The Gossip's first show of 2006 in San Francisco wasn't as likely to get tongues clacking as one I saw several years previously, the night mod, bobbed fireball Beth Ditto pulled a cute, bare-skulled baby dyke from the audience to twist and grind to the tune of "I Wanna Be Your Dog." But on Jan. 27 the mixed queer-straight crowd was yelling just as loud anyway, singing along like budding blues shouters and bopping up and down atop broken glass as a long-haired Ditto wailed through the sweat streaming down her face, swayed us and slayed us. Her best friend during her Alabama school days, Nathan Howdeshell, tugged as many sharp, shocked punk-blues lines out of his guitar as he could while drummer Hannah Blilie pounded home Ditto's words: you're standing in the way of control.
Control ... undergarments? In women's circles, control can be such a dirty word, but self-described fat activist Ditto would probably differ and describe it instead as a cry for seizing power, calling for a new team after half a decade of Republican-dominated government.
According to the US Senate Web site, 1992 was the year of the woman — the first time four women (Barbara Boxer, Carol Moseley Braun, Dianne Feinstein, and Patty Murray) were elected to the Senate in a single election year, following the highly combustible Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. The sight of an all-white male committee laying into law professor Anita Hill apparently led many to question the dearth of female senators. I'm sure some powers-that-be would rather that be the sole "year of the woman," officially mandated by the federal government. But for me, 2006 could have just as easily have fit that descriptor. Even if we didn't spend its closing month fussing over celeb thunderwear.
This year began with the typically fire-starting "say, ah-women, somebody" salutations of Ditto at Bottom of the Hill and continued through the strong musical showings of local all-female combos Erase Errata and T.I.T.S., the splashy emergence of girl bands such as Mika Miko and Cansei de Ser Sexy, and the newly revived ESG and Slits, which proved to be some of the most exciting musical reunions of 2006. In the fourth quarter, life seemed to rhyme with art, as Nancy Pelosi assumed her role as the first female House speaker and leaders such as Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa, entered the picture. As 2006 ends with five Grammy nominations for the Dixie Chicks and the girl-group-loving gloss of Dreamgirls, the pendulum of public favor seems to be swinging toward the double–X chromosome side of the block. We're not even counting the onslaught of Latin pop princesses à la Shakira and Nelly Furtado, reading into Beyoncé's strident awakening on B'Day (Dreamgirls probably hit a little too close to home for destiny's chosen child), and paying heed to the escapist serenade of Gwen Stefani. Could feminism be in again?
Perhaps — because you can smell the stirrings of discontent and brewing backlash in the winter wind. The demise of fem-firebrand groups like Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre foregrounded the question "Is the all-girl band dead?" — as the latter's Kathleen Hanna complained about not getting radio and MTV play on the basis of gender. How else to explain complaints of pretension surrounding the release of Joanna Newsom's Ys and the fact that the biggest gossip of the year — talked up louder than the Gossip's Ditto — came in the form of the pantyless pop-tart triad of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan? Even TV's would-be feminists tut-tutted about the trio's shaved, bared crotch shots, proliferating online like so many revamped, vamped-up NC-17 Hollywood Babylons and Celebrity Sleuths. Is the image of pop stars flashing cameras news? No, but then most of us never actually saw Jim Morrison's lizard king or GG Allin's scabs.