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i know what girls want

Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer's How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time has been on my wishlist for a while, and I was looking forward to reading it when it comes out in April. But not, I'm sorry to say, anymore. Not since I read what I assume is an extract from the book which appeared in Nerve.com. The piece is about Sassy's 'Cute Band Alert' feature, and how the magazine promoted an alternative sort of heart throb. However, what sent me into a rage was the fact that the piece apparently takes it for granted that the only reason that any girl would listen to any sort of music was because she fancied the musicians. It also seems to assume that (a) teenage girls have no opinions of their own and need to be told who to fancy, (b) girls have no esoteric or weird interests of their own and so are always one step behind those snooty intellectual indie boys and (c) girls are always totally influenced by what boys like and can never discover music on their own. It also gives Sassy way too much credit in transforming girls' tastes...

All of these guys were cute, no doubt, but their lankiness and scuffed Chuck Taylors (not to mention moodiness or possible drug predilections) didn't exactly make for typical teen-heartthrob territory.

Yes, because the tormented arty boy was never a lust-object for teenage girls. Never! Until 1988. For God's sake!

There was just one problem. Indie bands were arguably aesthetically superior, but they were also, stereotypically, patently desexualized... By celebrating the neutered early-'90s indie rocker, did Sassy support its readers' pursuit of a futile sexual goal?

Huh? Okay, maybe it's just because when I was 17 I was listening to Brett Anderson singing 'Animal Nitrate', but I didn't even realise that the asexual indie boy was a real stereotype. You wouldn't have known it from the carry on at pretty much every indie disco I attended in my teens.

The magazine didn't focus entirely on worshipping the artistic male — though one wonders if at least some of the talk of starting a band was a sly way to get closer to boys in bands. It worked for Sassy staffer Jessica Vitkus, who met her husband while she was the bassist in the Sassy in-house band Chia Pet.

Die! Die! Yes, girls only start bands as part of a cunning ploy to snag cute boys. Fuck off. Seriously.

And former Sassy readers who came of age in the alternative-as-mainstream '90s are still hankering for the indie rock boy to this day — just look at the music coverage in women's magazines such as Jane, Bust and Nylon.

And this is one of the most offensive aspects of this piece. Whatever I may think of Jane, I don't for one minute think that its writers write about indie music just because they fancy indie boys. They write about the music because they like it. And that goes double for Bust (I don't read Nylon regularly, but I suspect it might be true for them too). I can't believe that supposed feminists - Meltzer has contributed regularly to Bitch - could produce something so littered with offensive sexist stereotypes. It doesn't even raise the question of whether these women and girls liked alternative music or not - it just takes it for granted that the actual music isn't important.

Also, here are just a few of my very favourite bands during my teen years (1988 to 1995, almost exactly coinciding with Sassy's run):

REM, The Pixies, Throwing Muses, The Stone Roses, Blur, PJ Harvey, Elastica, Juliana Hatfield, The Smiths, Teenage Fanclub, Bikini Kill, the Byrds, Dinosaur Jr, Belly, Chet Baker, The Beastie Boys, Huggy Bear, The Breeders, Saint Etienne, Suede, Primal Scream, Tim Buckley, My Bloody Valentine, Nick Drake, Liz Phair

I can safely say that although I definitely fancied a few individuals from the bands in that list, I certainly didn't listen to them because of their looks. I mean, really.

Kim France, now the editor-in-chief of Lucky, joined the staff in 1990; she was a big fan of rap, so the magazine started having more hip-hop coverage. No doubt she was influenced by her then-boyfriend, Charles Aaron, now an editor at Spin, who held a notoriously ambiguous gofer-type position as Staff Boy.

Yes, "no doubt" she was. Because it isn't physically possible for a woman to have her own strong taste in music; some clued-in bloke has to tell her what to like.

The writers make some good points about the magazine's coverage of hip hop (although I do remember an increased number of non-white writers finally making an appearance in the last couple of years). And there was an interesting article to be written about Sassy's promotion of alternative fanciable boys. But this trite and sexist piece of rubbish isn't it.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 29th, 2007 03:04 pm (UTC)
Oh, urgh. That extract made me grind my teeth in rage. Grrr!
Jan. 29th, 2007 03:07 pm (UTC)
I know! I'm so disapppointed, I really was looking forward to that book. Bah!
Jan. 29th, 2007 03:04 pm (UTC)
though one wonders if at least some of the talk of starting a band was a sly way to get closer to boys in bands


FFS. No, I had no musical opinions of my own, and used to make people mix tapes because I needed them to validate me and because the cool kids were doing it. Or something. And I've only been in bands for years because eeeeee, I might meet booooys! That's why I took all those music lessons!
Jan. 29th, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC)
It makes me cry. Um, I mean, unlike everything else at the moment :)

But, yes. Apparently female brains have their "hey, I like that music!" bit replaced with a "hey, I wanna snog that boy!" bit. Which doesn't really explain, apart from all the music lessons, straight women ever liking music by other women.

And, given the place that music holds in the mythology of teenage life - self-expression, autobiography, group identity - saying that for girls there's nothing to it other than boys boys boys is a pretty huge denial of teenage girls' inner lives, you know?
Jan. 29th, 2007 05:03 pm (UTC)
That's exactly why I loved Sassy when I found it when I was 16 - it always took it for granted that you were passionately interested in stuff - in ideas, in music, in books, in politics. And my friends and I all were really passionate about these things. That idea - that girls are only interested in boys - makes me really sad.
Jan. 29th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC)


No. There's no point, is there?

Jan. 29th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I find this whole thing utterly baffling. Did people ever really get into bands because of fancying the musicians? Perhaps I find it so odd because my musical tastes developed somewhat in isolation (Europhile kid in Sydney, getting Select Magazine several months out of date, borrowing cassettes of the bands that got good reviews from my local library and barely ever talking about it to anyone), but wow. Weird, and enraging.
Jan. 29th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
And here was me thinking that people fancied boys in bands because they liked their music.
Jan. 29th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)
God, what infuriating, condescending drivel. There's a much better book to be written about Sassy's importance and lasting influence.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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