There was an Instagram post showing the photo above, where people in the comments were saying it was “false” or “misleading”, and they're right. The photo is misleading. We're shown women wearing t-shirts of mostly all girl punk rock bands from the early 90s, insinuating the bands mentioned “invented punk rock”. But to understand the phrase “women invented punk rock”, you need to understand the history of women’s involvement in music and the 3rd wave movement of feminism. I spent some time talking to people and responding to their comments, and I felt an urge to write an article about it. So here I go, regurgitating my views on another platform.
Although the punk bands listed most definitely didn’t invent punk rock, they were some of the first who fought for the recognition of women in the genre. The slogan seemed to be passed around zines in the early 90s, and it ended up landing on Kim Gordon’s t-shirt in a popular Sonic Youth picture, though her shirt said “Girls invented punk rock not England”. It was a phrase made to encourage and empower women to participate in the punk rock scene. Girls were getting hurt, sexually assaulted, and felt disenfranchised, while they watched from the back as boys moshed. Women were fed up with the political climate and overall treatment of women, and they chose to riot. Ergo: riot grrrl.
This still doesn’t deal with the statement fundamentally, because “wasn’t it The Ramones who first started the punk rock genre?” To answer that question we need to ask, “What’s punk rock?” This is where things get a little unclear. If we want to find the roots of punk rock, we need to look to garage rock or proto-punk. But I mean, shouldn’t the people who predated garage rock be credited as well? Well, okay then. Let’s take a look at surf rock, beat rock, psychedelic rock, and blues. Should I go on? A genre is not a fixed idea. We’re not talking about who discovered a certain planet. Art (i.e music) builds on inspiration from previous artists, decades, genres, etc. So, to say women had no part in the creation of punk rock, is to negate women’s participation in any genre that predated punk rock.
If it really makes you feel better, let’s just say “Women invented punk rock (too)”. The “too”, however, is completely unnecessary. The statements are logically equivalent with or without it. The “too”, however, implies women inventing punk rock is affirmative to men creating punk rock (i.e. they helped out). Please visit dictionary.com for more information on the word “too”. Let’s try “Women (helped) invent punk rock”. Yeah, this also implies women didn’t have a key role in the creation of the genre.
Women invented punk rock. Men invented punk rock. It’s a genre that has been snowballed for decades by people of different races, sexualities, generations and genders. Patti Smith, dubbed the punk poet laureate, came up on the New York punk scene before the Ramones and remained along side them at the iconic CBGB rock club, spewing a unique garage rock sound that would be an important proto-type for the punk genre. She wasn’t alone; there are countless garage rock bands including and not including women who were crucial for the development of the punk rock genre. But that’s not even the point of the slogan. It’s not about who invented punk first, and it most certainly isn’t about boys vs. girls. It’s about empowering women and reminding the world that women had played a huge role in the beginning of the punk genre and every other genre for that matter. This is much bigger than punk rock; it’s the celebration of women’s involvement in music, during a time when women were not given the same recognition as men.
Throughout this post I refer to “women invented punk rock” as a slogan. I do this, because it’s so important to understand the phrase in the context of the political climate of the early 90s and third wave feminism. I didn’t coin the phrase. I’m merely interpreting it in context of when the slogan was created and offering answers to people who say it’s “misleading” or “false”.