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I was 13 years old when Green Day released their breakthrough album Dookie. The song "Longview" was all over the radio, and I fell in love fast and hard. As a newly pubescent girl from the suburbs, I was on the verge of having the power to make my own decisions, and they represented something radical I could choose to be. The guys in Green Day had tattoos and dyed hair and an enviable "I don't give a fuck" attitude. I wanted all of it.
I went backward through Green Day's (very small) catalog and started listening to every other similar band I could get my hands on—Operation Ivy, Rancid, Blink-182, Screeching Weasel, the Mr. T Experience, the Vandals, Less Than Jake, even MxPx because I liked that their songs were polite enough for me to listen to while my parents were around. I would religiously read one band's liner notes to see the other bands they thanked or mentioned, then I'd go buy those band's CDs. That's how I learned about NOFX, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, the Hippos, Unwritten Law, Home Grown, and more.
Pop punk (and its musical siblings) was my life's main soundtrack at one of the most critical, fragile, and exciting phases of my life. These songs were what taught me what it meant to be a woman as I was becoming one.
It's a miracle I made it out unscathed.
From the Cootees telling me the most desirable figure was "36-24-36" in "School Girl Fantasy" to Screeching Weasel spitting, "As long as you don't have lots of zits or small tits or crooked teeth, then you won't be a freak or wildebeest," it was hard not to be constantly conflicted about the fact that I was a woman, a young woman at that, with an awkward body and delicate confidence. I thought the best way to deal with my insecurity was to focus on becoming the right woman.
Of course, there are similar (or even worse) misogynistic messages in dozens of other musical genres—rock 'n' roll, rap, hair metal, indie rock—but pop punk already had my heart on lock. I was a tomboy. I was trying to learn bass and to skateboard. I wanted to be friends with the guys, but I also wanted to kiss them, so I listened to pop punk as a way to decipher the code of the common man—attempting to find out what they liked, while trying to discover (and inevitably craft) who I was.
These are the things that dudes with spiked hair, a low-slung guitar, and a microphone taught me about what it means to be a woman (and the laughably embarrassing results).
On Being Attractive to Men: The most attractive thing a woman could do is want another man. There are literally hundreds of songs whining about unrequited love ("Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend" by the Mr. T Experience), the one who got away ("Every Night" by Screeching Weasel), and the heartbreak caused from seeing the woman you love with another man ("Why Do You Want Him?" by Green Day)—especially another man who treats a woman like shit ("Your Boyfriend Sucks" by the Ataris). Of course, I wanted to be that girl all those boys were singing about, so I interpreted this "advice" quite literally. As I started to flirt with boys, my game generally included me going on and on about the wonderful characteristics of other guys—especially other guys who were jerks. I can confidently say, after years of trying, that this approach did not work.
On Being a Good Girlfriend: Congratulations, you snagged a pop punk dude! Now, to keep him, all you have to do is be unrealistically perfect. There is no better "how to be a girlfriend" song than Blink-182's "Josie," which clearly lays out all the expectations. When your boyfriend gets too drunk, you drive him home. When he's on tour, you accept his collect calls. You're not jealous of his friends and you're not disappointed by his small dick. You bring him Mexican food (just because), you listen to the right bands, and you wait up for him on the off chance he needs you. But you're really smart and independent, too! You know, when you're not spending all your time doting on this very demanding boyfriend. You are a walking contradiction with nice legs and big boobs.
How to Have Boobs: None of the guys in my favorite pop punk bands had breasts, yet I still considered them experts. One time at (I think) a Blink-182 concert, a woman in the crowd flashed the band, and one of the band members said her breasts looked like fried eggs. My mind exploded. I thought having boobs was the only requirement! But now you've gotta have the right boobs? I kept my shirt on 24 hours a day, living in fear that I had the wrong boobs.
How to Have a Brain: You definitely want to be smart (a number of songs reference an intelligent woman), but if you're not smart, you'd better be hot. It's unlikely that you can be both. In "(But Then) She Spoke," the Vandals sing about an angel, a goddess, who, after opening her mouth, turned out to be "garbage wrapped in loveliness." The Mr. T Experience have a similar song but with a happier ending. "With My Looks and Your Brains" is about finding the perfect brainless woman to coexist with singer Dr. Frank's geeky, socially inept quirks. The lesson: It's okay to be brainless so long as you're pretty, and if you're pretty, you'd better shut up.
On Drugs and Alcohol: DO THEM! From Jawbreaker's "Chesterfield King" to the Ataris' "San Dimas High School Football Rules," undeniable bonding and/or romantic moments can happen with booze and cigarettes. (The exception: During my teenage years, I was also introduced to some straight-edge hardcore bands, so I decided I was straight edge, partly out of fear of mind-altering substances [such a wuss] and partly due to my burgeoning rebellious nature [up the punx!].)
On Mental Illness: HAVE ONE! As the Vandals sing in "F'd Up Girl," "I'm well aware that you are chemically imbalanced, but I'm the kind of guy that likes a challenge..." Guys love emotionally unstable women. A crazy girl is either (a) someone who they can help (manly!) or (b) someone who won't notice that they are fucked up, too (win!). Mental illness = romantic! Because of this, I actually basked in my unhappiness for many of my high-school years. I embraced the adversity depression offered me, honestly thinking it made me more attractive. (Please, humans, do not do this.)
On Forgiveness (If You're the Man): "Boys will be boys" runs rampant. When the man in your life fucks up, you forgive, forgive, forgive. He's sorry and he'll sing you a song to prove it! In All's song "Guilty," singer Chad Price croons, "I know I suck already, you don't even have to tell me/I'm guilty/I feel guilty all the time." Fenix TX took a similar approach in "All My Fault," where the fact that they fucked up makes for a catchy anthem of self-deprecation: "Tell me something that's sure to break my heart/'Cause everything's my fault/And I know I deserve to be alone/'Cause everything's my fault." Spin it to win it, jerks.
On Forgiveness (If You're the Woman): FUCK OFF. FOR-EV-ER. The list of songs where the woman is the enemy, the heartbreaker, the liar, the asshole is incredibly long. As the woman, you will be sorry. As the man, you're better off without that sorry woman. Less Than Jake sing in "Great American Sharpshooter," "It's okay, you didn't need her anyway (whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oooohhh)." Bros before hos, chicks are replaceable, etc. infinity.
On Life (In General): Be dissatisfied. Always. Pop punk singers are never happy with their station in life. Whether they're whining about girls, parents, jobs, or being misunderstood by the world—nothing is good, someone is always fucking them over, and there's always something brighter on the other side of the fence. The best thing you could do is get out of town and do what you want (see: every Less Than Jake song ever written). This is the one lesson that actually paid off. I took this advice quite literally, too, refusing to settle, and as I grew up, refusing to conform—especially within the unrealistic confines of one music genre's supposed expectations. I guess this is growing up.