We Are Lady Parts Declares That Punk Has To Be For Everyone
“Does other headgear scare you too?
A hat? Helmets? Nah, just you
What could I be hiding? What could I be hiding?
Voldemort’s alive and…
he’s under my headscarf!”
howl the women of Lady Parts. The eponymous series, titled 'We Are Lady Parts', premiered on Channel 4 in May 2021. Based in suburban London, the sitcom revolves around an all-female, all-Muslim punk band in search of their lead guitarist. Created by Nida Manzoor, 'We Are Lady Parts' is a first-of-its-kind exploration of the complexities of making music outside the boxes that society loves to shove us in.
Mocking pre-concieved notions about what it means to be Muslim in today’s world, the band leans into, and revels in, the discomfort felt by onlookers. Comprising vocalist/guitarist Saira (played by Sarah Kameela Impey), bassist Bisma (Faith Omole), drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed of Azadi.mp3) and manager Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse), Lady Parts is on the lookout for a lead guitarist to complete their sound and perform in an upcoming audition.
They find an unlikely candidate in the goody-two-shoes Amina (Anjana Vasan), a highly strung microbiology PhD student, who is much more invested in finding a husband than raging against the machine.
Contrary to popular expectations, her parents are in no rush to get her married. Instead it is she who wants to lock down a man in a bid to shed her loser status amongst her circle of friends, all of whom are engaged. That’s certainly not very punk rock of her. It is through Amina’s lens that we view Lady Parts as “concocting a confused mix of hash anthems and sour girl power. One part boredom, two parts identity crisis."
Even while discussing heavy topics, the storytelling of the show remains light-hearted, twee even, complete with cheesy fantasy song sequences. This makes it extremely approachable- it takes a popular format and piggybacks off its likeability, while also defying the expectations that come with it.
Challenging assumptions about hijabi women inherently being oppressed and riffing on the brutalities of 9 to 5 work culture, Lady Parts’ music draws upon punk’s anarchic, tongue-in-cheek legacy. But the fact that the series is written, directed and executive produced by Manzoor and is about women like her (the show is loosely autobiographical), busts the conversation wide open. It is a wake-up call for the spirit of punk, perhaps long overdue, but a wake-up call nonetheless.
Historically, punk music has been dominated by white, male voices. Their vitriolic fury flipping off the status quo ironically excluded those beneath them in the social hierarchy. For the longest time, punk was by men, for men. The most popular punk-rock bands of the late 80s, such as Nirvana, The Clash, Circle Jerks and Green Day, did not include a single female member. Women at their concerts were frequently jostled and assaulted, and misogyny was widely accepted. Mark Perry, one of the early punk zinesters, claimed in his zine Sniffin’ Glue that “Punks are not girls".
Challenging this narrow minded approach, along came the Riot Grrrl bands of Washington in the 1990s. Inspired by trailblazing female punk and mainstream rock performers of the 1970s to mid-1980s, these young women took their feminist manifesto to the stage. Bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Huggy Bear rejected the toxic machismo of the existing punk scene, in favour of ‘revolution girl style now’, encased in an undeniably teen femme aesthetic. They railed against issues of sexual abuse, commercial, capitalist culture and mainstream standards of beauty and gender roles. They vented their frustrations in their photocopied zines, calling for the creation of safe spaces for girls where they can reach out to each other and create an independent culture.
The defiant yet compellingly vulnerable message of Riot Grrrl musicians was groundbreaking for the time. These badasses set the ball rolling for other women and LGBTQ+ folx who previously felt left out. Although the original Riot Grrrl movement petered out by mid 90s, many of its tenets continued.
However, one of the main criticisms leveled against it was its failure to be truly inclusive. The typical Riot Grrrl, as outlined in an infamous 1992 Newsweek article, was ‘young, white, suburban and middle class’. Zinester Mimi Thi Nguyen was one of the few WoC in the punk scene during this time. As a gender studies scholar, she later writes in her essay Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival about the marginalisation of WoC and race as an obstacle to the call to collectivise.
Almost two decades later, 'We Are Lady Parts' is telling the story of just some of the women left out by the first wave of feminist punk, who don’t hesitate to claim the mic on their own terms.
Muslim women are chronically underrepresented in popular music. The fact that music is considered haram (prohibited) in many schools of Islamic thought, coupled with conservative repression, has kept them out of both recording studios and concert arenas. Political acts such as Vancouver’s Secret Trial Five, formed by Sena Hussain, remain far and in between. It is telling that the band is most well-known for distancing itself from taqwacore, a small but complex subculture of loosely knit Islamic anti-ideals and radical politics stemming from a punk ethos, first conceived in a 2003 novel of the same name. Taqwacore has also predictably remained a boys’ club.
This is where 'We Are Lady Parts' shines. It refrains from self-aware commentary on the issues of representation, instead choosing to focus on the individual journey of each member of the ensemble cast.
The largely working-class protagonists don’t just look and dress differently, they also express their faith (or lack of it) in different ways. Saira, who works a day job as a butcher, is the only one who doesn’t don any kind of head covering, and has a grimy look complete with flannel shirts, ripped jeans and a side swept crop of short hair. Ayesha is a cab driver by day, instantly recognisable by her swoop of dark, dramatic eyeliner. She is also queer, putting her at a complex intersection of identities. Bisma, an artist and mother, is Black and her style is a nod to her roots, with colourful prints and an ever-present headwrap, along with cowrie shell accessories. Momtaz has probably the most interesting representation in terms of her relationship with faith. Enigmatic and completely veiled behind her dark blue niqab, she expresses her punk-ness with spiked wristbands and lace glovelettes, while skipping out on prayers when the others kneel on their prayer mats.
'We Are Lady Parts' shows us women who are so much more than what meets the eye, and it continually rips up any assumptions the viewer might have made about them. It is in this grey area, where the signifier seems to be stripped of the signified, where the show really thrives.
It’s unfortunate that it took us so long to get here, but I’m glad mainstream media is finally showing us that yes, you can stick it to The Man while wearing a headscarf.