The representation of female aesthetics in youth cultures and on the internet
Preliminary remark on the methodical approach
Essays dealing with contemporary ordinary aesthetic manifestations of youth cultures, and in particular those, which are based on the method of participating observation, are frequently confronted with the reproach, emphatic participation would lead to an undetached involvement and an unscientific approach. The opposite is true. Without an empirical basis and emphatic participation, symbols, emblems and forms of communication of a scene remain incomprehensible. Otherwise, the scientific discourse is self-centred and does not observe phenomena.
This essay obtains its results from an aesthetic and immanent approach, fed by an exact observation and interpretation of visual symbols in ordinary life and of various media of youth cultures, but not by theoretical assumptions. Eventually, to be sure, a hypothesis is formed that is detached from the actual scene. Furthermore, we are dealing with a description of female images of style, and not with individual cases.
Youth cultures are international, global communities of style, which have developed across all linguistic and geographical barriers since the post-war period. An essential aspect, before digital media were used, is the integration of members of a style, which develops because of the same musical preferences. This has always existed and is as invisible as the usage of digital media. A community of style is constituted over long distances, first by print media, then by television. On the basis of studying the position of women in real youth cultures like Punk, Gothics and Techno and House, it is necessary to consider how cultural spheres change by new opportunities for communication.
In contemporary youth cultures girls and young women still stick to their role as users. Only very rarely are they stylistical programmers of a scene, especially when it comes to its core constituent, the music (Schober 1980, p. 89f.).
After having considered the real scenes of youth cultures and their counterparts on the net, we want to pursue the question, whether the internet is an extension of an existing exchange via the media or, based on the specific structures of forms of communication on the net, if there are new manifestations of integration, which might put new niches for an autonomous self-organisation at the diposal of female members of youth cultures. In conclusion, a first approach for a hypothesis shall be developed, which states that on the internet, new immaterial, female images of style are formed, which are independent of material manifestations like fashion and only exist in immaterial spheres.
Girls and women in real youth cultures
"The relationship between fashion and feminism can be characterized as changeable, perhaps even stormy. After all, a hostile relationship in the beginning developed into a rather friendly, sometimes even emphatic one." (Graw 1997, p. 73)
A paradigmatic change in feminist reception (Graw 1997) in the 80s leads to a new assessment of fashion. Thus, the opportunities for the development of girls in youth cultures have to be newly assessed as well; clothes and fashion are an essential area of representation. The initial condemnation of fashion as an economic instrument for the realization of male phantasies of power now turns into excitement about a supporting instrument to shape one's own identity.
Today, the topos of masquerade or "drag" is cherished as a means to produce a sexual identity (Butler 1990, p. 122 f., 137; de Lauretis 1987). Graw, however, points to the inclusion of fashion in the economic machinery (Graw 1997). Since it is possible to attach fashion to stereotypes, it is not only a heavenly repertory, which unconditionally puts the means for visual self-realization and for a free playing around with masquerades at the disposal of women.
Shaved heads except for a ridge between brow and neck, domestos-pants, spider-web blouse and Dracula-cape, Sesame-Street chain and "Heidi-"plaits as components of three different images of style have to be put into the context of visual shaping the self. This selection dissociates women in youth cultures from an adult culture. From Punk- and Gothics girls to girlies of the Techno/House scene, the images of style created transform resistance into a hyper-conformism to contemporary stereotypical role models, which can easily be misunderstood (Baudrillard, according to Reynolds/Press 1995, p. 320). Young women look for the niche of fashion that is up-to-date and unoccupied: Punks simultaneously choose the aggressive "unfeminine" with military clothes or the "dirty style" of sex-shops in the 70s. In the 80s the Gothics adopt the romantic-melancholic fashion of a fragile Victorian femininity. In the 90s the girlies adopt infantility to obtain freedom for female experiments with their body and constructions of identity.
Punk is supposed to be the climax of the emancipation of female adolescents; developments thereafter, the contemporary girl cultures in particular, of which the "girlie" is one facet, are considered to be conformist and hardly autonomous. Of course the extreme forms of Punk-women show the clearest deviation and manifestations of protest. Today, rebellion has to be more subtle. The failure of an 80s Punk revival, with Punk accessories and emblems (Punk typography, Union Jack T-shirts, studs and pink hues), was bound to happen, because these stylistic expressions and the form of protest they embody is not socially relevant at the moment.
