Bettie Page: Not the girl next door
“I was never the girl next door,” said Bettie Page. The famous pin-up model from the 1950s, who passed away in December 2008, had a tremendous impact on women, and on men’s ideas about women, throughout the decades. But nowhere is Bettie Page more adored than within the psychobilly subculture.
Psychobilly women who adopt Bettie Page’s look don’t want to be the girls next door either. They portray an overt feminine sexuality that seems at first glance to be directed towards pleasing the male gaze. They like looking good and enjoy being looked at. They spend hours before a show getting “dolled up” in anticipation of being on display that night. The men in the psychobilly subculture frequently tell me how much they enjoy the fact that women put so much effort into looking sexy.
But are psychobilly girls reproducing the sexual objectification of women by catering to male desire, or is there an active construction of alternative gender roles taking place here in which pin-up girl sexuality represents an empowered feminine identity? I want to consider the way psychobilly women who amp up their femininity cleverly navigate a fine line between being objectified and harnessing their sexuality out of their own intentions.