It's something no punk feminist woman likes admitting: Aggressive music is a man's world. Sure, there are role models—like Kathleen Hanna of riot grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill or proto-punk songwriter Patti Smith—but they're famous more for being female in a male-filled subculture than for the music they play.
The organizers of B.A.B.E (Breaking Assumptions and Barriers for Equality) Fest—Korinna Irwin, Melissa White and Katherine Krajnak—are challenging that notion. Starting Friday, they'll host three days of gender equality workshops and ultra-punk house shows. This isn't Sleater-Kinney-inspired girl rock; it's thrashy, sped-up, beating-the-shit-out-of-your-drum-kit punk and metal. And according to White, 27, there are plenty of women who'd take grindcore over riot grrrl any day.
"I grew up listening to Bikini Kill and all that," says White, who works at a bank when she's not playing in one of four bands. "But as years went by, I wanted to listen to women who technically can play really complicated stuff, not just three-chord simplified stuff." Krajnak, White's roommate in a Northeast Portland all-girl punk house, adds, "We are trying to hit these different aspects of the scene where women are generally under-represented," a problem B.A.B.E. Fest's organizers blame society for enabling and supporting.
"You would believe—because there's a lot of radical politics in the [punk] community—it would go along with understanding racism, classism and sexism and that sort of thing," says Irwin, 25. "But punk scenes are pretty much the same as mainstream society." Whenever Irwin, a women's studies major in college, hosts house shows, band members walk right past her and thank the nearest guy for putting on the show. Likewise, White's been refused hand-stamps by bouncers who believed she wasn't actually in the band, just "fucking a guy who was."
When asked if women would be more accepted by thrash-metal fans and crust punks if they just acted like dudes, Irwin scoffs. Originally from a small town in Northern California, she admits punk was the only alternative to "being really cute." But she also claims, "I've never really looked punk. I've always been kind of feminine in this tough, scrappy kind of way."
But B.A.B.E Fest's attitude toward femininity is similar to that of Babes in Toyland's Kat Bjelland or Courtney Love. It's the kinderwhore aesthetic—wearing frilly dresses and Hello Kitty accessories in order to challenge traditional ideas of prom queen femininity, instead of accepting that the prom queen can be a feminist, too.
An urban planner and member of a grindcore band, 29-year-old Krajnak (who says she's "been challenged in the scene" for her profession) still hopes that all women—prom queens included—would feel comfortable at B.A.B.E Fest. "If at least one or two people could say, 'I'm really glad you did that workshop because I never really thought about that issue in that kind of way,'" explains Krajnak, "I'd feel satisfied."