Women in punk rock

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Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

Women have made significant contributions to punk rock music and its subculture since its inception in the 1970s.[1][2] In contrast to the rock music and heavy metal scenes of the 1970s, which were dominated by men, the anarchic, counter-cultural mindset of the punk scene in mid-and-late 1970s encouraged women to participate. This participation played a role in the historical development of punk music, especially in the U.S. and U.K. at that time, and continues to influence and enable future generations.[3] Women have participated in the punk scene as lead singers, instrumentalists, as all-female bands, zine contributors and fashion designers.[4]

Rock historian Helen Reddington states that the popular image of young punk women musicians as focused on the fashion aspects of the scene (fishnet stockings, spiky blond hair, etc.) was stereotypical. She states that many, if not all women punks were more interested in the ideology and socio-political implications, rather than the fashion.[5][6] Music historian Caroline Coon contends that before punk, women in rock music were virtually invisible; in contrast, in punk, she argues, "It would be possible to write the whole history of punk music without mentioning any male bands at all – and I think a lot of [people] would find that very surprising."[7][8]

Johnny Rotten wrote that "During the Pistols era, women were out there playing with the men, taking us on in equal terms ... It wasn’t combative, but compatible."[9] Chrissie Hynde echoed similar sentiments when discussing her start in the punk scene, "That was the beauty of the punk thing: [sexual] discrimination didn't exist in that scene."[10] The anti-establishment stance of punk opened the space for women who were treated like outsiders in a male-dominated industry. Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon states, "I think women are natural anarchists, because you're always operating in a male framework."[11] Others take issue with the notion of equal recognition, such as guitarist Viv Albertine, who stated that "the A&R men, the bouncers, the sound mixers, no one took us seriously.. So, no, we got no respect anywhere we went. People just didn't want us around."[12][13]



Women have a high prominence in many popular music styles as singers. However, professional women instrumentalists are uncommon in popular music, especially in rock genres such as heavy metal. The lower participation by women as instrumentalists bands is caused in part because "playing in a band is largely a male homosocial activity, that is, learning to play in a band is largely a peer-based... experience, shaped by existing sex-segregated [male] friendship networks.[14] As well, rock music "...is often defined as a form of male rebellion vis-à-vis female bedroom culture."[15]

In popular music, there has been a gendered "distinction between public (male) and private (female) participation" in music.[15] "[S]everal scholars have argued that men exclude women from bands or from the bands' rehearsals, recordings, performances, and other social activities."[16] "Women are mainly regarded as passive and private consumers of allegedly slick, prefabricated – hence, inferior – pop music..., excluding them from participating as high status rock musicians."[16] One of the reasons that mixed gender bands were traditionally rare was that "bands operate as tight-knit units in which homosocial solidarity – social bonds between people of the same sex... – plays a crucial role."[16] In the 1960s pop music scene, "[s]inging was sometimes an acceptable pastime for a girl, but playing an instrument...simply wasn't done."[17] Punk rock is more of a subculture than a widely popular genre of music, though, which is why women were drawn to it beginning in the late 1970s. The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 allowed women the same access to jobs as their male counterparts in the United Kingdom. Many men thought that this legislation put them at a loss and felt that women were taking away positions that traditionally belonged to men. The controversy over this act, in addition to the election of Margaret Thatcher, led many young women who felt disenfranchised to turn to the up-and-coming music scene known as punk rock. Artists like Suzi Quatro are considered to be major influences in the early British punk culture. Quatro refused to be sexualized by the media and indirectly dealt with the issue of sexism by embracing a tough, rocker persona while producing music that could thrive in the mainstream. Bands like X-ray Spex and The Slits took this feminist rock culture and combined it with a more two-fisted style of music.[4] This genre reflected on social, cultural and political changes of the United Kingdom at the time,[5] and continued to do so in other locations.

