“Said you don’t need my voice girl
you have your own”
Tori Amos; Bells For Her
I turned 11 in Seattle WA in 1993 with few strong female role models.
Super Models were a national obsession and I had magazine ads featuring Anna Nicole Smith and Helena Christianson pinned to my walls.
The scripted bevy of beauties that starred in Beverly Hills 90210 were frequently gracing teen magazine covers and Alicia Silverstone; who was then known only as “The Aerosmith Girl,” (Not to be confused with the eye candy known as The Noxema Girl,) was in heavy rotation on MTV, getting her mid-drift pierced to the bands lyrics. Music Industry staple, Cishet, Able bodied, white male artists like the aforementioned Aerosmith, Meatloaf, Sting and Rod Stewart continued to dominate the musical landscape while the Cishet, Able bodied, White Male Cock Rock, Heavy metal bands of the 80s evolved into Cishet, Able bodied, White Male Grunge bands of the 90s. Nirvana, Radiohead, Counting Crows, Blind Melon, Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam infiltrated MTV and The Billboard charts, taking up the bulk of space that has always centered White Male Artists.
The smattering of women represented in media at that time were the hard bodied, beautiful pop icons I had grown up with and who had undeniably broken down countless barriers during their tenure; Janet, Madonna, Mariah, Cher. Undeniably talented singers and performers who wrote or co-wrote many of their songs, which at that time still focused primarily on falling, staying and being in love- presumably with a man, which was of the time for a long time.
My body wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t in love and I wasn’t a cis male. I was a deeply insecure, suicidal little girl in a broken home during a decade of glaring, unapologetic sexism.
Puberty is an infamously difficult time, and in a void of guidance, support and answers, malleable adolescents saturated in pop culture assemble their own facsimiles of role models and world views.
To this day, I count among my fortunes the fact that I experienced puberty in a brief and glorious moment of women singers, songwriters, musicians and rappers rising briefly to the center of the social zeitgeist in unprecedented numbers.
These were women who were not always physically flawless, women who challenged love, religion, society and gender roles, women who did not seem to be contrived for the male gaze, who told stories in a multitude of unique and diverse voices, and whom sang words I clung to, studied and revered like gospel.
1993 marked the release of albums from:
Salt N Peppa
As 93 melded into 1994 and I sank deeper into the intimidating waters of puberty- Jr High School, raging hormones, unwanted sexual attention and competitive friendships,
Tim McGraw, Sound Garden, Stone Temple Pilots and The Offspring topped the charts and Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day and Tom Petty were in still hogging up screen time on MTV- which we all watched pre internet, but something else continued to happen under, in and through the white cishet male dominated mainstream and 1994 also brought the release of new albums from
Mary J Blige
Heavens To Betsey
Which brings us to 1995. The best ever possible year to be a 13 year old American girl and I will stand by that statement until I die.
In 1995 albums were released by:
Some of these bands, singers and albums stayed underground for decades and are only now gaining new life in retrospect, some were critically acclaimed but not popular, some were nominated for awards, many were extremely popular; topped the charts, were featured on Rolling Stone and other popular magazines of the day, and found their way to MTV and VH1. There were female lead singers of male bands, others were in all female bands. There were female solo artists, singers, rappers, musicians playing instruments. What there was, was representation, diversity, and presence. It was unprecedented, so many female voices communicating so many different perspectives all at once, many who were not dancing around in formulaic poses and fashions with washboard abs singing about desiring male desire or being helplessly in love or irrevocably heartbroken.
My 13 year old ears and eyes had an opportunity to hear different reactions to life and love and see different manifestations of beauty and sexuality layered with emotional, intelligent expressions of anger and grief when Mary J belted:
“You’re Not Worth My Tears!”
Liz Phair graveled;
“I’ll fuck you and your minions to.”
“I wanna smash the faces, of those beautiful boys”
“Tie yourself to me
No one else but me
You’re not rid of me”
“Another body laying cold in the gutter
Listen to me”
There were love songs, of course, but rather than being the centerpiece of these women’s repertoires, they were one of many flowers in stunning arrangements that encompassed the spectrum of human experiences from a woman’s point of view. The romances, like the artists, were not neatly packaged into nuclear family, white picket fence, catchy commercial jingles. They were products of nothing but lived experience. Relationships collapsed in spite of good intentions to the understated power of Melissa and Jewels acoustic guitars, Alanis sang about betrayal differently than Mary J sang about Betrayal and Courtney sang Fuck You differently than Alanis sang Fuck you. There were bare faces and heavily made up faces. Corin Tucker was 23 in 1995 and Kim Gordon was 42. It didn’t seem to matter, all that mattered was making music that not only told the personal truth of the artist, it confronted generations of lies about the female experience as a homogenous one to be calculatingly produced by men to be consumed by a target demographic called girls groomed to be consumed by boys.
Lilith Fair didn’t occur until 1997, a year after the male orchestrated and produced Spice Girls rebranded a cheap, watered down version of feminism into the commercially palatable “girl power” which led to droves of bottled blondes dancing on TRL to tightly choreographed pop numbers with even tighter abs.
I’m waiting for more women: Trans Women, Queer women, BIPOC Women, Women of all shapes and ages to storm the charts with priceless wisdom, genuine talent and unique voices to help teach us all, every gender, to listen to ourselves again.