“And so I watch these girls at emo shows more than I ever do the band. I watch them sing along, see what parts they freak out over. I wonder if this does it for them, if seeing these bands, these dudes on stage resonates and inspires them to want to pick up a guitar or drum sticks. Or if they just see this as something dudes do, because there are no girls, there is no them up there. I wonder if they are being thwarted by the FACT that there is no presentation of girls as participants, but rather, only as consumers—or if we reference the songs directly—the consumed. I wonder if this is where music will begin and end for them. If they can be radicalized in spite of this. If being denied keys to the clubhouse or airtime will spur them into action.”
-Jessica Hopper (2003)
It’s been 10 years since Jessica Hopper wrote an article called “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t.” It appeared in Punk Planet #56. I was 18 when that article first came out, and was still trying to figure out where I fit in in the world of independent or underground music. It was easier for me than it was for others. The fact that I was a straight, white male meant that most music was already marketed towards me by default. I could, within reason, connect to just about any band. And, unfortunately, we were all knee deep in sensitive boy, Drive Thru Records bands. It wasn’t a great time.
I read her article when it came out and it made me wonder about the music I was being exposed to. There was a troubling amount of “women as props” in what was called emo in the early 2000s. That was the best case scenario. Never mind the more explicitly misogynistic stuff. A decade later, and many years spent circling the wagons, there is a lot of talk of an emo revival. A whole lot of self important people are dissecting the history and revising it. A good portion of the culture is trying to distance itself from the popular Drive Thru/Victory/Hopeless bands of the past. What troubles me isn’t that they are doing that, it’s the reasons they are doing it. No one is coming out and acknowledging the inherent sexism of that particular scene. The rebellion against that era seems to play more to generic punk politics about selling out or whatever. No one is decrying those bands from 2003 for being sexist. They’re being decried for being fake. There is a dissonance there that is hard to wrap my head around.
So, in the last decade, how far have we really come? Punk music in general is still horribly unbalanced when it comes to women in the scene. Women playing in bands are still looked at as a novelty. And then, when we discuss those bands, we always make a reference to the “female vocalist/guitar player/whatever.” This modern day emo scene is really no different. It’s still dominated by men. Primarily of the straight and white variety. Sure, we like to pretend that everything is better. We walked through the valley of the shadow of posers (with apologies to Propagandhi for stealing their line). We came out more connected and stronger. But, unfortunately, we never really addressed the real issues.
There seems to be a disconnect between what’s happening now the what is happened then. The bar was set so incredibly low to begin with, it takes a minimum of effort to look better. Emo music, and punk in general, still haven’t fully embraced the idea of being inclusive and respectful. Women in bands are still looked at as a novelty. Go to any band who runs their website through Tumblr. If they answer questions on there, count how many of them are some variation of “the girl in your band is hot. Hook me up with her.” It’s fucking ludicrous that the absolute minimum amount of effort seems to be too much. As a community, this simply won’t do. “Don’t be sexist” isn’t asking too much. “Don’t be a shithead” isn’t asking too much. It’s insulting that it takes so much effort to get people to just do that.
Sure, things don’t seem as blatant anymore. But, how much of that change is cosmetic? There’s a boat load of hype surrounding this “emo revival” right now. It’s attention that’s been building for a few years already, but seems to be coming to a head. As a fan, I’ve heard a million “emo revival” records. As a blogger, I’ve got enough press releases and promotional material to choke a horse (or my inbox, at the very least). As a result, I’m seeing a whole array of stuff. Unfortunately, a lot of it isn’t very good. Parts of our own community are still a mess. The same things those early 2000s bands get attacked for doing are still happening. While some of the more violent things have fallen out of sight, don’t fool yourself into believing they’re not still there.
Somewhere there is some kid who wants to play emo or post-hardcore who is just hearing that old Glassjaw line about “suck the dick that cums lead.” Or maybe he saw his favorite band talk about how much they were influenced by Saves The Day. He’s probably hearing “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” or “As Your Ghost Takes Flight” for the first time. The current bands don’t exist in a vacuum. We still have to do better.
We may have slapped a fresh coat of paint on it, but the house still isn’t in order. We’re inviting strangers in to take a look around anyway. We can only sweep so much shit under the rug before they notice. Eventually we have to actually do something about it.