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Where the Girls Aren’t

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Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t by Jessica Hopper

This article by Jessica Hopper is very powerful. It discusses the relationship between music scenes, its purveyors and the faulty relationship with women. Specifically she discusses Emo, which is an independent type of music that isn’t punk and it isn’t mainstream. It lies somewhere in the middle, not quite edgy enough to be underground, but just self-centered and eccentric enough to keep it out of the mainstream.

Jessica is writing about how women relate to the emo scene, or in this case how they can’t relate. She makes the point that women are represented as the bitch in the breakup, the unattainable piece of meat, or the catalyst for unending depression and sadness.

I never really thought about it, but I agree with her. Some might be quick to pawn it off by saying that most of the bands in the scene are 20-something men who write about what they know, but it isn’t that easy. As we moved from hardcore guys with mosh-pits in the 90’s to this phase of anti-mosh-pit sensitivity, where every band has bleeding, crying lyrics worn proudly on their sleeves, it has become boring and eerily similar. All the while, it is apparent that there are many people, who are not young suburban men, who have been left out of the loop. Instead of making music for all people, that captures the human experience, the music has become clichéd and exclusive.

If hatred of your parents and angst was the driving force of grunge rock in the 90’s, then sadness about girls is the driver for emo today. It works for me, and obviously a lot of other people, but it isn’t really a universal art form at that point. That upsets me a bit. The nature of art is that it will have a segmented audience. It is at best, difficult, at worst, impossible to be all things to all people, but is it really necessary to write whole groups of people out of the game from the start?

This increasingly pervasive style is very easy. It isn’t challenging for the writers to write and it isn’t challenging for the listeners to understand. It is all there, plain to see because there is nothing cryptic about it. All by itself, that should have been the first clue that there is something wrong with this unchallenging genre.

I am not sure that you will ever get young men to change the way they write or think, but a group of women entering the scene could really do some good to help this generation of “punk rock” girls understand that it isn’t all about weepy boys who lost the attention of their best girl. As Jessica Hopper says, “…girls deserve more than one song. We deserve more than one pledge of solidarity. We deserve better songs than any boy will ever write about us.”

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About Craig Lyndall

  • mike

    Thanks. This was a terrific article! Rock has always been male-centered, but it’s sad to see that it’s now worse than ever. By chance, I happened to be listening to a local modern rock station today, and noticed that this commercalized emo stuff is really bad.


    Hardy har har. Whining about lame-o wussies like Dashboard and Something Corporate, but giving props to MOP and 50 Cent? I guess if the emo weenies would come right out and say they just wanna bang bitches and issue stitches, then poor Jessica could feel some “internal allegiance” to them also. If this doesn’t smack of apologist racism, then I’ll be a monkey’s unkkkle. If you want to cry onto your Sauconys and retro ringer t-shirt about emo’s boy club, fine, I mean even though you’re saying something that’s been said a bunch of times before about a bunch of other rock genres ad nauseum (hello hair metal, grunge, and oh yeah, porno-grind) and proving yourself a master of the obvious, then whatever floats your backpack. But when you also sing the praises of thug rap (oh, they’re not TOO misogynist are they?)you lose all credibility, and prove yourself full of baloney. So, wipe off your black rimmed glasses, sister, ’cause we’re not buying any of that poo poo here at the Brickhouse. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go flip the Whitesnake cd on the turntable, and go back to my bidding on vintage trucker caps on ebay.

  • FemaleRockFan

    First off, I admit that I don’t know much about emo music. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a song by Dashboard Confessional.
    But I don’t feel insulted as a woman by a male singing about a woman who’s hurt him. What do you expect him to sing about – how another guy has hurt him? Lots of women have sung about lust, love and heartbreak. A good song is a good song, no matter what gender is singing it.

  • With all due respect Bricklayer, I think you are a little off base here. I don’t think she is singing the praises of 50 Cent because that is one of the things she is listening to. You can’t blame her for listening what she listens to because that is what is out there. She was complaining that there aren’t enough options. The fact that she listens to some of those things doesn’t discredit her opinion. If anything it strengthens her argument that there aren’t enough options out there for females who don’t want to be objectified in the music in a particular way.

