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Women and Rock Music


In the last century, with the rapid developments of all kinds of culture, rock music took place as a modern form of music in 1950s and since then it has soon gained a massive popularity. Nevertheless, rock music isn¡¯t simply playing a musical role in a conventional way like other form of music (i.e. Classical music), on account of its inherently rebellious characteristic. In association with women¡¯s music, the genre which did not emerge until the feminist movement of the 1970s<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[¢Ù]<!--[endif]-->, rock music has provided a performing sphere as well as a battlefield for women to join in to exert profound influences in terms of feminism. As a female rock music lover, I listen to rock music depending on my personal interest and sense of music and life, regardless of any social or cultural ideology. However, beyond the individual senses, when I consider about its significance and influence, gender identity is inevitably involved, because the everyday life where rock music¡¯s popularity based on is situated in a social environment where there is gender construction. As in many other cultural fields, for the sake of historical formation, patriarchy has been the dominant ideology in rock music, resulting in numerous difficulties and inequities for women who want to enter the field. In this essay, I will examine women¡¯s role and status within rock music as a modern cultural field. Further more, I will explore and analyse the interrelationship between women and rock music.

Gender construction

When I was first attracted by rock music, the major thing that impressed and appealed to me was its powerful dynamic. This kind of dynamic feels just like the name of the music: rock ¡¯n¡¯ roll. The beats and shouts are directly addressing to one¡¯s active and kinetic sides of human nature, while the music is simply formed by playing just few instruments such as drum, guitar and bass. Due to the increasing hearing experience, I got to know more about rock music. Somehow as a result later on, I was more impressed by its cultural meaning behind the performing stages. One might immediately ask a question: what is rock music?

Despite to the musical distinguishing features, I would like to credit it to a kind of spirit and representation. It can either be representations of popular culture and youth culture, or a kind of revolutionary spirit, or even a kind of rebellious force. While taking these for granted, it is not hard to find that rock music is mainly associated with masculinity, being widely divergent to the socially given norms of femininity such as docility. Historically, male rockers have evidently taken up a large scale of those who are most famous and influential, for instance, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Doors, Metallica, Nirvana, According to the patriarchal ideology, males are representations of power, hence masculinity just accords with the rock ¡¯n¡¯ roll characteristics. Not surprisingly, the ubiquitous gender construction exists in the rock field too. In 1960s, the early period of rock music, female appearance were few and tended to be imitations of males. Say for instance, Janis Joplin, who broke the conventional norms of female singer appearance of being pretty and having sweet voice, she appeared more like a male. Her performance was full of eruptive dynamic, had been massively recognized. However, her recognition was based on the recognition of male power; she was more like an exceptional figure which just covered up her gender identity. Rebecca Daugherty talked about the percentage of women rock product during the period:

In 1963, at the height of the girl groups' popularity, female artists recorded 32 percent of the records on the year-end singles chart. By 1969 only 6 percent of the year-end singles were by groups with female vocalists.<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[¢Ú]<!--[endif]-->

Considering rock music as popular culture and youth culture, it is necessary to draw on the gender discourse. Women were supposed to be fans (outsider), chasing rock stars, rather than being a rocker (producer). Historically, women have been defined to be unskilled in reference to the classical period of music. Rock music during that period had been few played by female instrumentalist which can be a proof for the conventional patriarchal ideology. And it was not only happening in the rock music circuit. Alice Gerrard, one of the members from the bluegrass band ¡°Hazel and Alice¡± wrote this in a letter:

"¡­One reason most women in bluegrass or even country music have tended not to possess the¡­skills is not for lack of inherent ability, but more because they have not been encouraged to develop these skills and qualities; or have felt and been made to feel that the skills were not in keeping with their oft-defined roles as women."<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[¢Û]<!--[endif]-->

The wide spread of rock music was also seeming to be reinforcement of the patriarchal ideologies. The unbalance of gender construction is the simplest evidence. It comes to the conclusion as Robert Walser¡¯s statement:

