Marisa Meltzer is the author of Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music and the co-author of How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time. She is a contributor at Slate and the Daily Beast, where she reviews books and movies, and writes about gender in popular culture.
Girl Power, which Courtney posted about a few months ago, is about the evolution of the feminist message in music during the era when Meltzer was coming of age. In the process of writing her book, Meltzer, who was a fan of Kathleen Hanna and Sleater-Kinney as a teen, travelled around the country attending music festivals, revisited the records of her youth, and even got a chance to meet and interview some of the women who made those records. But she also confesses that in order to write Girl Power, she had to watch the Spice Girls movie. Meltzer seems to have pretty much the coolest job in the world – Spice Girls movie aside.
Feministing readers who love music, movies and Sarah Haskins should check out Meltzer’s archive of writing for the Daily Beast. Feministing readers who secretly love the Bring It On franchise should wait until no one’s around to see their browser tabs and then go read Meltzer’s analysis of the series.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Marisa Meltzer.
Chloe Angyal: How did you come to write Girl Power, and what was the best part about writing it?
Marisa Meltzer: I grew up really loving music. I feel like everyone has that one thing that sort of defines them when they’re coming age, or how they begin to define themselves. And I was always really into music. I was never terribly popular, and I think that being into indie music or alternative music or whatever it was called then sort of made me understand my place in the world. And then at the very beginning of my high school years, I learned about Riot Girl by reading about it in magazines. I had grown up in a feminist household, with a feminist mom, and I had always thought of myself as a feminist, and I had this really visceral reaction that this was what was missing in my life. It was this feminist movement, centered around music, and was a revolution, or wanted to be, for teen girls and girls of college age. So that whole era really defined me. And then in the summer 2006, Sleater-Kinney broke up, and all of a sudden I felt like everything that had been so strong in the nineties was maybe going away without a fight. And I was turning 29, and all these popstars were ruling the charts and singing like they were going to OD or something like that. And I just thought, where is that angry political woman? So I just started revisiting that era, and even music that I had written off at the time as kind of insipid or inauthentic, like Alanis Morissette, with fifteen years of hindsight, I was kind of like, “this is not bad.” I even had to reevaluate some of my thinking about the Spice Girls. That’s the story of the book, and it was obviously so much fun to do, I mean I would spend time watching videos on YouTube for days and buying Tiffany albums.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
MM: The first fictional one that comes to mind is Jane Eyre, not because I necessarily relate to her – I actually think she and I are quite different – but I was always obsessed with that book when I was a kid. I read it dozens of times. There was something about her that really got under my skin. I don’t know if it was her dealings with Mrs. Rochester in the attic. But I think sometimes the characters that strike you the most and that stay in your memory are maybe not the ones you most identify with on a personal level.
In real life, I love Diana Vreeland. Her book, DV, is completely amazing, and is really a model for how personal writing should be. Gloria Steinem was my heroine growing up. My mother took me to see her when I was pretty young, on her “Revolution From Within” speaking tour. She spoke at the giant, packed theater where I had also recently seen David Copperfield, so those were sort of the two poles of my early years. She’s obviously so smart and so charismatic, but I also have to say that I’ve always really loved her style. I’m so drawn to those photos of her with the aviators and the highlights; I really can’t get enough. I certainly have issues with whether or not she identifies as a woman, and her issues with feminism, but I love Joan Didion’s writing probably more than anything. I grew up in California and always really loved her writing about the state, as someone who lived there and then moved away.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
MM: Recently, the whole Terry Richardson controversy. To me, none of the information about him being so gross is at all surprising. I’m glad that it’s being written about, but I just want to be able to block out everyone’s Twitter updates about it. It’s so frustrating, and looking at his face skeeves me out so much. I just want to ignore it – I know I probably shouldn’t, but it just makes me want to bang my head on a table.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
MM: I think that a lot of times, feminism is stuck arguing about the same things over and over again. I feel like there are so many variations of the argument of whether you can do X and still be a feminist, or is Y a feminist act. Personally I would like to move beyond some of those arguments and focus more on the future. I think there’s so much that’s changing in feminism; I don’t know if it’ll become part of the fourth wave or some augmented part of the third wave, but I think that there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of transpeople, and there’s a lot still to be harnessed and understood in terms of the internet and the way that we lead our lives. And also the ways that we connect with each other. I think it’s so easy to take some of the gains of feminism for granted.
I just finished reading Susan Douglas’ book Enlightened Sexism, which is all about the last twenty years or so, and how there’s so much feminist rhetoric in our culture, without actual feminism. And I think that’s a very interesting point; you see the ways that feminism has penetrated our culture, without seeing actual change in our culture, and I would like to see more actual change. There’s still a lot of work to be done around child-rearing and work-life balance and power dynamics in relationships, and I would like those things to be sorted out in the future. We’re slowly making progress.
CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you get to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you take?
MM: I would take guacamole, vodka tonics, with this agave-sweetened tonic that you get in snobby Brooklyn grocery stores, and Judy Chicago.