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Musogyny: Two Faces of Feminism

Everyone knows it’s a man’s world out there (thanks James Brown) but there is none more so than the big bad world of music. From Miley’s twerking to Sinead’s slut shaming, these last months have seen an upward trajectory in the debate around gender issues within music. Rest assured that we here at Notion will be keep a keen eye on all things sexism and there may even be some naming and shaming along the way.

It’s been a tense week for feminists, and indeed everyone around the world, seeing members of Pussy Riot being whipped and manhandled by Russian male security guards during a peaceful musical protest at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

Whilst they are entirely a product of their country’s situation, the one positive in all the awfulness has been their open objections shouted defiantly into the conscience of those sitting behind the glare of a thousand computer screens.

As many watched with baited breath to see the ramifications of the group’s actions against Russian corruption, sexism and the oppression of sexuality, the hooded punks have once again provoked some serious thought through their DIY art form.

For decades, alternative rock and artistic expression has often been the driving force for discussion, something that Kim Gordon, the Godmother of alt rock and leading member of the seminal Sonic Youth, also sagely expressed views on it this week with an honest and frank interview in The Guardian.

Whilst the violence of Pussy Riot’s predicament isn’t comparable, where the two find common ground is their willingness not to sit back and let inequality wash silently. As Pussy Riot fight on the streets and via trending social media, Gordon seemingly has been fighting some more covert battles in her time as a musician and artist.

So what did she do? She put the sentiments into feminist songs like ‘Kool Thing’ and ‘Swimsuit Issue’ saying, ”I was looking for subject matter, and I thought: ‘if I’m a woman, I can write about all these things.’”

Although more everyday than what is transmitted from Russia without love, Gordon reminds us all that small mindedness can happen everywhere, in any country, in any society and it shouldn’t be tolerated any less in the music industry than other places.

“In rock music people have certain assumptions that it makes people more enlightened and it really doesn’t” she said. “It was the same thing playing for Neil Young’s audience (in the nineties) and being reminded that hippies can be really narrow-minded. We were around people who felt like, ‘We’re groovy, we’re cool,’ but they were so sexist. It was just in your face all the time.”

Tapping in to current trends of modern music, are her thoughts on the sexualisation of women and whether unabashedly expressing sexuality or femininity in the arts can be a double-edged sword.

“Are women using their sexuality to sell records because they’re empowered?” she says. “In which case yeah, great, but with some women it’s almost inbred and there’s pressure of competitiveness: who can be the sexiest? Male executives don’t have to say anything because women know.”

Although it’s unlikely you’ll see either Kim Gordon or Pussy Riot using their bodies to sell music, they both aren’t afraid to cross boundaries and immerse themselves in hostility to illicit attention, albeit one a dangerous political situation and the other a frosty male dominated industry.

In the same way Pussy Riot are constantly putting themselves in the firing line, Gordon recalls what made her join a band in the first place saying “Because I was thinking about male bonding and male sexuality as premises for artforms. At one point I thought I didn’t just want to be a voyeur. I wanted to be in the middle of it.” And neither seem to be giving up any time soon as Gordon takes new band Body/Head on the road and Pussy Riot keep popping up.

Describing the ongoing battle for gender equality in music, Gordon concludes that things are progressing as “two steps forward, one step back.” A quote that very much resonates with the knock Pussy Riot just took.

- Sarah Joy

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