Are girls attracted to punk rockers
"It still makes me angry to this day that I belong to the lower class by gender."
SZ-Magazin: You were the guitarist of Slits, a girl-punk band. Back in the 1970s in London, they were more hostile than young punk bands. Why?
Viv Albertine: Back then there weren't many girls who played in punk bands. Above all, there was no all-girl punk band. We were special. And if you, as a woman, stick your head up too far, you will be shot. Or hated that at least. And the young punk bands weren't our friends, on the contrary. But we also looked for the argument. We were against everything that was happening in England at the time.
Did you want to be something special?
We wanted to be visible, so we dressed noticeably. We wanted to assert ourselves and be taken seriously. We knew this was a fight. If you say I'm a woman and I want this and that, when you go up against society, against its prejudices, then that's a clear declaration of war. It was a bit like a fairy tale, in which the parents perish and the children have to become special in order to survive.
And what did you do to survive?
We put ourselves in the shoes of those who set the tone. And I really learned that. As prey you have to be good at it: be better than the pursuers, faster, smarter. When I was young, I couldn't even walk down a street without seeing myself through the eyes of a potential pursuer. That shapes. You think like a pursuer and like the prey at the same time.
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How did you feel like you were prey?
You grow up seeing women through the eyes of men. It was always the men who decided who was beautiful. And we women have adopted this judgment. My daughter thinks it is terrible when I comment on the looks of other women, in front of the TV or on the street. She says it's bad behavior. But that's how I grew up: with men who rated every woman who walked past them, too fat, too thin, not enough breasts, no waist, short legs, why is she wearing leggings?
When the Slits were photographed with bare, mud-smeared breasts for a record cover in 1979, they even had feminists against them.
You didn't understand. Sometimes you don't get understood until fifty years later. We were infected by tribal music back then. We bought imports from a special record store and because we were such outsiders we felt like our own tribe. Then this photographer came and showed us photos from Africa, and everything turned out that way.
Was it a release?
No. We got our bodies back.
Isn't that a liberation?
That’s more. It is an action. We wanted to say, very loudly, that there is nothing wrong with being naked, but that it is wrong for women's nudity to be used to sell cars. That's why the war paint. We felt like warriors.
Do you still feel like a warrior?
Yes. Always. Is not easy. It's lonely But it's worth it. At the time I found it unbearable to belong to the lower class of society by gender, and that still infuriates me to this day.
"I would rather have been indoctrinated into a rebel than a sweet wife left for a younger, even sweeter wife"
Your first book was published four years ago A Typical Girl, it's about your time with the slits. In it you write that when you were young you wanted to be like the boys, like Marc Bolan from T. Rex, like Mick Jones from The Clash.
I liked being a girl, but I wanted her life, her possibilities, her meaning. It was really in my teenage years and later in my twenties that men wouldn't look at me while they were talking. They didn't even notice that I was there too. That upset me. My mother raised me to be too proud to endure these injustices.
In your second book To Throw Away Unopened, which has only appeared in English so far, is about your mother. You write that you could never become anything but an outsider. Why do you think so?
If you've been raised to be a soldier, can you ever stop being one? I was raised to be a soldier. My mother waged a war against patriarchy. She hated men. I don't hate her. But I am indoctrinated. I would have to be reprogrammed, only then would I be rid of myself. I was sixty years old when my mother died. In other words, I went through this program from an early age until the age of sixty, and it runs deep. But I don't want it any other way.
They say you have been indoctrinated. You could blame your mother for that too.
I didn't realize how indoctrinated I was until I read her diary, until after her death.
Reading your mother's diary inspired your second book. It was a separation diary. Your father ran one too, and while reading you understood not only your mother, but suddenly your father as well.
I lived with my mother. Of course, I showed solidarity with her and rejected my father. But my mother wasn't always fair to my father. At one point she was totally against men. She was against everything. When she read a book, she disagreed with the others. When she saw the news, she disagreed. That was incredibly exhausting, she was also critical and tough towards me. But when I look back, my mother made it possible for me with her own way to lead an interesting life and to create good living conditions for me. In fact, she made it possible for me to be a writer.
Isn't it in the nature of indoctrination that one also likes how one has been indoctrinated?
Every mother indoctrinates her daughter. Everyone indoctrinates other people. But I can tell you, I'd rather be indoctrinated into a rebel than a cute wife abandoned for a younger, sweeter wife.
You were criticized by a critic for not being nice as the main character in your new book. That nobody in your book is nice at all.
It scared myself myself to write a book where I'm not a nice person. When I was halfway through the book, I wrote to Eimear McBride, a young Irish writer, look, I'm really worried, I'm showing off my worst qualities, I'm not even trying to be a nice person. She wrote back, great, it's time for women to stop pretending to be who men want them to be! We need to tell men and society the truth about what it's like to be a woman. It's not smiling, flirting, agreeing. Nor is it fake smile, which many women do.
Have you ever been such a woman?
For decades, I've smiled when I walked into a room. But now I'm older and braver. I feel like I have nothing left to lose. I have no more family, except for my daughter, who will forgive me for this. I don't have a husband, I'm solvent, I don't need anyone to say yes or no or you're too old, unfortunately. I am in a very privileged situation, I know that. Most women writers care what their husbands say about their work, what their fathers say, what their mothers say. They want to please others and not be the selfish ass you have to be to make true, honest, brave art. It's the only form of art that matters. But women weren't taught to be like that.
Do you think that men just want to see women like that? Nice, sweet, smiling all the time?
Men have never been taught anything other than wanting power, and that is only at the expense of women. When women are honest and no longer allow themselves to be suppressed, men fear losing power. And they have held power to themselves for so long that it makes sense that they want to keep it. Anyone who is afraid of losing something is fearful. On the other hand, those who feel safe are generous.
