Friday, June 04, 2010

Sex & power in Guyville (by Suzie)

Last week, Anthony mentioned the recent rerelease of "Exile on Main St.," and I got thinking of my love for the Rolling Stones. In junior high, I remember sitting at the little table in our trailer, playing "Angie" over and over so that I could copy down the lyrics. I wrote (really bad) poetry then, and I was on a mission to prove that rock 'n roll lyrics could be poetry, too.

I've written before about my trip from Little Rock to New Orleans to hear the Stones. What I didn't mention was my crush on an older copy editor who finally agreed to have sex with me if I stopped acting so obsequious. Cat hair covered his place, and I'm allergic to cats. The first time, I was delirious with lust and allergens. I told him I'd do anything to have him again. (All he wanted was for me to calm down.)

I was in my early 20s, and sex was intoxicating. Later, I felt the power that I could have over (some) men with my sexuality. I knew that power was evanescent, but at times, I still thought of myself as bad Little Suzie, the Queen of the Underground (from the Stones song above, covered by the Cowboy Junkies. I love Margo Timmins' voice.), except that Little Suzie doesn't come off so well in the song; I didn't do drugs; and I always associated it with Queen of the Underworld, even though I know the meanings for underground. Oh, well, it's better than guys singing "Susie Q" or "Wake up, Little Susie" to me.

On my 31st birthday, in Athens, the man I lived with had my present in his pocket. I thought it might be a ring, but no, it was tickets to the Stones. That decade I decided that, as a feminist, I could not love some Stones songs while ignoring ones like "Under My Thumb" or "Some Girls."

In 1993, Liz Phair came out with "Exile in Guyville," her response to the Stones' "Exile on Main St." as well as the male-dominated indie crowd in Chicago. She wrote the songs when she was 21-23, according to IMDB. I was older. I wasn't in that place anymore. But I loved her attitude. The album became a classic for me in a way that the Stones could never be. A sample from her "Help me, Mary":
I lock my door at night
I keep my mouth shut tight
I practice all my moves
I memorize their stupid rules

I make myself their friend
I'll show them just how far I can bend
As they egg me on and keep me mad
They play me like a pit bull in a basement, and for that...

I'm asking you, Mary, please
Temper my hatred with peace
Weave my disgust into fame
And watch how fast they run to the flame
ATO reissued "Guyville" in 2008, along with a video that interviews men from the Chicago music scene -- Guyville in the flesh. It reminds me of Phair's "Never Said," whose silly video I've included below.

Phair has done stuff that I dislike, but I agree with S.M. Berg, who wrote a great piece on her in 2005. It concludes:
I believe that Phair, like many women, cut the best deal with patriarchy a talented, attractive woman can make, and she shouldn't be cast off as a sexed-up sellout any more than other women forced to navigate the choppy, pornified currents of our time.
In an interview in Women's Health, Phair talked of being a feminist.
I'm known for being annoyingly gender-focused. It's always been my platform. I can't quite get over it. In my teens and even younger I felt like a sexual object. That was upsetting. In my 20s I said, "I'm going to take control of this. I'm going to define my own sexuality and push it on everyone else." That lasted until I became more mature and stopped needing to do that. I've done plenty of stuff that people wouldn't call feminist. I've used my sexuality to get what I wanted. But there's no reason to incriminate or attack. Women's bodies are used to sell anything and everything because it works, it grabs people's attention, and advertisers aren't going to stop using something that works. I just try to think about it, to realize when it's happening around me and when I'm involved in it myself.