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Jenn Pelly

Jenn Pelly is an associate editor at Pitchfork. Her writing has appeared in Spin, The Village Voice, Nylon, and Billboard and online at The New York Times and Rolling Stone. She is at work on her first book, a volume in the 33 1/3 series on The Raincoats' 1979 debut, to be published in the fall of 2016. A college radio enthusiast, she most recently hosted Crucial Chaos, the long-running hardcore show on WNYU 89.1 FM.

 “Girls Invented Punk Not England: Vocalizing Gender in 2016”
In 1976 the French feminist critic Hélène Cixous wrote “The Laugh of the Medusa,” in which she defined her concept of "l'écriture féminine." Cixous proposed the idea that women could write themselves and that they must; that their work would communicate something inextricably female. "Your body must be heard," Cixous said. "The new history is coming; it's not a dream, though it does extend beyond men's imagination."

Using "l'écriture féminine" as a framework for exploring vocalized gender, my paper investigates its potential in three cases: British post-punk band the Raincoats (also the subject of my in-process 33 1/3 book), Canadian pop provocateur Grimes, and Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna's late ’90s project the Julie Ruin. (Hanna mentioned the influence of Cixous at least once, in Punk Planet, surrounding Julie Ruin.)

Kim Gordon has said, "Women make natural anarchists and revolutionaries because they've always been second-class citizens, having to claw their way up"—is there then an inherent chaos at the heart of "l'écriture féminine"? It follows that Cixous wrote, "A feminine text cannot fail to be more than subversive. It is volcanic; as it is written it brings about an upheaval of the older property crust, carrier of masculine investments; there's no other way." 

Focusing on specific songs from each project, my paper will discuss instrumentation, modes of production, lyrics, and emotional tenor. I'll heavily work through the power of imperfection and oddity in female-presenting voices and what they mean. My paper ultimately questions what it means to vocalize gender at a time when long-held ideas about the gender binary are ostensibly breaking down before us. What has it meant for the past to "write the feminine," but more to the point, is the future of music androgynous? Or—as Miley Cyrus suggested on a shirt this year—is gender already over? 

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