Hugo Schwyzer: The Rohypnol Feminist?

feminist

I was going to call this something stronger. Something about my own feminism. But then I realized that today, like many other readers of this piece in The Atlantic, I had been conned. Willingly conned, but conned nonetheless.

Perhaps it seems a little strong to call Schwyzer a Rohypnol Feminist, but from what I have learned this afternoon about his behavior, I think that would be the nicest term for him.

A girlfriend pointed out on a second Facebook post I made today about Ellen Page that she wished that Hugo Schwyzer would shut his mouth. I was incredibly confused. I will readily admit that, as much of a feminist as I am, I am not on the forums or boards of every group on the internet and I am not entirely up-to-date as to what is going on at all times. But…I just graduated a month ago and I’ve been busy job hunting and trying to keep in the film archiving career game. At any rate, I chatted with her a bit and it seems that Señor Schwyzer is not all that he is cracked up to be. In her words he’s an “all around creeper.” Being the research nerd and archivist that I have been trained to be, I went 1,2,3,4 levels deep on this subject and found this to be absolutely the case. Somewhere between Ted Bundy and that dude who took women’s studies classes and went to gay bars just to get laid is this guy. No joke.

First thing’s first, let’s start with his actual article. I liked it. I thought it was pretty good. I’ve been very uncomfortable with the idea of the manic pixie dream girl thing and I enjoyed his resolute command to writers to create better and stronger lead female characters. But here is the primary difficulty with the article: even though he linked to Laurie Penny’s brilliant piece in the New Statesman about the MPDG image and he attempted an exploration based upon some of her points, what he ACTUALLY DID was hijack her work. Basically, move over Penny, hello Schwyzer. Instead of writing a piece in praise of Penny and parsing out the ways in which she had really lain out the basic bits and pieces (as well as subjective experiences) of the manic pixie dream girl image and theorizing how that was salient to the world of women and the feminist movement as it exists in its current state, Schwyzer flipped it. What did he do? He did a “Hey! Lookit me! I know about MPDGs too! I’ve totally experienced it! I know what’s up! Listen to my experience! Read about my subjective exploration of this area and the suffering that I have gone through as a result!”35rt9u

OH REALLY? Hrm. Gosh. Not sure I’m buying this article anymore, Hugo. Think I may still be on Laurie’s side. Sorry about your sucky childhood, but…not really. It kinda seems like a stretch in comparison to Laurie’s rhetoric in and around her growth away from being this patriarchally-created sexual object that has successfully made its way to every cinema and television screen near you.

And that was where the real nastiness started. I could just leave it there and recognize Schwyzer’s authorial egotism and authorial narcissism, things that most writers have at least a small modicum of but, as my girlfriend said, Hugo is not a good guy. And it’s not simply because he wants you to think that he is because he cares about women’s place in the moving image world.

A small preface. As someone who has dated an addict and has many recovering addicts in my friend-family, I am 100% in favor of forgiveness and I support the concept that people change. I know that I have made hundreds and hundreds of mistakes in my life and I am dead certain that I will make hundreds more. Additionally, people grown and changed, developing into better and better people throughout their lives and learn from mistakes. I get it. But they have to learn from them and, most importantly, they must own up to them in the most honest manner possible. This is not an easy task. The first person that you have to be honest with is yourself. Most people can’t do it. It’s easy enough to apology to a friend or colleague, even internet acquaintances that you have aggravated. The intention and the honest value is what is of consequence.

Hugo Schwyzer was an alcoholic and a drug-addict. He slept with the college students he taught. Most notably, he tried to kill his ex-girlfriend and himself. He details his addictions, his apologies and all of these awful actions in a blog post that is still available (as of the moment) here. However, they were also, at one point, available in a far more unexpurgated and complete form on his own blog according to Angus Johnston of StudentActivism.net. In fact, due to the timeliness of Johnston’s post, he was able to capture the original data from Schwyzer’s site and document it before Hugo decided to go into his public archive and change the data himself.  Is this dangerous? You betcha!  As a woman this horrifies me, as a feminist this nauseates me and as an archivist, this terrifies me.

I like to consider myself a competent researcher which is why I am a bit frustrated that I didn’t question today’s article (I don’t trust The Atlantic since they published that article about film restoration that had more holes in it than swiss cheese and some absolutely ludicrous adverts in celebration of Scientology) or its writer, Mr. Schwyzer. But I didn’t. As I have written previously, this is what we get in the viral age: read the headline, agree with the subject, skim the first few lines, get a case of OCD after agreeing with said first lines, repost/retweet article after not having finished. We are all guilty of this but it is not an impossible habit to break.

At any rate, back to Hugo. Johnston makes a point in his blog post that appears to me to return to his having usurped the MPDG discourse in order to make it his own and focus on his own message: he has an undeserved and altogether revolting sense of paternalism which he readily admits to on his own blog!  While I may agree with some of what he says in that post, the context that he puts it into is terrifically condescending. THIS is how he is a rohypnol feminist. He’s that guy who seems so great until you realize he has been emotionally damaging you to the point of needing a good bout of therapy. Emotional abuse and manipulation comes in a great many forms. Schwyzer uses his skills to convince his audience that his activities are genuinely in the scope of feminist activity and yet, upon being asked about his impetus and actions, they all seem to reflect something false. He seems to be using feminism as the drug to corral a following, however controversial the process may be.

In her piece on Schwyzer in xojane.co.uk, Olivia Singer states,

What it comes down to is that I have come to realize, over the past few weeks, that yes men can advocate the equality of women and of course they can call themselves feminists, in the same way I can call out racial discrimination and protest against it, but they cannot teach me what I experience or the way I ought to process that. And I think that’s why it makes my stomach turn. I have grown up accustomed to internalizing male experience, to listening to a patriarchal voice, and I want something a little different with my feminism.

There seems to be a number of different dilemmas that are present here.

How do we deal with a person with a past? His discussion of the almost murder of his ex, no matter how drugged out he was, is disturbing. Indeed, his brutal honesty about his mental illnesses and conditions extend that sense of unease further. It seems that if these events had happened and were part of his general story and they had not gone through what I see as evidence tampering and exploitation from all sides, Hugo would not be this “provocative figure.” On the other hand, would he have the career he does?

As a general rule, I enjoy being a feminist and being part of feminist culture. But I cannot stomach the Andrea Dworkin-types nor the rabid-anti-men types. The first is irrational and the second is misandry. But radicalism in any form drives humans to ridiculous and horrific behavior. I can’t stomach the idea of extremism because it brings out the worst in all of us. I think that many of these women’s publications have been concentrating on the wrong things when they have been poking their sticks at Schwyzer. There is no excuse for domestic violence, rape, abuse or the like. But the continued exploitation of his past behavior is very poor. Even I am participating in this ritual by its discussion. But it cannot go unmentioned in the discussion of today’s article.

I posted that article without knowing anything about him; without knowing that he has a tendency to insert himself into these women’s issues and manipulate them in such a way that he ends up looking great and like Sensitive Ponytail Boy while he’s more on the problematic side.

