Saturday, May 29, 2010

Childhood Feminist Icon: Jem?

I was digging through a stack of old Bitch magazines when I found Lizzie Ehrenhalt's article about cartoon rocker Jem . (Hot and Bothered, Issue #33 ) Being a couple years too old for Jem but just savvy enough to see that my favorite bands with two or more female members (save for The B-52s) were lumped into the nebulous category of "girl band," this stood out:

"One of Jem's greatest accomplishments was its imagining of a music industry dominated by women both onstage and behind the scenes. In this world, female musicians are not only the status quo; they are normalized to the point that gender ceases to be an issue. The Holograms, who write their own songs and play their own instruments, are never referred to as a "girl band" -- they are simply, a band."

To a girl not yet wise to the world of grown-up pop culture, this is, in fact, huge. Generally, I'm suspicious of the concept of stealth feminism. It never does more than skim the surface. You might come away with the message "you can be anything, do anything," but it doesn't give you the tools to deal "real world sexism." But in this case, Jem surprisingly got a lot right: a woman playing music in a band with other women not coded as a "girl group." Of course, Jem and the Holograms had their rival, "bad girl" band The Misfits. (Whom I actually preferred because there really was a band called the Misfits  that my mom probably wouldn't have let me listen to at the tender age of eleven.) Too bad Jem couldn't succeed without the good girl/bad girl dichotomy.

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