Marisa Meltzer (BSS #328)

Marisa Meltzer is most recently the author of Girl Power.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering why Liz Phair is running away.

Author: Marisa Meltzer

Subjects Discussed: Mapping out what it means to be a woman, leveling patriarchal playing fields, identity and feminist consciousness, siblinghood fantasies, Sassy Magazine, riot grrls, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pavement, relying too much on pop cultural breadcrumbs, The Spice Girls promoting a message without substance, Beverly Hills 90210, The Babysitters Club, what pop culture teenagers consume, Susan Douglas’s Where The Girls Are, Liz Phair, Bikini Kill, the ultimate distinctions between music of last 20 years and second wave 1960s reactions, postfeminism, real vs. fake empowerment, marketing forces, current generation of thirtysomethings describing themselves as “girls”, generational divides, “lady” used as code for another term, relationship between change in genre and change in terminology, Miley Cyrus, Kathleen Hanna refusing to be interviewed for the book, dangers about being selective with media to get the word out, the Internet as an underground medium, the riot grrl’s core message of girl-friendliness, commenting culture, fringe girl power, the Michigan’s Womyn Music Festival, Nancy Burchalter, Christina Aguilera collaborating with La Tigre, Beth Ditto posing naked on the cover of NME (and backlash), Marcel Karp’s Liz Phair blowjob fantasy, Mick Jagger, ways in which women are allowed to be sexual, Lilith Fair, wider varieties of female musicians with frank sexual desires, Grammy Awards, Lady Gaga as the first superstar of the Internet age, Kanye West’s intervention viewed in a patriarchal light, reading commentary before seeing things happen, reblogging, empowerment through appearance vs. genuine message, BeyoncĂ©’s strong onstage presence, Fiona Apple and Tori Amos referencing victimhood in their work, mining attention and profit from trauma, pop music’s effectiveness at getting under your skin, reaching young people with dissent-based messages, the college-age woman’s lack of interest in feminism (even when she considers herself empowered), living a feminist life, the constant use of irony in relation to feminism’s sincere aims, the irony-oriented pop culture of the 1990s, righteous indignation as a means of bringing back earnestness.


Correspondent: You quote Susan Douglas’s Where the Girls Are, in which Douglas notes that the women performing in the 1960s gave voice to all these inner warring selves. But she also notes later in her book — not quoted by you — that this period of music also captured the way that young women were caught between this entrapment and this freedom. Now some of the examples you use in the book, such as Phair, Bikini Kill, riot grrl culture in general, they tend to suggest more of the latter than the former. What do you think is the ultimate distinction between, say, the music of the last twenty years versus almost this second wave reaction to the 1960s?

Meltzer: That’s a hard question. You know, I’m reading her new book right now. And it’s all about the ’90’s and the past few decades. So I’ve been thinking about her a lot, but not so much the ’60’s. I think the distinction is that there’s so much more feminist rhetoric in culture now that, after the ’70’s, you had this postfeminist era — which is not a word that I’m a fan of. But in everything from advertising to music to television, there’s all this lip service and references to feminism and empowerment. But I don’t know how many actual empowerment there is. To me, that’s the difference. I think it’s really easy to think that we’ve come a long way musically or politically because there’s so much feminism around us. But I don’t know if it’s so substantive.

Correspondent: On the other hand, empowerment has been rather easily co-opted by marketing forces.

Meltzer: Yeah.

Correspondent: And so the question of what empowerment actually provides within this music, I suppose, is subject to the fluctuating market forces that may actually abscond with the inherent self-righteous truth of this message.

Meltzer: Yeah. I mean, the word “empower” is also just one of those words that, at this point, I don’t even know if it has much meaning. I feel like it’s been drained away by marketers. So it’s something that I have a lot of suspicion towards.

Correspondent: Yeah. Well, it begs the question of whether a phrase or a word — whether it be “riot grrl,” “girl power,” “lady” as you point out later in the book — if the terms are constantly shifting, then are the terms essentially meaningless? Or must one gravitate towards whatever terms are presently fashionable among young girls, or among culture at large, and just attempt to play this game of leapfrog?

Meltzer: Yeah. I do think that there is a certain amount of leapfrog. I think that there is a lot of fashion. I think of my mother’s generation — the baby boomers. And none of them describe themselves as girls. Whereas all of my friends — many of them in our thirties or even in our forties now — constantly use the word “girl” to describe ourselves, to describe other people, to describe people who are older than us, younger than us. And you see some real generational divides. And then you also see in divisions in terms of culture, where there was “grrl” and “girl power,” and suddenly that was taken over, and you had to start calling everyone “lady.” I hope that those terms don’t seem compulsory. But I do think that there can be a certain amount of feeling — it’s kind of like a password or a code. I think that — especially the term “lady” for the past few years — it was “Oh, you’re going to love this great lady.” Or “Have you seen this lady that’s making cupcakes at the flea market or the pop-up shop?” Or whatever. I think there’s a certain shorthand to it. But is it necessary? No. But I think that if it makes you feel good, if it makes you feel as if you’re in on something.

(Image: Shayla Hason)

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