What is dangerous in someone like Hugo Schwyzer is his belief and insistence that his involvement in the feminist movement gives him the right to behave in a manner that extends and exudes patriarchal structures. This is not immediately obvious in his work, but the continued insertion of his own sexuality and subjective experience imbalances the work and removes its legitimacy. Whether or not he is aware of this posturing (which sometimes comes in the form of a strange kind of anti-male discourse), that is what I find as a woman and feminist.

As I was researching this piece, what I found most sinister about the man was that I had to go to three to four different sources, including the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine (Thank you Brewster Kahle! You are a rockstar and then some!!) in order to find out what he had originally written about an event that he repeatedly insists that he admits to and has dealt with through his sobriety. Yet all of the data I have found makes me believe differently. When someone goes in and changes evidence on a document, analogue or digital, this sets off a big alarm. The truth seems to be that he wanted to look better. The 2011 version of these blogs added something to the story: a phone call that had never happened on the other two blogs. According to Angus Johnston (who, once again, got much of the actual wording from the Google cache before it disappeared into the digital ether, Schwyzer’s paternal issues towards a “fragile girl” were no longer present, his fetishization of the ex-girfriend’s body was gone (as was his desire to “put her out of her misery”), and he had inserted a bit about placing a call to a neighbor before drifting off to (what he thought would be) death.

Since we have very little actual physical data to prove one way or the other, there is no way we will ever really know what happened. That’s the truth. Schwyzer is quite proficient at keeping those involved in his tales quite anonymous. However, as a trained archivist, in assessing this situation and the other evidence in and around the subject, I cannot find this man to be trustworthy nor reputable in his work for a cause that he says he gives 100% to. He says that he is honest and that the honesty is part of his sobriety. Ok, Hugo, that part is true. Honesty is part of sobriety. But until you stop taking other people’s work and reappropriating it for your own purposes and until you figure out what your relationship to your own digital archive is, I can’t trust you and I cannot accept you as someone who really wants to be an ally. You seem like you are here for your own purposes and you know what? It’s your career. If you want to do that, fine. But don’t call yourself a feminist. In order to do that, you have to want to be part of the community.

The Happiness of Failure & Graduate School as Ghost Protocol

Yesterday I passed the exam that said that I am now 100% eligible to take a job in my chosen field of moving image archiving.

Not only is this thrilling and a feat of accomplishment, it is a dream come true. However, I also feel like Ethan Hunt in 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. At one juncture in the film, injured and beaten to shit, he falls to the floor and growls, “mission accomplished.” Later he expresses surprise that he even said this. Oh, the metamess or metaness of it all.

In a way, there were times when I felt like this second shift in graduate school was my Ghost Protocol.

The independence that Ethan Hunt and his cohort had to work with, the disavowal of the IMF, the continual pursuit of a goal for the betterment of the world…these were all things that I deeply identified with. I don’t think that my cat knew that he was on a moving image archivist rock ‘n’ roll grad team, should he “choose to accept it” but…hey. As my friend Ray would say, I had the ability to make the metal meat mice happen for him. He accepted the mission willingly, if, for no other reason, than he was able to walk across my keyboard at key moments in my digital restoration examinations and planning for film series curations.

Fighting for what you believe in is hard work. Ask Ethan Hunt. Being disowned/disavowed by your organization for the betterment of the Mission is tough. But Hunt moved forward. Not taking no for an answer. Amazingly enough, I did the same thing. I will tell you that I was absolutely not feeling it when I did so. There must be something in my DNA that drives me to do so. But I believe, more than anything, that it is my love for the job and my love for film preservation and restoration itself that drove me to get back up when I got blasted out of the water a few weeks ago.

I failed my grad school exam/portfolio defense the first time.

Holy shit. I was CRUSHED. This was my everything. Watching others in my year be so enthusiastic about passing with distinction and then…I sat there, sobbing. Two years. Working so hard. The worst part was…I knew exactly what I had done wrong. But there was nothing I could do to fix it at that point. Not only that, but I had a show to put on that night! It was the final screenings of a film series that I had spent the entirety of my film archiving education curating. I had to be fresh-faced and enthusiastic, the way that I normally am, not gutted.

By the time we reached the theater, I was composed and the screenings were phenomenal. Perhaps the best events I’ve organized thus far in my career.

This has been an inordinately difficult year for me. As Townes writes in this song,

We all got holes to fill
Them holes are all that’s real.
Some fall on you like a storm,
Sometimes you dig your own.
The choice is yours to make,
Time is yours to take;
Some sail upon/dive into the sea,
Some toil upon the stone.

The one thing that got me through everything was the Moving Image Archiving Studies program at UCLA and what I was working on there as well as the different projects that I was planning for the AMIA Student Chapter. From my previous days as a teen HIV/AIDS educator, I knew that activism was my preferred method of working. But it is not everyone’s. My passion gets my work done and gets things changed and lets me know that I will see results. But it got in the way this time and did not allow me to look at my graduate experience critically. Equally important, it blinded me from being critical of my creative or academic work. This was a major problem.

Failing was one of the better things that has happened to me.

While the above paragraphs do not show as much, it has improved my writing, it has humbled me and it has given me new heroes to follow. One of the films I played that fateful weekend was The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein, 1984). He failed four separate times before being elected to office. I have recently been doing some research on playwright and author Samuel Beckett, and his work was considered “unpublishable” and rejected from innumerable places before he hit the jackpot. Upon my initial receipt of  the failing grade, one of my mentors, Dennis Doros of Milestone Films responded kindly, saying I should take it in stride. Academy-Award-winning archivist Kevin Brownlow failed many times before he got to the marvelous place he is at today as did he himself.

Depression is a nasty disease and tricky to work with in dark situational moments like this. And I am not one of those people who likes to hide things. Frankly, if I did, it would be unhealthy for me. I have had various health complaints since I was a kid, and they are odd and I have had to tell my employers and friends about them so that it wouldn’t be an issue. My epilepsy is something I have come to terms with now and I have started to try to get comfortable talking about my depression too since I have begun to suspect that, since they are both located in neurologic segments of the brain, they are having some kind of party and making decisions without my control. I am cool with talking about it. What I am not cool with is wanting desperately to deal with failing what I feel is the most important exam of my life and desiring to bounce back right away. It is very frustrating. I hate being frustrated.

Once again this was an area where I felt like it was Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol. I wanted so badly to reach out to someone, anyone, but…I was on my own.

However, the things that I learned were so amazing that I wouldn’t have done this ANY OTHER WAY.

My writing will now be going through so many drafts if it is going anywhere. What you are reading now is an example of the exercise I discussed a few days ago, “Writing the Don Roos Way.” My speech and presentation work will be less vague and a great deal more professional. My thinking will be more critical and many things about my work will be more concise but equally as powerful. I plan to remove the wishy-washyness that has been present within my work and make real focused statements. After all, I have 2 degrees from a very heady institution that say I am allowed to do so. I believe that I may say these things and to hell with anyone who says the opposite.

