The Mister and I went to a couples’ workshop recently, which I may or may not expound upon later (I haven’t decided if it’s worth it, because while it was interesting, it wasn’t mind-blowing), during which we were asked to have an honest conversation about our goals for ourselves. One of mine was that I wanted to feel like my new band is respected as musicians, full stop- no qualifiers. Not good for girls, not just a good novelty act. Good at playing our instruments, period.
“Maybe you shouldn’t focus so much on it being all girls, then,” he said.
This comment has stuck with me ever since. I think of it often when I see the description of the band on our promo material: all female Soundgarden tribute. Is he right? Does the focus on the female part mean that we’re exploiting our gender such that people won’t be able to see past the novelty of the act to the fact that we’re actually good? This brings me back to my feminist-bashing highschool days, where my take on gender inequality was that if you focus on it, it only brings that problem to the forefront and creates a bigger division. You want equality? Then blend in with the status quo and prove you can hang! Quit making such a big deal about how girls can do it too, and just do it.
The problem with this is that the status quo, particularly when it comes to heavy music, is almost entirely a male-created and male-driven proposition, so blending in requires adopting some rather paternalistic mores. The Riot Grrl movement got it right in creating space for women in music where they were explicitly rejecting the misogyny of mainstream rock and creating visibility for women in music. They created a new breed of women for girls to look up to and use as role models in building a musical career.
The problem with Riot Grrl was, for me, I didn’t like any of the music they were creating, so their politics were likewise ignored. In retrospect I wish I’d given it more of a chance and considered the message despite the medium- but no use crying over the Lactaid on the floor. At the time, the only female I knew of playing the music I liked was Sean Yseult, and there were no overtly political messages being issued from her camp, so I doddered along with the non-boy-threatening position that there is no place in heavy music for being all feministy playing bass while in possession of ladybusiness. Now Sean has a book out where she talks about how being the only girl could get uncomfortable and how the gender imbalance affected her, but in 1993 I didn’t have that insight to apply to my own experience.
Later on, I began seeing the error in this methodology and how it isn’t so successful in infiltrating and subverting that proverbial dominant paradigm from the inside so much as it just helps perpetuate the existing order. There are concessions you make to be on the inside in the first place (“Well, I guess I can put up with that one totally gross naked blond poster in the corner of the practice room, as long as they don’t think of ME that way…”) that once you’re in you find yourself identifying with a little too much, until you don’t want to speak out at all anymore lest it jeopardize your place in this world in which you want so badly to prove your worth. And you have no examples of how to handle this identity schism gracefully, or address the fact that things seem psychically skewed against your favor, and you start to see how it might be nice to have other women around to work with to counter the hyper-masculinity and (hopefully) back you up when you object to the naked blond poster. I wish I’d had some kind of roadmap for how to be a woman in that world.
So this is where I’m at with putting any kind of focus on us being an all-female band. I think it’s an important distinction to make, not because we’re playing off our sexuality, but because I want to send the message to girls that YOU CAN DO THIS TOO. I want to be explicit about it, because women are still so underrepresented in rock, and I think bringing our gender to the forefront helps normalize us being part of that world.
In an ideal world, calling that out would have no bearing on our ability as musicians; it would simply be a statement of identity that could allow other women to identify and feel like there’s a place for them. As it is, I know that this particular identity carries the insidious value assumption, however unconscious, that we’re not as good as guys, and that making it an integral part of the band identity and brand practically invites the “you’re good for girls” comments. On the other hand, it could strike some as so unexpected that we’re perceived as super-good for doing something guys would be ignored for, which is insulting in its own right since its predicated on the assumption that it takes more work for us to accomplish the same thing. It’s like the Great Dad fallacy, where men are seen as FANTASTIC dads for simply changing a diaper, but when a woman does it it’s no big deal because it’s expected of her. It’s an interesting line to walk, and either way it’s irrevocably colored by gender.
But I think this is the muck we have to trudge through to achieve the goal of being inspirational to other women and to change the gender landscape. There will be people who take our gender as a novelty; who wouldn’t think twice about a Soundgarden tribute except for DUDE, HOT CHICKS!!! And to them, I say: Thank you for your money. Because of the way women are experienced in our culture, there’s going to be an overlay of sexuality when we make a point of our gender; I acknowledge that- and in the business of entertainment, whether male or female, sexy gives you an advantage. But personally, I’m not pushing the female thing because of the sexy factor. For me, it’s about expanding the cultural consciousness of what women are capable of. It’s about making a point that we can do this without being part of the boys’ club (at least on a small scale; we’re still operating within a larger context of the ‘local music scene’ which is still largely male-driven).
Putting our gender on display will no doubt function as a way to be dismissed as a novelty to some, but if it can make some women feel that playing and enjoying heavy music is more accessible to them, I’ll take a few bogans along the way. We’re not going to make progress by directly changing mens’ minds anyway; we’re going to do it by getting more women involved and altering the makeup of the community.
So, no. I’m not going to take the focus off of us being an all-female band. It may compromise the perception of our abilities among the less enlightened, but ultimately the politics of it are more important to me than compliments. Although I wish that we were at a place in society where it didn’t make any difference, I think that as of right now- when “all-female” IS still rare enough that it’s a novelty- ignoring that fact does a disservice to other women who could gain inspiration from seeing us out there. And anyway it would feel disingenuous, conceding that we won’t get respect unless we downplay the fact that we’re all women. On the contrary, that kind of visibility is what’s needed to keep building up the female contingent.