I stumbled into the DC punk scene the same way I stumbled into everything in high school, and probably still today: gawky, overdressed, and guided by some friends who are much bolder than I. I was pretty underwhelmed by the music style, and sometimes freaked out by the characters I encountered (when those floor-length crustpunk dreadlocks whip you in the face in the mosh pit – egh) but I would tag along for a few shows anyway. This was high school, after all.
I soon found out that punk rests upon a really neat philosophy: in general, society is fucked up so we might as well unite, politicize ourselves somehow, and make some pretty rad art along the way. It was punk, undoubtedly, that first showed me feminism, socialism, and the DIY ethic. It is, to date, the most progressive and positive social phenomenon I have ever encountered. It was fucking thrilling, and I ended up returning to it for a semester-long ethnography project this past fall.
However, I am no longer a wide-eyed high-schooler in an American Eagle polo, surrounded by otherworldly radicals. Here I am now, a pseudo-articulate idealistic college kid, and I am using my surplus of discontent (and this little soapbox Erin and Kat have given me) to call bullshit on the DC punk scene.
First off, enough with the self-validating rhetoric– all kinds of people are guilty of this, but it’s especially hypocritical of punks. Your privilege and your biases do not disappear when you decide to distance yourself from society (whatever that even means); they simply take on a new context. For example, if you’re a dude or dude-bodied, try, at least, to stop using the word “bitch” derogatorily. You know damn well that word derives its power from sexism. Same with the homophobic, transphobic and ableist jokes – it’s not pervasive, but we’ve all heard them. I once left a show early because I was exhausted by the stuff the band was saying. These comments are just as infuriating as the “C’mon, they obviously didn’t mean it like that” that inevitably follows.
I get the whole moshing thing, I really do. But next time you’re in a pit, check to see who is moshing with you and who is lined up along the back wall. If you’re alienating certain people and hindering their experience at the show, you are doing it wrong. I have talked to a number of non-males or queer-identified people who are reluctant to go to shows or join bands because of the hypermasculine atmosphere. Oh, and if a girl does jump in the pit, don’t stand around and laugh at her like she’s some pathetic boy-wanna-be. She’s just trying to enjoy herself within these crazy established norms.
I could go on – condescension to non-male artists, categorizing of female bands into a different musical category, etc. The point, I suppose, is that it’s not cool to criticize something in other people’s lives if you’re not doing everything you can to eliminate it in your own life.
Our society is a scary place, and I want so badly to hold up punk as an egalitarian utopia, the answer to all our feminist prayers. But it is just not there yet. I sometimes feel that if we could all look up from our dick-measuring competitions, we may see that there are a ton of people who do not feel welcome in counterculture for the same reasons they are marginalized in mainstream culture. That’s a shame. Punk is awesome, it has literally saved lives and its example has the power to shift our society in a positive direction. So many people, especially on the East Coast and even in the DC scene, are propagating feminism and inclusivity with their lyrics, zines, blog posts, and events. Let’s not allow ignorant self-validating to get in their way.