By Anna Walsh
At Lost Origins Gallery in the lovely neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant, the current art exhibition is a collection of photos from Frame of Mind, Antonia Tricarico’s new book of pictures and essays written by women who were part of the D.C. punk scene from 1997-2017. The exhibit is open through August 11. It is striking, with mostly black and white photos of all kinds of bands and artists onstage and off.
One of my favorite photos in the exhibit features a band called Sneaks, with a drum cover that reads “F*** You / Pay Me.” This of course reminded me of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, who just cemented their place as the best soccer team in the world yet are still fighting in court for equal pay.
The exhibit and that team, both examples of women being unapologetically superb at their craft, led me to think about who is considered a hero and who isn’t. For women everywhere, the fight to be heard, seen, paid, and respected is hard enough. But what about the fight to be revered?
The heroes of punk rock are nearly exclusively white men. And granted, I love many of them. But a dangerous precedent is set when one kind of person is canonized.
At the same time that I learned the punk tenets of “accept everyone” and “question authority,” I subliminally learned the only people capable of doing so at heroic levels were white men, a group that is absolutely not representative of everyone yet is definitely the strongest authority of them all.
Why was it years into my fandom of punk rock before a band that included women was even mentioned? Why is The Clash considered a punk classic but The Slits, a band who toured heavily with them, is not? Why is punk made by women sweepingly qualified as “riot grrrl” or “female-fronted” instead of just punk?
As a worldwide community of punks, athletes, or anything else you identify as, it is time to admit that the history we have been upholding is not a full one. It is time to admit that continuing to uphold it would be detrimental to our very core.
So how do we correct this? Tricarico’s book is certainly a start. It sends a clear message that women have been here from the beginning, not just as “the underground of the underground,” as she says, but as prolific musicians and people.
Another step is to heroize the thousands of amazing women setting examples for youth today, be it in sports, music, science, or other disciplines. Give these women the recognition they deserve, pay them equally, and point to them as people to emulate — true heroes.
The women featured in Frame of Mind, the USWNT, and countless others are bucking the norm that to be celebrated as a woman, you have to be gracious and humble and beautiful and kind and a million other things. They are standing up with confidence in their skills and in themselves and demanding the equality authorities at all levels fail to give them. If that’s not punk, I don’t know what is.