Angry women in rock?

// 29 March 2010

I’m not totally convinced by the premise of this Guardian feature – that women in rock are less angry (implicitly about sexism) than they once were.

Nonetheless, Jude Rogers has interviewed some really interesting people, including Joan Jett, Kristin Hersh and Kathleen Hanna, and it’s well worth a read.

But sadly, mainstream music culture has always thrived on competition, creating what the media always calls “catfights”, says Kristin Hersh, now a solo artist, but in the 80s the frontwoman of the influential American band Throwing Muses. That enforced competition, she says, is why she “ran away” from her contract with Warners in the mid-1990s. She believes challenging music is still being made by women, and in the same volume as ever before, “but the music you hear, the music being marketed, is dumb, because the record companies are desperate”. This is why she set up Cash Music, she says, a website through which her fans can pay directly for music and gig tickets. “And it’s everything. I’m not asked to do photo shoots in underpants any more, nor am I getting my eyebrows plucked six or seven times a days and wondering, ‘What the hell is my job now?'”

In fact, once you look outside the mainstream, there are many women involved in small-scale rock ventures, keeping the flame alive. Kathleen Hanna, the former frontwoman of Bikini Kill and now the singer in Le Tigre, highlights the influence of the riot grrrl movement in small women’s magazines such as Venus, Bust and Bitch, in the rock camps for teenagers that are taking off across the US, and in modern bands who reference the sounds of female post-punk groups such as Delta 5 and The Mo-dettes. “Even though they don’t sing every song about politics, paying homage to these bands means they see themselves in relation to women that have gone before them, which is a deeply political message of its own.” She adds that we shouldn’t forget Beth Ditto’s power as a female role model influenced by riot grrrl, and remembers that the movement encouraged women to start the bands they wanted to start, not to start a group that sounded exactly like someone else. “From what I see,” she says proudly, “this is happening.”

Cazz Blase, author of our ongoing series on British women punks is quoted too!

(NB: I’m traveling, so moderating of comments will be slower than usual.)

Comments From You

Jude // Posted 30 March 2010 at 10:50 am

Hi Jess! That wasn’t my implication at all, to be honest – I was implying that the music industry makes it harder for women to feel like they can voice anger these days, which does have an effect. Also, the interviews I’ve got with contemporary musicians definitely don’t suggest that the anger has lessened.

The sentence in the second paragraph – “But it actually sounds old-fashioned for a very different reason – because women in rock are rarely angry any more” is deliberately provocative, and I go on to pick it apart – something that lots of people have emailed me to say thank you for. However, I had no space to go into the idea of “anger” properly, as well as some other burning issues, so I’m publishing the interview transcriptions on my website. Do read, and thanks! Jude.

Melaszka // Posted 7 April 2010 at 11:27 am

Sorry for the very late comment on this. I really enjoyed the Guardian article and have been having long discussions with friends about it. I do take issue with some of what it says, though e.g.:

“And even with artists like Florence and the Machine, there’s almost that Victorian idea coming back of the hysterical woman. I know lots of teenage girls relate to that, but there’s no sense of empowerment about it”

As this article, which a friend recently sent me from a US feminist blog, points out, one of the many ways that female artists are routinely trivialised by the media is to be dismissed as “kooky”, “elfin” or “hysterical women”, regardless of the actual content of their music:

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