Women such as Exene Cervenka, Joan Jett and Alice Bag brought a feminine framework to the Los Angeles punk scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Cervenka was often considered to be aggressive and not thought of as a conventionally-attractive individual; these features drew more young women to the scene since it was inclusive.[18] Many of these women sought to fight public sexual harassment and encourage body positivity through their music and punk attitudes. In Los Angeles punk culture, it was commonplace to sport clothing that was considered provocative for the decade. Leather jackets, short skirts, fishnets and choker necklaces were expected. This style made many punk women targets for sexual harassment in the streets. They often spent much time outside waiting for shows, smoking, and meeting with one another, which created a kind of vulnerability. So, they retaliated by educating the young girls involved in the scene, taking legal action, and writing songs on the matter.[19] The Los Angeles scene was arguably at its strongest point in the eighties, as a response to the conservative push for a more moral America by Ronald Reagan’s administration. Mainstream rock such as Christopher Cross or Hall and Oates did not tend to address political issues, which left a space for rebels like Joan Jett and Blondie within the charts from time to time.[4]

The feminist ideologies of punk rock in the 1970s and 1980s [19][5] persevered into the 1990s via the Riot Grrrl movement in the Washington D.C. area. Riot Grrrl addressed more than the sexism of punk culture alone. Rather, the movement applied feminism on a broader scale by taking on issues such as sexual assault, systematic sexism, and the idea that sex is taboo for women. Riot Grrrl began by primarily utilizing homemade magazines, known as zines, and group meetings. Eventually, the movement developed into a genre of music that was more aggressive than the mainstream rock of the decade. This genre reflected the same values as the zines. It was within this era that the LGBT community began to use punk rock as an outlet for advocacy as well. Groups from the early 21st century such as Pussy Riot and Panty Raiders combine feminist and queer values in their music and films.[19]

The constant push for gender equality over three decades has resulted in a more inclusive punk rock culture that is no longer divided by sex. No Doubt is one example of this accepting culture. They are a co-ed musical group with a female singer who addresses feminist issues. One of No Doubt’s songs, “Just a Girl,” made it to the Billboard top 100 back in 1995. Sleater-Kenny and Le Tigre are groups known to mix feminist ideologies with other social justice themes. Following George W. Bush’s administration’s response to tragedies like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, these female-headed groups offered political criticism through politicized songs. Sleater-Kenny’s song, “Combat Rock,” was anti-war in nature and directly criticized the U.S. government’s decisions regarding the Middle East.[20]

"The rebellion of rock music was largely a male rebellion; the women—often, in the 1950s and '60s, girls in their teens—in rock usually sang songs as personæ utterly dependent on their macho boyfriends...". Philip Auslander says that "Although there were many women in rock by the late 1960s, most performed only as singers, a traditionally feminine position in popular music". Though some women played instruments in American all-female garage rock bands, none of these bands achieved more than regional success. So they "did not provide viable templates for women's on-going participation in rock".[21]:2–3 In relation to the gender composition of heavy metal bands, it has been said that "[h]eavy metal performers are almost exclusively male"[22] "...[a]t least until the mid-1980s"[23] apart from "...exceptions such as Girlschool."[22] However, "...now [in the 2010s] maybe more than ever–strong metal women have put up their dukes and got down to it",[24] "carv[ing] out a considerable place for [them]selves."[25]

When Suzi Quatro emerged in 1973, "no other prominent female musician worked in rock simultaneously as a singer, instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader".[21]:2 According to Auslander, she was "kicking down the male door in rock and roll and proving that a female musician ... and this is a point I am extremely concerned about ... could play as well if not better than the boys".[21]:3


Patti Smith[edit]

Patti Smith performing at TIM Festival, Marina da Gloria, Rio de Janeiro (4)

Patti Smith (born 1946) is a groundbreaking New York City punk rock singer/songwriter, poet and artist, whose first album, Horses (1975), significantly influenced the New York City punk rock genre. Smith's work went on to receive international recognition. In 2007 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[26] She was born Patricia Lee Smith in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

Chrissie Hynde[edit]

Chrissie Hynde 2013

Chrissie Hynde (born 1951 in Akron, OH) is a singer, songwriter and guitar player and co-founder of the band, The Pretenders.[27] They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

Siouxsie Sioux[edit]

Born Susan Janet Ballion in 1957 in Southwark, England, Siouxsie Sioux is best known as the lead singer of Siouxsie and the Banshees, releasing eleven studio albums. She continued to tour with The Creatures before embarking on a solo career.

Nina Hagen[edit]

Nina Hagen

Catharina Hagen (born 1955), known as the German singer, Nina Hagen, was born in East Berlin, German Democratic Republic. After working with the band, Automobil, she became a solo artist, and released her first solo album NunSexMonkRock in 1982.[28] This was followed by the 1983 album, Fearless and in 1985, Ekstasy.

