Girls and subcultures
Writer: Lee Lian Kong
Published: Fri, 27 May 2011
Don’t accept the old order. Get rid of it.So says Johnny Rotten, vocalist of the Sex Pistols. That’s what subcultures are all about: rejection of mainstream society, whether in the form of music, fashion, visual arts, dance, literature, films, etc. A subculture’s intention is to differentiate itself.
Ironically, while Rotten denounces the old order, subcultures are sucked into the gender “norm”. Most major subcultures are male-centric and have male origins. Female-dominated subcultures exist but are few and far between, though this is quickly changing.
Mohd Ikmal, 23, a hip-hop enthusiast, attributes this to the “headstart” men have “due to the restrictions imposed on females in the past”. Therefore, “it is more likely for a male to have originated hip-hop,” he says. It follows that since most cultures were dominated by males for a long time, “it is only natural that most subcultures are initiated by males”.
That said, it is a common sight to see hip-hop girls. In fact, their numbers can rival those of hip-hop boys. The same can be said of other major subcultures such as punk, hipsters, rock, bohemian and anime.
“A woman did not start punk. She could have, but she did not,” according to Yench, 21, a law student. “Men did. Or men popularised it. Like any other revolution: a group of disenchanted, angsty young men.”
He believes the root of subcultures is the need for expression, be it by smashing guitars or smoking weed and listening to Miles Davis. “Men were more likely to express these then.”
Gabrielle Chong, 23, a Malaysian student at Wellesley College, disagrees. She reasons that this perception of males being more dominant, or creators of these subcultures, is due to males having a more overt nature.
She cites queer subculture: “Gay males are more visible than gay females, even though a larger percentage of females are bisexual, simply because women tend to be less promiscuous”.
Participation may be even, but they are nevertheless still different. For women, there is an added criteria to participate. To enter a male-dominated subculture involves manouvering a complex, set of norms i.e. being “one of the guys” versus retaining their feminity. A girl racer might have the attitude, style of dress and language of counterpart male drivers, but would perhaps modify her car to reflect her feminine side.
So, why the need to be “one of the boys” in subcultures participated by both genders? One can go with Yench’s vulgar euphemism: “Women still have that biological need to get married and have babies so they don’t act all different, while men do whatever they want because they have penises.”
Ikmal believes women in hip-hop feel no need to emulate men. They are not trying to be like men, they are simply different.
Gabrielle gives another example of the gaming subculture. “More girls play Farmville, and more guys play Grand Theft Auto, [yet] both genres are socially significant in terms of participant numbers, industry size, and so on.”
Origins, dominance, dynamics. There is much literature discussing women’s roles in subcultures. This can be seen as too simplistic. Dr Ong Kian Ming, a political scientist, reasons this by giving the example of more “out” and queer activists who disagree on gay marriages.
The question is not only about gender, but also society’s limitation of the number of gender and number of persons in a relationship. “Advocates of gay marriages marry queer people. There are others who choose other arrangements. It can be a committed relationship involving more than two people, or a three-men-and-a-baby kind of a thing.”
Distinctions remain between the traditional “male” and “female” roles in subcultures; the cacophony of factors involving these will exist, at least for now. Ikmal states: “Regardless of which gender initiated it or how big the majority of the people in the subculture are of a specific gender, the more important issue is what the subculture is about and whether it appeals to a certain individual.”
In a constantly evolving society, subcultures are a permanent fixture. There will always be rebels, be it a boy or a girl or whoever you are within the 3D polygon of sexuality. At the end of the day, the discourse on subcultures is not about gender. It’s about individualism – that is, the individual, you, against mainstream society.