It’s about using failure for success and restructuring pessimism for optimism. I believe in the power of words and writing. I also believe that we are the ultimate self-babysitters upon becoming adults, especially for women and the marginalized. If you want to have power or to feel that you have power, write it into your work. Change the pronouns, clarify your sentences, give yourself more credit, have conversations about a) what you really wish to say as a writer or speaker, b) who you want the reader/audience to see you as and c) what actually happened. Are you seeing/interpreting/writing the piece up in a certain manner due to gender/social inequities? I do that. I have been known to have less confidence in my work because as a woman I am socialized to take less credit and to be more “maybe/kinda” than “absolutely/yes.”

The  happiness of failure has led me to passing the exam yesterday, reconsidering how I use pronouns, and never wanting to open a sentence with “however” again.

I am a strong woman with many awkward cracks and hiccups in my interior. But I will be walking the graduation path on Friday in my cap and gown in the name of my mother, grandmother, father, godfather, myself, and the thing that has kept me going this whole time: FILM’S FUTURE.

And when I come off that stage, my first two words will be “Mission Accomplished.”

More Than Two White Stripes: For Poly Styrene and Ari Up

 

       When I heard that Poly Styrene died yesterday, I thought it was another cruel internet joke. See, apparently the internet and celebrity deaths have become the best “joke” companions, as I have heard rumors of, quite literally, at least 4-5 other famous people dying within the last few months and they have been untrue.

But this was Poly fucking Styrene. I suppose the language use there should cause me to put a parental advisory on my blog now, eh? In any case, Poly Styrene. She was 53. And (plug your ears/cover your eyes again) she was fucking cool. I’m too young to have experienced her fully. I admit this. I was introduced to punk as a teen by a bunch of extremely nerdy and overly intelligent guys who (amazingly) are still my friends. They liked good literature, ska and punk rock. I met them at Rocky Horror. This was over 15 years ago. And when I heard the first few strains of “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” it changed my life.

In fact, the first thing I did was put it on my answering machine. Yeah, ok, so I had my own phone line at home. But it was much easier. Just trust me. For years, my outgoing answering machine message was the opening of that song. It struck me because a) she was a girl like me and b) she was young like me. She was a little awkward looking, but she was OH MY GOD SO DAMN COOL.

Poly Styrene

There was something inspirational in the pure existence of that song. Alongside listening to my Descendents, Agent Orange and Bad Religion and whatever other bands we were rocking out to at the time, I knew she existed and that was pretty…cool. Because at the time I couldn’t admit to my friends that I liked other kinds of music because I thought they would disown me. Until I found some tapes on the floor of one of my friend’s apartments that were decidedly not punk. Then I knew that we were all on the same page, more or less. But that’s another story for another time.

There are so many problems that I see with Poly passing so young. First of all, it comes RIGHT on the heels of Ari Up’s death back in October, 2010. That was only A FEW MONTHS AGO. and the two women were only a few years apart. Not only that but…they both died of cancer. No offense again to those who can’t deal with a bit of swearing (you may want to skip to my film discussion a few paragraphs down) but…fuck that shit. This just plain sucks.

Ari Up, 1962-2010

I can’t help but try to think of the “punk rock women” we have in music now and notice the glaring space that is there. EmptyEmptyEmpty. The cancer that has taken these women has removed this very thing from our lives and it is of such importance. At least it is to me. And if you even attempt to give me Alanis Morrissette or something like that, I…can’t be held responsible for what I’ll quote at you through various academic sources.

We have Patti Smith. And the remaining Riot Grrls/Riot Grrl culture…who don’t seem to be up to that much these days and should be making more of an impact on things. We need women like Poly Styrene and Ari Up. And we need people to know who they are and to remember  them. These things are crucial. When our little girls are wearing pounds of make-up by 8 years old (and it’s not war paint) and the outfits are insanely small in order to betray themselves not in order to give themselves some steam, we have problems. And we’ve had problems for a while. Don’t get me wrong. I work out at the gym to Brittany Spears’ song “Toxic” and I love the video. But I’m an adult.

I was raised on X-ray Spex and The Selector and Bikini Kill and shit like that. Oooooh boy. And now I sound like the “when I was your age” person. But fuck it.

PUNK ROCK IS GOOD FOR YOU!! AND PUNK ROCK MUSIC BY WOMEN IS HEALTHY AS HELL!!

In conclusion, what I want to say about Poly and about Ari is that while cancer may have removed their bodies, it will NEVER EVER remove their indelible mark upon me or upon hundreds of thousands of others across the globe. I don’t care that Hot Topic sells X-Ray Spex shit (if it does), at this point. I just want her voice to be heard. I know that she went on to become a Hare Krishna and incredibly religious and that that is what she would like to be remembered for. And perhaps if folks are REALLY awesome, they will go and do the research, listen to those albums, and have that as part of the collection. Similarly, they will include Ari Up’s reggae stuff with her Slits records.

To Ari and to Poly- two women who rocked the stage harder than they know. As a female who never made it as a musician or as an artist, i have to work within the rhetoric of academia. I use you two as idols anyway, I hope you don’t mind. As you said so succinctly, Poly, “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard. But I say Oh Bondage, Up Yours!”

THE FOLLOWING IS A PIECE THAT I WROTE ABOUT A FILM CALLED “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS.” IT’S A FILM THAT FOLLOWS GIRLS IN PUNK ROCK MUSIC, AND I WROTE IT A VERY VERY VERY LONG TIME AGO SO PLEASE BE KIND. BUT I FELT THAT NOW WOULD BE THE APPROPRIATE TIME TO PUBLISH IT SINCE IT HAD NEVER SEEN THE LIGHT OF DAY. I DEDICATE IT TO ARI UP AND POLY STYRENE: THANK YOU FOR  EVERYTHING.

        

  

Just Two White Stripes, Ain’t Ya?

The Bizarre True Story Of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

So I went to go see a friend’s band play. I got there a bit before they went on, took one look at the band before them, and, unimpressed, headed to the bar and got a beer. I chatted for a bit with my brother and a few other friends, and then went in, just in time for the band to start. My friend Alex turned to me and said, “Have you ever seen them before?” I shook my head, no. Her eyes got wide, and she said, “You’re going to love them.” I turned my eyes to the stage, and watched, as the music began. She was right. I did love them. But what truly hypnotized me was the way that my friend Cooper held the stage. Her presence was hypnotic. As she played her guitar, and sang into the microphone, I was engulfed in my thoughts about what it is to watch a female musician playing rock’n’roll, and why it is exactly that I get such a thrill from taking part in that process. I watched her play, and I watched her scream/sing, and realized the politicalness of her performance and the almost primal elements that are brought forth, when a woman gets up in front of people and participates in the rock’n’roll world. Her screams resonated of a silence that we have been forced to live with for too long, and her obvious pleasure in her instrument, and her glowing sweat and smiles spoke of the rejection of the standard methods of rock communication that have been codified within the music world. A woman, grabbing a guitar, getting up on stage, and pronouncing herself a part of rock’n’roll, is a woman who has had enough of her limitations as a female. The screams/utterances that she makes, the riffs she lets loose, the beats that she hits, are all a part of an anarchic statement against the rock’n’roll hegemony that has existed for so long. Yeah, watching Cooper was something else. She was transformed from my friend, to the kind of example of fighting patriarchal dominance that I feel lucky to be audience to. God, I had fun at that show.