Images of women have to be put into the context of styles changing in general, which are no longer agressively rebellious. The aesthetic processes of bricolage have changed, they became more inconspicuous and difficult to decipher. This is opposed by criticism from a tendency of the "old school feminism" (www.altculture.rockwomen), which does not try to analyse the ambiguity of symbols by asking for differences, but rejects this form of masquerade as unclear and unauthentic (Reynolds/Press 1995, p. 234). This demonstrates the inability to differentiate between questioning clichés and stereotypes and their conformist perpetuation. The subtle aesthetic differences are not recognized as being subversive.
Originally there was no lingusitic difference between male and female Punks, since the scene could do without. This provoked the media in creating silly expressions like "Punkette" in England and "Punkerin" in Germany. The desperate search for a female term expresses the fear that in these youth cultures a different relationship between the sexes might be shown than it is in ordinary social life. The Punks exist since the mid-70s and in Germany they are a subcultural evergreen with a constant number of "followers" and "detractors" (cf. Shell-Studien 1981 and 1997). The critical and rebellious impetus disappeared and in contemporary styles is becoming transformed. The musical and aesthetic forms of Punk became quite common.
Punk has a hedonistic image of the body, which requires the release of energy, e.g. in Pogo, a dance consisting of jumping, shooting up and jostling. In an archaic and ritual manner the body is perceived to be shapeable (a lot of earrings and tatoos), its vulnerability is picked out as a central theme. The visual aggressiveness, triggered by the accessories, is a threatening posture, which demands distancing. In a fight, items like chains or earrings offer an ideal area for attack. Structurally, Punk is no belligerent, male style. In contrast to skinheads its construction allows for the inclusion of girls on equal footing.
"Women have risen here in the Punk scene alongside men, this is not a male event, where women have found their little place...but women have chances, they can develop, if they want. When women are more up to it than men, they can show it here. ..., we have started together as Punks, not as blokes and women." (Zotty, quoted in Hahn/Schindler 1982, p. 162)
The sexes are first visually mixed. Male Punks can wear skirts or similar items of clothing, like bondage-pants with flaps and make-up, female Punks wear army- or work boots, extremely short, dyed hair or a shaved head leaving only a ridge between brow and neck. They reject bourgeois concepts of orderliness and cleanliness, the clothes are torn and dirty from living on the streets.
Women are no longer embroidering elements for rock-superstars, but form their own bands and play all instruments. For a short time, they push into the male territory of rock music (Reynolds/Press 1995). Famous Punk- women and female Punk bands are for example: Siouxsie and the Banshees, Raincoats, Ostro 430, Ätztussis, Mania D., Liliput and X-Mal Deutschland (www.mital-u.ch/Dada/Punkwavg_html and women of 1970 Punk: www.comnet.ca/rina/).
The Slits: "We are different to a lot of women we know. But then we're different from a lot of guys we know too. ... We happen to be four of the strongest people we ever met. We haven't met any guys who are stronger. That's why there are no guys in the group. It wasn't planned as an all-girl group. We just didn't know anyone better."(Coon 1982, p. 107)
The lyrics of female Punks explicitly express, among other things, the sexual desires of women. They take what they want, if necessary, with physical violence. They describe men like men usually describe women, taxingly, scrutinizingly. This aggressive component is revived by the riot grrls in particular. "I want to fuck you like a dog/take you home and make you like it." (Liz Phair, www.altculture.com)
In a kind of female live-cell therapy for the ossified Punk, feminist Punk bands, loosely linked, like Bikini Kill or Bratmobile at the beginning of the 90s resist the male dominance in the Punk scene and announce the "Revolution Girl Style Now!" They celebrate their own festivals, like the Pussystock Festival in New York City, and launch new female fanzines like Girl Germs or Satan Wears a Bra. Female Punks, and subsequently the riot grrls, make Cixous' demand come true:
"...she should start saying something, and not let them tell her, she had nothing to say." (Cixous 1991, p. 114)
A lot of female Punks reject the conventional forms of love and sexuality. Boredom and disgust opposite the clean, inhibited bourgeois sexuality and sex as a consumer good, a mass-product of pornographic phantasies, are expressed by posturing of both sexes with articles from sex-shops. Punks do not wear this kind of clothes because men explicitly want them to, but because they are essentially inspired by stylistic protagonists of the scene like Vivienne Westwood.
