One of the most interesting people I met this year was Chuck Klosterman, the brainy rock writer who authored Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural Nörth Daköta. After I reviewed Klosterman's book for The Stranger, we developed a fast e-mail friendship, fortified by our mutual fascination with the enduring worth of '80s metal.
When we finally met face to face this summer, we embarked on a Jack Daniel's-fueled blitz of conversation about our formative experiences with Reagan-era hard rock. We were having one of those great, rapid-fire dialogues when I confessed I had one serious problem with his book: He had dismissed the idea that feminists could love heavy metal. "You're just WRONG," I told him. "Growing up with heavy metal practically MADE me a feminist." He was speechless.
A feminist who loves such a macho musical genre sounds like a mammoth oxymoron, but it's not. As a women's studies major and an active member of the Riot Grrrl community in the early '90s, I found it awfully difficult to explain to my fellow feminists why Axl Rose was as important to me as Kathleen Hanna. After all, this was a genre in which sodomizing groupies with whiskey bottles (Mötley Crüe), keeping women in cages on stage (W.A.S.P.), and fantasizing about putting nagging girlfriends "six feet under" (Guns N' Roses) were encouraged and expected behaviors. As creepy as this sounds, though, I still strongly believe that being a feminist who loves cock rock makes perfect sense for several reasons:
(1) A lucid feminist should understand what motivates and defines pop culture's ideas of masculinity. I got oodles of insights into what makes a misogynist tick by watching Headbanger's Ball.
(2) It's fucking funny, and a grrrl's gotta keep her sense of humor intact! I used to play a parlor game where a friend and I would challenge people to quickly name their favorite misogynistic lyric. Hours of fun can be had watching people giggle hysterically and bleat out, "Wang, dang, sweet poontang!" I mean, really--what the hell was Ted Nugent thinking? Sexist lyrics rapidly lose their sting when you realize how cartoonish they can sound.
(3) I've always thought that a key facet of my personal feminist identity was built on the motto "Go where girls aren't supposed to go." That's why I took auto shop in high school, started reading Raymond Chandler, and lost my virginity on my own terms. Those examples may sound trivial, but harnessing that attitude at a young age laid the groundwork for becoming a strong, independent woman. I gave my sexuality as much free rein as Bon Scott or Nikki Sixx seemed to give theirs, and when I listened to Judas Priest's "Heading Out to the Highway," I was never in the passenger seat, so to speak.
So is this just rose-colored nostalgia? Now that I'm grown up, do I listen to progressive artists like Fugazi and Le Tigre, whose politics lean in the correct direction? Sure; I'm a fiercely loyal fan of both bands. I've also recently fallen in love with Marilyn Manson, who is reinvigorating my fascination with gender roles and rock music. In 2003, Manson will release The Golden Age of the Grotesque, a Dada-influenced, vulgar meditation on 1920s Berlin cabaret. And while I doubt you'll see him on the cover of Ms. any time soon, this feminist can't seem to take him off the stereo.
Top 10 Cock-Rockin' Feminist Moments of 2002
1. Having Tommy Lee sign my very large, very sparkly silver dildo.
2. Drinking with Chuck Klosterman and playing every metal song on the Mecca's jukebox.
3. Watching Marilyn Manson scream "Everyone is someone else's nigger" while strapped into a Victorian corset.
4. Seeing Le Tigre at the Showbox and realizing that Riot Grrrl didn't die, it just reorganized.
5. Watching Amy Jenniges snag the Sleater-Kinney masturbator.
6. Developing a crush on That '70s Show redhead Laura Prepon, who is clearly a cock-rock feminist.
7. Becoming obsessed with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and being relieved when I found out Jennifer Maerz loved it too.
8. Watching how excited teenage girls got watching Shirley Manson at KeyArena.
9. Being mentored by veteran feminist rock scribe Ann Powers on how to add more authority to my writing voice.
10. Falling in love with a pro-feminist boy who is effortlessly egalitarian AND knows the quickest way to make me happy is to throw on Metallica's "Ride the Lightning."