Lady Gaga vs. Taylor Swift
Courtney Love vs. Lily Allen
Riot Grrrls vs. Spice Girls
Ok. Seriously, can we stop all of this fighting? Can’t we all just get along?
Nope. Because that doesn’t make for good gender stereotypes about catty women pulling on each other’s hair out (sometimes proverbial hair) for an eager voyeuristic audience.
I’ve noticed a lot of press (here, here, here, and here) lately talking about female musicians and that they are at “war” with each other, or at least their fans are having peeing contests with each other about who is “better, talented, dedicated, authentic, hard working, ect.” That doesn’t seem new. Fans will always argue their favorite musicians have more merit than others. I like some artists more than others. I don’t hate any. I don’t slam them because of their gender or genre or looks. But what I have noticed is fighting about who is “the better feminist.” This really pushes my buttons.
I noticed this in each of these cases. Are Gaga’s messages better than Taylor’s, are the Riot Grrrls truer to feminism than the Spice Girls? Who’s sold out? Love or Allen? Really? I have a few issues with all of this:
1) Most of what I see isn’t that constructive, it boils down to Horizontal Hostility. This is just a fancy academic word for when groups who have less power in society take out their frustration about that status on others who are at the same level of crappy status or less crappy status than they are. This is the whole divide and conquer idea. Get women fighting against each other so they aren’t looking up at who is oppressing them and using their infighting to their advantage. It becomes a distraction from having them see what they have in common and how they can use that to unite. It keeps them separate, unorganized, and under even more stress.
The ongoing Courtney Love vs. Lily Allen thing case in point. I know they have a lot more in common as female artists, and instead of music writers and bloggers talking about their music, they talk about their “cat-fights” on twitter. This just continues to delegitimize them as musicians and reduces them to silly little girls who are fighting over who gets to ride shot-gun. It just “proves” that they are not serious artists, just 15 minute mongers.You don’t see a whole lot of press about male musicians fighting over each other do you? Nope. Stories like that don’t tap into how we think women are really unstable, emotional, and inherently bitches when you don’t keep them in check.
2) These instances are also just another example of judging female musicians to standards that we do not hold male musicians of the same genre/caliber to. For example is Ke$ha. Her music and lyrics are not that dissimilar from other current pop artists, yet, just look at the comments about her. Nothing but misogyny, sexism, and disrespect. You don’t have to like her or her genre. But the way the discussion is framed, you would think that any male artist doing the same thing is pure gold.
This isn’t new either. Whenever women do the same things in traditionally male occupations the way that men have done them, they will be thought to “suck” at it. Because no matter what you do as a female musician, if you do what the guys do, you are either just mimicking them and trying to feed off their “greatness”, or you just cant’ cut it because you are woman and can’t do it like them anyways. Or if you act how you are supposed to act as a female musician (pretty, f**kable, and non-threathening) well, you suck anyways because you’re a woman, and those feminine things women do, exactly as we expect then to do it, are not valued as much anyways.
3) The better feminist? That is problematic on so many levels. It assumes one kind of feminist/feminism and that there is only one appropriate way to be one. Humm… much like those degrading ideas about how there is only one way to be a good woman? Hypocrisy much? There is only one Feminism, with a capital F? WTF? This isn’t freaking Highlander. The strength of feminism is its diversity of action while remaining true to ending sexist oppression and these stereotypes that hold women down. Just adding a restricting “my feminism is better than your feminism” box is just the same oppressive thinking and tactics that women fought against (and continue to fight against) in the first place. This doesn’t mean feminism(s) doesn’t have standards for what it is. But making a “best” feminism box is just a some people’s way of hijacking legitimate discussion of how to create social justice for women for their own narrow interests.
I say this in relation to this Riot Grrrls vs. Spice Girls narrative of opposition, this idea that they are polar opposites of each other. One is authentic, one is a sell-out. One is true to reality, and one is mainstream watered down empowerment. One is real feminism based on action, and one is faux feminism used to sell product. It is not this simple. This framing of the topic just continues to perpetuate oppositional binaries, horizontal hostility, that everything is either/or which ignores the lived experiences of those who were influenced and continue to be influenced by these groups. It soundbites their power and agency for simplistic headline delight.
There is such snobbery when it comes to things like this. It’s this self-serving sense of nostalgia for some imagined day when things were so much better than what has come after. I think that some of the arguments about these two groups boils down to how we continue to value traits considered masculine over traits considered feminine. The Riot Grrrl movement and the types of things they portrayed were angry, loud, in your face, aggressive and confrontational. This was because they were railing against the idea that women couldn’t be there things and still be women. All of those traits we associated with masculinity. The Spice Girls and the types of things they portrayed were happy, softer, subtle, unassuming, and agreeable. Things we associated with femininity. So, even here we are still valuing women who act like men over other forms of what we think empowered women should act like. Same thing happens in the movies. We think the strong women are the ones acting like men, shooting guns, swearing, and Chuck Norris round-house-kicking anyone calling them a “bitch.” But we don’t hold up types of female empowerment that don’t look like that.
Feminism is not an identity, it is an action. It is our hammer, our shield, our voice. There are many ways to enact this because women themselves as so diverse.
It boils down to this:
Female artists don’t have to like each other. Nor do their fans. This doesn’t mean they can’t constructively criticize them on their work. But they are all in the same boat together when it comes to their gender in the music biz. Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, Taylor Swift, Lily Allen, and Courtney Love all are trying to be themselves and make their art in a music industry that is still dominated, narrated, constructed, for, and lived in the image of men. Instead of tearing them apart, why not ask why this is happening in the first place? Why are they talked about this way? Why is it so confrontational? Why is it so typical? What isn’t being said about them? What isn’t getting coverage?
What isn’t being talked about is often what we need to say the most.
Drawing via trucknroll via Flickr.