Archives August 2020

Feminine Musicians, Guitarbois

Feminine Musicians, Guitarbois 

I have a friend that’s the frontwoman and composer of a metal band, Valentine Wolfe. She kicks ASS. The skills, the aesthetic, the soaring voice, the storytelling. Goth as hell, ethereal. Her duo partner and spouse taglines her as “half Veela, half Dementor.”

While watching them on stage, the masc-leaning person (another musician) next to me commented, “She’s too cute; she’s not spooky, she’s spoopy!”

And I kept thinking, Why? What do you mean by that? Is it her soft, lilting, feminine speaking voice? Her aesthetic of long hair and dresses? Why did he need to say that?

I wish I had pointed it out, but as another femme performer not wanting to rock the boat… I didn’t. Comments made by this person and other people about my own femininity as a performer made me second guess myself.

We get judged and dismissed for being too feminine, too cute, too sweet, even when we’re writing songs about death rot–even when “too feminine” isn’t, like, a thing. Who even gets to define that? To femme for what?

When I go to upload my music for distribution, the genre options are “singer songwriter” and “female singer songwriter.”

When I was first getting started, someone at a con came up to my now-husband, Richard, and asked, “She was great! Who writes her songs?”

He was sort of taken aback. “…She does.”

Listen, I use my femininity as part of my act. I will happily show as much cleavage as I legally can for adult shows and solicit tips. I understand there are pros and cons to that, but at the same time: I am my own product but I’m also more than my act.

I see it click when people start taking me seriously when we’re behind-the-scenes. That I’m more serious and thoughtful than my public persona. That I do a lot of work and consideration before I put myself out there, and that I’m always trying to learn more.

I feel like I have to better, more organized, more professional to be taken seriously because of the way I look; I mean, I’m literally a clown sometimes. And this is me as a white woman; women of color and gender non-conforming folks have tons of other bullshit on top of that.

At the same time, when I’m in “character,” I feel like my anger or activism gets treated as “safe,” or part of a bit. I can say the same thing off stage in the same tone and people find it much more confrontational (“confrontational” in that I’m speaking openly on a topic and not couching assertions). I guess part of it is that I’m much more open and authentic on stage and in my public voice than they realize; I’ve seen this play out in my private life too, when I talk openly about my feelings or health but I’m not taken at my word.

(An aside, but to be totally fair: I get it! I do do bits and joke and smile when I’m angry or have panic attacks that are mostly “freeze” or masked. I try really hard to take that into consideration when I’m communicating in my personal life, to varying degrees of success.)

Anyway, I was revisiting my thoughts on this because of the hot take going around that Taylor Swift is the Millennial Bruce Springsteen and I am on board. I don’t love-love Taylor Swift and she has the same kinds of White Feminism problems I do, but she’s still the dominant voice in her songwriting even when she’s collaborating. She describes what she sees.

Regardless of how you feel about Taylor Swift, it’s an interesting read comparing Baby Boomer and Millennial radio sensibilities and the way we treat men writing about women vs. women writing about men.

Taylor Swift is also an underrated guitarist.

At any rate, it’s a complicated topic and I’ve had experiences in my own life where my art was influenced by the men around me in negative ways. The topics of my songwriting, the kind of music I liked, the kind of “girly” guitar I played.

“Fuckboi” wasn’t a common term for me when I was in my 20s, but those kinds of negging dudes are “guitarbois.” Some of them don’t even play guitar! Or anything! But they have a lot of opinions on how I do music, and it’s distinctly different from offering constructive criticism or talking shop. They want to make sure they’re still higher in the pecking order.

I actually made a micro-game about it called “Punch a Guitarboi,” because externalizing my feelings is how I keep from obsessing. Also my sprite is cute!

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Ask Them Why

Ask Them Why

Icarus helped me write this

I think one of the most telling things about “anger” has been asking why I shouldn’t be angry, either literally in conversation or hypothetically when I’m in the shower thinking about all the conversations I’ll never have but coming up with fire responses anyway.  

