Saturday, June 20, 2015

Patti Smith on gender; girlhood

In a 1993 Details magazine, Patti Smith wrote about her resistance to embrace the female gender role as a child. This in particularly resonated with me:
All through girlhood I resisted the role of a confused skirt tagging the hero. Instead I was searching for someone crossing gender boundaries, someone both to be and to be with. I never wanted to be Wendy -- I was more like Peter Pan.
Two decades later, In her memoir, Just Kids, she wrote:
I ruefully watched my mother performing her female tasks, noticing her well-endowed female body. It all seemed against my nature. The heavy scent of perfume and the red slashes of lipstick, so strong in the fifties, revolted me. For a time I resented her. She was the messenger and the message. Stunned and defiant, with my dog at my feet, I dreamed of travel. Of running away and joining the Foreign Legion, climbing the ranks and trekking the desert with my men.
Patti Smith was a product of a different era. And while I'm not so daft to assume that everyone in that era lived some sort of Ward and June Cleaver experience (my grandmother would rightfully attest to that), there wasn't much room for gender play. But the parallels between her experience and those of gendequeer-gender non-conforming young people today are pretty clear. Feminist like to point out the misogyny in those two statements -- the outright refusal of the feminine -- while still claiming her as a feminist icon, but I've always thought of her as more proto-genderqueer than anything, though I'm sure she'd refuse that label too.