Before I had studied feminist theory or read much women's history, Jean Smith's song lyrics were one of the main sources for feminist analysis in my life. I first saw Mecca Normal when I was about 16 years old, it was 1986. They were in Olympia as a part of The Black Wedge tour, which was a group of anarchist writers and musicians traveling down the coast in DOA's old school bus. Jean's songs and voice spoke directly to my experience as a female. When you suddenly find yourself a teenage girl, the double standards imposed on you are unacknowledged yet psychologically devastating. Not only are you dealing with overt sexism, which is a little easier to understand and address, but also the insidious cattiness between girlfriends, the subtle monitoring of your body/sexuality by boys/men and then there's your own self-sabotage and competition towards other girls/women or what feminist theorists called "internalized oppression".
As I was slowly piecing together all of this, without a language to view it as systemic, in comes Mecca Normal, with their stories about women living under patriarchy. They provided a way for me to view my own personal experience of female adolescence as political. Even more amazing, 26 years later, they are still working artists and their work has consistently done this kind of thing--they use storytelling, sound, light, texture and image to examine the world politically. In doing so, they help us locate our own experience in terms of power. This kind of political art creates space for resistance.
For example, Bikini Kill was heavily influenced and inspired by Mecca Normal. We wanted to create a feminist youth culture so that girls could resist. But in order to even have the idea that maybe we could change things, we needed a political analysis of how capitalism and patriarchy impacted our lives as young women. Mecca Normal helped us see that and actively encouraged us to find our own voice and participate. Please check out their music and art if you aren't familiar with it.
Illustration by David Lester
"Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 26-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith."
A picture of me and my friend Heidi, 1985.