Mark down 2014 as the year that women tore down the punk-boy clubhouse and erected a big middle finger in its place. Scrutinize year-end lists and you’ll find an unprecedented number of lady-fronted punk and indie bands. I’m honored to be in the company of bands like Ex Hex and Perfect Pussy on Vulture’s list of the best albums of 2014. Beyond that, look around at other lists and you’ll also see names like Cayetana, Speedy Ortiz, and especially, White Lung, whose third LP Deep Fantasy took 2014 by storm and demonstrated the power and diversity of contemporary punk music. Also, this year we saw the return of iconic bands like the Muffs and Sleater-Kinney, who released music in 2014 for the first time in years. And there is Against Me!, who put out one of the most important records of the century, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Against Me! was a male-fronted band that I fell in love with as a kid; now they’re a world-storming, woman-fronted punk band of epic proportions. This alone could make 2014 the most important year for punk.
“Punk is a boys’ club” is something I’ve heard most my life, and there is definitely validity to that statement. Growing up in the punk scene meant I spent a lot of time watching sweaty white dudes expound their frustration to a room mostly comprised of other sweaty white dudes. It wasn’t until I picked up We Gotta Get Outta This Place: The True, Tough Story of Women in Rock from my middle-school library that I could even name more than five lady-fronted punk bands with confidence. While all-woman or woman-fronted bands like the Slits, the Runaways, or L7 have been revolutionizing the punk scene since its inception, people routinely associate the genre with men like the Ramones, Black Flag, or the Sex Pistols. Riot Grrrl is often referenced as the height of “women in punk,” as if we stopped making rock music in the mid-’90s. My band, Chumped, still gets compared to Bikini Kill frequently, and while I’m flattered, I can’t help but think it’s a lazy comparison based on a very narrow scope of woman-fronted punk bands. Historically, women have been always been in the “club,” but for some reason, we’ve been a lot less visible than our male counterparts. That has changed.
So, how do we make sense of this seemingly sudden explosion of women onto the punk scene? Perhaps the political climate has been more encouraging, or at least aware, of pro-women issues in the past few years. The word feminist got a lot of attention in 2014. (Thanks, Beyoncé!) Also, the Elliot Rodger shooting and Emma Watson’s address to the U.N. were just two of many events that inspired the wider public to reconsider gender politics in a significant way. Punk has always been political and civic-minded, and now the music is reflecting our culture’s current focus on the treatment of women.
In addition, critics and listeners who have put impossible standards on women in the past are lending a more open ear. I still get reviews that start with, “You know I’m hypercritical of girl’s voices,” or, “I don’t normally listen to bands with female singers … it’s just not my thing.” I’ve encountered these kinds of sexist statements from record labels, writers, and even fans. This thinking has prevented woman-fronted bands or even bands with woman members from gaining deserved recognition or exposure for decades. While there is still plenty of ignorance out there, the increased media coverage that not only my own band but also other women’s bands have gotten in 2014 demonstrates that we’ve made at least some visible progress.
I’ve been able to find a community of women and pro-women men who are willing to support and encourage me to get up in front of people and say what I have to say. My bandmates, three feminist men who have never objectified me and have always supported me, have helped me grow into a better person and a musician. And, most important, meeting other women playing music has been completely inspiring. The countless other ladies I’ve seen onstage this year have convinced me of the revolutionary character of friendship and the power in numbers. When I was a teenager, searching desperately for women to look up to, I couldn’t find any. In the past few years, I’ve been surrounded by them. Seeing contemporaries like Lauren Denitzio (Worriers), Erica Freas (RVIVR), and Katie and Allison Crutchfield (Waxahatchee and Swearin’, respectively) onstage drove me to abandon my insecurities and pick up a guitar. The more women I saw, the more excited I became.
After 2014, it seems that we have an ever-increasing roster of women that will continue to excite and inspire a future generation of musicians. The greatest compliment I received this year was from a father who came to a sold-out show in Florida. He told me that his 5- and 7-year-old daughters asked him to take a picture with me. “Chumped is their favorite band,” he said, “And they need proof!” It gives me hope that young women will no longer have to check out books from the library to find their role models.