Exene Cervenka[edit]


Exene Cervenka co-founded the band X in 1977, with John Doe, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake. Their album, Los Angeles (date) established her as a presence as a powerful vocalist in the punk rock movement.[29]

Joan Jett[edit]

Joan Jett

Joan Jett, born Joan Marie Larkin, and her all-female band, The Runaways was started when she was still in high school, and had several hits such as Cherry Bomb and American Nights. In the 1980s she founded her own independent label, Blackheart Records.[30] She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

Lydia Lunch[edit]

Lydia Lunch, began her career as the frontwoman for the band, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and went on to collaborate with numerous other musicians and bands, including Nick Cave, Sonic Youth, Brian Eno, among others.

Poly Styrene[edit]

Poly Styrene (1957-2011) founded the punk band X-Ray Spex, whose 1978 album, Germ Free Adolescents established her as a strong contributor as front woman, singer-songwriter and musician.

Ari Up[edit]

Ari Up (1962-2010), was born Ariane Daniela Forster in Munich, Germany, and was a vocalist and member of The Slits a British punk rock band. She took guitar lessons from Joe Strummer of The Clash.[31][32]


Gaye Advert[edit]

British born Gaye Advert, also known as Gaye Black, was the bass player for The Adverts. She has been called, "one of punk's first female icons", and the "first fema[le] punk star."[33][34]


Paloma McLardy (born 1955) is known as the drummer and songwriter for The Slits, as Palmolive. Born in Spain, she moved to London in 1972 to live in the squats with other counter-cultural youths.[35] In London, she befriended Joe Strummer of The Clash who introduced her to Sid Vicious, bass player for the Sex Pistols. Through these alliances she joined the band The Flowers of Romance with guitarist Viv Albertine. Having met 14-year old Ari Up at a Patti Smith concert, they formed the all-women punk band, The Slits, playing gigs with The Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, and others. In 1979, she joined the all female punk band, The Raincoats who recorded an album for Rough Trade Records.[36]

Poison Ivy[edit]

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy (born 1953) is Californian who is known for her work as a guitarist and songwriter who co-founded the American punk-rockabilly band, The Cramps. Also known as Poison Ivy Rorschach she was born Kristy Marlana Wallace. She also provided vocals, as well as arranging songs and producing records. At Sacramento State College she met Lux Interior (born Erick Lee Purkhiser) in 1972, who became the singer for The Cramps, whose work gained a cult following as well a course of European commercial success.[37][38]

Debbie Harry[edit]

Blondie (Debbie Harry)

Debbie Harry is one of the most commercially successful musicians of punk rock/new wave. Her band, Blondie, often performed at CBGB in New York City, and their 1978 album, Parallel Lines, is considered a punk-pop classic.[39] Harry's band, Blondie was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

Viv Albertine[edit]

Viv Albertine (born 1954, in Sydney, Australia) is a guitarist and singer for the British punk band, the Slits. Albertine was part of the inner circle of the punk bands the Clash and the Sex Pistols, and joined the Slits in 1977. She has also played with the post-punk band, Flying Lizards, the dubstep-influenced New Age Steppers and the punk band, The Flowers of Romance (band).[40]

Alice Bag[edit]

Alice Bag performs lead vocals and is the founder of the band known as Alice and the Bags. The Bags are credited with being one of the earliest contributors to the Los Angeles punk scene in the 1970s and 1980s. Bag herself believes punk to be just as much about culture as it is about the genre itself; the principle of do-it-yourself (DIY) values is the key to punk for her. She was avid about creating her own outfits, fashion statements, and music. In Bag’s opinion, women and men have made equal contributions to the realm of punk rock.[41]


Lene Lovich[edit]

Lene Lovich 1979

Lene Lovich is an American-born English singer, known for her idiosyncratic vocal style. Although active in 1978 & 1979, much of her success was in the 1980s. Her debut studio album Stateless (1978), which produced the single "Lucky Number".[42] She released two more albums, Flex (1979) and No Man's Land (1982), on Stiff Records. In 1989, she independently released the album March, before her 15-year hiatus.

