Live Through This

By: Mary Murphy, Nancy L. Buc ’65 Pembroke Center Archivist

Home Office, West Side, Providence

My personal feminism comes to me in many ways. At times when I love it and I rely on it and it sustains me to listen more closely and try to do better. Sometimes my feminism comes to me when I don’t want it to, especially when I was younger. I would ask myself, “why can’t I find a way to like what everyone else seems to like?” whether that question pertained to gender specific toys, gender roles, or later to marriage and children. Thinking about it now, that feminism was like a little punk voice that refused to be quiet inside of my head.

I have said that I feel feminism is just part of some people; an innate drive in them for fairness, to be heard, and to help others be heard. Growing up Generation X in an Irish Catholic community in Minnesota, my 1990s feminism was reflected by my location and in the era and embodied in Riot Grrrl and in fellow daughters of “second-wave” feminists and in the form of other musicians like Liz Phair, the B-52s, Tracy Chapman, and Sinead O’Connor. I was schooled by vintage readings like those from Shulamith Firestone and Toni Morrison and by contemporary pieces by bell hooks and Pam Houston.

I think about this now while reflecting on the last day that I spent in the workshop of the Pembroke Center Archives before the campus closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all of us, I had been cooped up with early warnings to stay at home and inundated by too much news and too much worry.

I was in my office in Alumnae Hall when I heard that feminist voice inside of my head once again. It told me to get some distance from the moment and to work on something creative and DO IT LOUD! Why not? No one else was in Alumnae Hall – a cavernous building that from 1927 to 1971 had been home to social and religious activities of Brown women and Pembroke College events and historic moments. 

Pembroke Center Archives website banner

So I logged on to the Pembroke Center’s website, which is under construction, and I got to work adding my changes and additions to the new pages about the archives (picture above). And then I added sound. I chose Courtney Love’s band Hole and TURNED UP THE VOLUME on her 1994 album, Live Through This

I had not listened to the album in years, but when I heard that iconic opening guitar from the song “Violet” come blasting out, I felt a rush of energy and I immediately recalled the time I saw her play in Minnesota when I was in high school. It was December and Love was contrarian as ever. There was a Christmas tree on stage and I remember that in the middle of one of her songs, she walked over and pulled the whole thing over and dragged it across the stage and then threw it into the audience. She hated what she was supposed to like too… 

I hate COVID-19 but I loved that moment in Alumnae Hall. When feminism served as my buoy. When no one else was there but me and the deafening sounds of feminist punk, women’s history and inspiration. 

Image credits: Photograph of Alumnae Hall by Mary Murphy, Winter 2020; Website photography by Nick Dentamaro, Brown University, 2019