Things I learned at GRCA

One reason it’s really exciting to teach history is to let people know that it’s evolving and ongoing. One reason I was excited to teach music history to the campers at GRCA today is because it’s important to let girls know that, as musicians, (or fans or critics or label executives or deejays or producers or . . .) they are a continuation, a contribution to a female presence in popular music and, more broadly, public life.

And it’s nice to teach the class with a close girlfriend, so that you can show girls that it’s possible for women to work with one another and collaborate. That’s good too. Especially since the closest I’ve come to teaching pre-/pubescent girls was conducting sight-reading clinics for my mom’s junior high choirs. I was definitely out of my comfort zone teaching two music history classes (one ages 9-11, another 11-13).

But, as with education more broadly, it’s not really about the teachers. It’s about the students and it’s about creating a space to dialogue and learn from one another. So here now are the things I learned at GRCA today.

1. Don’t instinctively apologize. Women and girls say they’re sorry all the time, usually for things that are not their fault. Instead, say “you rock” or “I rock.”

2. Don’t compliment a student on their hair/dress/gear. It could be a class marker and not every girl is born of privilege. Not every girl can afford a mint-condition vintage Clash t-shirt and not every girl can afford a new Gibson guitar. Plus, we shouldn’t use things as markers of our societal worth anyway.

3. Ask what they think, what they know, what they like. Don’t lecture to them. Don’t make it feel like school. But some girls like lectures, as long as they can participate, so they can handle some science being dropped.

4. The older girls love Siouxsie Sioux.

5. Some of the younger girls like country. Some don’t. All opinions are valid. Let’s try and bring both sides together.

6. Some of the older girls didn’t know who Cibo Matto were, but wanted to know more.

7. Many of these girls remember and have a fan relationship with Selena.

8. Many girls want the Reactable shown in Björk’s performance “Declare Independence” on Jools Holland. It shows them that you can use any instrument to make the sound you want.

9. Some of the girls didn’t know who Marnie Stern was, but were excited to hear her name associated with “shredding.”

10. The older girls totes know about riot grrrl.

11. Everyone loves Beth Ditto and M.I.A.

12. Despite the ubiquity of mp3 players, everyone loves a mix CD. A pleasant surprise.

13. Girls wanna talk. It helps them learn. Thank you young ladies for letting me listen.


  1. Liz K

    I want to be in yr class! You’ve already taught me so much as it is.

    I am also delighted at the idea of bumping into someone on the street and then telling them, “I rock!”

  2. k

    it was so much fun! and i learned so much from the girls! and of course it was beyond fun to do this with my friend.

    some fave moments:
    1. being called out on how to pronounce Exene Cervenka’s name by a 16 yr. old with blue hair, a blue and black flannel shirt, and skinny jeans. i got schooled and it was great! also we were asked how the band X got their name (which we didn’t know the answer) – this means some more research before the next session. all in all this was awesome. as alyx noted we weren’t there to be experts or to lecture but rather dialogue, and it was nice to have the girls be soo invested in the music history.

    2. seeing the younger girls’ put-off faces when we talked about how sarah mclachlan had a hard time convincing execs to let her tour with other female artists(in relation to the impetus behind lilith fair).

    3. lots of the younger girls enjoyed Erykah Badu’s video for Honey.

    4. the older girls loved alyx’s tidbit about how Sleater-Kinney did not have a bassist. again reiterating the idea that bands can take many shapes and forms.

    5. By the end of the session with the younger girls – everyone had Galang stuck in their heads – and i could hear some of the girls singing it as they left camp that day.


  3. Curran

    Yes, yes, yes! You womenz are changing lives. #2 about not praising girls for their material possessions is an excellent point. As for the name “X,” I’ve heard many theories from “it’s the X in Generation X” to “it’s meant to signify ‘crossing out’,” the ultimate symbol of punk negation. Rumor also has it that John Doe chose the name because he is a fan of algebra. Of course, like the name “John Doe,” “X” suggests anonymity – a refusal of the performer-as-star model that punk was, on the whole, attempting to overthrow. There might also be something to the fact that, at (punk) shows, X’s in thick black marker were (and in many cases still are) placed on the hands of underage kids (For this reason, the X-on-hand was adopted by Straight Edgers as a way of signaling their rejection of alcohol). So, regardless of the true reason for the name, “X” carries with it a number of significant (punk) connotations. Furthermore, the very ambiguity and “replaceability” of “X,” leaves it open to generative projection.

  4. Pingback: Things I learned at GRCA: Session #2 « Feminist Music Geek
  5. Pingback: sweet sweet music to my ears: Girls Rock Camp Austin « Act Your Age
  6. Pingback: Things I learned at Girls Rock Camp Austin: Session #1 « Feminist Music Geek

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