Amanda Marcotte remembers the power of Thurston Moore in the age of Clarence Thomas' apparent victory.
I mainly, at that point in time, liked reading books and listening to CDs, and it was the latter that pulled a brick out of my mental wall on this issue. Sonic Youth had a song on their 1992 record Dirty titled "Youth Against Fascism", and it had the lyric "I believe Anita Hill/Judge will rot in hell" on it. It almost feels like an understatement to say that this lyric blew my mind. A man standing up for a woman---a woman he didn't know, especially---in a dispute between a man and a woman over sexualized mistreatment? I had never experienced that before, and probably thought of it as simply impossible. Most women treated other women who spoke up about this stuff like pariahs, so the idea of a man calling bullshit, and being so angry about it, was just unbelievable to me. It felt so incredibly subversive. I didn't want to be caught listening to that lyric. It seemed dirty to suggest that there was any alternative to simply enduring sexual harassment in silence.
Imagine a place where young boys learned that calling bullshit on men harassing women, and to support the women who did the same, was their obligation as men. Not in a mansplainy or patriarchal way, but as a way to police -- and fulfill -- their own masculinity and humanity. I learned that from punk rock.
I will never stick up for punk rock or hardcore as a place where women are free from harassment -- or where it's easy to be a nonstraight nonwhite nonmale person. No collection of teenagers and 20somethings is like that, particularly not one based around shared obsessions. But pivoting off Amanda's post, it is important that that is a value punk rock sets for itself, where you will be put on the defensive if you disagree and challenged if you do not live up to the standard.
Above my desk I keep a photograph that my wife bought for me of ABC No Rio. ABC No Rio is a punk club and (former?) squat on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan where every Saturday afternoon a motley assortment of bands perform. I think of it as the punk rock version of the Boys & Girls Club, because that was the role it played for me as a teenager. It socialized me and shaped my values. If you wanted to be part of the committee that booked bands, planned events and made decisions about the direction of the venue, then all you had to do was show up, commit to clean the place up, and submit your suggestion for consensus. That was DIY, an ethic that became a religion and taught teenagers about individual and collective responsibility.
Most importantly: it was supposed to be a place where you would be made to feel unwelcome if you groped someone in the pit; if you made a homophobic or racist remark; or if you engaged in otherwise destructive behavior.
You could be drunk or high and have sex -- you weren't supposed to be, but no one was really going to stop you -- but if that translated into behavior that threatened others, your ass would be kicked out. It was filled with contradictions -- a scene that supposedly glorified nihilism and free expression being so rigid? -- but they were resolved, intellectually speaking, according to the baseline principle that those were the basic social responsibilities needed for the world in which we wanted to live to exist, a haven from the aggravating bullshit around us.
Again, these principles were never fully realized. I know women who were abused at ABC No Rio. I am thinking in particular of one individual who got away with it, probably because of his scene cred. I cringe at the idea that this piece will come across as treacly or sanitized. These are the reflections of a straight white boy who came up in the mid-90s and who went on to do all manner of bad things in his life. Your mileage may vary.
But it was important that these were the basic values that you were expected to adopt if you wanted to be part of what ABC No Rio was. And that's where the peer pressures, conformity and other social inducements that punk rock pretends to reject become something valuable and laudatory. They become values that shape you -- values that produce a nagging feeling of guilt and disappointment when you realize that you've failed to live up to them. Values that force you to question your behavior, modify it as appropriate and structure yourself in pursuit a greater ethic. Could there be a better purpose -- social justice, personal/collective responsibility, solidarity, liberation -- to which the teenage impulse to conform (let's skip the euphemism) can be put?
I read Amanda write about the harassment she suffered in high school -- manboys "putting her in her place," in her words -- and I wonder what would have happened if those guys had their own ABC No Rio. Maybe they would have been the assholes who still didn't get it and tried, in their ignorance, to ruin it for the rest of us. (There were plenty of those.) Or maybe they would have realized that punk values were the right values, and then acted on them. I don't know. But sometimes when I see injustice and bullshit I think: there but for the grace of ABC No Rio go I. (Maybe more often I should think, "in spite of the grace of ABC No Rio go I.") And I keep a picture above my desk to remind me.