Barb Abney, Sleater-Kinney & Being a 40something Woman Who Creates Things

I should have been a Riot Grrrl. The timing was right. I was a politically aware, music-loving twentysomething woman in the early-to-mid nineties, and somehow the Riot Grrrl phenomenon mostly passed me by.

A few summers ago when all the Riot Grrrl history books started hitting the streets, Sister #2 and I talked a lot about the movement. Frankly, we were surprised by the nostalgia the 20th anniversary was garnering. I really had no idea it was as big of a thing as it was, and its connection to third-wave feminism was totally news to me.

I’m not entirely sure how I missed it. I suspect I decided Riot Grrrl was more fashion than music or politics, and if there is one thing this big, 6’5″ woman has ignored most of her life, it is fashion (except Project Runway, but that’s a topic of another day). Or rather fashion has ignored me and in turn I decided not to care at all about it.

At the time the music didn’t really appeal to me. I bought Sleater-Kinney CDs, but it was probably more for appearance than appreciation. There was that one summer my friend Anderla and I got really into L7 (particularly “Fast and Frightening”), but aside from that I preferred Liz Phair’s slow-simmering anger to Riot Grrrl’s shoutiness.

So when the news of Sleater-Kinney’s reunion started generating buzz, I felt a little left out, yet I was intrigued. Only a few years ago, I fell hard and fast for Wild Flag, thus opening my mind to Sleater-Kinney’s music.

Plus, it’s rad that people are so amped up about music being created by fortysomething women. I need that to sustain me.

See, earlier this week one of my very favorite Current DJs, Barb Abney, was abruptly fired from her job. If you lived here, you’d know this has been quite controversial. People are pissed. It was a big deal and in the hour after the announcement that she was “let go” all my communication portals were filled with people wondering just what the fuck happened.

I was heartbroken by the news. Though I have never met her, I adore Barb. She felt like a co-worker to me, since I spent most of my working hours listening to her. She played a “My Three Song Set” for my 40th Birthday. . . what’s not to love about someone who does that?

My heart broke not just for a kind woman who is now out of job and facing all the anxiety that comes with it, I can empathize, but my heart also broke because it feels as though Barb was put out to pasture. She was pretty quickly replaced by a much-younger DJ, who I don’t know and I’m sure will do a very good job, but it’s not the point.

The point is so often fortysomething women grow increasingly invisible, their voices fade because so much of our society is focused on the new young thing and they can’t hear us over the din created by those young’uns. It seems as though women disappear at forty and don’t get to return to the public eye until they reach Helen-Mirrenesque/Aretha Franklin-y grand dame status. I miss Winona Ryder. I want Janeane Garofalo back. What happened to Uma Thurman?

I know Esquire deemed 42-year-old women the new hotcha-cha-cha, but that has little to do with their voices. Their voices still matter.

And I worry about that, being a forty-two-year-old woman who just finished her first book and is sending it out into the world. I worry my voice won’t be heard because there is a younger, more photogenic thirty-two-year-old with something to say. And of course all the men with their stupid penises getting to say whatever they want no matter how old they are because of course they get to.

I still have things to say. The older I get the more things I have to say, some of them kind of wise because I have lived a lot of years and I have learned some things. I am braver now about saying things than I ever have been before.

Which is why I’m saying, I’m pretty furious about losing Barb Abney’s voice on the airwaves. I think what The Current did was shitty. Also, I really love the song “No Anthems” on the new Sleater-Kinney album.

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  1. Brett 01.Feb.15 at 3:12 am

    I’m just as shocked as you about Barb Abney’s firing from the Current … And as a 49-year-old founding and sustaining member, I’m pissed & perplexed. I was just talking to my wife about it, and we were wondering the same thing: was Barb just not “hip,” young, and svelte enough for their newly competitive demographic model? If management’s worrying about that, I’m worrying about the Current …

  2. NBFB 02.Feb.15 at 1:38 pm

    My gut reaction when anyone is fired from a job in this way (no warning, very abrupt) is it’s some sort of alcohol/drug thing. But those are usually followed up by the media reporting on some arrest or something, though not always.

    Note that I have no information whatsoever that means (or even hints) this is true. I know as much of nothing as everyone else. That’s just where my mind goes, probably for reasons.

  3. Angela 03.Feb.15 at 9:43 am

    You are most certainly not invisible because look, I found you. I enjoy your writing and would buy your book. I do not know Barb and can’t say that I listen to much radio during the day. But I am encouraged by your willingness to speak up on her behalf. Women must support other women. Most opportunities I’ve been given over the years have been because women in positions of authority saw to it that my voice was heard.
    I’m disheartened by Hollywood type women over 40 slutting it up style-wise as a means to scream, “I’m still sexy therefore, I’m still relevant!”
    Intelligent, heartfelt words have power. Keep speaking your truth and you will be heard. Other chicks will see to that.

  4. Susanna 04.Feb.15 at 3:37 pm

    Your post made me think of this piece on Ursula k. Le Guin that I just read this morning:

    Also, I’ve been so pissed off at Sleater-Kinney since they became one of the top three worst live acts I’ve seen … But I’m trying to be more forgiving so I guess I’ll check out the new album.


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