Today, when the demonstration of any kind of sexuality is fairly common, Punk has long lost its provocative power. However, the self-determinded rejection of all traditional ideals of female beauty is still provocative. Behaviour like spitting on sidewalks, fights and Pogo is still not widely accepted in women and a logical consequence of spare-time spent in public places (Savier 1980, p. 15 f.). Military clothes like heavy army boots combined with skirts help to temporarily break up traditional role models. They are the practical demonstration of a different, autonomous role for women. A lot of the male Punks appreciate the described behaviour and are not afraid of it:
"The girls among us were totally independent... they were absolutely brilliant, I found them really amazing, they radiated a complete self-assurance." (Harry Hartmann in Kuhnert 1987, p. 256)
The female Punks developed an independent aesthetics and expressed their sexuality, which contained a rebellious element against traditional sexual role models: male stylization (getting equal with men like, for example, the skingirls) and stressing the different quality of women (Reynolds/Press 1995, p. 233). Temporarily, the Punk-woman rejects the assumption to be "a man minus the chance to present yourself as a man=a normal woman" (Irigaray 1980, p. 30).
The attempt by Punk-women to show toughness led to harsh consequences in the public. This is demonstrated in comments like "Just look at how you look like, do you have to dress that way, you bitch, you slut." (Miriam, quoted in Dewes 1986, p. 40) or: "The way you look, your face should be shot apart with acid." (Penth/Franzen 1982, p. 182). A woman willingly and obviously evading the stress going along with cosmetics and beauty is supposed to be a slut. At the times of Punk this singular image of being different is turned into a positive icon. The riot grrls later start a broader re-interpretation of the negative connotations, which in the 90s turn this stigma into a positive icon of identity for women of black and white youth cultures. When the term "bitch" appears in the title of an album of one of the most influential HipHop- producers and vocalists, Missy Elliot, then, in her fight against stereotypes within the black community, she uses the same strategy they use to dissociate themselves from the white culture, calling themselves e.g. "nigger."
By breaking out of the sexual role model the woman feels her sexual identity, her self-image slipping away:
" I don't feel as a whole. I feel like someone torn apart, ripped open...having lost my frame of reference." (Kuhnert 1987, p. 256)
Thus, Punk should not be misunderstood as a heaven of equal opportunities for women; it is an inconsistent phenomenon. Nevertheless, against the background of other youth cultures like skins, psychos, teds, heavy metal freaks, HipHop, still mostly dominated by males, Punk-women were able to develop bases for an inclusion on equal footing.
When we consider Punk-websites on the internet we must ask, whether the style is brought up-to-date here or visually remains stuck in its beginning stage. As it seems, the common motifs of Punk are repeated.
The websites bear witness to an existing, lively scene, predominantly in the United States of America. This is also demonstrated by screen shots from a new Punk film (SLC Punk). The World Wide Punk Directory provides information on the scene, its history and contemporary manifestation. (http://www.worldwidePunk.com) The web represents, as it does with other styles, an immaterial archive and a storage room for the most important icons and protagonists of the scene.
The commercial infrastructure is expanded. It is especially the small home-business sites, e.g. for the sale of records or T-shirts of the scene, for which the web extends the range. New bands get new opportunities. They can make their songs available to a worldwide audience, without having to sendout a number of demo-tapes. For the development of the fanzine culture the WWW is the ideal and least expensive medium of distribution. In the 90s, the new structures in the media change the original style of fanzines. The blackmail-letter style, the chaotic collage is not suitable for being produced on computers. To compensate for that, fonts reminiscent of hand-writing are used fairly often. (http://www.sentex.net/~jmartz/attack/robotic)
The so-called e-zines (electronic magazines) of the Punks, however, still prefer the raw and unfinished, counteracting the smooth perfection of other websites. The culture of personal magazines is thus transferred from a print medium to an electronic one. An e-zine produces a mixture of global leadership and regional personal authorship. What is lost, is the "face to face" contact of selling fanzines on concerts, formerly what the makers of fanzines wanted. On the other hand, they can now reach out to a worldwide Punk community.
Concerning the inclusion of women, the websites are rather an expression of nostalgia: e.g. on sites which reconstruct the history of female Punk bands in the 70s. They bear witness to a time, when women participated in rock business, which we will not see again in the near future. In addition, on the sites dealing with riot grrl culture Punk presents itself as the motor and primer for the riot grrls, when it comes to music. The latter for the first time also use the internet for their purposes on a grander scale. There is a link between riot grrl and Punk as regards Technology and content.