In a piece that Bell Hooks wrote about the pop-star Madonna, she states that

Her image…evoked a sense of promise and possibility, a vision of freedom; feminist in that she was daring to transgress sexist boundaries; Bohemian in that she was an adventurer, a risk taker; daring in that she presented a complex, non-static ever-changing subjectivity…She was the embodiment of that radical risk-taking part of my/our female self that had to be repressed daily for us to make it in the institutionalized world of the mainstream.[1]

The excitement that Hooks releases in the descriptions of Madonna’s earlier image presentation is the same kind of excitement that I felt upon the viewing of a film from the early 80’s, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Not unlike Madonna, the main characters of this film asks viewers to imagine a different world, a world in which a young rock’n’roll girl can takes risks, can be transgressive, and can fight against sexist boundaries. However, like Hooks’ later commentary in this essay, where she discusses how the evolution of Madonna’s image has “engender[ed] in diverse feminist admirers feelings of betrayal and loss,”[2] this film also recounts a tale of defeat, primarily by the hands of the patriarchal male-dominated system that seeks the removal of power and control from young women who have tried their best to steal it away. Now the question here is, does it make this film any less powerful because the women are defeated? Is Madonna’s early image any less seminal as a result of what Hooks sees as Madonna’s later reification of patriarchal sexual exploitation? In my opinion, these issues should not be ignored; they certainly problematize things, but they do not remove the incredible force and strength of the initial presentation. Within the Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, I think it is fair to say that the sum of the film is far greater than its parts.

            All Washed Up

After Nancy Dowd had received such high praise for her work with the film Slap Shot (1977), she was commissioned by Paramount Pictures to write two more films. Initially titled All Washed Up, the film was made in 1981. As a result of Dowd’s legal battles with Paramount in regards to her sexual harassment on the set and her desire to have her name stricken from the credits, it was stalled for another year. At this point, they showed a test screening during which the audience reacted poorly to the “downer” ending, and feelings towards any future for the film were not very high. Paramount, however, did release the film in 1982, but only to an extremely limited amount of “art-house” cinemas, and just so that they could fulfill their contractual obligations. The film sat on the shelves of Paramount for three years before the USA channel sought it out for their popular late-night program, “Night Flight.”

USA's Night Flight

At this point, a studio executive thought it would be better if they went back and shot a happier ending. So, three years after the initial release, they re-shot a few “MTV Style” scenes, even though a few of the young stars had grown a great deal taller, and looked quite a bit different from they had in 1981, and let Night Flight have the film, where it was shown enough times to develop a small but dedicated cult following.

The film tells the story of Corinne “Third Degree” Burns, and her sister Tracy (aka Dee Pleated) and cousin Jessica (aka Dizzy Heights). Their lived existence within their steel-mill town is depressing at best. Corinne decides to start a band with the other girls called The Stains, and, as a result of the drug-related death of one of the members of a heavy-metal/hard rock band that comes through their town called the Metal Corpses, they get the chance to go on tour alongside a British punk act called the Looters. Although their musical knowledge is practically non-existent, The Stains develop a large following due to the combined efforts of Corinne’s revolutionary self-presentation and an interested newswoman who supports their efforts through her show. However, after being suckered into a deal with a “big time” promoter who co-opts their image into money-making schemes and exploits their popularity with young teenage girls, The Stains become victims to the Industry Machine, and are “outed” to their fans who promptly reject their former heroines, and leave the three teens to deal with the consequences.

Be A Professional

This film has a multiplicity of “real life” rock’n’roll connections, just within the cast and crew. The members of the Looters boasted such names as Paul Cook and Steve Jones (members of the Sex Pistols) and Paul Simonon (member of the Clash), while the director of the film, Lou Adler, well-known for directing the film Up In Smoke(1978), was even better known for his work in the music industry, producing such bands as Jan & Dean, the Mamas and the Papas, and Carole King, not to mention playing a significant role in the planning of the first Monterey Pop Festival, in 1967. One of the most significant “rock crossovers” as far as the film’s content was concerned, however, was creative consultant Caroline Coon.

Caroline Coon

Coon had not only lived through punk in the UK, but had managed the Clash, been a staff writer with the music magazine Melody Maker, and written the seminal work on punk, 1988: The Punk Rock Explosion. Her input on The Stains was immeasurable. Coon describes her work with writer Dowd and the preparation for the making of the script, and states,

I took her [Dowd] around the punk scene in London and up North. She had this

idea of young women in a steel town in America which was full of unemployment, empowering themselves through rock’n’roll to escape…I was showing her where it happened, but also where the Damned, the Sex Pistols and the Clash lived, the kind of environment where it first took place. So Nancy went back to Hollywood and wrote the script. Then I was hired by Paramount as creative consultant and dress designer.[3]

Coon’s lived punk experience, along with those of the various members of different musical outfits, all combined to form an authenticity within the presentation on the screen. As well, Coon’s own experience as a woman in a male-dominated subculture was particularly essential to the film’s development, as she was able, along with Dowd, to construct that experience both visually and textually throughout the film. In fact, in all probability, Coon’s experience might not have been that dissimilar to that which was portrayed on screen, as she has been quoted as saying, “Whatever I did was sabotaged by the fact that I had tits.”[4]

Dowd’s desire to represent a picture of the punk rock ethos and the female experience within it was underscored by the remarkable presence of so many very real rock’n’roll legends. However, during production of the film, that very same presence and the problems within the hyper-masculine world of rock became as explosive as the climax of the film itself, causing Dowd to demand that her name be taken off the film entirely.

They Have Such Big Plans for the World, But They Don’t Include You

Punk musician Lene Lovich noted that the advent of punk rock was great, because “the whole idea of it in the first place was to do your own thing, which was really exciting, and people who couldn’t play were getting up and and playing because they really wanted to play.”[5] But, as Gillian Garr recounts, Lovich realized that no matter how “subversive” the music was, or how “alternative” the punk world announced itself to be, it stayed fairly close to strict gender norms- “attitudes towards women frequently remained steadfastly the same.”[6] What is interesting in Garr’s discussion of Lovich, is Lovich’s own take on why it was that women were treated as mere “novelty acts,” or disregarded as serious musicians. Lovich opens the sealed space of the music world to encompass society in general, and deconstructs her experience as being more than reflective of the male-dominated music business, but as indicative of those societal norms.

I was aware that women can be noticed because they are a novelty. But to be taken seriously, to be given some sort of credibility, is much more difficult. I think it’s because music is part of society, and you have to wait for society to catch up for things to change. I think many women would have liked to have done music, but you had to be willing to be completely manipulated, you know,  “Wear this dress…you can move as long as you shake your titties”- it was very confining…I think the stereotypes are fairly strongly stamped in people’s brains, especially people who run record companies.[7]

Lene Lovich, new wave/punk rock musician of the late '70's/'80s and beyond

While Lovich’s ideas about “waiting for society to catch up” are problematic, they also highlight the importance of the women, like Lovich herself, who did not wait for the world to catch up, and the intense strength of women like Nancy Dowd and Caroline Coon who fought the Rock’n’Roll Boys’ Club at every turn of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Lovich’s revelation of the manipulative and misogynist nature of many of the “big wigs” in the recording/music industry only evidences further the problems that ran rampant on the set of this film, not to mention the filmic text itself.

