Some conclusions and thoughts…

Now that I’ve got to the end of my study of women in punk, grunge and riot grrrl films/on T.V, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what I felt the common themes were, and how well/badly I think women come off in the collective narratives that are being formed about punk women, grunge girls, and riot grrrls by these films and T.V shows.

Because I noticed certain mofifs cropping up again and again, I have gone back through the three lists, divided them up into punk, grunge, and riot grrrl narratives, and compiled statistics on certain motifs that I saw cropping up again and again. I’ve also looked at whether the films or T.V shows featured punk women, grunge girls, or riot grrrls as main characters or not, and whether the films (I decided it would be impossible to check in the case of most T.V series) passed the Bechel test (ie: Do they include at least 2 female characters? do 2 or more female characters at some point in the film have a conversation about something other than men?) or not.

The results were quite interesting, and not as depressing (in some cases) as I thought they would be.

First of all, the Punk narratives:

  • Passed the Bechel test: 4
  • Had punk women as main characters: 5
  • Portrayed punk women as mentally ill: 2
  • Portrayed punk women who had survived sexual abuse: 2
  • Featured punk women who are raped during the course of the film or t.v narrative: 1
  • Depicted punk women carrying out acts of violence: 6

Now the grunge narratives:

  • Passed the Bechel test: 2
  • Feaured women as main characters: 2
  • Portrayed grunge girls as mentally ill: 2
  • Portrayed grunge girls as having survived sexual abuse: 0
  • Featured grunge girls who are raped during the narrative: 0 (Darcy is effectively date raped during ‘Girl’ though, but isn’t into grunge: I’m noting it anyway)
  • Depicted grunge girls carrying out acts of violence: 1

And lastly, the riot grrrls…

  • Passed the Bechel test: 7
  • Featured women as main characters: 10
  • Portrayed women as mentally ill: 2
  • Portrayed riot grrrls as having survived sexual abuse: 1
  • Featured riot grrrls who are raped during the narrative: 0
  • Depicted riot grrrls carrying out acts of violence: 6

I’ve mentioned mental illness, sexual abuse, and rape because, as I went along, I began to notice them as motifs more and more… on one hand, I feel it’s good that these issues are being discussed on film/T.V, but on the other hand, is there not something damaging in terms of the wider narrative in depicting subcultural characters as mentally ill or as survivors of sexual abuse? As it turns out, when I added them all up and subdivided them into genres, there didn’t seem to be as many as I initially thought that did this, but when you watch them all one after another it does become obvious. Also, in the case of mental illness, I only counted the characters who were definitely mentally ill: not the ones that might possibly have been at certain moments within the narratives, but who probably weren’t. For example, Ellen in ‘All Over Me’ cuts herself at one point, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say she was mentally ill. Similarly, some of the characters in these films/T.V shows are threatened sexually but because I was counting sexual assualts rather than attempted sexual assualts, I didn’t count them. If I had, the count would have been higher. Depressing eh?

Another area that is interesting is the Bechel test: The subculture/genre that comes off best in this respect is riot grrrl. Should we be surprised by this? Probably not given the female dominated approach of riot grrrl. But it is interesting to note that it’s carried over to the films. Of the riot grrrl films many were written and directed by women as well as featuring strong female leads and/or a female dominated cast. That includes (in the writing/directing sense at least) the mainstream 10 Things I Hate About You.

Interestingly, both the punk narratives and the riot grrrl narratives scored very highly when it came to depicting punk women and riot grrrls engaged in acts of violence. This could be seen to be something of a double edged sword: On one hand, it means that there are depictions of women on screen who are not subscribing to the demure passive stereotype, but on the other hand it means female participants in certain subcultures also get a reputation for violence, whether warrented or not. Incidentally, the only reason the grunge narratives scored anything in the violence stakes is because I included Paige Woodward’s explosion, even though it wasn’t against another person, on the basis of the sheer scale of the damage.

Another area I wanted to look at was sexuality, which, whilst the hardest of the areas to quantify in any meaningful way, has nonetheless proved a number of my suspicians correct: there really are more lesbians in riot grrrl narratives than there are in punk or grunge narratives. In fairness, a number of riot grrrl films have been made my lesbian film makers (All Over Me and Itty Bitty Titty Committee for example) but not all of them were, and it really is quite striking when you compare the mix of sexualities in riot grrrl films to those in grunge and punk films.

Here are the breakdowns from the films/T.V shows I looked at:

Punk women:

  • Heterosexual: 10
  • Bisexual: 1
  • Lesbian: 4
  • Trans 2
  • Unconfirmed (ie: characters not paired off with anyone who gave no clue in any other respect as to their preferences) 4

Grunge girls:

  • Heterosexual: 11
  • Bisexual: 0
  • Lesbian: 0
  • Trans: 0
  • Unconfirmed: 2

Riot grrrls:

  • Heterosexual: 3
  • Bisexual: 3
  • Lesbian: 8
  • Trans: 1
  • Unconfirmed: 3

Makes you think, eh? Not only were the grunge girls more likely to be heterosexual, the films they were in were also less likely to pass the Bechel test. They were also less likely to be violent. What can it all mean? In terms of the trans stats, the very nature of trans identities makes it hard to slot stats into a piece about gender and subculture, but I will say that the only film to feature a trans character in a biggish role (in this case, a large supporting role) is Itty Bitty Titty Committee. There are two characters in the punk films I watched, but they are much smaller parts (Jayne County pops up in Jubilee, but is not a main or even really a supporting charcter, and there’s someone who was a face on the New York post punk scene who is there for mis-en-scene purposes in Times Square.)


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