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Musogyny: Never Mind 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 Planet Notion will be keeping a keen eye on all things sexism. 

Twenty years ago this week, the world lost one of the most iconic frontmen in modern music. It wasn’t just the talented and troubled Kurt Cobain that left us with a self-inflicted squeeze of the trigger though; we also lost an important equality advocate along the way.

Famously outspoken on the prevalence of sexist, racist and homophobic attitudes amongst the scenes he was involved in, Kurt Cobain was a rallying force with his philosophies as well as his seminal songwriting.

Nirvana songs such as ‘Polly’ and ‘Rape Me’  may sit as iconic soundtracks to the nineties now but at the time they were, and for many continue to be, in your face protests regarding women’s issues that sparked constructive debate.

For example, in interview one of his most echoing and forthright statement on rape was; “Rape is one of the most terrible crimes on earth and it happens every few minutes. The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they try to educate women about how to defend themselves. What really needs to be done is teaching men not to rape. Go to the source and start there.”

From early on his career Kurt Cobain was involved in the feminist art punk scene and when asked what his favourite song was out of his back catalogue he answered “I think I like ‘Territorial Pissings’ the best. It’s just an ode to women and my appreciation of them. Not just because I like to have relationships with them sexually, but as a whole, as people. I think they deserve a lot more credit than they get.”

Cobain wasn’t only interested in feminism though; the traditional concepts of masculinity were also something he repeatedly questioned and rebelled against. It was well documented that he occasionally cross dressed at performances to make a point and explained that, “Wearing a dress shows I can be as feminine as I want.”

In days when rock stars routinely did theatrics, it is easy to think this was all part of his onstage persona but his support in female punk acts and friends like Bikini Kill and Shonen Knife went along way to open stage doors for women.

It seems he was as compassionate in his personal life too, as Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill said “He was the only person who stuck up for me” whilst being harassed by her crack head ex-boyfriend. Weirdly, she would later famously write ‘Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on the wall of Cobain’s apartment and consequently inspire Nirvana’s biggest hit.

To get his viewpoint across though, Cobain even wrote fans a warning inside the album cover of ‘Incesticide’ that read “If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different colour, or women, please do us one favor for us — leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”

The nineties may have been better for sexism than previous eras but there is no doubt that men still largely dominated the underground music scene. Cobain made counterculture steps to speak out on injustice and at the same time broke down archaic ideas about gender, sexuality and race – all whilst creating the rawest, bloodiest and best guitar music of the decade.

Although people will argue that Kurt himself would have found the pedestal death has afforded him very difficult, it would be wrong not to praise the attitude he took towards women on the week he died.

- Sarah Joy

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