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So you want to be in a rock band?: Dissecting discrimination toward women rockers

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | November 3rd, 2008

As revealed last week, despite serious efforts made by both artists and industry professionals alike, unequal treatment, offensive stereotyping and degrading presuppositions regarding their musical abilities remain current challenges confronting women who venture into the male-dominated ranks of rockíníroll.

Some Ďchickrawkers,í in an effort to battle these issues head-on, advocate playing down their difference in order to achieve admission into the all boys club of rock, while others have taken a stand, embracing their femininity as a source of strength. Both positions, in my opinion, are equally justified, but clearly, as this problem persists, neither offers the complete solution.

To elaborate on why sexism in the music biz seems to have such staying power, Iíve invited fellow rocker, music critic, and my dear friend with whom Iíve shared the stage many times, Ash Keenan, frontwoman of Torontoís hardcore punk project Bukkake Katholik, to share her thoughts. Here is what she had to say:

Aspect one: Gear & technical
One of the fastest ways for a female band member to get dismissed as vacuous eye-candy is to not know her gear. And truly, from experience, that know-how doesnít come as readily to the ladies. Speakers, wattage, Ohms, DIís, mixers Ė it feels like a foreign language. When I hear the menfolk talk, itís as if they went to a secret rock band camp. In fact, I have a theory that this fantasy isnít far from truth.

Consider this: there arenít a lot of moms out there with music tech experience, but there are a whole lot of dads, and while, girls, as teenagers, are looking to get laid and doing so successfully with older guys, the awkward, sexually-repressed, pizza-faced boys have cloistered themselves in the Ďcoolí parentsí basement where they form bands and talk shop. Itís no wonder that by the time rock boys and rock girls are getting serious about forming and succeeding in a bitchiní rock outfit that there is a very distinct and divisive difference in technical knowledge. And since itís both easier and more advantageous to exchange knowledge than to teach it, the dudes continue to talk amongst themselves, unknowingly but effectively ostracizing the dude-ettes. And by that point, why shouldnít they? Itís obvious theyíre not interested in that stuff anyway. A very wise and worldly soundguy I know sums up the male attitude: ďTeach a woman to fish and sheíll go buy shoes.Ē

Aspect two: Composition
Compared to other aspects of the industry, writing is probably the area where men and women are on the most level playing field. However people still associate female songwriters with the more accessible, laid-back, love (or hate) obsessed Ďfeminineí singer/songwriter. A handful of times I have walked in on a conversation where a guy is complimenting one of my band members on his songwriting. When the band member explains that Iím the one he should be complimenting, itís always been the same weird reaction: the compliment flees the conversation, replaced by a facial expression somewhere between confusion and contempt. Itís so strange. Letís keep in mind that rock Ďní roll evolved from the music of slaves, and if, to quote John Lennon, ďwoman is the slave of the slaves,Ē shouldnít women be quite capable of rock composition? Is it that hard to conceive that the fairer sex can express the gravitas of the human condition in the aggressive manner it deserves? Hey, by that logic, arenít white males the least likely to be able to truly rock? But enough of semantics; letís move on to the third, and possibly most difficult category.

Aspect three: Performance
A female performer must be significantly better than a male counterpart to garner the same amount of praise Ė believe it, itís true. Like with the other areas discussed, there is an audience assumption that the woman just isnít gonna cut it. When a guy onstage is impressive itís par for the course; applause and shouting, some throwing of the goat, a post-gig pat on the back. When a woman kicks ass, thereís a required suspension of disbelief. When people are not willing to do that, well, they just donít believe it. Often theyíll find any reason to defend their position: ďYeah that band is okay, but itís only getting attention because of the hot chick lead singer (or the like)Ē is a favourite rock-crowd sound bite. The worst part is that often this petty logic is actually true.

There arenít enough women in rock bands to get a true percentage, but from what Iíve seen and heard I can formulate with some confidence that the greater the amount of tit-shaking, the lesser the quality of music. Why this is, I canít really say. Itís as if the endowed band member realized that the band sucks, but if she takes the twins out for a stroll, the audience will still react as if they are decent musically.

If you pit a great song against a nice pair of jugs in a predominantly male audience, put your money on the jugs. Itís not that a woman shouldnít have the right to dress like a five-dollar crackwhore whenever she pleases, but weíre talking about music here, arguably the greatest thing on earth. When itís great it requires no distraction and should be treated with the utmost reverence.

The fact that an article on sexism in the music biz ends with a discussion on tits may indicate how far we havenít come. But all in all I hope, like so many other professions, it is getting better. Even if women still have to press their ear to the door of the boysí club, maybe one day theyíll have a key that they can pass down to their daughters.
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