Sometimes I think punk rock as an entity has more to offer than its human inhabitants can realize. The potential is there. The courage and creative thinking it demands is huge. It's part of the paradox of being forever young: you think you know everything, but you may or may not be able to really look between the lines. Youth permits serious coloring outside the lines, a mind unfettered by the rituals of maturity. Or you can look really hard and just never see it until you're old enough to be creative again.
The presence or absence of all girl punk bands is a perfect example of this. I think the serious lack of girl punk bands (and no, female-fronted is not enough) just hangs onto the idea of women as photographers, merch table-ers, girlfriends, and groupies. As consumers rather than producers. As helpless and indecisive and incapable of creating anything that anyone takes seriously. The girls at the shows never see anyone like them onstage, and for whatever reason, this reinforces the idea that This Is How It Is Supposed To Be. Not that anything is stopping them, or that these girls are not smart or are lazy.
But there is MUCH to be said for seeing people like yourself represented in public, in the media, in ubiquity. People of color especially have to deal with this, where they are almost never seen in the media, or are just tokens. This is called symbolic assassination. When you're a white guy, you see yourself everywhere, and this tells stories about what you are like and how you might define yourself. When you only see yourself as a token or only acting out a particular role over and over again, that also tells a story about what you are like and how you are seen.
So I went on a long, winding, fractalizing rant about gender and dominance...
I think when people are framed to be exclusively consumers (not decision makers, to be protected, to support and benefit from something else) it breeds resentment. And no one likes to resent another because it's stressful, but the idea of resenting the consuming, helpless female is a norm. So the culture reinforces the consumer position rather than the producer position, and it allows people to continue to resent women because "we're supposed to" feel that slightly angry tension. Without that slightly angry tension born of very limited social roles, the gender roles and subsequent inequalities would vanish and we would scramble to try to define ourselves in the way we're used to defining ourselves, our places in society. The dominant needs an excuse to dislike and distrust what it Isn't.
Couple this with the idea of masculinity. According to Michael Kimmel and a few other things I've read, being a man means NOT being something else. The ideal man is white and straight and the norm. The ideal man is invisible and ubiquitous, and Everything Else is a deviation that has to be named. No one needs to tell me I'm a girl. But I guess men are always stressing about how people will name them, lest they slip into the Other. So they are Not Womanly (or sissies or pussies). They are Not Gay (not faggots). They are Not Like Their Mothers (note the scorn of "mama's boys"). They Have Balls.
When bullies trash other people and keep their victims in line, they are reinforcing their differences. They are showing how the differences between themselves and their victims makes for a clear dominance. They point out their victims in front of everyone, loudly naming their victim's weirdness against a backdrop of Normal. In my experience, one of the many tactics of bullies also happened to be suggesting someone was a gender outlaw. Like I'd get teased for the dark hair on my upper lip or my deepish voice. Or I'd get kicked incredibly hard in the crotch as some kind of test. If I doubled over, that meant I had balls and was a boy dressing like a girl.
Who defines what? Who has the right, the authority to say What Is and What Isn't? Who to say what they are Like and Unlike? Who points out the weirdos against the silent, assumed, so-obvious-it-goes-without-saying norm?
I'm not saying that all men trash all women all the time. What I am saying is the invisible, assumed, genericism of maleness is a powerful sign of dominance on the part of one gender over the others. And individual men will say, well, you complain about your oppressedness but I don't feel particularly powerful on a day-to-day basis. And it's true, he probably doesn't feel powerful because he has to spend so much time working so hard to prove that he's a man, lest he risk some kind of gendered violence or disapproval for not being manly enough. And maybe he wishes he could behave in ways that are more acceptable for women, but he feels something is wrong with him for wanting that and he quickly puts it out of his mind.
So when you have just a few rigid roles and representations for women in the world, in the media, in the culture, it dehumanizes women into a few boxes and people think they have women all figured out based on the stereotypes. Then it's easy to police the ones who try to break the rules. The rest of the time, there is such limited representation across the board, it just doesn't occur to a lot of women to even try to break out.
See The Sexualization of Girls, a very important piece that details the grossly limited/lack of represenation of women in the cultural systems that shape our lives.
And did I not say that men are subject to limited roles as well? They are, but in all the ways that women are represented as being especially female, those same images are largely missing for guys. Males get to appear everywhere else, in all kinds of careers, in the voiceovers in commercials, in bands (show me a punk show poster that touts an "all-boy band" versus the much rarer "all-girl band"), in workplaces, etc.
And while equal representation is getting better, notice what direction it goes it. It's great for a girl to play soccer and wear pants and aspire to be doctors and lawyers and do "manly" things. It's MUCH WORSE for a guy who wants to be a nurse or take ballet lessons. If a man wears a skirt that's not a Utilikilt, watch out!
Feminism went pretty far in achieving the idea of getting to do all the stuff the boys do, but it hasn't yet picked apart the gender rules of what it means to be human. So far, we have made it seem that doing traditionally masculine stuff is normal and good, and anything traditionally feminine is still feminine, a special-interest group with special activities that ought to be thrown aside or forgotten or laughed about. It's as if masculine stuff is great for everyone, and everyone ought to aspire to being like this, but all that feminine, multicultural, multisexual stuff isn't good enough for Real Men or anyone who wants to be like that. That's just extra crap, not worth being taken seriously.
What we need to do is throw away the labels altogether, stop genderizing activities and behaviors and traits, and be true to ourselves. True to ourselves as whatever gender we want to be and whatever WE are. It takes such courage and security in ourselves to do this, and a certain amount of freedom from fear of repercussion (although that very fear breeds some interesting cultural manifestations that I still love). Just because studies say that more women or more men respond in particular ways, it doesn't mean that that is how we were meant to be, or that we fit into those roles anyway. It's terribly scary to go there, to throw away things that might have benefits and privileges, or to run afoul of silent rules. But I think it's pretty punk rock to do just that, and we HAVE to do it. Punks have always been canaries in coal mines, and we ignore a lot of those ideas at our peril.
"True to ourselves" is such a cute little catchphrase with absolutely terrifying depth and complication when you really look at it. We might go our whole lives before we are able to do it.