The Female Body of Punk

My new piece in Public Books, “The Female Body of Punk.”

The movement that had acquired definite shape in London and New York City by the end of 1975 was given its name by the American fanzine Punk.Cofounder Legs McNeil explains that the name for the magazine—and soon, the movement—was an act of reclamation. “On TV, if you watched cop shows … when the cops finally catch the mass murderer, they’d say, ‘you dirty Punk.’ It was what your teachers would call you. It meant that you were the lowest. All of us drop-outs and fuck-ups got together and started a movement.”

“Punk” was, then, like “queer,” a strategic reclamation of a slur. One wonders now, however, how aware the founders of Punk and of punk were of the specifically sexualized, feminized history of the term. A “punk” was originally a derogatory term for a female prostitute; in Measure for Measure, Lucio warns Vincentio, “She may be a Puncke: for many of them, are neither Maid, Widow, nor Wife.” By the end of the 17th century, the term had been adapted to mean “a boy or young man kept by an older man as a (typically passive) sexual partner,” and later “a man who is made use of as a sexual partner by another man, esp. by force or coercion”…

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