Girlpool on Female Sexuality, Hookup Culture and Vulnerability

Maria Sherman

By Maria Sherman

on 08.20.14 in Features

File under: Stripped down, literary lo-fi
For fans of: Early Liz Phair, Tacocat, Frankie Cosmos
From: Los Angeles, California
Personae: Harmony Tividad (bass), Cleo Tucker (guitar)

The story is as old as time: Girl enters boy-dominated field, girl is marginalized. Girl has to work infinitely harder than boy to earn the same level of respect. It’s what has inspired countless feminist art and political movements, all important, all specific to time and place. For Girlpool, the duo of Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker, it’s an everyday reality, but it’s one they refuse to let define them. Because they’re teenagers — Tividad is 18, Tucker is 17 — Girlpool lead lives of healthy hedonism, and over the course of their first full-length cassette, they’re refreshingly unapologetic about their sexual endeavors. The band calls this merciless directness “vulnerability” — completely reframing a word that typically connotes weakness to mean finding bravery in total honesty.

We sat down with Girlpool and discussed their philosophical ideologies and the nitty gritty of sex and porn culture.

On finding empowerment through vulnerability:

Cleo Tucker: [Girlpool started because] we wanted to be honest more than anything else. We wanted to make music that people can find empowering. “Being political” — that could be anything. We wanted something that was honest and straightforward. The one word we would use to describe ourselves is “vulnerable.” We both wanted to be super vulnerable, which was something we didn’t see happening a lot [in music]. When your music comes from a sensitive place — that’s what we wanted to explore. Because of the stripped down nature of our music, if one of us messes up, it’s incredibly noticeable. We’re not trying to hide. We’re not trying to be anything other than how we are.

‘It was a very specific situation…one of the strongest moments where I’ve ever felt little, to have sex and then feel shitty.’

On slut-shaming:

Harmony Tividad: Our first practice was at [the house of] some guy I had hooked up with. He had this really nice studio with glass windows. He and this other guy, who I also hooked up with, were in the other room. And I was really pissed. I was looking at him, and I was saying [to Cleo] how I was really frustrated with how I imagined one of them would tell the other one how they hooked up with me. It made me feel weird. We started to talk about it and then lyrics and I was literally just looking at these two boys, so frustrated. It felt awful and very empowering.

Tucker: I think Harmony was feeling that these two boys were best friends, and [she] had been sexual with both of them. She was imagining the kind of talk that might occur between them and feeling objectified by them — all that stuff was running through her head. It kind of felt like when we were in that room, what we were doing was a little bit of a joke [to them].

Tividad: They didn’t care. They weren’t interested in hearing what we were doing.

Tucker: We were having this first Girlpool practice at this mutual friend’s house where they were just writing us off and Harmony — on top of them feeling like what we were doing was stupid — was thinking, “God, they’re talking shit about the way I kissed.”

Tividad: It was funny because I was just saying words and Cleo was like “Wow, write that down!”

Tucker: Harmony said the whole song ["Slutmouth"] basically, and it felt really good to support her saying those words because they’re so powerful and beautiful.

Tividad: I don’t feel bad hooking up with people. I was just mad at the situation: the fact that they could write me off as a person who they could hook up with, then let right off. It was a very specific situation…one of the strongest moments where I’ve ever felt little, to have sex and then feel shitty. Do girls feel like this all the time? Because this feeling sucks and I’ve never really experienced it before.

‘If everyone else can do it, why is it vulgar when a female talks about sexuality? Why is it such a big deal?’

