Monday, May 24, 2010

Guyville Revisited... Revisited

A couple years ago, I wrote a post about the fifteen year anniversary of Liz Phair's Exile In Guyville. At the time I was writing for a blog whose target audience I never felt I was a part of, so I cobbled together what I thought was an objective piece of pseudo-journalism, saying that while I was never a fan of that particular record, I could understand why it was an integral part of a lot of women's lives -- sort of a "gateway drug" to feminism. Do I feel that way now? Yeah, mostly, but I wish I could go back and rewrite that post without rewriting my own history.

I was pretty green as a music blogger, and pretty unaware the feminist blogosphere. At the time, my world was permeated with diarist and parent bloggers. Rocking the boat was not encouraged. (At least it's not when you're a new blogger trying to make some headway.) Once I stopped trying to wedge myself into a community in which I didn't belong, I found tons of other women writing about feminism, politics, and pop culture (or some amalgam of all three), and they all seem to have an opinion on Exile. Maybe I should start with a little background info.

I'm a working-class granddaughter of Neapolitan immigrants on one side, and everything from Scottish to Native American on another. I was raised to have great disdain for elitism, but craved anything bizarre and sometimes macabre, but mostly I listened to whatever was on the radio. Twelve years of catholic school turned me into atheist before I drink. I was simultaneously sheltered and given free reign to read, listen to, or watch what I wanted. No one cared what I was doing as long as it was "in the home." Even when my parents didn't approve of something, I was a sneaky kid and did it anyway. (It usually being questionable reading material from the library. Once I had that adult library card, I was unstoppable.). I didn't fit in with any particular group in high school, though I tended to hang out on the fringes of the art/theater/goth crowd. Wearing too much eyeliner was my greatest crime.

I think I first head Exile In Guyville shortly after my freshman year in college. There was a feature on Liz Phair in some fashion magazine trying to glom onto anything "alternative." Black and white photo, nearly supine in a chair with a guitar strewn across her lap. I didn't give her a second thought until I added Exile to my Columbia Records queue a few years later. I was trying to "coolify" my record collection, and hers was one of the cds I picked to meet my quota of "ten for a penny." I wish I had a better story than that.

Every time I read something about Exile, I brace myself for the inevitable: "It changed my life," "It was my first taste of feminism..." Truth is I never liked Exile in Guyville. I bought, knowing it was an "important record," but it didn't speak to me the way it did to other women my age. I don't know where the disconnect is. Maybe it's her flat, deadpan voice that I find a little insincere. Maybe it's because she reminded me of girls I knew: hip, smart, but a little too self-consciously cool. Latoya's post at Feministe, written around around the same time, says it more eloquently than I can:

"So many herstories are written out, because they present an incongruent view of what feminism should be. Or perhaps, because they present the contradictions inherent in feminist thinking – that women live different lives, define liberation differently, have different goals that trying to encompass all the voices becomes tiring. Instead of creating space, making more room for these conflicting yet familiar stories, the tendency is to marginalize voices, to quiet them, to push them off the page.

Liz Phair doesn’t speak to me. Women like Queen Latifah do, as their words are closer to my experience. In my life, there was no room for whispers, no shrinking into corners – black women are expected to be unceasingly strong, able to handle anything, able to deliver what ever it takes to put someone in their place."

Queen Latifah's "U.N.I.T.Y" was my first bona fide taste of feminism in song. It didn't just say it's okay to fight back against harassment, it said "hell yeah, fight back." Which is exactly what I needed when I was walking the halls of my high school to taunts and jeering. I was that girl who'd say "Who you calling a bitch?" Plus I could turn on my radio and here her music, something I could rarely do with Liz Phair.