2008-09-03

Feminine Men's Peculiar Misogyny

Despite the precence of the patriarchy, women have been prevalent in some of the most extreme hard subcultures on the planet. But what about the soft subcultures...?

A couple of months ago I posted about the new subculture, täbb, which is making inroads into the Stockholm social scene. (I saw a couple get off at Rissne tube station last week, and if it's there too then it's spread far.) Donnie followed it up with an admirable post connecting the phenomenon to the guidos of New Jersey and the pretty boys of Denmark, two other subcultures of feminine-looking men. I'm especially fond of the latter group, whose sense of style is marvellous and radically different:

Look at the pictures in that last link and one thing should become obvious: the overwhelming Y-chromosome dominance. there aren't any "pretty girls". Nor, in fact, are there any female täbb or guidos. It's as if the very adoption of traditionally feminine gender roles in these subcutlures has come at the expense of actual women.

And, I think, that's hardly a new phenomenon. Take hair metal from the eighties, possibly the preceding wave of androgynous male fashion. For years, until it finally collapsed and let women in, it was extremely dismissive of female fans and strongly misogynistic. When it started to appeal directly to girls, it was pronounced dead. Glam rock in Britain in the seventies has a similar story of late-coming female bands, all previous efforts failing, but at least there the female fans were allowed to be glam too.

Let's see, what else? Gay men and their subcultures, of course, but that's obvious. But then there are all the "soft, feminine" musical styles where the bands almost always consist entirely of men: power pop, for instance. The female fronted Shivvers are an exception, but why are there so many more female "masculine" crust punk bands than "feminine" power pop bands? Or so much crunk- and booty-bass based R&B but so little "softer" G-funk R&B?

Perhaps (and I'm venturing into territory way beyond my level of ethnological knowledge here) the very act of being subcultural is about breaking boundaries? There aren't any "feminine" female subcultures (except otherwise boundary-breaking ones like femmes or sweet lolitas) because mainstream culture already casts women in that role. Still, I think that explanation misses the fact that it's probably the men doing the exclusion. It's a curious thing that all these extreme-looking men hang around and promote fairly normal-looking women - or is it simply that we've got a distorted view of what a "normal woman" is supposed to look like?

Or maybe it's this: all subcultures have misogynistic men in them. But the ones where you're supposed to be "tough" allow women to fight themselves in. How are you supposed to smash your way into a subculture where soft and smooth is the ideal? Anyway, it's a complex issue and I'd welcome people's thoughts on the matter.

2 comments:

rachel said...

I disagreed w/ yr point that women dont have subcultures until i realized most of the subcultures i was thinking of are female gay subcultures. So just not so much for straight women?

btw as a girl from nj id like to point out guido is a kinda offensive ethnic slur and that article you linked is a mad simple dismissal of nj "guido" life. They may be lower class and far less likely to appear in fashion spreads than their danish/swede counterparts, but they are a fun interesting mix of polish/portuguese/italian/latino youth, with their own car culture and beach culture & are some of the few americans outside of cities who embrace techno along with rnb&hh which is still pretty much a "gay" genre to the rest of the u.s. plus guido mocking is thinly velied classism ex. this quote from urbandictionary.com - "Most notable for cruising the Jersey shore in an old car (Honda, Mustang, etc.) which has been tinted, painted and sports $1,000-$3,000 rims in a feeble attempt to look like new. Guido cars usually have a boomin' system through which cheesy music like freestyle, club/trance and hip-hop (anything KTU plays) is loudly blasted."

Birdseed said...

I do think there are exclusively female subcultures, but maybe not so many ones with traditionally feminine attributes. But then thinking about it, there's plenty of those too, especially when it comes to fan cultures... So basically I don't think the central point (that male subcultures with feminine attributes don't extend to females) is possible to expand in any direction.

Interesting what you say about the term "guido" - I would have thought it was worn as a positive badge, but obviously not. (The article I linked to I realise was a classist dismissal, but I'm actually fond of them and all other flamboyant working-class people. Hard to find a positive account but I'd definitely relish one.) The Danish subculture is similarly working-class and multi-ethnic, the Swedish one rather more affluent but all are rather unlikely to appear in fashion spreads, I think.