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"In Praise of Vulgar Feminism: On Kim Gordon and Courtney Love"

n+1 has a provocative review of Kim Gordon’s new memoir Girl in a Band. The reviewer, Agata Pyzik, counterposes Gordon’s feminism—artsy, empowered, respectable—with the feminism of figures like Courtney Love and Lana Del Rey, “a feminism that has nothing to do with positive adjustment, good taste, or middle-class-ness, and in which self-confidence is born of exclusion—for being a woman, for being queer, for living on the periphery.” Pyzik argues that while Gordon’s success in the male-dominated indie music sphere of the 1980s and '90s was undeniably admirable, her brand of feminism is less suitable for the world women face today:

Isn’t Del Rey, precisely through her disturbing, masochistic fantasies of rape, mental abuse, and violent sex, and on top of that her adolescent rejection of feminism (“feminism doesn’t interest me as an idea,” she’s told interviewers on several occasions), a better icon for our time? Don’t her words and lyrics say more about the contemporary position of women than the mature, self-confident, and in the end somewhat commonplace pronouncements of Kim Gordon?..

Gordon created a space in her music, where irony toward her own experiences or masks could protect her from her fears. Love confronted her traumas in the opposite way. Her act wasn’t to hide before the menace, it was to become that menace herself. Her voice is not one of beauty, but it’s powerful: she’s giving everything she has, until she can’t speak anymore. It’s funny how Gordon dismisses Courtney as somebody exploiting suffering (like in “Doll Parts,” where Love compares herself to a dismembered, killed doll, yet the one “with the most cake”), as if it was impossible for a woman to fake it and get away with it. But at the same time, Courtney lived through it, through the hate and contempt of the people around her, and still managed to create compelling music. If she often seemed like an attention-craving jackass, it’s because she actually refused to think she should behave any different from the way men in rock behave. As Ellen Willis said about Madonna, she refused to be “tragic.”

Above image: Album art from Hole’s Live Through This (detail). Via n+1.