Identity Politics and Femininity
Feminine identity has a vast and varied genealogy, but too often women are reductively understood as stereotypes. Issues related to gender expression and identity, the spectrum of sexuality, and performativity in different social situations and spaces make it impossible to simply label a person based upon their outer appearance, or an uninformed, generalized perception based on stereotype. Women who have suffered the effects of being told who and what they are used feminism to fight back. While many of the examples in this gallery also speak to issues of patriarchal control, these artists' narratives relay the themes of reclaiming “bad” words that only “bad” women can be called. Women thus reappropriated words like “bitch,” “feminist,” and even “girl” in order to reject the dichotomy society creates for women. In doing so, many of these artists transgressed hegemony through owning their identities, their musicianship, their mistakes, and their personal triumphs. By transgressing or subverting gender norms/roles and reclaiming previously damaging or insulting identity terms ("bitch," for example), women reinvented themselves and the very label of "woman." Owning their identities, especially through musical expression, allotted women rockers a freedom that women in the music industry lacked decades earlier.
The images included in this gallery represent examples from ROCKRGRL that reject traditional beauty norms, gender roles, and social identities in ways that are reflected in their music. Transgressing the hegemonic notions of “woman” and “rock musician” allowed many artists to, in turn, reject the traditional binary that society can force upon women. For example, some women chose to be both mother and touring musician. Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart were frequent subjects and contributors of ROCKRGRL, and in various issues reflect upon their relationship as sisters, as well as the balancing act of being a rocker and a mother.
Owning one's identity also meant avoiding tradition and embracing alternative lifestyles as Tara Maclean describes. Her upbringing in a spiritual household left her with a close relationship to the earth, her body, and creative freedom with the help of marijuana. Her hippie perspective clashes with the well known destructive narrative of Courtney Love. Love appeared several times across ROCKRGRL issues, discussing her life as a widow, her wild mood swings, and her relationship to her bandmates in Hole.
Though many of the artists in ROCKRGRL gained fame as a result of the male-dominated music industry, several artists discussed how their music, despite an eventual relationship with a major label, remained in their control because of their resistance to the strictures of the industry. Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, Liz Phair, and Kim Gordon are among several artists who put their bodies and souls into their work, often having to come to terms with failure, financial difficulties, break-ups, and renewed identities in order to achieve personal empowerment and artistic growth. Regardless of how it was achieved, the women in this gallery stand for something meaningful and did not rest until they were able to express themselves in a way that was true, honest, and on their own terms.