Kim Gordon[edit]

The American bassist and singer, Kim Gordon (born 1953) and her band, Sonic Youth were formed in 1981, establishing her as an important presence in the downtown New York City music scene. She wrote and performed music with Sonic Youth through 2012. Her memoir, Girl in a Band was published in 2015.[43]

Lydia Lunch[edit]

Lydia Lunch

Lydia Lunch (born 1959) is a US punk rock and No Wave singer. Her career was established with the founding of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks in collaboration with James Chance. In the mid-1980s she formed Widowspeak, a recording and publishing company.[44]

Wendy O. Williams[edit]

Wendy O. Williams (1949-1998) was the lead singer and songwriter for the punk band, Plasmatics whose performances included such actions as chain-sawing guitars and blowing up equipment on stage.[45]

Debora Iyall[edit]

Debora Iyall was the lead singer in the San Francisco-based punk bank, Romeo Void.[46] She was born in Washington state and is of Cowlitz Native American heritage.[47]

Shonen Knife[edit]

Shonen Knife-9

Japanese garage-pop punk band, Shonen Knife, was influenced by the Girl groups of the 1960s.[48] Current members include Naoko Yamano, Ritsuko Taneda, Atsuko Yamano, Risa Kawano, Naru Ishizuka. Former members of the band include Michie Nakatani, Mana Nishiura, Etsuko Nakanishi and Emi Morimoto.


Riot Grrrl[edit]

Carrie Brownstein from the punk-indie band Sleater-Kinney, performing at Vegoose in 2005.

Riot grrrl is an underground feminist hardcore punk movement that originally started in the early 1990s, in Washington, D.C.,[49] and the greater Pacific Northwest, noticeably in Olympia, Washington.[50] It is often associated with third-wave feminism, which is sometimes seen as its starting point. It has also been described as a musical genre that came out of indie rock, with the punk scene serving as an inspiration for a musical movement in which women could express themselves in the same way men had been doing for the past several years.[51]

Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, racism, patriarchy, and female empowerment. Bands associated with the movement include Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, Excuse 17, Huggy Bear, Cake Like, Skinned Teen, Emily's Sassy Lime, Sleater-Kinney, and also queercore groups like Team Dresch.[52][53] In addition to a music scene and genre, riot grrrl is a subculture involving a DIY ethic, zines, art, political action, and activism.[54] Riot grrrls are known to hold meetings, start chapters, and support and organize women in music.[55]

Some groups that participated in the Riot grrrl movement encouraged men to stand near the back during concerts to allow women their own space near the front.[56] Many members of the punk rock community considered this and other methods of Riot grrrl to be too radical. Due to this, another feminist movement emerged in the East Bay. One group, Spitboy, pushed their feminist values through integration rather than division. They played at venues such as 924 Gilman Street, which banned sexism and sexual harassment.[57]

Kathleen Hanna[edit]

Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill in 1996

Kathleen Hanna (born 1968) and Tobi Vail co-founded the band, Bikini Kill, establishing the feminist riot grrrl movement. Hanna has also released an album under the name Julie Ruin, which developed into Le Tigre.[58]

PJ Harvey[edit]

PJ Harvey (born 1969) is an English performers associated with the punk blues and alternative rock genres.[59]

The Breeders[edit]

The Breeders are an American band formed in 1990 by Kim Deal of the Pixies, her twin sister Kelley Deal and Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses. The band has experienced a number of lineup changes; Kim Deal has been the band's sole continual member. Their first album, Pod (1990), though not commercially successful, received wide critical acclaim. The Breeders' most successful album, Last Splash (1993), is best known for the hit single "Cannonball".[60]


Elastica were an English band best known for their 1995 album Elastica, which produced singles that charted in the United Kingdom and the United States.[61]


Saffron of Republica

Republica are an English band formed in 1994, featuring their lead singer Saffron. Republica are best known for their hit single, "Ready to Go". Their music is described as dance punk or technopop punk rock.