For Dowd, a patron of the same ideals of punk rock that Lene Lovich found so inviting, Fabulous Stains was an important film to make. However, the partnership with Lou Adler brought all kinds of unseen problems that dated as far back as Adler’s career in the music industry. David Clellon, who played the slimy booking agent/promoter in the film, said in an interview, “I think that the reason why Lou didn’t get Nancy Dowd’s story maybe is because he is more part of the problem than part of the solution. To me, the Mamas and The Papas was easy listening, pleasant music, catchy themes, cute lyrics. It was very easy to listen to but it wasn’t revolutionary music.”[8]

The music that the Stains played, however, WAS revolutionary music. It was punk-styled, yet it had a clear feminist edge. The first time the band performs, in the film, it is clear that they are not exactly musically competent. At the end of their set, however, as the audience is booing them mercilessly, Corinne removes the cap that she has been wearing, to reveal a shock of black hair with white skunk-like stripes going up the sides. Even her band mates are astonished at the change from her previously blond hair. Corinne stares defiantly at the unfriendly bar patrons, and states, unapologetically, with a tangible anger in her voice, “I’m perfect! But nobody in this shithole gets me- because I don’t put out!” Corinne “Third Degree” Burns then storms off stage defiantly, having created far more than just a mantra for the band.

"I'm perfect! But nobody in this shithole gets me because I don't put out!"

Her statement can be read a number of ways. Not only does it refer to the denial to “put out” sexually, the denial to physically lie down for someone else, it also plainly announces Corinne’s refusal to subscribe to the categorical subjugation of women. Corinne is not going to “put out” for anyone. She’s perfect. Even if no one does “get” her. She denies outside control, and she denies anyone else’s ownership of her. This kind of sentiment couldn’t have been farther from the sleepy strains of the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” or the aching sadness of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Dowd’s script spoke of a rejection of the sweet, sugary “pleasant music” that David Clenon described, and of a reclaiming of power- a power that, no matter how “counter” any given counterculture was, had been denied women time and time again.

In her book, Scars of Sweet Paradise: the Life and Times of Janis Joplin, Alice Echols notes that although the “sexual revolution” of the 60’s brought about a certain level of sexual freedom for women, it also maintained conventional gender norms quite stringently. She remarks that, “the sexual revolution was a mixed blessing. Women were having more sex (and with less guilt), but they were also more sexually vulnerable. Instead of undoing the deeply rooted sexual double standard, free love only masked it in countercultural pieties.”[9] This era was the one from which Lou Adler had emerged, and prospered in, and this ideology was one that he clearly still upheld. As far as he could tell, women’s sexual liberation gave him license to uphold a “groovy” male rock’n’roll attitude (read: women were sexually free to do as they pleased, therefore so was he). Being involved in a production concerning that which he knew best (rock music and industry relations) he saw only that: a rock movie. This gave him authorization to continue the party that he’d been having for the last 20 years. It didn’t help that the rest of the musicians in the production were also male, and part of yet another hyper-masculine movement: punk. To Dowd’s dismay, the overt displays of testosterone off-camera made things more than a little bit uncomfortable.

Fee Waybill of the Tubes who played Lou Corpse, the lead singer of the Metal Corpses, recalls the “ambiance” of the set. “We had the designated ‘drug trailer,’” Waybill notes, “so that we would all go smoke pot to get into character, y’know, because we were drug addicts.”[10] David Brown, another actor in the film and the founder and head of the seminal punk rock record label, Dangerhouse, concurred with the descriptions of the drug-fuelled “party” atmosphere that Adler had created. In regards to Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains, Brown said, “We all thought it would be our ticket to success. Really what it turned out to be was a huge cocaine party for Lou Adler and his friends.”[11]  To truly back up this notion, it is not surprising that Paul Cook, one of the members of the Sex Pistols, remembered Lou and the experience fondly. He had lived rock’n’roll, as well, and this party was what he was used to. His comment on the whole situation was that Lou “was a really great guy. I have nothing but good words to say about him…Nancy and Caroline Coon thought we were bastardizing their idea. They took it too serious, you know?” [12] Excuse me, please? How could they not have taken it seriously? Had Cook not been a member of the in-group, he might’ve seen that Coon and Dowd had every right to be upset. As a male, and as one of the rock musicians, he had privileged status. He was part of the Boys’ Club. Being surrounded by the same environment that had prevailed over rock music for years, it is fairly easy to see how women like Caroline Coon and Nancy Dowd had a difficult time making a picture that was geared towards their own experiences, and not those of the majority of the population on the set.

But that wasn’t the least of it. In a film that was summarily about three young girls trying to throw off oppression, and actively pursue a future of their own choosing, it is reprehensible that the sexism that ran rampant on the set went to the extremes it did. Nancy Dowd relates the incident that finally pushed her over the edge.

   The Skunks [the look-alike fans of the Stains] were saying all sorts of outrageous things I had written. One of the old camera operators    refused to operate the camera. He said it was obscene and disgusting…He didn’t like [the content of the film] at all. During the scene in Burger King, I was supposed to read lines to somebody and I had to stand right next to this same operator so the eye line would be correct. He went to turn the knob on the camera and instead he grabbed my breast…Here I was with this ultra-rebellious girl story and that is the most humiliating experience I’ve ever had in a movie. I couldn’t talk about it for a long time.[13]

Because of the time period during which this film was shot in, Dowd had little way to seek legal action. Sexual harassment was just part of life. As Lauraine LeBlanc notes, public sexual harassment is “a form of ‘sexual terrorism’ that functions as one aspect of the social control of women…sexual harassment and assault restrict women’s right to full participation in the public domain…public sexual harassment relies upon and reifies…power distinctions between women and men. Clearly, then…this form of sexual harassment contributes to sex discrimination at a broad societal level.” [14] LeBlanc’s discussion of the incursion on a woman’s personal space in order to claim control and power should not be taken lightly. In Nancy Dowd’s experience, she was humiliated, on the set of her own film, in front of a cast and crew. The camera operator who was clearly threatened by Dowd’s work and its “outrageous” and “obscene” content, felt the need to reassert his male dominance by grabbing Dowd’s breast. She had won an Oscar at this point, for her script, Coming Home. And no one on the set (least of all Lou Adler) raised an eyebrow. “There was a kind of silence and nobody, including…Lou Adler, said anything. That kind of thing would never have happened in a million years on Slap Shot, never. And that was a male picture.”[15] Dowd’s commentary in regards to the action occurring specifically because of the high feminist and female-empowering content of the film is significant. Dowd’s previous film, Slap Shot, a film about a male hockey team, was in no way textually problematic. It maintained status quo. However, three women who take it upon themselves to rock the world, and change everyone’s perspective on the way a woman should be seen and treated, is chaotic and deviant, something that disturbs traditional patriarchal norms. Thus, violence was inflicted upon Dowd, because she dared to upset the “balance.” She became so enraged after this incident that she left the set, not to return, and struggled to get her name taken off the picture. She is credited, not as Nancy Dowd, but as “Rob Morton.”