The subculture of the Gothics, in the field of music called "dark wave", starts in Britain in the early 80s and derives from the gloomy, resigned side of Punk and Punk (see Richard 1995). The Gothics take the "gothic novels" of the romantic period as a point of reference, which can be deduced from the English expression "gothic Punk." They also like to call themselves "the blacks." This self-labelling is not completely unproblematic, so in the 90s the not totally serious Gothcode 1.1. (resembling a programme with updates, www.asta.unisb.de/schuetz/astogothcode.html) is supposed to make it easier to get in touch with other "blacks" on the internet. The opposite number can decipher from codes to what category another gothic assigns himself/herself. There is, for example, the "Jammergoth. Life is a permanent existential crisis -you simultaneously weigh up what is more unsettling, the expanding conflict in Bosnia,..., the transitoriness of things" or the "shy goth: please, don't look at me,.... I hope they are not talking to me..." Other manifestations are the muntergoth, grantelgruftie, sarkigoth, der-goth-der-nur-noch-dahinvegetiert (German terms expressing different kinds of character and philosophies of life).
Colour is still of essential importance for this youth culture. Black is a symbol for the inevitable death and all that is negative. "The blacks" also use the traditional symbolism of the evil and the devil.
The attractive combination of the colour black and uncovered skin, the contrast between pale faces, black make-up and clothes, has its roots in the aesthetics of the preferred characters of the gothic novels of the romantic period. One of the ideals of beauty there is the pale, white, female body, covered in black.
The Gothics put the colour black, under normal circumstances intended for the temporary phase of mourning, into a context of ordinary situations and apply it to all situations in life. The colour black is contrasted by silver metal studs and -ornaments on accessories and clothes. In the 80s, we find the pointed, tightly tailored buckled shoe, recalling the pointed shoes of the outgoing middle ages, and death's-head- or bat buckles.
It is typical for the Gothics of that time that all clothes are worn loosely and droopy. At the beginning, women prefer long skirts and dresses, men often wide Turkish pants. The detached attitude towards their own body can be verified by wide capes, wraps, scarfs, Dracula-capes, monks's habits and cassocks. In contrast to Punk, a more distinct seperation of the sexes is postulated, which means that especially women dress within the framework of conventional clothes for women. Some male Gothics break the barrier between the sexes by wearing droopy clothes and make-up on their faces.
The Gothics have nothing to do with the actively aggressive principle of torn clothes and the aesthetics of ugliness and poverty of Punk based upon it. They style themselves as aristocratic, "beautiful" angels of death, corresponding to historical ideals of beauty. Thus, the preferred materials in the 80s are soft, traditional and natural fabrics like lace, velvet or silk, less frequently leather, patent-leather or rubber, somewhat detached from notions of romantic eroticism.
In the 80s an unusual hairdo like the "plate" (also called flat anti-tank mine or plate skull) plays an important role for men. At this time, women prefer black, long uncombed hair, which is extremely backcombed and supposed to be reminiscent of the tangled hair of witches. In addition, we find a special way of putting on make-up, often used by both sexes: black eye shadow, lipstick and nail varnish counteract a chalky white face. This "dead" way of putting on make-up, "painting to death" or "walking around dead"as the Gothics call it, anticipates the fate of the future dead and shall express solidarity with the dead.
The most important symbolic principle, always appearing again in clothes and accessories, is the attempt to represent a dead body or a walking dead, living in a twilight world. The clothes Gothics wear in everyday-life represent the permanent celebration of death and mourning.
In the 90s, the female Gothics deal more offensively with sexuality. Now, there is not only a fragile femininity, needing protection, but also a clear aggressive trend, albeit tending more toward self-injuring. The figure of a morbid, luxurious vamp develops, wearing patent-leather and leather. The romantic accessories of the style reminiscent of witches are no longer relevant. Thus, the style undergoes a modernization, clearly shown by using all up-to-date infrastructures like gothic events, flyers and DJs.
The internet as a new medium of communication through international links selectively does away with the individual isolation. The existing "black nets", which were launched on festivals and by fanzines, are expanded. The WWW offers the opportunity to communicate directly and exchange information with like-minded people (e.g. information on concerts and records, gothic clubs and scene-boutiques, films, comics, books, poems and online-games), which is independent of physical proximity. The blacks often offer special, self-tailored clothes of the typical black aesthetics (http://www.inthenik.usss.net.au/fgowo_htm) (Fashion Item-Gothic Woman).
