Whether she's kicking ass on stage as the guitarist of Sleater-Kinney or yukking it up on TV as the star of Portlandia, Carrie Brownstein is the absolute best. We here at City Pages strive to be the absolute best. But, as our gentle, treasured readers routinely let us know, sometimes we fall flat in that pursuit.
In Brownstein's new memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl — which hits on her emotionally tumultuous childhood and life in rock 'n' roll — CP gets put on blast in a section discussing botched attempts at writing about women in music. First, here is Brownstein explaining the unfair framing of Sleater-Kinney in the music press:
"We were never trying to deny our femaleness. Instead, we wanted to expand the notion of what it means to be female. The notion of 'female' should be so sprawling and complex that it becomes divorced from gender itself. We were considered a female band before we became merely a band; I was a female guitarist and Janet was a female drummer for years before we were simply considered a guitarist and a drummer. I think Sleater-Kinney wanted the privilege of starting from neutral ground, not from a perceived deficit or a linguistic limitation. Anything that isn't traditional for women apparently requires that we remind people what an anomaly it is, even when it becomes less and less of an anomaly. I will now take a moment to compile for you a representative sample of journalism about Sleater-Kinney. Most of these articles are actually trying to be complementary — the authors just fell into common traps and assumptions."
The 41-year-old indie-rock icon then re-prints a portion of a City Pages article from 2000, which begins with this unfortunate lead:
"POST-RIOT-GRRRLS Sleater-Kinney are a boy rock critic's wet dream. Not just because they sport that pouty, Salvation Army T-shirt-wearing look that drives those guys wild, but because SK's fifth album, All Hands on the Bad One (Kill Rock Stars), is the kind of complex, multifaceted work that sparks hours of tedious nerdspeak."
The face-palm moments continue from there — "They continue to make feminist punk rock that isn't boring, precious, or preachy"; "there's more going on here than just some spoiled little tomboys postponing their entrance into the workforce." You can read the entire article — which was written by a woman, no less — from our archives here.
The ignoble phenomenon of sexualizing and differentiating female musicians is not a relic of the past. Latently sexist descriptors like "all-female trio" and other more egregious examples persist in rock writing today; Seattle alt-weekly the Stranger ran a delicious send-up of exoticicizing the "female" rocker with this 2012 cover spread. Kudos to Brownstein for helping raise awareness of those traps and assumptions.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl came out October 27 to rave reviews.
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