Deconstructing Indie Martyrdom

There’s a totally important new essay by Kathleen Hanna on her blog about what sucked about the ’90s, and how actually young ladies today who romanticize the ’90s (hi, Alix!) shouldn’t feel like they missed out on any super awesome party.

Go immediately to her blog and read the whole thing, but here’s one line: “I would hate for a new generation of artists to get stuck in the ‘Martyr Artist vs. Fucker Businessman’ binary like I did.”

She talks about how so many progressive people in the ’90s felt like they were betraying their cause/art/selves if they every, God forbid, made any money or achieved any kind of mainstream success. Why, she wonders, did everyone self-limit like that?

It’s a good reminder of how for so many women trying to live responsible, progressive lives back then, the ’90s were so full of guilt. The way I remember it, there was shame attached to so many things: eating meat, having money, wearing new clothes, not recycling every scrap, etc., etc., etc.

A lot of the politics were about creating a community or saying the right things the right way, or making sure you left no footprint whatsoever: no trash, no offense, no blip on the capitalist radar. When I was a freshman in college, I gathered that we weren’t even supposed to pay for tampons, because we were supposed to barter our time in exchange for a Keeper at the women’s center.

I remember being tired a good deal in the ’90s. I thought it was just feminist rage, but now I wonder if it wasn’t anemia from the vegetarianism, exhaustion from all the volunteer work, and a pervasive sense of failure brought about by all the pressure not to succumb to the siren song of the mainstream with its shiny stores and four-figure paychecks.

Why were we so hard on ourselves and each other? Was that any way to take down the patriarchy?



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4 responses to “Deconstructing Indie Martyrdom

  1. ana australiana

    I am loving that Hanna piece!

    Am thinking though that guilt and martyrdom and all the other affects of self-policing (and, well, fundamentalism really!), were/are not confined to 90s-woman-dom… it seems to be a part of many feminist/activist/other journeys to live a life by particular (anti-capitalist) values and ideas; particularly at a certain age and particularly when attached to scenes, sub-cultures and other attempts to live life differently. I don’t get the guilts like I did when I was in a womyn’s action collective in 1996 but I think that’s got more to do with being 31 in 2011 than the nineties having ended, if you know what I mean.

  2. ana australiana

    Then again… there is/was a kind of moment in capitalism (and attempts to resist it) going on in the 90s Anglosphere wasn’t there? Something that Naomi Klein captured in 2000 in No Logo.

    Thankyou for the thought-space 🙂

  3. Joel

    The issue you describe here isn’t so much one limited to the nineties, but one of youthful idealism, methinks.

  4. Pingback: “You Don’t Finish a Book Without Closing a Door” |

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