My Slut Icon: Hair Metal Video Vixens

I was a tweenager in the early 90’s when Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” was on heavy rotation. Dripping pies flew into spandex crotches and teased bangs and red lips tantalized my virgin eyes. Bobbie Brown was the first video vixen I can remember, a real mouthful of sugar and spice. Her power was in her hair flips and cowboy boots, and that scarlet bustier that she filled out to the fullest. “I scream, you scream, we all scream for her” Jani Lane yowled, and all I could think of was Bobbie being eaten like ice cream.

At the time, I was a major MTV devotee, and would wait patiently each evening until they’d screen Tawny Kitaen in “Is This Love” or “Here I Go Again” (also starring Whitesnake). The way she writhed atop that sweet British steel had me enrapt for hours. She was the poison and the antidote in one stunning, sun-kissed package. I was in love.

Then there were the women in Great White’s “Once Bitten Twice Shy” (Bobbie’s in that one too: “you got the rhythm, you got the speed, mama’s little baby likes it short and sweet”) and Slaughter’s “Up All Night” (I don’t know her name, but she struts and grinds through the fog in a film noir alley with a looming canine by her side). Motley Crue’s “Girls Girls Girls,” Poison’s “Fallen Angel, and, of course, Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” also broke the sexploitation bank, so I never really had to wait long to see any of these (s)inspiring ladies in action. They had look, the moves, and the bodies to enslave any man around them – and the lyrics proved it. Their primal sexuality was thrilling, and I couldn’t tell if I wanted to fuck them or be them.

To be obsessed with this kind of thing at such a young age could have cost me a lot in plastic surgery and psychiatry bills, but all it did was cultivate an early appreciation for sexual expression. The takeaway message wasn’t that I had to look a certain way to party and get laid, it was that life was about fucking and freedom and women deserved to enjoy it just as much as men did. That was my first (albeit simplistic) sense of the spirit that drives sex positive feminism.

In my late teens, driven by the need to come to terms with my hair metal past, I started delving into musicology and gender theory more seriously, with a critical eye towards male hair metal musicians and their hypersexual arm candy. I gave papers at feminist and musicology conferences on performing masculinity in hair metal and the possibilities for binary busting that those cross-dressing, falsetto-singing boys provided to a mass audience – all while being paradoxically, ambivalently misogynistic. At times, other feminists and metal fans would cluck their tongues, confused as to why I wouldn’t throw away my woefully unabashed love of cock rock for Riot Grrl (not that I didn’t love those bands) or something heavier, or more… “artistically substantial.”

Wasn’t I just enslaved by the patriarchy (and MTV) from the start, brainwashed into blindly accepting objectification that was conceived to sell records? Although I knew there had to be a more nuanced gray area between being for or against the “female chauvinist pig,” could I buy into the beauty of red lips and fingertips without selling out? How much weight do you put in artistic intention if the reception feels so good?

I debated these questions for hours (often just with myself), landing on either side of the feminist fence. I felt passionately about women’s rights and gender equality, but never thought I could truly fly the flag with songs like “She Goes Down,” “Burn Bitch Burn” and “Sleazy Come Easy Go” blasting from my boom box.

A turning point came when I discovered Camille Paglia, Tristan Taormino, and The Ethical Slut. Many of their words on sex, love, porn and feminism rang true and clear as Tracii Guns’ solo in “The Ballad of Jayne.” These sex positive theorists (and many others) started to helped me embrace the contradictions between my sexual, musical and aesthetic tastes with my feminist beliefs. I found that there were far more options than being a spread-eagle pawn of the patriarchy or a celibate prude. Thank god.

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I’m not saying there still aren’t any conflicts, and that it’s not a complex, very fine line between purposefully putting yourself on display and being caught up in hegemonic, societal objectification, but I’ve managed to find a balance between indulging my selfish, spandex-clad libido and being a slutty, ethical feminist.

Every time I tune into my (un)guilty sonic pleasure, I try to harness the ecstatic sexual energies expressed in hair metal for good. I recognize the latent misogynistic intentions that live in some of those songs and after mindfully dissecting them, subvert and channel their electricity into celebrations of joy.

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My sex positive hair metal manifesta says that it is your right to unskinny bop with whomever you please – and to make money at it if that works for you. You can fuck like a beast all you want as long as there’s consent and protection. Stay up all night and sleep most of the day so you can still get some time in to volunteer at feminist organizations and vote for candidates that will fight for women’s reproductive rights. And if you ain’t talkin’ ‘bout love, make sure you’re on the same page about your boundaries and the emotional ramifications of no-strings-attached sex. That is something to believe in.

Check out Rolling Stone’s list of hair metal starlets here, and Bobbie Brown’s tell-all book Dirty Rocker Boys here.

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