The decisive structural feature for Gothics is the "link", the link to other gothic-sites (e.g. Death Homepage (1995), The Darkening of the Light, The Dark Side (all September 1996)), which guarantees that a permanent linking-up with other "blacks" all over the world can be sustained (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/arleod/arlmusic.htm;1999). The Gothics are a retrospective youth culture. The whole style is a complex, historically orientated form of coming to terms with melancholy and depression, mentally combining individual and collective death. The Gothics have extreme and direct ways of dealing with death, unsettling for the rest of society. This is owing to the partial release and the removal of taboos of notions and images of death. They construct niches in various media, where the seemingly archaic, atavistic symbols and images can be circulated, e.g. picture galleries in the WWW. The myths of the scene are repeated here. The desire for an ever-present encyclopedia or a genealogy of the images of the style can be realized here in an adequate fashion. The most important function of the gothic homepages on the internet is therefore, besides the online communication, the collection and exchange of images and symbols of death. Repetition and the creation of variants on a basic repertory of images (e.g. gothic image database, gothic/images/index) turn the net into the virtual archive of the style.
It is the keeper of the stories (e.g. about the gool, ghoul, the gravedigger) and the immaterial image-representations of the out-of-the-ordinary symbolism of the style mentioned above, so that they are constantly at the disposal of the internal autopoesis of the style.
The girlie in the Techno- and House scene
"Remember the days when women were women and girls were under 21?" (Movieline March 1995, quoted in www.altculture.com)
The term "girlie" has rather negative connotations. It is supposed to be a heavy blow against feminism, a silly escape from becoming an adult and an expression of fear of sex in the age of AIDS (McRobbie 1995). The "girlie" is suspected of promoting stereotypical images, like the image of Lolita for the satisfaction of pedophile phantasies or the image of the dependent, easily seducible, naive girl, projected in incarnations of the commercial girlie, e.g. the singer Blümchen. The problem with the girlie-image is, that it does not refer to an independent style of youth culture, but can be found anywhere; it is a common feature of all styles. The girlie is difficult to define and should rather be considered an aesthetical process (Lau 1997, p. 218 f.)
It is difficult to demonstrate the irony of this female image in its stylization to an extremely young girl. "Riot grrl" Courtney Love with her frivolous "kinderwhore"-style (www.altculture.com; rockwoman) is above suspicion, when it comes to the affirmation of pedophile images and their ironical distortion.
All important female figures, which have developed since the 80s, describe themselves as "girl." It is not "riot woman", it is "riot grrl" and this choice of terms is meaningful. The girl embodies a freshness, not yet characterized by patriarchal structures. "Riot women" does not make any sense, because a "woman" carries connotations of a fixed image and few opportunities for development (Reynolds/Press 1995, p. 326).
The girlie-image is also an expression of an infantility quite common in society and supposed to give relief from the burdens of ordinary life. The reference to childhood shows the deliberate stylistic dissociation from the adult world.
The girlie as a female image developed from the Techno- and House scene and has a special function there. There, girlie means: offensive retreat from the images of femininity for adult women, non-acceptance and circumvention of female images on offer. In the Techno- and House scene, the rejection of growing older and the cultivation of a shrill, infantile taste form the basis for an unprejudiced community life and the comfort of all in the large surrogate family of an event (see Richard 1998 Kunstforum).
In the club- and event scene the infantile image of the 60s with big heads, childish eyes and body (Twiggy) is revived and described with expressions like girlie, cutie, babe. "Heidi"-plaits, hair slides, the miniaturisation of accessories like backpacks, toys (water pistols) and sweets (tablets of lemonade powder on necklaces) are an important stylistic element (see Richard 1998). The infantile look is comprehensive; even drugs, the ecstasy pills, get a childish face marked with smileys, Fred Flintstone, dinosaurs or dolphins.
The original "girlie-" image of the Techno- and House scene creates a narcisstic, but not an anti-feminist social climate (Graw 1997, p. 80). It is not really regressive, but gives shelter to girls and young women in a mixed youth culture.
