HELLO, IT'S SHE: WOMEN & ROCK


A random question from whowhatwear, via music journalist/DJ  Jenny Eliscu on Twitter got me thinking today: “Why aren't there more female music journalists/writers?” Hmm, I went, as a female who writes about music a lot here. HMM. I hadn’t really mulled that over for quite some time, the last time probably when I was in my early 20s and fully-immersed in everything rock n’ roll. Apparently things haven’t changed all that much over the last 25 years or so. If you look at the music field as a whole, females are underrepresented – there are fewer performers, writers, photographers, producers, engineers, executives, etc. Why? Women are no less imaginative than men, no less gifted as writers, no less moved by music. Time to dig.

The first level is obvious and universal: women make less money than men, are less likely to get hired in the first place, and are less likely to advance to prominence in almost any field, especially those with some kind of glamour, prestige, or big money attached. Women may be out there in music, their desire to be there the same, their talent as sharp, but we can’t see them.

Also obvious and universal is the fact that rock n’ roll is usually not best-suited for the reserved/polite, no no no, and perhaps there are basic differences to the typical female personality that make it much harder to have women’s voices heard. The music business has always been, and remains, run by men. Rock n’ roll is bold, mas macho (yes, even in his way, J√≥nsi is mas macho), and girls in rock are muses, groupies, subjects in lyrics to pine or whine or shine over, put on a pedestal for everything they represent, knocked off, replaced again…not exactly partners, right? Forget critical analysis, honey – show us your boobs! Yes, that is a gross overgeneralization, I know that. But it is always there a little, even in the nervously-beating heart of the nerdiest, most-liberal indie ‘zine editor, the nicest guy.

To be heard, women have to speak up, be assertive, be persistent, match that rock n’ roll energy, and be able to deal with the people who will call them bitches and pushy for doing what guys do normally every day at work. We’re not stuck in the June Cleaver model that was offered as pretty much the only option when I was little, but there are still penalties for women who stand outside the cultural norm, unseen and subtle as they may sometimes be now, and not just from some men. Other women can be just as brutal, and there is no guarantee that more women music industry leaders will advance other women. And of course, there is no benefit to hiring anyone, woman or man, just because of gender. Quality must rule, always.

Sigh. I don’t mean to rant and rail and blame. I feel my own old frustrations poked here, things regretted. I can remember as a young concert photographer being in the photo pit and time after time letting the more-established male photogs block me for shots. I can remember sitting in the office of Island Records as a musician, looking back at the nice A&R guy talking with me, knowing he knew I was not pretty or wild enough to “sell,” with only modest talent that could not overcome that. I can remember writing good pieces about the musicians I loved, and literally tossing them away, not believing anyone would ever publish them and therefore they had no worth. I’m a lousy self-promoter, my vuvuzela tooting horn more of a soggy paper birthday blowout. My complete and deep love of everything about rock n’ roll wasn’t enough to be able to overcome the idea that I should “be a nice girl, don’t be too forward, don’t bother anyone.” But inside me lies the power of the opening chords to “You Really Got Me,” “Black Dog,” “The Train Kept A-Rollin’,” “God Save The Queen,” “Back In Black,” Seven Nation Army.” Oh, yes indeed.

Another factor that can dissuade women in any rock-oriented field is if they are mothers. It takes sheer will, lots of support, and gallons of coffee to be able to go out to live shows a few times a week and then get up at 6AM to breastfeed or make school lunches for sleepy spawn. Kids don’t care whatsoever if you were up until 3AM talking amps with Keith Richards or giddily processing concert photos after a gig. They don’t get that you need some uninterrupted time to think and write and create. Those lovely little beings want their cereal, and you, naturally. It’s a tough blend.

Maybe some of my personal examples partially answer the question posed, and I know things are getting more equitable. Maybe – probably – there will never be a 50/50 gender balance in rock n’ roll. In the meantime, my train will keep a rollin’, gathering up steam after years of rusty derailment. The Little Bitchen Engine That Could, with regularly-scheduled stops at the grocery store, PTA meetings, and the beer-soaked floor of a rock dive.

Rock on, girls. Do good work. Toot toot.