. I think women’s bodies are spectacular. Women’s minds are spectacular. Women’s expression is spectacular and we should be able to adorn and enjoy these things.

There is nothing wrong with sexy as long as there is a sense of self behind it. There is nothing wrong with fashion and makeup as long as there is a sense of self behind it. There is nothing wrong with skin care and the gym. There is nothing wrong with pursuing what is out there if it leads to a sense of solidity. If these are the tools we choose to use, these things can go hand in hand with speaking out. So what do we do? Why do any of us do this? What is the reality of our world in this business of music? We learn to brush off the bullshit, and, if we can’t, we try to figure out why it’s there in the first place. We question what we have been taught as a whole society. We try to change what has been shoved in our faces every day since we are born. Now is the time to make art, music, and express in the face of all that is fed to us and in the face of everything that is in danger of being taken away. Fuck the assumptions. Fuck the pigeonholes. All we want to do is something we love. We’ve made our sacrifices and it is certainly not all glamorous. We want to be angry when we want to be. We want to smile when we want to. We want to make you think and we want to make you laugh. We want to make you dance and we want to dance with you.

We don’t really care if you don’t like what we’ve created if you honestly have an open mind and give us a chance. Not everyone likes everything and that’s the way it should be. Isn’t creativity and art being stifled enough these days without superficial attitudes getting in the way? We need all the boundary pushing we can get from all sides.

Now, isn’t that really why you got into punk rock in the first place?

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