Feminism After Punk

The complexity of punk culture presents a parallel to the experience of intersectional feminism today. Rather than encounter racism and sexism in isolation, punk deals with both in an aggressive, outspoken way. This is expressed in Mimi Nguyen’s essay, “IT’S (NOT) A WHITE WORLD: LOOKING FOR RACE IN PUNK,” where she unravels the nuances and hypocrisies of punk feminism. Much of it mirrors the modern-day definition of white feminism, which is criticized for not considering multiple race, class, ability, and size perspectives. For example, Nguyen writes that “Revolution narrowly defined as individual self-improvement (“I’m doing this for me!”) isn’t much of a revolution,” and thus calls for the more difficult work of coalition to be done by people with privilege. In effect, this individuality works to erase the narratives of people who deviate from the “common culture” of punk. As a result, this speaks to Matt Diehl’s interview with Kathleen Hanna, who describes feminism as “something you do, not something necessarily you have to call yourself. There’s still a lot to scream about.” It is implied that inaction is not effective, and speaking truths is more important than self-preservation.

A song that most obviously illustrates this point is Beyonce’s “***Flawless,” which samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous TED talk on feminism. It isn’t quite explicit in redefining gender roles or calling out examples of institutional racism, but it is effective in bringing a succinct definition of feminism to a mainstream audience. Coming from a Black artist, it is especially powerful to hear that you, the listener, are flawless, regardless of how society perceives you. It still remains individualistic to some extent, but not in the way that Nguyen criticizes — Beyonce is not advocating for self-improvement, rather self-empowerment. In a similar way, this is exemplified in Little Mix’s “Salute,” which takes the militaristic critiques of feminism and reclaims it. This call to action (“Ladies all across the world / Listen up, we’re looking for recruits/ If you with me, lemme see your hands / Stand up and salute / Get your killer heels, sneakers, pumps or lace up your boots / Representing all the women, salute, salute”) is fun, assertive, and straightforward. Again, while the message is superficial and doesn’t introduce more complex feminist ideas to the radio, it is critical for an interracial girl group like Little Mix to produce songs like this. Bringing these broader feminist concepts into public consciousness allows society to engage in more difficult conversations about how each industry and sector is impacted by race and gender. While third-wave feminism is not a movement with demands that can be immediately and urgently resolved, it continues the punk tradition of anger and aggression through continued action.

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