"At the beginning in paricular, I was delighted by the fact that I didn't feel lobserved when I was dancing...no one looks at me, no one makes obvious advances. You have more freedom to do what you want, I don't have to think about whether I'm dancing in a sexy way and make the bloke behind me randy." (Melanie, quoted in Anz/Walder: Techno 1994, p. 124)
The biographical importance of carefree and undisturbed dancing indicates the meaning of this freedom (cf. McRobbie 1985, see also Richard 1998, Icons). Analogous to the "girlies," in the 90s the "sex-positive-feminists", who approve of sex and men, also suffer from the prejudice of "anti-feminism" (www.altculture.com). Namomi Wolf, bell hooks and the cybersex-apologist Lisa Palac in particular represent a stylish "babe feminism," whose basic level corresponds to the girlie-image on other levels. Women and girls in particular symbolize an autonomous and innocent handling of their bodies by using the original girlie-concept of a pre-adolescent and pre-sexual outfit. They show, that sexual attraction is not the objective of the partial exposure. By assigning themselves to an infantile category, they show their desire to be left alone. It also bears witness to the totally narcisstic ecstatic experience of their own body as an auto-erotic experience, which does not require assurance from the male side, but which is not relinquished either. Shaking off the term "woman" indicates the dissociation from the obligations of an overly sexualized society, in which the number of images of violence has long since been outstripped by the number of images of sex. All re-definitions in this area would be taken over and in turn became commercially available images of deviation. A difference can only be formed by going back to childhood. By indicating this barrier, girlies convey to men the signal of inviolability. These also wear large necklaces with wooden pearls and, as a fun-guerilla armed with brightly painted pumpguns, delight themselves in a childish squirting of water from their water-guns. By reverting to infantile elements, men can do without macho-poses for the purpose of being sexually impressive and may try to deal playfully and naturally with the other sex. Male physical images tend to a visual crossing of borders towards the opposite sex, to androgyny. The physical auto-erotic self-experience in dance also functions as a surrogate for sex. Other physical concepts, e.g. the gay- and fetish culture, are integrated into the Techno- and House scene. Fashion softens up the hardened structures of gender-constructions, even though the androgynous forms often only serve the purpose of aesthetical differentiation.
"Cross-dresing is about gender confusion. Cross-dressing is about the power of women...is about the emergence of gay identity." (Garber 1993, p. 390)
Men rarely are true cross-dressers, transvestites or drag queens, in the sense that the style of fashion becomes a way of life, an attitude. Poofy postures and coquettish flirtation with bisexuality become a fashion phenomenon. The decisive fact, however, is, that in the laboratory of Techno-events or House-clubs the visual experiments of redecorating the body, the "feminisation of youth" (Pini 1997, p. 168) is possible at all. Only in its manifestation of the "girlie look" is women's clothing an independent image of the style; there is no form for the female raver. Many other elements are transformed copies of men's clothing, like training clothes and -shoes with heels. Female crossings of borders towards the male gender can also be observed in transformed sports-wear, bulky shoes and the adaption of gay dance-gestures.
The change in male physical images and experiences was largely inspired by the cultural practice of the gay, black minority-culture in the USA, which came to Europe via the early English acid House scene and House clubs in the 90s.
The plushy and kitschy interiors of House clubs, taking the form of gold and broquat and a preference for sweet devotional objects, are essentially inspired by the means of shaping travesty, the artificial-ecstatic exaggeration of the "feminine." The roots of this aesthetics are found in gay subculture, their ecstatic adoration of the ample House Diven, representing a combination of female, physical presence and the mythical pursuit of love and fulfilment as a secularisation of the gospel tradition.
The exaggerated gay hyper-poses of the feminine in the manner of "vogueing" (the term derives from the "Vogue"-magazine in the film "Paris Burning") are now the standard for female and male motions in the Techno- and House scene.
The "infantile" protest runs through the whole youth culture, from riot grrls to the Techno scene. In each instance, the aesthetic-stylistic protest becomes more exaggerated and grotesque, until it culminates in the "cartoon style" of the girlie-image.
"And feminist zines like Bust, Cupsize and Roller Derby thrive by raging against the patriarchy in baby T-shirts." Thus, the girlie has to be assigned to the category of strategies of female masquerade.
A comparison of female images of representation
"it's cute to be an angry young woman; it's trendy to be an angry young woman." (Exene Cervenka, altculture.com rock women)
Extreme rebellion and an easily assigned visual protest with the proclamation of total feminine difference is in danger today of becoming a new trademark like it is represented by the riot grrls. Today, the emphasis on differences leads to tailor-made segments of the market, where all types of women can be provided for. The other social strategy of neutralization consists of assigning a niche with little or at least rather restricted chances of follow-up, as it is found in the operational system of the arts.
A basic requirement for the free development of independent female forms of style deriving from the analysis of real youth cultures, is the androgynous nature of the physical image of men. Furthermore, the principle of "drag" and masquerade has to be applicable in both directions. For Punk, the essential quality is the unisex-character of the range of styles; there are less explicitly male or female items of clothing.
Androgynity can also be proved in a segment of gothic culture, albeit less in the field of music, which leans towards EBM and Industrial Music. The girlie of the Techno- and House scene also has androgynous features: she is very sporty, putting emphasis on workouts and is the dialectic counterpart to the physical image defined by the gay scene and "drag." If we want to adhere to the definition of "drag" developed by Butler, which considers it to be a model for the blueprint of a gender which lacks an original, we find in this strategy a multiplication of the feminine, a loop.
