Not Bad for a Girl

Friday October 18, 1996

     As feminism lurches into the 21st century, it seems a good time to take stock of where 40 years of protest have gotten us; if "Not Bad for a Girl" is any indication, things are not looking good.
     The film, a documentary on female rock bands opening today for a one-week run at the Nuart, was produced, written and directed by psychotherapist Lisa Rose Apramian. It features L7, Hole, Babes in Toyland and Lunachicks. One assumes this wasn't Apramian's intention, but "Not Bad" suggests that in rejecting demeaning female archetypes, women have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
     With the exception of Courtney Love and Babes in Toyland vocalist Kat Bjelland (both of whom favor "kinderwhore" fashion, a style also known as the slutty schoolgirl look), most women in "Not Bad" have taken on the worst aspects of male behavior. They dress like men, have the smoking, drinking, swearing and drugging habits, the hard-boiled attitude toward sex and the humongous egos of the most obnoxious male rock stars.
     Since the early '70s when Suzi Quatro and the Runaways proved chicks could rock as hard as dudes, the media have periodically announced the arrival of "the new breed of women rockers." (Obviously, this sort of contextualization only perpetuates the ghettoization of female musicians, but that's another story.) Each wave has produced a few strong voices, but the real bumper crop for women was the alternative scene of the '70s.
     The Slits, Chrissie Hynde, the Bush Tetras, Patti Smith, Exene Cervenka, Laurie Anderson, the Delta 5, Poly Styrene, Kim Gordon and Lydia Lunch all held their own in the male bastion of rock without resorting to imitating men, and said interesting things in musically original ways. The music showcased in "Not Bad," on the other hand, is mostly derivative speed metal that places a high premium on the whipping around of one's hair onstage--and yes, the girls do it as well as Ted Nugent did.
     Woven into segments of performance footage are interview snippets that find one girl bragging about beating a guy up on the subway, another displaying her arsenal of weapons, another complaining because she can't walk around shirtless like guys can and another announcing with pride that she has no mothering instincts whatsoever. The leitmotif of all this chat is male-bashing; apparently it never occurred to the filmmaker or her subjects that power based on the belittling of others isn't real power at all. As women, they should know this.

Not Bad for a Girl, 1996. Unrated. A Spitshine Production. Produced, written and directed by Lisa Rose Apramian. Executive producer Tina Silvey. Camera (color), Kyle C. Kyle, Apramian. Edited by Kyle C. Kyle. Running time: 88 minutes.

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