Full of Fire
Taking a Knife to sexism
By Abby Johnston, 5:15PM, Thu. Apr. 25
Perhaps it was the end of a seven-year itch without politically charged Swedish electro duo the Knife that prompted a string of action. Its fourth album, Shaking the Habitual, still has critics scratching their heads. Was its deep read of equity by many outlets a grand PR hoax or is it actually an important work of feminist art?
The idea of feminism and gender equality returning to vogue strikes me as a bewildering charge almost exclusively perpetuated by men. It seems like a snotty jab, harkening back to the fashion magazines us women folk like so much. It reduces an identity and lifestyle to a fad – polka-dot ideology!
Feminism isn’t something you leave at the back of a closet or box up for Goodwill. And if it took the Knife releasing a damned fine album to make people sit and realize that, well then welcome to the real world. Unfortunately, our tastemaker friends over at LA Weekly didn’t pick up on one of the season’s hottest issues.
Maybe it was a bad peyote trip in the desert that led to their catastrophic decision, but last week the pub’s blog posted “The Hottest Dancing Girls at Coachella, as GIFs,” co-authored by music editor Ben Westhoff. The title speaks for itself, of course, reinforcing something my gender’s dealt with since at least the first British Invasion if not before – music journalism as a boy’s club.
To my surprise, then, self-identified feminist Daniel Ralston led a tweeted march protesting the piece this week. Producer/editor of the Low Times podcast, Ralston took to his personal Twitter account and the podcast’s blog to call out Westhoff and get him to answer for his decisions. Hashtag #RalstonWesthoffdebate littered my newsfeed, and while the sexist defendant never showed for court, Ralston managed to create enough stir to infiltrate my Austin circles from his home in Brooklyn.
“It’s easy to say that click baiting is just what the industry is right now, but who other than people like [Westhoff] are determining culture?” wondered Ralston by phone as he took a break from his directorial debut, a music video for punk quartet the So So Glos. “I don’t think [LA Weekly] will post anything like that again, but if they do, you can bet they will hear about it from me and the hundreds of others that wrote to them this week.”
Our conversation quickly turned to Canadian producer and performer Claire Boucher, known to the music world as Grimes. On Tuesday night she took to Tumblr with an entreaty to end sexism once and for all:
i dont want my words to be taken out of context.
i dont want to be infantilized because i refuse to be sexualized.
i dont want to be molested at shows or on the street by people who perceive me as an object that exists for their personal satisfaction.
When I spoke to Boucher last October, she commented on the challenges of women in music production, but seemed hesitant to use the word “feminism.” Now it seems she’s joined us in the trenches.
“It’s sad that this is news,” Ralston says about the whole affair. “Sometimes other women, but guys in particular don’t understand the standards put forward by men and the effect they have.”
He at least demonstrates the understanding that many well-intentioned men lack – that being a man comes with certain privileges. He stopped me before we ended our phone call.
“I just wanted to say it’s sad that when women say the things I said she might be dismissed as hysterical. I hope that can start to change.”
The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson doesn’t go in for hysterics. In fact, Shaking the Habitual finds her emerging from previously pitched-down vocals that masked her gender with a cool, Scandinavian understatement. Nevertheless, alongside her brother, she’s now proclaiming a feminist message loud and clear (“Full of Fire”).
Most importantly, she’s doing it as a woman.