In terms of the music industry as a whole, it’s not a bad time to be a woman. Reigning pop princesses Beyonce and Lady Gaga have been scooping up awards galore, and on the indie front Florence + the Machine, Bat for Lashes and Lisa Hannigan were all nominated for The Mercury Prize this year, and the winner, Speech DeBelle, was also female. Yet, can the same be said for rock?
Flicking through the pages of Kerrang! each week, disparities may become apparent. Each week, there will of course be women in the magazine- Hayley Williams, Cassadee Pope, Cristina Scabbia- but usually in the poster pull-out section. I can give you a pretty exact physical description of Pope and Scabbia, but I couldn’t name a single song by Hey Monday or Lacuna Coil. We typically see alot of fresh-faced females in the ‘Ones to Watch’ section- such as Japanese Voyeurs or Halestorm- and yet, they don’t seem for the large part to make it any further into the magazine. This isn’t to say Kerrang! is at fault- gaps appear elsewhere. Of all of the entrants into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame up to 2008, only 10% were women. And it’s not just front of house- only woman, Trina Shoemaker, has won a Grammy for Sound Engineering.
Yet, why is this? Many different people have many different theories. Some see females in rock as sex objects, an image perpetuated by the traditional ‘sex and drugs and rock n’ roll’ ethic of the industry, and an audience unable to get past such stigmas. I don’t see this as entirely true. Although image is certainly a part of it- many will be aware of Mindless Self Indulgence’s ridiculously flexible bassist, Lyn-z, but how many were aware there was another (less gymnastic) female member, Kitty? But yet, think of how many tweens listen only to Lostprophets or Fall Out Boy because of Ian Watkins or Pete Wentz- this isn’t an entirely female problem.
An article I read by Marion Leonard struck a chord. In her article, she discussed Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear concerts she attended where the bands insisted on a ‘Girls to the Front’ policy. Think about positioning at a rock concert- who will you typically find in the circle pit, and who would you find near the speakers? I know I for one fall into the latter category. But what does this suggest about the rock industry? I suppose, in a generalised way, that perhaps men are more seen as being suited to the cut and thrust of a music genre considered to be more aggressive and visceral than most. So much of modern rock takes place on stage, and when faced by an audience whose performance preferences lean towards the loud and the thrashing, a woman (who, let’s be honest, tend be softer in both body and voice) are invariably faced with more of a challenge.
It’s refreshing to see, women such as the one above. You may not be familiar with young Emilie Autumn, but last week, Kerrang! named her live performance (along with her dance troupe, the fantastically named Bloody Crumpets) as potentially ‘the best live performance’ of the year. Her shows are said to blend her pioneering ‘Victoriandustrial’ sound with burlesque-inspired circus acts. Many will feel Miss Autumn only earned her accolade due to the fact she romps about in next to no clothing, but the fact is, this stage show is pioneering- rather than adhering to the moshing, thrashing, typical performance of many of the rock bands today, Autumn’s performances are indisputably inherently feminine. You don’t have to be a fan (I’m not a massive one) to appreciate the steps women such as Autumn are taking- not just in terms of female musical identity, but music in general.