Here are a few choice cutlets from a beautiful article at AnotherMag.com on punks, feminism and sexuality:
“…Punk was a time of Poly Styrene, The Slits, Palmolive, Siouxsie Sioux. It was a time during which women were reclaiming their identity and sexuality from that of the swinging sixties and, as Ari Up explains in Typical Girls?, “Punk really started with equality of girls. There’s a whole culture – the first looks of so-called punk, so many girls contributed to that. And of course Vivienne Westwood, there was a window for female expression in punk when it started.” Aggressively dismantling stereotypes around feminine docility, women in punk wore fishnets, bared their breasts and wrapped themselves in leather not to appeal to a patriarchal notion of sexuality but to reclaim it…
As Patti Smith once said, “As far as I’m concerned, being any gender is a drag” – and deconstructing binary gender roles and liberating sartorial decisionmaking from them was a key part of punk’s aesthetic. Women were free to adopt traditionally masculine roles on stage, in their lives and within their wardrobes; men were free to apply as much lipstick as they pleased and everyone looked far cooler for it. Putting into practice the tenets that later became the foundations of third wave feminism, punk promoted anarchy within the gender spectrum – both sartorially and politically – and lay the groundwork for the revolutionary feminism to follow…
“Oh Bondage Up Yours!” screamed Poly Styrene – and, while punk promoted freedom from the bondage of capitalism, it embraced it within its wardrobe. Worn for a combination of shock value and as a parodic commentary on the masochism of consumer culture, it confronted both prudishness and political apathy and has remained an emblem reappropriated by anyone from Rihanna to Beyonce looking to assert an aesthetic cool…”
Full article and more pictures by Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon here.
Thanks again to Kitty Stryker for pulling me into the world of Vesta Tilley, Victorian drag king. Born Matilda Powles in 1863, Tilley was famous for her music hall performances where she accurately mimicked and mocked masculine roles in her comedic song and dance performances. Here’s an excerpt from a description of one of her shows by contemporary reviewer W.R. Titterton:
“…How sure the singer is! How despotically she rules over her audience – dallies with the rhythm, draws it out, pauses in mid-gesture, the hand in the air, the monocle nearing the eye – pauses perilously long, you get uneasy, the bicycle goes so slow you are afraid it will topple – it almost does, but in good time the chorus comes to its conclusion with a ‘My word!’ and one dainty feminine hand slaps the other, and the body wriggles into itself with a foot up. ‘My word! he-is-a naugh-ty boy!’ O Tilley!”
For a wonderful article about Vesta Tilley at the Victorianist blog and the full Titterton review click here, and for more photos at Buzzfeed click here.
Maria Popova at BrainPickings.org has written a splendid piece on “Venus with Biceps: A Pictorial History of Muscular Women” by David L. Chapman and Patricia Vertinsky. The book itself is an exhaustive collection of images and commentary, spanning nearly 200 years of female physical strength and society’s varied reactions to it:
“There is something profoundly upsetting about a proud, confident, unrepentantly muscular woman. She risks being seen by her viewers as dangerous, alluring, odd, beautiful or, at worst, a sort of raree show. She is, in fact, a smorgasbord of mixed messages. This inability to come to grips with a strong, heavily muscled woman accounts for much of the confusion and downright hostility that often greets her.” David L. Chapman
“The ambivalence about women and muscularity has a long history, as it pushes at the limits of gender identity. Images of muscular women are disconcerting, even threatening. They disrupt the equation of men with strength and women with weakness that underpins gender roles and power relations.” Patricia Vertinsky
Click here to see the article itself, many wonderful pictures, and an amazing 1901 video of a female circus performer “disrobing” on a trapeze.