This stylistic process is an indication of the possibility to conquer up-to-date places in society for the development of networks. In the close social interdependence of youth cultures and society lies the danger of, but also the chance for, a subtle change.
The total detachment from mixed party crowds, the ghettoization in pure girl-cultures and the preference for the "tomboy" (Reynolds/Press 1995), the male-female rock star as the true protagonist of female rebellion, do not lead to liberation, since they are questioning the feminine physical images' chances for a follow-up (cf. Lumann).
It does not make any sense to compete with male toughness in music, as it is done, for example, by L7 with their "muscular work ethic, no pain, no gain" (Reynolds/Press 1995, p. 248, 235 f.), who can be assigned to the category of "female machisma."
The crossdressing strategy of the Techno-and House scene, interpreted as an expression of stylistic queerness (Davis 1997, p. 86), besides an exposure of the weak construction of visual norms of gender, also points to processes determined by Technology and media, like the poular gender-switching or -bending on the internet (Stone 1996).
Cyberchicks and netgrrls. Female net culture
Especially since the styles analysed above are youth cultures that have existed over the last two decades (one is relatively contemporary but can also look back on a decade of development), they are all equally present in the World Wide Web. These sites of youth cultures deal with the main topics of the scene and, for the first time, allow us to take a look into the youth cultures' "scientific" activities of collecting and organizing (cf. Richard 1995 about the working methods of the "Industrial" youth culture) outside their visual appearance on the street. Existing infrastructures of "real life" are enhanced and expanded by virtual means. The scenes offer archives, collections, images, sounds, stories, concert reviews and online magazines. The history of the style is reconstructed, its icons and symbols are reappraised and recycled. New means of communication like chats, forums, newsgroups, dealing with the respective important topics of the youth culture, supplement the range.
The Techno- and House scene's predominant feature is the presence and relevance of events, while the Gothics- and Punk sites focus on the history of the style, whose graphical presentation is quite different. The internet offers older styles the opportunity to vividly demonstrate their style in its historical dimensions to later generations as well, thereby revitalising it and, by making it public, call it back to mind.
The innovative forms developing on the internet are only partially linked to real youth cultures. An imaginary sphere is constituted, which functions in an entirely different way than street-spheres. On the net, the youth cultures are not represented as street styles and street credibility is quite unnecessary. Apart from the fact, that Punk became ossified at a certain stage, only a few girls can "live" it in reality. Here, the WWW might make up for that lacking chance. Strangers to the "streetstyle," who only want to listen to music at home, also get the opportunity to exchange information, an particular advantage for women who like Punk music, but do not want to wear the outfit or live that life in public.
Owing to the construction of the style, the gothic girls are more isolated than other youth cultures. The blacks, in the definable reality, are no "street style" that stresses public presentation and confrontation. Thus, the net offers outstanding opportunities to present their own stylistic concepts and images. For the community of the lonely and shy, the internet is the ideal means of communication. It allows for contact and exchange, but the opposite number remains physically detached. The characterization of the Techno- and House scene and their female members on the net is difficult. There are quite a lot of sites offering additional information on parties, images, flyers or sounds. In contrast to other youth cultures this is a pure dance floor movement, which means that members have to experience the parties and listen to the music there themselves: the girlie is obliged to dance. The abstract participation on the screen via webcams -the magazine Prinz, for example, in March 1999 offered insight into three parties in Hamburg- cannot convey the scene's actual way of life. The music is produced for the context of the party and requires the individual's physical presence. It is not suitable for silent participation at home.
Therefore, the internet is no indication for a detachment from or a transfer of "street styles." The street cannot be replaced by virtual spheres. Despite the urban metaphors, it is a sphere organized in a completely different way, requiring different competences. The virtual spheres on the internet show a de-localized pattern, which structurally supports forming autonomous cultures on the net.
"...girls become gypsies in inner space, rather than exiles on Main Street." (Reynolds/Press 1995, p. 348)
When girl cultures use the internet, they, as usually, operate from their private spheres. This private place/sphere is the most important sphere from which girls have always stepped into virtual cultures. The internet takes up familiar, imaginary spheres of communication, constituted, for example, by the telephone (Spender 1995, p.191). Sadie Plant asserts, that the net has female structures per se and offers opportunities especially for the realization of projects by women (Plant 1998). There is the "equal opportunity" to define female territories in this virtual sphere. The net, as a structural basic requirement of the medium, offers autonomous access, the unregulated creation of information, its dissemination and communication by e-mail, chats, forums, newsgroups. On the net, girls appreciate the instant dissemination of information and the possibilty of an "instant response" (Spender 1995, p. 175).
