Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (2015) & Sara Marcus, Girls to the Front (2010)

carrie brownstein hunger makes me a modern girlSleater-Kinney guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein’s 2015 memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl only uses the word feminist a few times but it is very clearly the story of Brownstein’s support of women, as well as the story of her own life. She devotes an entire section of the book to the eye-rollingly sexist reviews that Sleater-Kinney have received in the past:

“fortunately their frequent lyrical challenges to gender roles didn’t devolve into rote male-bashing” (p. 170) Washington Post 1998
“chicks” (p. 168) CNN 1999
“boy rock critic’s wet dream” (p. 169) City Pages 2000

Brownstein also brings up an idea that permeates women’s writing, that it must be autobiographical, and describes how this affects songwriters:

“Musicians, especially those who are women, are often dogged by the assumption that they are singing from a personal perspective. Perhaps it is a carelessness on the audience’s part, or an entrenched cultural assumption that the female experience can merely encompass the known, the domestic, the ordinary. When a woman sings a nonpersonal narrative, listeners and watchers must acknowledge that she’s not performing as herself, and if she’s not performing as herself then it’s not her who is wooing us, loving us. We don’t get to have her because we don’t know exactly who she is. An audience doesn’t want female distance, they want female openness and accessibility, familiarity that validates femaleness. Persona for a man is equated with power; persona for a woman makes her less of a woman, more distant and unknowable, and thus threatening.” (pp. 165-166)

Outside of its feminist statements, Brownstein’s memoir is a beautifully written tale of creating a band from a broken relationship. It is wonderfully personal, detailing Brownstein’s battles with mental illness, allergies, and back problems. The ending, a heart-breaking story of a pet’s passing, leaves the reader feeling like they know Brownstein as a friend.

sara marcus girls to the frontOn the theme of 1990s Riot Grrrl bands like Sleater-Kinney, I’ve also recently read Girls to the Front, a 2010 memoir of the punk feminist movement by Sara Marcus. It is well-researched and, much like Brownstein’s autobiography, a perfect balance between historical fact and personal anecdote. The book begins with personal account of a threat of sexual harassment and Marcus’s subsequent coming to Riot Grrrl through a newspaper article. In parallel with Brownstein’s comments on the subject, Marcus notes how Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill also worried about her work being assumed to be autobiographical:

“Kathleen didn’t want Bikini Kill to be about what she had or hadn’t overcome. People were always treating the work of women artists as autobiography, conflating female artists’ personas with their personal lives.” (p. 254)

Marcus ends with a call for readers to voice their own stories, something which the Riot Grrrl movement also encouraged with its focus on DIY zines:

“I hope with all my heart that readers will tell their own stories. Tell what I left out.” (p. 329)