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Oh Bondage Flyer, Up Yours! Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves Calls Out Sexist Imagery in Punk

Jumping into that nearly 40-year-old argument about what punk is will always lead you down an existential wormhole. Attempting to define punk philosophy, music, and fashion will never be productive because no two people will likely agree on what constitutes punk.

Yet identifying the punk aesthetic in the wild is an entirely different story. You can at least assume somebody is or likes or wants to be punk if they have a mohawk and studded denim jacket. There is a definite look to punk art, be it Raymond Pettibon’s Black Flag flyers or a homemade riot grrrl zine from the ’90s. But as Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy discussed at a show last week in Dallas, sometimes the imagery surrounding punk music and the art that accompanies it does more harm than good.

“We shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable,” Graves said at the end of her band’s short set last Thursday night. “As women, we’re taken less seriously at the work we do because we work hard. When you see tits on a flyer you feel lonely, weird and isolated.” The flyer Graves was talking about — depicting two women, drawn bare-breasted, hands bound together and tied to the ceiling – is a nod to 1940s fetish photography and reminiscent of the Bettie Page-era pinup girl style. But what does the drawing have to do with the show it was created to promote? The answer is nothing. The flyer was in poor taste.

Siouxsie Sioux, 1977

Siouxsie Sioux, 1977

One might argue that bondage has been a part of the punk look in one way or another since the 1970s, when Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood started selling fetishwear as fashion out of their King’s Road store. Choke collars and wrist cuffs were a part of many of the outfits you might see at a Damned concert in 1978, but in 2014, it’s not as easy to understand how bondage and sadomasochism are supposed to relate to a Perfect Pussy show (or, for that matter, a show also featuring the all-female band Potty Mouth). If you’re going to argue that bondage is part of punk culture due to its early role as an influence of punk style, you also have to keep in mind that bondage comes with a history and context of its own. At its most base level, BDSM is about fantasy, power and play and, in the particular iteration that Graves objected to, the woman is objectified using leather and rope, and viewed through the male gaze. That is a turn-on for some people, but seeing an image of two naked women tied up apropos of nothing makes a lot of other people uncomfortable — not only Graves or, I assume, the other members of Perfect Pussy, but also probably many of the band’s fans. There are those who might argue that punk music is supposed to push boundaries, but it isn’t supposed to make anybody, let alone the artist in question, feel “lonely, weird and isolated.”

In time, people will probably forget about the flyer and move on to the next outrageous thing. Graves asked the venue to take it down, and they apparently complied. Of course, the Internet being the Internet, people felt the need to comment, with missing-the-point responses ranging from the garden variety “It’s just a flyer, what’s the huge deal?” to, “The name of the band is PERFECT PUSSY and she’s ranting about sexism?” Ephemeral as the incident is, though, it does speak to a larger, long-running problem in punk and underground music.

It’s a problem that, in the post-riot grrrl era, should be rare to nonexistent. But, as highlighted in a recent Impose piece by Allison Crutchfield of Swearin’ — a response to the “How to Survive Being the Only Girl in the Band” piece at Noisey — that featured several female musicians, including Graves, talking about being women in music, the supposedly all-inclusive punk scene still remains anything but. As Lily Richeson of Parasol put it, “This world is littered with sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and the hyper-sexualization and fetishization of women who play music or participate in a public way in the industry.” Some might not see how a single flyer perpetuates those injustices, but it’s part of a bigger picture. Sexist imagery remains a systemic problem in punk and underground music, and its long-standing association with that culture only makes it more important to address.

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