Don't you think that most young men are more relaxed these days?
You still come to a world where power once belonged only to your gender. You have it in your blood. It won't go away that quickly. Just think of the MeToo debate. It's so easy to call women crazy and blame them for going too far. Those who have made public that they have been sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein have been discredited and devalued.
Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, received death threats.
And she was not believed. When a woman of color says that she has been discriminated against because of her race, I believe her. I'm not trying to tell her: You got that down the wrong way, or: Don't overdo it now. But that's what men do with women who say they didn't like the way they were treated. If a woman of color tells me that she only reads the books of other women of color, I understand that. She always read the books of white men in school. I also stop reading men's books. I know how men think. I can think like you. I can see with their eyes. This is what male-dominated society taught me.
In earnest? Don't you read men's books?
Why should I? Men don't read women's books either. We women were raised to be interested in the world of men. It is not the other way around. I do not feel like it anymore. I find our white culture so incredibly boring. It is dominated by white, middle-class men. In the sixties and seventies it wasn't that bad, then the working class still had a voice, also artistically. Today any band or artist in England is middle class. How should something exciting come about from this? Only the women are exciting right now. There are books that are punk.
In your current book, you write that you would never have become punk if your parents hadn't separated and your father had stayed home.
Of course. A patriarch at home would have changed everything. I was not allowed to do many things. By the way, all band members of the Slits grew up without fathers. I think we wouldn't have become a band or punks if we'd grown up with our fathers. But I didn't understand that until I was writing the book. I remembered my mother encouraging me to dress wildly because she couldn't do it herself. And that wouldn't have happened if my father had been there.
Your mother sounds strong. Why couldn't she dress herself wildly?
The American feminist Gloria Steinem wrote that we should live the unlived life of our mother. Mothers always want that, but my mother's generation especially. During the war, these women got an idea of what it meant to work, to be independent and to have a responsibility outside of one's own four walls. But then the government decided you should all go home and take care of yourself, because the men are coming back and need the jobs you have now. That hit these women very badly. They wanted a different life for their daughters. It is you who endowed us with our feminist consciousness.
Did your mother feel lonely?
No. She loved being alone. She had been handed over to her husband by her father. It had been her father's property and then her husband's property. She couldn't believe how good her life was to her when she lived alone in her apartment. She enjoyed her self-determination, with just enough pension. My mother has been single since she was 46. Back then, of course, it seemed old to me, but now I think how young she was.
Has she never been with a man again?
No. She kept asking me in amazement why in God's name I wanted a husband. As if I wanted to eat even though I was sick. To her, a man was synonymous with being chained. And she was right. That's what I've found out in the past eight years that I've been single myself.
Do you feel lonely?
Yes, but it's not loneliness without a man. It is a loneliness that lies in our culture. I felt just as lonely during my marriage. If I were married now, I would continue to feel lonely. I don't feel lonely because I'm single, but because I'm an outsider. I could find a man tomorrow. I know a lot of people in London, I could go out every night and never have to be alone. The loneliness is in me, in my way. Incidentally, I couldn't think of anything worse than living in a relationship at the moment.
But in the book you still write about dates.
I couldn't take it. I don't even think it's in our nature to be in a relationship anymore. I think it's totally backward looking. And it scares me that people are scared when I talk like that. The relationship is a construct. But everyone is doing everything in their power to find their happiness in this construct, because society shows us that we want to live in this construct and only in this construct.
“It was under Thatcher that I first noticed that people acted differently. The cool, calculating psychopath became successful "
What's wrong with this construct?
If you've lived together as a couple for forty or fifty years, you have to make an infinite number of compromises, you have to learn to put aside your desires and needs, you have to learn to let yourself be small. In a hundred years, people will wonder what we were thinking. You will think what idiots who made their islets and tried to keep anything from them that could be dangerous to them.
Some people get very good relationships without being belittled. Especially younger people.
I think they're still too customized. Most people shy away from the risk. They start their small families as society dictates.
Speaking of one of your last dates, in the book you name the man Richard. You wanted it to work again.
Our society puts a lot of pressure on each of us to find someone. Women in the western world fear nothing more than being alone. They try incredibly hard and bend over to conform to a male partner. And so was the date. I thought I didn't give a damn about his rudeness, his rudeness, his laziness. I'll finish it I can take everything he expects me to do. My only chance is that he has no idea how angry I am. I make him want me. And then not wanting him.
The old game.
It was a game, yeah. I pretended I was having a great evening with him. I smiled, I laughed, I picked him up and drove home, and the next day I blocked him. I'm not proud of it at all, I just didn't want to go out there hurt. If I had complained on the date, I would have sounded emotional, like a psycho aunt, oh God. He sure would have made me feel guilty in the end. I already know that. Narcissists and psychopaths are masters at this.
Do you think it is sometimes better not to show your anger but to smile at it?
That's what people do in the business world, in the media, it's the norm, but I noticed it way too late: not until the 1980s, when capitalism took over England. We hadn't been a capitalist society before. In England the community was important, the reputation, the family. That changed under Thatcher. It was then that I noticed for the first time that people behaved differently. Above all, I noticed that the cool, calculating psychopath was successful, he had money, an interesting job, a nice life partner. I couldn't believe it, for me it was a perpetrator profile.
You write that you have never been taught to forget and to forgive. Would you like to change that?
No. I cannot forget and forgive. For this book, I've gone back in history to my grandmother, and I've found that anger in every generation. I'm not just angry for being like that. It takes a long history of patriarchy to create an angry woman like me.
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