avatar for Sarah Dougher

Sarah Dougher

Portland, Oregon

Sarah Dougher is an educator and musician living in Portland Oregon. She teaches courses on gender, music, poetry and women’s history at Portland State University. She also volunteers at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for girls, writes choral music, and is working on a book about tweens and music.



"Making Noise in the Safe Space: How Girls' Rock Camps Make Place in the City"

Girls’ rock camps were founded initially in Portland, Oregon on a rock-ist model where girls were conceptualized as generally “unsafe,” on the streets and in the mainstream music business. With a combination of Riot Grrrl and Reviving Ophelia ideologies, the first camp was founded on DIY, guitar-rock-heavy values and took place on a University campus (it has since moved to a warehouse on the edge of town). As girls’ rock camps spread to larger cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, they carved out new environments, responding and adjusting to the needs of their campers (and their parents), who occupy a wide range of race and class identifications. Additionally, the question of what constitutes a “safe” (or “safer”) space for all kinds of girls to play music changes when the camp is in a large, urban environment.

This paper contextualizes these issues within a longer history of girls and “safe” music-making environments within urban space. How have ideas about public space and girls’ safety in it changed since girl groups and how do those ideas continue to mediate girls’ participation in music making? How do intersectional activist goals of inclusion and anti-racist action function in changing the ways girls’ rock camps inhabit their urban environments? Using interviews with organizers from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Portland, this paper explores the role that these institutions play in transforming their cities through their re-conceptualization of the girls’ place in the city, and on the rock stage.

Panel session with Diane Pecknold, Elizabeth Keenan, and Sarah Dougher

A Girl’s Guide to the Urban Imaginary

What happens when girls hit the city? This panel explores how musical representations and practice help to define and delimit girls’ presence in urban space, and how these relationships to “the urban” shape racialized and classed understandings of girlhood. Music has consistently served as an entrée for girls to claim urban (and public) space: as performers of and listeners to early 1960s girl groups in New York City; as occupiers of “safe” spaces for playing music at urban girls’ rock camps in the 2000s; and as audience members for contemporary tween-targeted music and videos. But at the same time, it frequently recasts in progressive girl-power garb a series of well-worn literary tropes in which “the city” serves as the threatening foil against which (white, middle-class) “girl” innocence is defined and protected.