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Women and punk: Jordan

Professor Matthew Worley discusses key female punk figures with Jordan.
And so we’re going to be talking to Jordan, the first Sex Pistol who was part of– with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, part of SEX, the shop, and where it all began back in London in 1974, 1976. So let’s open the door into SEX. I guess one of the things about the shop that’s so distinctive was using fetish wear to become, for want of a better term, fashion wear. And taking stuff that was normally kept secret behind the net curtains of suburbia out onto the streets. Do you remember conversations about that– about what was the point and purpose of that in the shop, or did it seem to happen quite naturally or instinctively? Yes.
I mean, I think probably Malcolm was very, very interested in the Rubber Duck Club, which was this fetish club. And also the people who made those clothes, which are– it’s a really specialised thing, making rubber wear. And I really loved it and, for no purpose other than the fact that I did really love it, used to use it as daywear. And so I wanted to turn that from fetish wear into daywear. And it was beautiful to wear. I mean, difficult sometimes, but lovely. I didn’t feel that I was crossing any borders, really, doing that. Or obviously, other people did because I got into a great deal of trouble when it was on the train.
But I would wear some very skimpy clothes but put together in an artistic manner. And there’s a huge difference between being what some people say is an exhibitionist and being somebody who is just comfortable and knows what they want to look like. And that’s me, that second one. What kind of responses did you get in those early days, when no one had seen anything like this before? Lots of bad responses from women in particular. Well, you’d get men that would wolf-whistle you and call you a prostitute and what have you on the street. People had a very black and white view of me. So either some people would love me. Tourists would come and want to take photos of me.
And then you’d have somebody trying to chuck you off the train at Newhaven. Get off the train. Somebody opened the door once– told me to jump out, get out. So it was extremes, really. Yeah. And that kind of feeling comfortable, you said, and emboldened by it, I think is really interesting. And it’s a quite notable thing about punk early on is women are very much to the forefront of taking that idea and performing it and presenting it. So as you obviously did, Vivienne as well, and Siouxsie Sioux, and stuff. And the other thing about sexuality that’s quite interesting again, like in the early milieu around the shop, and the Pistols is quite diverse in terms of its sexuality.
There’s gay and straight and all sorts involved in it. And over time, that seems to become less apparent once punk goes above ground, if you like. Yeah, it was interesting because we all talk about this all-inclusive punk movement, if you want to call it that. And it was truly all inclusive. Nobody would have been looked upon as being the wrong shape or the wrong colour or the wrong size. Everyone was welcome. That was the most emboldening thing, I think, was about it all. That, actually, sexuality wasn’t much to do with it. It was just looking great. Yeah.
I guess as punk becomes more, for want of a better term, popular or mainstream or whatever, that dimension of it begins to become less apparent. But the conversation about sex and gender seems to have carried on as a result of punk’s making that impact. Yes, yeah. I think it’s one of the major legacies of punk. What’s significant, do you think, about that it was women that were very much at the forefront of this nascent culture before it’d become named as punk or anything like that– they were cultivating this attitude and this style? I think it’s probably because women made up a lot of that sort of punk ethic.
There would be men and women walking up and down King’s Road and in equal amounts. It’s one of those– if you want to call it a fashion, or just a time in history– that allowed everybody equality. And people would borrow each other’s makeup and each other’s clothes. And it wasn’t particularly sexually driven. Nobody had to show off in that sort of peacocky way of sexuality. It was just feeling great and really did make you feel powerful and strong and happy. Because everything actually was kind of sexist up until then. I would say women weren’t emboldened by anything. And I think once that came along, women in punk became very, very powerful indeed. Yeah.
I mean, do you see that as one of the most important legacies of punk– the way in which women made that space for themselves in order to shift the culture? I do, yeah. I know from what people say to me, just generally, if I’m out somewhere. People are very, very open in their emotions about it, saying that, not just me, but if it hadn’t happened, their daughters wouldn’t be like they are now, and their daughter’s daughters wouldn’t be like they are now.

Jordan explains the choices she made that gave rise to her unique look, and reveals the reactions it provoked.

Are you surprised by how inclusive the punk movement was? Jordan highlights the equal opportunities it gave men and women whatever their ‘shape, colour or size, everyone was welcome’. Punk ‘shifted the culture’ towards inclusivity and acceptance. Do you agree?

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Anarchy in the UK: A History of Punk from 1976-78

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