    On top of all that, I think there is a certain level of seriousness in the music she is complaining about, while I have always thought of rap and hip-hop as more playful in the way they talk about women. Sure some guys say horrible things, but when 50 is talking about some crazy party and Snoop is talking about Gin and Juice, it is a little difficult to take what they are saying as some sort of social commentary. When a guy like Tupac writes Keep Ya Head up and then in the next breath objectifies women, the listener should be able to draw the line because it has been painted there pretty obviously between when he is trying to make a statement and write the next party anthem.

    With the punk/emo/indie music they hardly ever go for the next party anthem. Their delivery would make you think that most of them want to be taken seriously. So when they objectify women, it becomes a bigger threat.

    Finally, I don’t think there is any apologist racism going on here. I am sure there are plenty of predominantly white bands who objectify women that she will still listen to because they write good songs, despite lyrical content and undertones. I think you are guilty of hating the player, when all she was saying is that she hates the game. She can’t do anything to change it all by herself, so judging and sentencing her as a result is unfair and ignorant.

  • Eric Olsen

    I thought this was by Jessica LYNCH – nevermind.

  • Peter Pumpkinhater

    Why do you think all these chestless guys with bad facial hair sing about is losing/not getting the girl? Because all of the other chestless guys with bad facial hair out there can identify with it, so they buy it, and thus goes the chain of consumerism. She seems to be pretty deeply immersed into a scene she finds so objectionable. Maybe she just got tired of all the “quality” acts on Bikini Kill? Let’s face it, men just rock out better than chicks, that’s the real reason there aren’t more all female rock/metal bands, and the thing that interests men the most are chicks (besides cars and beer), so that’s what they sing about.

  • Eric Olsen

    It takes time, but women are catching up in the rock-out department – there is nothing inherently superior about men’s ability to rock out, it’s just a cultural thing. Sleater-Kinney, Donnas, Bangles, Bratmobile, Lush, Bikini Kill, Throwing Muses, Hole, Liz Phair, insert favorite female-dominated rock group here, keep moving the line toward the center. Women sing about using men as sex objects – the circle will be unbroken by and by, Lord, by and by.

  • To hear the opinion of Travis Morrison, formerly of The Dismemberment Plan (a well-known Emo/indie band) go read http://www.travismorrison.com

    also download some of the free MP3’s


    Craig, Your points are well taken, and are obviously much more well thought out and coherent than my own, especially since I didn’t really read the article (who has the time?), and was just trying to raise some hackles. And dude, I’m not sentencing her, just pointing out the silliness of her complaint. C’mon man, to complain about the lyrics of these lovelorn poofers, but then embrace other blatantly violent or sexist lyrics is talking out of both side of your mouf. Don’t you also think it’s hard to take what the emo guys are saying seriously also then? And homie, I think you meant”playa”, and I’m no Hata. I just popped a bottle of Cris, while I watch my shorty shine my nine. And later, I’m gonna go to the swap meet and buy some dubs.


  • Indeed, the weakest part of Jessica’s essay is the part in which she implicitly extols the sexual parity of hardcore rap and electronic and DJ music.

    I know Jessica very well and the next time I see her I am going to crack open a copy of her beloved XLR8R magazine and point out all the advertisements with pictures of naked women holding boom-boxes. Jessica is probably not about to savage Definitive Jux records for having cheesecake CD art, even as she savages indie-rock bands for doing so, because Def Jux is fresh to her and so she isn’t going to be cynically going over the details.


  • Johnny

    I just finished reading Jessica’s article, and I am glad that this message board exists, atleast to provide a place where her work is discussed.

    In regards to the rap related conversation, I feel obliged to point out that your criticism of her argument is a little off base. In the article she fully acknowledges the phalocentrism of rap culture. Yet, and this is her point, she still finds a more real representation of the female in such work than in Emo. In Emo’s exclusivity and single minded glorification of the adolescent male ego, the ability for women to participate is obstructed. Ironically, despite Hip Hop culture’s overt misogyny, there still are a lot of female Hip Hop stars. Her point seemed to me to be that Emo, despite the existence of misogyny in many forms of popular music, represents an extreme position that in it’s very defining features is exclusive and one which presents no attractive position for women practioners.

  • EveLibertine

    Emo is just a facade for male masochism and, in its form, has tricked stupid little girls into becoming housewives of the future. We need to revive the riot grrrlll genre to combat this, who’s with me?