Punk Women, Volume One By David Ensminger, 98 pgs.

Nov 22, 2017

Ensminger tells the reader right off the bat that this is a collection of profiles of women in punk written by a cis white male. He instantly outs himself as not unqualified, but as a champion of these overlooked stories who carries with him an awareness as to not come off as an expert on a life not lived by him. As soon as I finished reading the book, I went right back to that introduction to see if he accomplished what he set out to do.

Yes, this is a hodge-podge of genres (hardcore, punk, thrash, metal), as well as a varied group spanning many races, backgrounds, and LBGTQ women. There were a ton of bands I wasn’t familiar with, but I feel like all I got was a generalized review of their music. Sometimes (The Voids for example) Ensminger wouldn’t mention the woman whatsoever in his quick blurb about their music. It left me feeling like I’d read a few hundred words about the career of a band just because there’s a woman in it.

I suppose there is a tactic in simply normalizing the gender diversity, though his mission statement was to shine a light on these women and I think in some excerpts he fell just short. His voice and writing style is very cerebral and academic, which I much enjoyed. However, there were only a handful out of the many, many profiles that included an actual interview and it left me feeling like these women’s voices were still overlooked. What I really hoped for were personal stories from these musicians. I realize that’s quite the undertaking, but I think Ensminger has the drive to do so.

There was Mel Hell from Zipperneck who suffered from nerve damage inflicted from her dentist in 2011 and I learned so much about her life—coping with constant, debilitating pain yet still carrying on with life the best she could. Or the story of Osa Atoe coming up with the D.C. punk scene and assuming all punk was political at its core, leading to her being an activist today.

There were a few times where I didn’t know where or when bands were from, and others when I was completely immersed in the life of the woman profiled. I think this book is suffering a bit from being overzealous and not dedicating enough time to each subject. For volume two, maybe reach out for at least a comment or two when possible? Though I overall enjoyed this, I will knock the author one coveted punk point for getting a Blondie song wrong (“Rip Her to Shreds”—not “Tear”). Even if I’m being a little harsh, I am very happy a project like this exists and would recommend grabbing one of the four hundred copies out there. –Kayla Greet (Left Of The Dial Books)