These Girls Created Themselves…

To better comprehend this film’s radical status, it is important to recognize not only the production issues surrounding it which caused it to remain hidden from sight for many years, and the ironic reinscription of standard male rock’n’roll practices that infiltrated the set, but also to look at the actual film text as well. The film’s tagline, “These girls created themselves…” is a direct assault to the idea that in order for women to succeed in rock, they must first have gained permission and help from someone else, in this (and in many other) cases, from a man. It is the recognition of the historically patriarchal nature of the rock business, and it is in express defiance of that history. Recognizing that break from conventional standards was not all that this line represents, however. The “DIY” ethic that this sentence seems to reference has been a huge part of punk rock culture, as noted by many important scholars and participants in the punk movement. Thus, having real life historical punk figures in the film as well as a pronounced emphasis on The Stains being a punk-rock band led to a direct discourse about women’s agency and the expression of individualistic femininity within punk, a subculture that, like rock, was highly male-dominated. These girls sought their own formation in a climate that was highly adverse to their doing so.

In her seminal work on punk and girls’ gender resistance, Lauraine LeBlanc states, “in the male-dominated world of punk, masculinity defines the subculture’s norms, values and styles. These norms, in many cases, directly contradict those of femininity, thereby requiring that punk girls reconcile these disparate discourses in constructing feminine punk identities.”[16] Within this film, Corinne Burns overtly engages in constructing her own female punk identity through a process that scholar Henry Jenkins has called “textual poaching.” While Jenkins’ work focuses primarily on fan cultures, I believe that his interpretations of Michel DeCerteau’s ideas about “poaching” from a text are particularly relevant to this film, especially in tandem with LeBlanc’s ideas about the creation of feminine punk identity in a hyper-masculine environment.

When Corinne first meets the punk band that The Stains go on tour with, it is at a concert, and she is an instant fan. Already a disenfranchised girl in a town that has given her nothing, she has become somewhat of a local celebrity by getting fired on live television and receiving a large media response, empathizing with her situation. One night she is at the local disco, and becomes entranced with the performance of Billy Frate, the lead singer of the Looters, a British punk band that has, due to an unfortunate sequence of events, been forced to play a bunch of dive bars, in small-town America, supporting a terrible, washed-up metal act called the Metal Corpses. Beyond the actual filmic representation, I feel it is important here to quote Dowd’s actual script at some length.

Corinne stares at the stage in disbelief. In Billy she has seen for the first time

someone who has made the synthesis between rebellion, sex, beauty, violence,

rock’n’roll and meaning it.

CORINNE

(impressed)

God.

BILLY

I’ve seen the place you live in. I’ve seen what you’ve been told to put up with. You know what you’ve got? You’ve got fuck all. What have you got?

CORINNE/OTHERS

Fuck all!

He rips into another teenage anthem.

Corinne walks towards the front of the disco. Suddenly all of the tired, despairing boredom of Charlestown has disappeared for her. Onstage there is energy and fury and anger at life – a refusal to grow fat and tired – and a sexuality so unabashed that all her denials of love seem provincial and inexperienced.[17]

Corinne’s experience at the show inspires her. She goes backstage afterwards, to

talk to the band, and finds herself lumped in with the groupies, not a situation that pleases her. She approaches Billy, telling him how much he liked his performance and tells him how the bands they normally get are “really just nothing, but you’re really unusual.” [18] His response is that of the traditional punk nihilism, but she persists. The exchange that occurs next is of the utmost importance.

CORINNE

You look like you made yourself up.

BILLY

Well, that’s better than looking like somebody else made me up, in’it?

CORINNE

I want to be like you.

BILLY

Be yourself.

Henry Jenkins writes, “fans [choose certain] media products from the total range of available texts precisely because they seem to hold special potential as vehicles for expressing the fans’ pre-existing social commitments and cultural interests.”[19] As Dowd wrote in the script earlier, and as is pictured on-screen, Corinne’s experience of the punk band, mirrors the struggle that she has been facing internally. Her admission to Billy, “I want to be like you,” doesn’t mean that she wants to be Billy Frate, singer for the Looters, British punk band, it means she wants to be like what he has cast forth onstage. In effect, she has “poached” the image, not the man. Not unlike writers of fan fiction, or participants in on-line communities, what Corinne succeeds in doing is taking what she has seen in Billy’s performance and using it as a vehicle to express her own “cultural interests.” Part of this entails making the traditionally masculine “punk” image into one that melds Corinne’s own burgeoning sexuality and overt femininity with her demand for personal justice. Billy’s ideologies and calls to be heard correspond with Corinne’s own, just with a very different trajectory: Corinne is ultra aware of her existence as a marginalized figure, both within the rock’n’roll world and society at large, whereas Billy’s concerns lie with the class issues surrounding his British home, as well as his own personal sense of male anger.

Corinne’s ability to take what she needs from the performance and manipulate it, make it her own, is a highly revolutionary act. Yet not as revolutionary as when she actually does lift one of the Looters’ songs. Later on in the film, as the Stains are getting more and more publicity, and their fanbase is growing larger and larger, Corinne actually steals the Looters’ main song. Diegetically, it is supposed to read as retaliation for Billy’s supposed betrayal of Corinne in his attempts to find a different support act. Yet, when we see the Stains play the song, what we are really seeing is a literal representation of Henry Jenkins’ argument regarding textual poaching.

In his discussion about fans as active readers, Jenkins points out that, many times, fans “fragment and reassemble” the texts provided, in order to participate in a form of cultural production that is wholly their own, and tailored to suit their own pleasures. He addresses the fact that, primarily, this is because they are at a disadvantage, not able to fully participate in the hierarchy of cultural production, because they are the consumers, not the producers. He writes, “like the poachers of old, fans operate from a position of cultural marginality and social weakness. Like other popular readers, fans lack direct access to the means of commercial cultural production and have only the most limited resources with which to influence entertainment industry’s decisions.”[20] Truly, Jenkins’ descriptions of television fan groups could just as easily be descriptions of women in rock’n’roll.  Corinne’s reappropriation of Billy’s song, her “fragmentation and reassembling” of the Looters’ text to a Stains text, is quite simply an expression of her own experience as a marginalized person. By “poaching” their song, Corinne is able to create a whole new product, not unlike many other female musicians have by covering male artists’ songs. Sure, she stole their song, but it means something totally different now that it erupts from her mouth. Ideologically, she has basically said that she cares not for the way that she and her band have been positioned in this “Boys’ Club,” and thus she will take their work, and use it for her own ends. It is a way of fighting the forced second-class citizenship that she has been given due to her female status. Like the fan’s experience of not being able to participate fully in the production of their favorite text, Corinne’s experience has been that of a woman in the male-dominated social economy of rock’n’roll, having to take what she is given. Thus, like the fan who creates her own fan fiction to get what she wants out of a given text, Corinne reappropriates the Looters’ song, and takes what she wants, proving to the Looters’ and everyone else how instable their control over her just might be.