On female sexual desire:

Tucker: Harmony and I haven’t been playing [the album closer] “American Beauty” live because I’ve been feeling kind of weird about it. [The song features the lyric "It's not enough to watch a movie/ Eat me out to "American Beauty" — Ed.] We wrote that song because Harmony and I have both desired someone sexually. It’s about embracing that feeling toward a person. But a large part of me still feels really uncomfortable revealing that to an audience of people. I began to feel uncomfortable with the fact that people were listening to this song and getting the wrong idea. I think a lot of people in the audience were thinking, “This is awesome.” There were a lot of horny guys in the front who were singing along, just getting super into it, and they didn’t get it. It was for the wrong reasons. The way I approached writing the song was, “If everyone else can do it, why is it vulgar when a female talks about sexuality? Why is it such a big deal?” When I see people listening to it and not really understanding and think it’s really hot, it really irks me. It makes me feel disgusting. I hate that about the song.

Tividad: Cleo wanted to write a song about sex. I’ve had an experience where I was eaten out to “American Beauty.” We thought, “Ahh, that’s funny, that’ll do. That’s pretty clever.” That was the line. The plan for the song now is to make a statement about what hookup culture is about, and how people have different ways of talking about their sexuality. It’s OK to not want to have sex all the time and not want to put yourself out there all the time.

‘Women are so often socialized to sacrifice for other people.’

Tucker: I think the thing that freaked me out the most was the way people were getting the message — especially younger girls. A lot of young girls listen to our music and identify with it. It’s really easy to feel empty when you’re 13 years old and a girl — especially when it comes to your sexuality. It’s something you’re about to explore and it’s something you know nothing about. When you hear that song, it’s easy to [want to] fill that void that you have inside yourself with sex — to be validated by another person. My greatest fear is that a teenage girl will come to our show feeling empty and will hear that song and think “Ok, I’m just going to do that. That might make me feel better.” That’s not the way Harmony and I feel. People have the right to do what they want, and that’s cool, but using sex as a way of validating yourself is just really awful to the human spirit. Harmony and I are currently trying to change the lyrics so that when I sing, it’s negative. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do this. When Harmony sings, “I’m feeling fine,” I’m singing, “I’d rather die.” Music is always evolving; a song can totally evolve the way that our feelings evolve. If our feelings change, then the way we’re talking about our feelings need to change.

On hookup culture:

Tividad: I think the main thing with hookup culture is that you should be totally comfortable and do what makes you happy. You shouldn’t use it to cope with things. It’s not a pill you take to get better. Sex is amazing, and all the things that surround it are amazing, just be aware of how you may feel later. It’s really easy to get confused.

Tucker: I think its super unfortunate that you feel “cool” if you’re hooking up with a person or having sex with another person. It’s often a one-off situation that’s super unfortunate. Every girl or boy — or whatever you are — needs to feel comfortable with themselves before they start pouring themselves into another person. When you feel empty inside and you’re seeking validation through another person, that doesn’t last. That’s when you’re lying naked in bed and they walk out to get a glass of water and you feel like crying because you don’t feel good within yourself.

On oral sex and porn:

Tividad: It’s super bothersome that most blow jobs that happen are not returned. A lot of times guys will be like, “Well, I don’t want to do that.” Women are so often socialized to sacrifice for other people.

‘People in society are really freaked out by female oral sex and female pleasure in general.’

Tucker: There was some movie recently that came out that when the woman was getting eaten out, it was blurred. You couldn’t really see it. The same with porn culture! In a porno, typically, when a woman is being eaten out — when you’re going down on somebody, I think it should be about, “Oh my god, I want all of you! I want to consume all of you. I want to make you feel good.” A lot of pornos that teenagers and adults watch, you can see all the details of the vagina. Their head is not, like, fucking in the vagina, the way it’s supposed to be. It’s not intimate. When they’re giving a blow job, it’s all there. I think people in society are really freaked out by female oral sex and female pleasure in general.

On being more than a feminist, riot grrrl revivalist act:

Tucker: We’re not just a feminist band. We write about other issues in society, including racial discrimination and money and overall equality. “Paint Me Colors” is about life if I wasn’t a white person. Harmony and I have had long conversations about white guilt. What if Girlpool was a band of two girls that weren’t white. Would we be as successful as we are now?