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by Lauraine Leblanc
Rutgers University Press, 1999
Review by Fiona Nelson on May 10th 2002
Lauraine Leblancs Pretty in Punk: Girls Gender Resistance in a Boys Subculture
(Rutgers University Press, 1999) is an exemplary piece of sociological
research. Her empirical examination (40
punk girls interviewed in Atlanta, Montreal, New Orleans and San Francisco), is
grounded in a wide-ranging theoretical discussion that draws on a number of
literatures. By analyzing girls
subcultural involvements and, in particular, how girls negotiate and construct
gender in that subcultural context, Leblanc has made a much-needed contribution
to the existing fields of subcultural and gender studies. This book is not, however, just for
academics; it would be completely accessible to parents, youth workers, punk
girls themselves and other interested readers.
As a well-written and truly engaging narrative, this book is one of the
finest examples of cross-over
(between academic and public audiences) literature that I have encountered.
the basic premise of her research:
gender is problematic for punk girls in a way
that it is not for punk guys, because punk girls must accommodate female gender
within subcultural identities that are deliberately coded as male. How do they negotiate between these
seemingly conflicting sets of norms? (8)
She explains that the recent spate of studies examining the drop in
self-esteem experienced by adolescent girls tend to portray girls as passive
recipients, victims even, of their gender socialization but that, as punk girls
so clearly demonstrate, girls are much more active in negotiating their lived
expressions of gender. Furthermore, such resistance/negotiation can be associated
with stronger self-esteem. She
elucidates a theoretical model of resistance which will underpin much of her
later discussions and argues that
by joining male-dominated youth subcultures,
girls construct forms of resistance to the dominant cultural models of
femininity, and they do so at a critical time in their development
. What we
can learn from their struggles are the costs and rewards of struggling against
discussing her research findings, Leblanc offers an in-depth overview of the
historical manifestations of punk and an introduction to punk vernacular,
customs, symbols, mores, and codes of dress and body adornment. In combination with the punk glossary in the
appendix, this chapter offers an essential corrective to the usually partial,
obscured and demonized representations of the punk subculture that are common
in the mass media.
Leblanc goes on to examine the routes by
which girls enter the punk subculture. Despite the fact that many of the girls
use family metaphors to describe the punk community, the punk subculture
remains male-dominated and girls have to struggle daily to negotiate a place
within it. Leblanc finds that although punk offers girls a way of rebelling
against mainstream constructions of femininity, they must conform to punk guys
subcultural, contradictory, and heterosexist constructions of femininity if
they want to remain in the group and benefit from the guys protection.
This points to some of
the gender complexities girls face in the punk subculture. Leblanc coins the
term trebled reflexivity to describe the tactics used by punk girls to
challenge the norms of the dominant culture, as well as the feminine norms of
both culture and subculture (160). She
ultimately argues that punk girls are changing the faces of femininity
(165). No doubt this is true, and
Leblancs discussion is enlightening. I
would, however, have liked to see some discussion of the Riot Grrrl movement,
spawned by punk, which has brought some of these changed faces of femininity
into more widely mediated music venues and has permeated some significant
aspects of popular culture. I would
argue, in fact, that Xena, and other kick ass female protagonists in film and
TV, are the inheritors, and manifestation, (albeit packaged and sold for
capitalistic purposes) of the very gender disruption and resistance in which
punk girls are, and have been, engaged.
Leblanc also explores
the sorts of harassment that punks are subjected to. These include the
exclusion, exploitation and evaluative behaviour that both the punk girls and
the guys experience on a daily basis.
This discussion is well situated within an overview of critical and
interactional theories of deviance. She
also examines a type of harassment that only the punk girls experience, sexual
harassment in public. Built on the
foundation of a discussion of legal and theoretical approaches to sexual
harassment in semi-public places (such as work or school), this is a sobering
insight into the sexual harassment punk girls experience (by the general
public, by other street-living males and by male punks) and the strategies of
resistance they develop in the face of it.
In her final chapter,
Leblanc offers notes to a number of different populations who might be
reading this book. These include
subcultural theorists, socialization theorists, feminist researchers, parents
and youth authorities, and punk girls. This book would definitely be of
tremendous value to any of these groups.
In addition, it would be completely appropriate in a Womens Studies
class, a Gender Studies class, a Youth Culture class or a Sociology of Deviance
class. It should be required reading
for anyone who works with youth, especially street youth. Leblanc succeeds in
explaining the complex challenges involved in negotiating punk femininity and
thus in offering insight into the gender pressures and expectations that are
placed on all girls and women and on the ways in which girls and women can and
do negotiate, resist and transform those expectations.
© 2002 Fiona Nelson
Nelson is Assistant Professor and incoming Program Director of Womens
Studies at the University of Calgary.
Her areas of research and teaching include family studies, gender
studies, gender in popular culture, lesbian motherhood, the (sub)culture of
motherhood, womens identities, and sexual identities.