It mostly boils down to two things:

1.) “You shouldn’t be angry at me” and 2.) “It doesn’t look good/like I think it should look.”

Neither address the truth or justification of my feelings, or even the lack thereof. It absolutely centers their feelings over my experience of myself regardless of the causes. And seriously–if I’m being a huge bitch or have something wrong, then I should be called out. It’s just that for me, their reasons for why I shouldn’t be angry drip pretty shallow and mostly revolve around their discomfort, or my unwillingness to center their comfort even when it’s not directed at them. 

On some level, I wonder if they’re hedging? That they’re more afraid of me now and want to make sure I’m not going to go after them. Any angry woman is threat, a possible “false accuser,” “crazy.”

Two friends–at least twice each–determined that because I directed anger toward them (regardless of their own gender) that I must be mad at “all men.” I feel like I’ve been caught in an intersection between the personal and cultural anxieties of a particular group of people who chose to deal with it by trying to control or dismiss me rather than consider having to face their own actions in the future, even as a hypothetical. 

The other issue here is how much “angrier” my neutrality is received, and that has a lot to do with the way I’ve been asked to reassure people that aren’t involved in the community case that I’m not angry at them, or I won’t “turn” on them, or that they’re “one of the good ones.” 

Even though I feel like what I’ve done to move my case forward–contacting the other women involved, going to the police–was right and actionable, evidenced truth, there are people that see me as more vindictive, more volatile, more of an unknown quantity no matter how transparent I’ve been. In some cases, it’s felt like they wanted more energy from me to reassure them that I don’t have it out for them or “all men”.

It made me think about how men/masc people have to put effort into remembering gender contexts, male privilege, that lots of people are afraid of male-bodied people because it’s #NotAllMen but #EnoughMen. And like, it’s not the same because there are other gender dynamics at play here but I’m not trying to be scary and I try to keep that context in mind. 

That said, I think some people have a skewed view of what “scary” from me and other people post #MeToo is right now, and want them to ask why.

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Getting Checked Over Eyelash Curlers

Getting Checked Over Eyelash Curlers

Me with a fancy eyelash curler

When I was in high school, one of the girls in school choir with me belonged to a fundamentalist- type evangelical church; I think it was a Pentecostal branch.

Anyway, she wasn’t allowed to wear pants—only long skirts—-and wasn’t allowed to cut her hair or wear makeup.

We were on a choir trip—I was maybe 15, 10th grade—and we were changing on the bus and getting ready.

At this point in my life, my personality was much the same as it is now except I had a bad case of “cool girl” and “one of the guys” and “not like other girls,” which is it’s own internalized misogyny for another time.

So we’re on the bus, getting ready, and I see this girl using an eyelash curler—just a curler, no mascara and no other makeup.

I don’t remember if I commented to another friend about it then or at a later time, but I remember scoffing at how “prissy” or “high maintenance” it seemed to use an eyelash curler, period. (I have come a long way in my cosmetic and feminist journey.)

My other friend looked at me and said flatly but not unkindly, “Madison, that’s all she can do.”

And then the context hit me. That was all show was allowed to do according to her religion to accent her eyes. She wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, so she found other ways to express that part of herself, whether it was intentional subversion or not.

I think about it, sometimes, in the way I use and think about makeup now. Other people have spoken more on this topic than me so I’ll be brief here, but I feel like there’s this perception that people are using makeup out of insecurity, and some definitely probably are sometimes–even me, when I’ve got eye bags from chronic fatigue.

But for a lot of people and for me, it’s a tool I can use to assert my space and influence how I am perceived by other people. Maybe that comes from an insecurity about exerting control over my environment, but I get a lot of joy out of choosing to look how I do.

There’s privilege with that, too. I have the money and time to do makeup, and a steady hand without disability. But I’m lucky. It makes me feel lucky, or pretty—even in my full-face clown greasepaint for Metricula—or just… fun. It makes me feel present because I had to look in the mirror and make choices.

All that said, I was humbled by my friend and I’m grateful for it. I also own two forty dollar eyelash curlers.

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