On public feminism and public memory : the Chicago women's liberation rock band

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2018-05

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In the early 1970s, a group of activists sought to transform rock culture from the inside out. Their name? The Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band (CWLRB). Founded by Naomi Weisstein as a work group of the socialist-feminist Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (CWLU), the CWLRB was a feminist rock band that performed nationwide from 1970-1973. By writing songs about women’s experiences, recording an album with their sister group, the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band (NHWLRB), and adopting sonic techniques and performance styles that they felt would not alienate women, the CWLRB pushed back against the misogyny of 70’s rock culture and positioned rock music as a tool to bolster feminist activism. Despite their unique experiment in rock and roll feminism, the band remains largely absent from public memory. This study recovers the CWLRB’s story to complicate scholarly and popular understandings of “women’s music” in the 1970s by revealing a feminist band that did not have separatist goals. Furthermore, this study considers how the CWLRB’s lyrics, sound, performance, and paratexts, while rooted in the concerns and aesthetics of the American Women’s Liberation Movement, are also connected to the Riot Grrrl punk rock feminism of the 1990s. The CWLRB challenges the categorical constructions of Second and Third Wave feminism by demonstrating that multiple generations have resisted the sexism of rock culture throughout time, and allows scholars to move towards an understanding of rock and roll feminism as a potent form of public feminist practice.

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