Female net competence and net credibility return to the development of the competence to use the structures offered by the media, to present offers and click away annoying offers by the male net community. Women also appreciate the self-chosen invisibility on the internet, which, on the one hand, offers advantages for interaction in the medium. An undesired visual contact, a voyeuristic scrutinization is impossible.
There is, on the other hand, an unwelcome side to invisibility on the internet. The image of femininity is explicitly defined sexually. This surrogate-world of images, superimposed on other worlds of images, carries male connotations. Men do not only occupy the street, they also occupy virtual spheres. They were able to occupy large parts of virtual spheres and to keep women away by pornographic writings and pictures (Spender 1995, p. 183).
However, women are not deterred. New forms of communication and organisation develop: netchicks, netgrrls, cybergrrls etc. This indicates that the structures of classic youth cultures -with the exception of sites purely for fans of music- are left behind. The internet can promote the development from female Punks to riot grrls, from gothic woman to cyberwitch and from Techno-girlie to netgirlie, though not in a direct genealogy, but by cross-references, "links."
Female sites have the distinctive feature that most networks explicitly female call themselves girls or girlie (cf. Leonard 1997). This implies a pre-adolescent, female, rebellious freshness. However, especially the queries on the internet using these terms in search- engines make the whole extent of male definition of the contents, though not the structures of the medium, visible: a query results in 70% sex-sites (using www.hotboot.com), followed by 20% girlie-magazines, simply magazines for girls, and only 10% of the sites found use the term in its emancipatory meaning.
This clearly shows the danger of playing around with these stereotypes and clichés. Furthermore, it demonstrates that this form of "drag" on the internet as a medium is highly ambiguous, since here the process of gender-switching is not a visual one, but is carried out via the linguistic, imaginary level of arbitrary determination of gender. On the internet, age and gender can be freely chosen. There, the term "girlie" means "fresh" goods in a business of Lolita- and teen-sex pictures.
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punk und riotgrrl sites
http://www.worldwidepunk.com/ (Internet Punk Directory)
http://polywog.net/polywog_fun.html FUN..."NYC's only punk band!" ...Village Voice
http://www.sentex.net/~jmartz/attack/ (Robotic Attack Fonts)
http://www.punkrock.org/ (House of the Rising Punk - The World's Most Comprehensive Punk Rock Web Site)
http://lehua.ilhawaii.net/~mj/zine/ (Anarchist Barbie Doll)
http://www.negia.net/~ballet/ (Undead Girlie Ångels)
http://technoindex.com/raves_regional,2.html (TechnoIndex.com; Techno music links: house, techno, electronica, trance, jungle, drum n bass, ambient, hardcore, real audio...)
http://technoindex.com/zines.html (TechnoIndex.com: Web Zines)
http://technoindex.com/ (Techno music links: house, techno, electronica, trance, jungle, drum n bass, ambient, hardcore, real audio)
http://www.xs4all.nl/~adark/ (AfterDark Magazine)
http://cnnfn.com/digitaljam/9610/24/cybergirls/index.htm (From girls to Cybergrrls! - Oct. 24, 1996)
http://girlie.net/ (girlie.net: the space-age bachelorette pad)
http://stars.swanky.org/laura.html (Swanky e-Zine)
http://www.eye.net/eye/Misc/Girlie/ (The Girlie Mag)
http://www.igc.apc.org/vsister/ (Virtual Sisterhood)
http://www.alien-net.com/netgrrls/ (PlanetGrrl - for grrls, PlanetGrrls, netgrrls grrls grrrls cyberchicks webgrrls netgrrrls girls and women on the internet)
http://www.inthenik.uss.net.au/fgowo.htm (Fashion Item - Gothic Woman)
http://www.goth.org.au/ (welcome to The Aether Sanctum - plunging wide-eyed into the abyss)
http://www.leatherworks.com/ (LeatherWorks "House of Anoria" Medieval tunics gothic wear vampire fangs renaissance garb and clothing for medieval weddings and battle)
http://www.brennick.com/gothic_e.html (The Dark, demented, & gothic alphabet)
http://www.serioussilver.com/darkside.html (Dark Side: Vampires, ghouls and other spooky jewelry from the artist's darker side)
http://www.ntpdg.demon.co.uk/nakedtruth/index.htm (Naked Truth Gothic Magazine)
http://www.negia.net/~ballet/show/girlies.html (Asmund's Undead Girlies)