For an underprivileged, overanxious teenager growing up in the car-theft capital of North America—aka Surrey—music was the sweetest escape. While getting ready for school, I blasted David Bowie, the Libertines, and the Smiths, stabbing pins through my clothes and squeezing into leather in juvenile imitation of the male rock stars I admired.
I felt a kindred spirit in music history’s androgynous punks. Coming of age in a woman-hating culture dominated by acts like Limp Bizkit and Eminem, I internalized and reacted to society’s strict gender roles by rejecting femininity. Instead, I embraced rock ’n’ roll’s masculinity.
I used to pore over every music magazine I could find, looking up the It bands of the day, almost all of them male-dominated. In retrospectives, influential women like Debbie Harry and the Runaways were consistently side-noted or drooled over for their visual appeal, not their talents.
Switching on CFOX-FM, I once overheard the DJ poll his listeners: “Who is the biggest whore in rock ’n’ roll?” Of course, Courtney Love came out on top, so to speak. All famously philandering male musicians were spared the humiliation. As a 16-year-old girl, and an aspiring artist, I was not.
Incessant exposure to the ugliness of misogyny resulted in my torturous desire to become a male rock star. Obviously, there was a slight problem with this plan. But I barely had any significant female role models in my life, as almost all options were either belittled or ignored by the music press and society at large.
Consequently, I viewed myself through the same tarnished lens. And so my musical ambitions culminated in my covertly stealing my brother’s guitar, holding it, and weeping like a pitiful loony, because I couldn’t play. My parents wanted me to play piano instead, as it was more feminine.
Whenever I tried to strum a riff, my small, girlish hands struggled to manoeuvre an instrument clearly not designed for me, its body bulky and awkward against my own. And then my self-esteem would take another epic swan dive.
It took five years of this viciously sad cycle before I stockpiled enough self-confidence to break free. Eventually, I did teach myself to play guitar, but my sonic output remained the echoes of others’ creations.
The summer I moved to Vancouver, the universe dealt me a nauseating sucker punch. A guy in the local music scene sexually assaulted me, and I plunged into a self-destructive depression. For the first time in my life, I was forced in such a visceral way to assess both my self-worth and my womanhood, entities that were intimately linked.
Suddenly, all I wanted to hear were female voices, to feel their strength and support like lifeblood. I began listening obsessively to artists like Siouxsie Sioux, Lydia Lunch, Bikini Kill, and PJ Harvey, whose songs spoke out about sexual abuse, prostitution, and other harsh realities for women. Their distinctly, fiercely female perspectives reflected the truths of my life more fully than Bowie or Morrissey ever could.
Siouxsie and Co. taught me lessons in rebelling and surviving as a woman in a world so dismissive and hostile toward us. They showed me what was possible if I realized the value of my self-worth and womanhood, in that supernatural way that music reaches out its guitar-callused hand to those in need.
Inspired to action, I wrote my first-ever song and discovered the pure elation of creating my very own noise. One day, while I was working on this song, my sister entered the room and asked, “What’s that you’re playing? New Order?”
It may seem trivial, but scarcely before had I felt such confidence that I could someday create music as worthwhile as that of the men I had idolized as a kid.
Female voices are as worthwhile as male voices, be it in rock ’n’ roll, the political arena, or the living room. In fact, female expression is necessary in a society that stifles women at every turn. It deserves our respect and support. The liberation of girls and women depends on it.