Pretty in Punk: Girls' Gender Resistance in a Boys' Subculture

Article excerpt

Pretty in Punk: Girls' Gender Resistance in a Boys' Subculture. Lauraine Leblanc. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

Girls got it bad. Indeed, the historical girth of Western culture, as punk girl-cum-sociologist Lauraine Leblanc reminds us, lays heaped upon the foundations of a male-constructed and male-centered ideological framework. Women have always had to learn to negotiate the discourse of masculinity, and more often than not, accept their subordinated status with silent smiles. In her new book entitled Pretty in Punk, Leblanc replaces smiles with sneers and silence with screams, as she examines the ways in which female members of the punk subculture-adolescent girls in particular-attempt to resist the male-dominant cultural codes which permeate a punk way of being.

Combining sociological, subcultural, and feminist theory with ethnographic analysis, Leblanc argues that acts of resistance, which she defines as conscious political responses to perceived oppression, serve punk girls as tools of empowerment, bolstering selfesteem at a crucial point in girls' social development. Through strategies of stylistic innovation, parody, and bricolage, the punk subculture offers a terrain for the publicizing and questioning of dominant ideologies, including those of class, gender, and sexuality. But punk is a double-edged discourse for girls; as Leblanc argues, punk girls' resistance is often limited to and inflected by the masculine codes which characterize the subculture. Thus, while punk resistance serves girls as a strategy of empowerment, it is all too often reduced to a means of accommodation. Leblanc's intention in Pretty in Punk is to trace both the particularity and the tension of this double-movement.

There is much to commend in Pretty in Punk. Leblanc's presentation of the narratives of forty North American female punks is effective in allowing the girls and women to speak for themselves. She rightly points to the lack of scholarship addressing females in subcultural studies (the work of Angela McRobbie being a notable exception), pointing to researchers' continued reliance on traditional male-centered British subcultural theory. Leblanc provides a nice synoptic genealogy of punk in Chapter Two, laying the ground for her ethnographic analysis in the subsequent chapters. Most significantly, in her analysis she offers a nuanced and compelling explanation of punk girls' dialectic of resistance and accommodation. …