       Female Existence Should Not Be a Rush to the Grave…Or the Supermarket

In the book, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain quote punk icon Patti Smith as saying, “Most of my poems are written to women because women are more inspiring. Who are most artists? Men. Who do they get inspired by? Women. The masculinity in me gets inspired by the female. I fall in love with men and they take me over. I ain’t no women’s lib chick. So I can’t write about a man, because I’m under his thumb, but a woman I can be male with. I can use her as my muse. I use women.”[21]

Patti Smith, the Punk Rock Godmother

While it is important to recognize Smith’s own admission of her oppression, as well as her over-extension of heterosexist fantasies as to who is being inspired by whom (what happens to the gay/lesbian artist, in Smith’s world?) it is also significant to note Smith’s ideas regarding fluid gender identification. Smith, as a performer, has always been visually coded as more than slightly androgynous, and here, she recognizes her mental processes as being just as flexible. This refusal to stick to the strictly defined categories of masculinity and femininity is a living, breathing function of the punk rock existence for a female.

The Stains’ adoption of hyper-feminine aesthetics alongside an aggressively sexual and “tough” demeanor seems to reflect the desire to stay away from strict gender categorization, and yet maintain a female identity. This was not unusual for women in the punk world, and presumably, as a result of Caroline Coon’s role as creative consultant, it is the reason why the physical appearance, attitude and conduct of The Stains brings to mind such influential female bands from the punk-rock era, such as the X-Ray Spex, the Slits, the Au Pairs, and the Raincoats, amongst others. This band of young women seems to act almost as a kind of quoting gesture on the part of Coon and Dowd, of the bands that paved the way for these filmic “girls who created themselves.”

The Stains’ rebellion against gender stereotypes in the film reflects the same rebellion that had in a way created them.  The album cover of The Slits’ 1979 release, Cut, for example, showcased the women in the band, topless, wearing loincloths, their bodies mud-soaked. Contrasting their nudity with a clear affiliation to primal elements (loincloths) yet completely covered in mud, this album cover obscured any kind of “sexy” element that might have been drawn from the photo. This is the same band that Lucy O’Brien notes, “wore knickers [underwear] outside their trousers, wound reggae rhythms around a speed feminine sound and ridiculed ‘Typical Girls.’”[22]

The Slits, "Cut"

Lauraine LeBlanc’s work with punk women seems to corroborate these same ideas of gender transgressions that the Slits took part in. She states,

As I interviewed girls…I found that they navigated through conflicts between the gender norms of punk and femininity by constructing strategies of resistance to traditional gender norms…my research shows that punk girls, by positioning themselves outside of the mainstream culture, engage in active resistance to the prescriptions and proscriptions that overpower…adolescent girls. In negotiating between the norms of femininity and the masculinity of punk, these girls construct forms of resistance to gender norms in ways that permit them to retain a strong sense of self.[23]

The Stains seem to walk that fine line, and occupy that liminal space throughout the film. Their sartorial declarations seemed to parallel those of the Slits, in that their clothing, often sexually provocative, was worn in such a way as to announce their femininity while at the same time ridicule it. By strongly claiming femininity and yet actively denying conventional standards of beauty, attitude, and demeanor, the Stains, like the Slits, turned gender norms on their head. Locating themselves in the netherworld that LeBlanc discusses, between masculinity and femininity, the Stains had a kind of access to both worlds, and were able to present that and share that with their fans, like what the Slits and Patti Smith were able to do.

I’m Perfect, But Nobody Gets Me Because I Don’t Put Out

The space that Nancy Dowd opened up with her script, All Washed Up is one that has yet to close. Toby Vail, a member of the influential band Bikini Kill, and one of the original members of the Riot Grrl movement, is quoted as saying that Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is “the most realistic and profound film I have ever seen.”[24] While Vail’s compliment is at least slightly hyperbolic, there is no reason to disbelieve her sentiment. The Riot Grrl movement followed very similar lines as the Stains and the Punk Godmothers, and is, to this day, recognized as one of the most powerful, pro-female rock movements of all time.

The re-ignition of interest in this film within the last few years is reflective both of the problematic location that women still occupy within rock’n’roll and of the still-burning fire to resist that oppression and not “put out.” The strength that was detailed in this film about young women resisting gender conventions and actively engaging in revolt against traditional social expectations by being rock musicians is a strength that few films of today carry. Although there have been a few notable exceptions, such as Prey For Rock’n’Roll, and even, to a certain extent, Josie and the Pussycats, there is still the eminent notion that women cannot be part of the rock world and stand on their own two feet. We have had plenty of films about men participating in rock’n’roll (Rock Star, Almost Famous, Sid & Nancy, Purple Rain, This is Spinal Tap, School of Rock, etc), but where are the Rebel Girls?

Before Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill ever sung “Rebel Girl,” a film was made about those “rebel girls” and the unfortunate misogynistic practices of a record industry set out to keep the Boys’ Club from ever breaking up.

Part of the "tacked on" final scene...

Dowd’s writing and message are just as strong today as they were years ago. Looking back on the whole thing, it’s really a small miracle that Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains could have made it as intactly feminist as it did, considering the production circumstances, and Dowd’s own disgust and abandoning of the project. Yet, it seems that this is the spirit of Punk Rock. Making it, even though no one thinks you will. Doing it, even though no one thinks you can. Reworking the situation, so that you can make it, and you can do it, no matter how unorthodox. Dowd and Coon’s battles against Adler and his Boys’ Club continue to pay off with each and every viewing of this film. Regardless of the issues that were had, or the somewhat ridiculous tacked-on ending (each Stain has “miraculously” aged a few years, and grown remarkably taller), the spirit of “not putting out” still shines through.

Now, whether that is just my subjective “textual poaching” or not might be debatable, but what holds through all, without debate, is that this film presents an extremely provocative and powerful example of punk rock women in all media, fiction and non-fiction, and the consequences that come alongside that, within the world of rock’n’roll. Whether it should be a film that is considered in parts, as bell hooks saw Madonna’s latter image betraying her former, or in the whole, by seeing that no matter what, the image of girls rockin’ out to the beat of their own drum matters most, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains is a film that truly is required viewing. Corinne “Third Degree” Burns said that she believed that every citizen should be given an electric guitar for her sixteenth birthday. Well, the economy is a little tight right now. Maybe folks can’t quite work out a guitar. So…what about the DVD?


[1] Hooks, Bell. Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge, 1994.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jacobson, Sarah. “Why They Didn’t Put Out…Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains: The Expose of a Cult Phenomenon.” Grand Royal 6. 1997.

[4] Garr, Gillian. She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll. Seattle: Seal Press, 1992.

[5] Garr, ibid.

[6] Garr, ibid.

