What makes a true fan? Is it some amalgam of obsession, esoteric knowledge, and fervor? Is it a legion of well-fastened pins on your jacket, a box of first editions, or a closet full of requisite merch? For a gravely mistaken group, it means not being a woman.
Meredith Graves, lead singer and brainchild behind the hardcore band Perfect Pussy, stunned the crowd at Basilica Soundscape Festival this weekend with a sharp spoken-word piece about the double standards surrounding fandom and perception in music and culture. Taking on her own breakout into the hardcore scene, Graves explains the ridiculously high barrier to entry women face in any given fandom and art (published in full in The Talkhouse):
Women are called upon every day to prove our right to participate in music on the basis of our authenticity — or perceived lack thereof. Our credentials are constantly being checked — you say you like a band you’ve only heard a couple of times? Prepare to answer which guitarist played on a specific record and what year he left the band. But don’t admit you haven’t heard them, either, because they’ll accuse you of only saying you like that genre to look cool.
Call it the burden of proof or the man’s right to fandom, but any woman who has ever been questioned for her T-Rex t-shirt or Black Flag tat can attest to the unreasonable level of scrutiny female fans of anything are held to. With innumerable accusations that “geek girls” are faking it, that booth babes are a detriment to fandom, and the downright dismissal of the fact that some of the most recent highest-grossing films sold to 60% female audiences, it would seem the clubhouse is too damn high. Cultural appreciation soon becomes a padlocked litmus test. Graves continues:
Then they’ll ask you if you’ve ever heard of about five more bands, just to prove that you really know nothing. This happens so often that it feels like dudes meet in secret to work on a regimented series of tests they can use to determine whether or not we deserve to be here. The “fake geek girl” test is one, door guys stopping female musicians carrying gear to make sure they’re actually in the band and not just somebody’s girlfriend is another. Big rock magazines that interview male musicians about gear and female musicians about sexual harassment — that’s up there too.
In a recent video for the What’s Underneath Project, Graves tells of a recent Dallas performance where she had on “un-punk shorts,” according to one reporter. In his write-up of the show, he “devoted one paragraph to my politics but three to my appearance,” Graves explains. She describes a story that many women have lived, of someone not believing them to be authentic in their pursuit based purely on the way they present themselves.
That verification test translates to female identity and public artistry, Graves thinks. In fact, it’s the same cultural narrative surrounding two musical performers and their artifice that really gets to her. Andrew W.K. and Lana del Rey — who both have a persona, who have both profited off the stage identity of someone who is a make-upped, managed, and packaged version of themselves, have dealt with a wildly different public perception (even in this publication, might I add). For Lana del Rey, it’s her artificial veneer, for Andrew W.K., it’s his acclaimed, philosophical party boy mystique. Both are creations, but as Graves argues, society only finds one palatable:
After a month of thinking about the bizarre truth inherent here — that real women with fake names are somehow considered exponentially less authentic than completely fake men harboring a real, hidden sadness — I’ve come to one conclusion; that the cult of personality surrounding artists exists because of an unfeeling world that loves nothing more than breaking sensitive, talented people. The oppressive systems that surround us have forced us to assume personas like castles have moats — they can’t protect you forever but they might work for a little while to keep the bad guys from coming in. That’s not safe or good for human hearts, regardless of their respective privileges in regard to class or gender.
Lana del Rey, like Nicki Minaj, Lorde, and Lady Gaga inhabit this odd paradox: men want the artificiality of beauty everywhere except in the public female artist. While Graves herself might find “I feel weird about eating these days or leaving the house, or existing in a material form at all, because having a body that talks too much and sweats and makes mistakes is exhausting,” her clarity comes at a crucial time when Beyonce’s Instagram photos are being scrutinized for possible Photoshopping and noted feminist culture critics are harassed for existing. Perhaps, as Meredith Graves suggest, part of that grasp for the seemingly “inauthentic” in female fans and female artists alike is not only self-protection, it’s fun.