Hole was formed Los Angeles, California in 1989 by singer and guitarist Courtney Love and lead guitarist Eric Erlandson. The band had a revolving line-up of bassists and drummers, their most prolific being drummer Patty Schemel, and bassists Kristen Pfaff (d. 1994) and Melissa Auf der Maur.[62]

Babes in Toyland[edit]

Babes in Toyland (band) is an American punk rock band most active from 1987 - 2001, and reunited from 2014 to the present.[63] Vocalist and guitarist Kat Bjelland, founded the band with drummer Lori Barbero and bassist Michelle Leon. In 1992, Leon was replaced by Maureen Herman. They are best known for their albums, Spanking Machine (1990), Fontanelle (1992) and Nemesisters (1995).[64]


Carrie Brownstein[edit]

Carrie Brownstein (born 1974) rose to prominence by establishing the riot grrrl all-women punk band Sleater-Kinney with Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss.[65]

Laura Jane Grace[edit]

Against Me! Laura Jane Grace

Laura Jane Grace (born 1980) is an American transgender musician who is the founder, guitarist and lead singer, songwriter and of the punk band Against Me!.[66]


Pussy Riot[edit]

Formed in 2011 as a punk band, artist collective and activist group.[67]

Louise Distras[edit]

Alternative rock singer-songwriter from Wakefield, West Yorkshire. She has received media attention from BBC Radio 1, Radio X, Rodney on the ROQ, Kerrang,[68] Louder Than War,[69][70] The Independent and The Guardian.[71][72]

The Tuts[edit]

English DIY pop punk[73] band from Hayes, London.[74] They have received extensive coverage from alternative music radio, most notably Amazing Radio, and from music websites such as Louder Than War who have published multiple articles on the group, calling them "one of the UK’s most exciting bands". Featured in the ITV series Young, British and Muslim in April 2018.[75]

Puss Johnson[edit]

Frontwoman of band Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons since 2002 (first formed by guitarist "Dirty" Jake Johnson in Basingstoke).[76] Her band have released three albums[77] and achieved press coverage in the Basingstoke Gazette,[78][79] music magazine Vive Le Rock[80][77]) and website Louder Than War.[76]

The Featherz[edit]

Welsh/English band with glam and punk influences (self-styled as "Flock Rock") led by Danie Centric (known as Danie Cox prior to January 2018, born 15 December 1990 in Bridgend) on lead vocals and guitar. Cox formed the band with two fellow former members of Georgie Girl And Her Poussez Posse, a band fronted by Georgina Baillie and mentored by Adam Ant.[81] Press coverage in the Ipswich Star,[82] Wales On Sunday,[81] Basingstoke Gazette,[83] website Louder Than War[84][85][86] and rock magazine Vive Le Rock[87] Centric also records with The Lurkers.[88]

Petrol Girls[edit]

English punk rock band formed in London in 2012 by Ren Aldridge and Liepa Kuraitė, with Joe York and Zock Astpai joining later. The band is named after the historical Pétroleuses[89][90] and is outspokenly feminist. They have received media coverage from The Independent, Kerrang! and Vice Media[90][89][91]

The Kut[edit]

London-based alternative rock project, assembled by frontwoman and self-taught multi-instrumentalist Princess Maha.[92] They have received extensive radio and music press coverage including from Planet Rock,[92] BBC Introducing,[93], Kerrang!,[94] Magazines Top 10 Record Store Day Releases, Metal Hammer, Big Cheese, Q Magazine and Classic Rock Magazine. Debut album Valley of Thorns reached #18 in the UK Independent Albums Chart[95]

Barb Wire Dolls[edit]

Grunge/punk rock band from Greece, based in the United States. They were championed by Lemmy on whose personal record label (a subsidiary of Warner Music Group) their third and fourth albums were released. .[96]

List of other women punk musicians[edit]


A designer associated with early UK punk fashion in the 1970s was Vivienne Westwood, who made clothes for Malcolm McLaren's boutique in the King's Road, which became famous as "SEX". Other designers included Wendy Gawitz and Kate Buck of "Eccentric Clothing" in Collingwood; Melbourne, Australia designers Julie Purvis and Jillian Burt, and fellow Australians Kate Durham and Sara Thorn.[97]

Women in the hardcore punk scene typically wore army pants, band T-shirts, and hooded sweatshirts.[98] The style of the 1980s hardcore scene contrasted with the more provocative fashion styles of late 1970s punk rockers (elaborate hairdos, torn clothes, patches, safety pins, studs, spikes, etc.).

Social change[edit]

The Mexico City-based punk rock collective, Hijas de Violencia (the Daughters of Violence) conduct street performances to combat harassment of women.[99]

See also[edit]


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