[7] Lovich, quoted in Garr, ibid.

[8] Jacobson, ibid.

[9] Echols, Alice. Scars of Sweet Paradise: the Life and Times of Janis Joplin. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999.

[10] Jacobson, Sarah and Sam Green.  Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains: Behind the Movie. Documentary. First Aired on “Split Screen” episode #38. May 24th, 1999.

[11] Jacobson, Sarah. “Why They Didn’t Put Out…Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains: The Expose of a Cult Phenomenon.” Grand Royal 6. 1997.

[12] Jacobson, ibid.

[13] Jacobson, ibid.

[14] LeBlanc, Lauraine. Pretty in Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

[15]Jacobson, ibid.

[16] LeBlanc, ibid

[17] Dowd, Nancy. All Washed Up. Original Script- Fourth Draft- revised. Paramount Pictures. January 30, 1980.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

[20] Jenkins, ibid.

[21] McNeill, Legs and Gillian McCain. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

[22] O’Brien, Lucy. She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop & Soul. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.

[23] LeBlanc, Ibid.

[24] Jacobson, ibid.

[25] Jacobson, Ibid.

Silence=Death (to Feminism & Sexuality)

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to share a dinner table in Santa Barbara, California with many amazing women who were, like me, presenting at the Console-ing Passions conference. We had phenomenal discussion, some laughs, and great times. Over the weekend, I was incredibly impressed with many things, but that meal stood out in my mind as it drew me to some incredible panels and introduced me to intensely interesting new scholarship I was previously unaware of.

One of the primary figures at that meal was a woman named Tristan Taormino. Not only was she well-spoken and funny, but she was quick, smart and incredibly incisive when discussing issues in and around feminism and sexuality. I remember sitting across from her and thinking, “This is what a successful woman looks like.” It was a fabulous time, as right beside her sat another woman who I have greatly admired throughout my academic career, Constance Penley. Needless to say, the fact that I didn’t sound like a babbling idiot would have been enough for me, but we ended up having some very intriguing conversations on the projects that Taormino was working on and the state of the adult industry  in general. I learned quite a lot. I would like to think I contributed, but who knows?

Since then, I have followed Taormino’s career in earnest, having seen her presentation at the conference and found it to be like her: bold, intelligent, and necessary. While being a feminist does not mean that you have to be interested in pornographic content or the film work that she does, I feel that her work is incredibly helpful on many levels to many groups of people. She is sex-positive (refreshing in a world that seems to hate the body and sexuality so very much), and has made the attempt to use that in a very productive way to help others, through books, articles, and cinema. This is a very basic and shallow description of her, and I would ask you to inquire further into her career if it seems like something that would be of interest to you. Be warned, it is all adult-themed (not work-safe), but it is all worthwhile, as is she.

So why this article? Well, this morning I awoke to some rather disconcerting news. Taormino, who had been scheduled to be the key-note speaker at Oregon State University’s Modern Sex Conference, was “uninvited” due to her resume and website.

Um, excuse me? So, let me get this straight- you booked her, knowing full well what she does for a living (which extends so far beyond pornography it’s laughable), confirmed the date, agreed to fees, did all the business-y type stuff, then you looked at the resume and website? And, OSU, I hate to split hairs, but I looked at your Modern Sex Conference and…you have some panels there that seem decently risqué. So can you explain to me why you are tossing Tristan Taormino, former editor of On Our Backs, the nation’s longest running lesbian-produced lesbian magazine, a woman who has been on a multitude of television channels discussing sexuality, a woman who lectures at universities from the east to the west coast (ones WAY more highly regarded than you), and (not that this matters, but if a pedigree means something to you) the niece of Thomas Pynchon??

They said something about fearing that they would have the university’s budget cut as it was being used to support pornography. Um, ok. Interesting that Tristan’s response to the entire debacle was:

“I’m extremely disappointed that OSU has decided to cancel my appearance. I’ve been protested before, but never uninvited. I have never misrepresented who I am or what I do. I am proud of all the work I do, including the sex education films and feminist pornography I make. The talk I planned to give at this conference, titled “Claiming Your Sexual Power” has nothing to do with porn, but the porn is such an easy target for anti-sex conservatives and censors. I find it ironic that one of the missions of the conference is to understand diverse perspectives of sexuality. Apparently, my perspective—one of educating and empowering people around their sexuality—isn’t welcome at OSU.”

I have two words for you Oregon State University: not cute. And actually I have one more word: CENSORSHIP.

See, here’s the really sticky part. And this is the part that got in my craw the worst. On Tristan’s twitterfeed today, she wrote:

“Several OSU staff have contacted me w/support but won’t support me publicly for fear of losing their jobs, they say.”

WOW. I don’t know about you, but that got me. As someone who got laid off from a job I liked, in a bad economy, I know how much a job means. So this is no joke. But I’m not going to mince words here: this is some fucked up shit. My gut reaction made me ill. Why? I didn’t know what I would do if I was in the position of one of those staff members. I thought about it for a few minutes. Then I realized that there was no way in the world that if I worked at OSU, I would ever pussyfoot my way around the situation.

What if this weren’t about sexually charged subject matter?

Would we allow censorship to take hold of us that hard that we would not stand up for ourselves and what we believe in? And if so, what will we become? I know that we have families, children, friends, lovers, pets, responsibilities. Hell, times are tough. But do tough times mean that we sell out each other? Some may say I cannot equate what happened today with Tristan Taormino/OSU to historic events like McCarthyism or Germany in WWII. And yes, it seems like hyperbole. Maybe it is. I haven’t eaten a lot today. But when I sit here, and think about the situation, it scares me. This is a mild situation. What if it were something larger?

The concept that fear overrides personal values frightens me. If every one of those staff members publicly came together in support of this women, they would not be afraid of losing their jobs. Yet, losing one’s job in this economy is a fate close to death it seems. Unemployment is an endless void that one does not want to fall into. “Keep that job at all costs,” the voice says, “even if it means sacrificing your own belief system.”

ROUGH.

In truth, the fact that they are not letting Tristan Taormino speak at a MODERN SEX CONFERENCE means that they are not so modern after all. Instead, she will be appearing at a place called She Bop in Portland, a female-friendly adult shop. Preaching to the converted, I guess, but at least still doing it.

If any of this bugs you the way it bugged me, please read this note from Tristan and respond in kind:

Note from Tristan:

Don’t Let the Anti-Sex Conservatives Win!

If you support free speech and my mission of sexual empowerment, please voice your opinion about OSU’s decision to cancel my appearance at the last minute (and not reimburse me for travel expenses) to the following people. I would really appreciate your support —Tristan

Larry Roper
Vice Provost for Student Affairs
632 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2154
541-737-3626 (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)
email: larry.roper@oregonstate.edu

Dr. Mamta Motwani Accapadi
Dean of Student Life
A200 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2133
541-737-8748 (phone)
541-737-9160 (fax)
email: deanofstudents@oregonstate.edu
twitter: @deanmamta

Dr. Edward J. Ray
President
600 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2128
541-737-4133  (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)
email: pres.office@oregonstate.edu

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