To a generation of growing girls weaned on mainstream magazines and records, our role had been made pretty clear. As far as popular culture was concerned, girls were allowed, possibly even expected to scream at the teen idol bands and artists paraded in front of them by the record companies, the radio, the television and the weekly teen magazines. From Beatlemania through to the Bay City Rollers teen girls had dutifully shelled out their pocket money on the records, and joined the fan clubs of whoever the current favourite boy band was. Nobody in authority seemed to ever question this role, girls were merely the spectators and consumers, and even so, this behaviour was only tolerated so long as the girls grew out of it. Girls were supposed to duly move along onto college courses to study typing, office skills or child care, on the tacit understanding that they would eventually put all their dreams, excitements and expectations away, in favour of marriage or a career.
All education, magazine features, and TV shows led with this same narrative.
Until Punk that is.
So why it was it different for girls?
Punk was the first, and possibly only popular culture that had ever taken a real interest in girls beyond their role as a consumer. Girls were encouraged to take part, form bands of their own, design artwork, take photos, write fanzines and think outside the mainstream. Within the bosom of punk, girls were rewarded for being bold or controversial – traits that had previously been actively discouraged. This was more than a liberation, it was a revolution. Most importantly, the flip-side of Punk’s reputation as the great destroyer, was that Punk was actually a great nurturer of young women.
Bands like the Slits, and the Raincoats began to redefine the possibilities of what it was to be young and female, and together with the ripped up DIY fashion, itself a massive V-sign to consumerism, girls were starting to be seen, noticed, and heard. Young women were finally off the sidelines, and out of the gates like never before. Girls were in the bands, girls had guitars, rage, anger, and the word “No” became part of our vocabulary. Punk girls were flipping all the fashion rules and social mores on their heads; they not only wore what they wanted, but they didn’t actually care what you thought. These first punk girls blew up the world.
Beyond even the music, we heard Punk as a screaming wake up call, pitched with all the urgency and volume of an air raid siren. It startled us awake, and stirred us to look beyond the pre-destined, narrow path that wider society would have us walk.
Punk really was very different for girls.