¡°Gender constructions¡­are significant not only because they reproduce and inflect patriarchal assumptions and ideologies but, more importantly, because popular music may teach us more than any other cultural form about the conflicts, conversations and bids for legitimacy and prestige that comprise cultural activity.¡±<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[¢Ü]<!--[endif]-->

Nonetheless, such situation went to a breach in late 1970s, due to the arisen feminism movement at the time. New type of female rocker took place, namely the so-called ¡°female singer-songwriter¡±. Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith are two exemplary figures who both have owned high degree of fames and influences. Joni Mitchell was a painter as well as music producer, whose concerns extended to not only the music but also politics and humanism. Her point of view from a female identity provided an ideaistic base for her musical works. Patti Simith was both a poet and a rocker. Similarly, she expressed her own experience and thoughts thru a large amount of songs embodied in lyrics. The two figures have successfully sought a new way for female rockers to make sounds. They preferred to express the feminine sides, rather than imitating male¡¯s masculinity as the former examples. In my opinion, their characteristics are much closer to the rock spirit, which is rebellious to the convention, and very recognizing for self-identification.

On the other side, feminism was rising at the time. As the feminist acclamations for the women¡¯s right and protests against patriarchy, women rockers appeared more and more powerful and independent from males.

In the enduing time, the 1980s, emergence of women musician increased. They were more accepted not only by the audience but also by a lot of records companies. One famous example is the independent music records called 4AD based in U.K. Females were able to take over a crucial position in bands, such as Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance. They were not only accepted as vocalists but also instrumentalists, say for example, the bassists of Pixies and Sonic Youth are both female.


Whilst having become accepted more dimensionally, female sexuality is another notable issue that embodies in rock music stages. There is a German women-made music called ¡°Flying Lesbian¡±, of which their declaration can be a lively starter:

"¡­we, the flying lesbians are lesbian and feminist and make rock music for women, preferably at women's dances. But we are not a showband and not pro's. We women are beginning to make our own music and to say in our lyrics what is meaningful for us. This is an important component of women's culture." (translation.)<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[¢Ý]<!--[endif]-->

As the increasing force from feminism getting stronger, in 1990s, queer theory came up, alongside with which lesbian happened to be a newfound type of women rockers. In the 1997 documentary film ¡°Righteous Babe¡± about feminists within rock music, which has borrowed the name of Ani DiFranco's record label, there are excellent illustrations of influential women rockers in the history, as well, it discussed about the imbroglio between female sexuality and the commercial market. Ani DiFranco is a famous figure of rock music, who is featuring bi-sexual identity in her songs. In the film, she was interviewed about the discourses of her songs such as abortion, sexuality perception and murders. Her response refused the saying of discourse, but emphasized on the fact that those were all her life experience only. Through combining the life experience of being a female and sexuality, she is successful in the career of rock music, and therefore I reckon her the best portraiture of the 90s¡¯ women rockers who are feminists with self-arousal of sexuality. Besides the commercial success, lesbian appearances have been considered as a threat to male. In contrast to the early women rock figures, lesbian rockers play their music not excluding much femininity but bring out more power against dominant masculinity. On the other hand, they challenged the mainstream ideas of ¡°being feminine¡±. Sinead O¡¯connor has exemplified this as she once screamed her rage out on her early performances. In spite of those much debating among feminists about whether deconstructing identities is politically expedient, it¡¯s been demonstrated that queering sexuality is an effective form of gender resistance.<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[¢Þ]<!--[endif]-->

Reviewing back to the popular culture, rock music is inevitably becoming more and more commercialized. As well, feminism is criticized to be commercialized. Featuring ¡°girl power¡±, Spice Girls is one of the most popular girl bands in late 90s¡¯. They were young and pretty, gorgeously packed by commercial records company. They have their own ¡°Spice rules¡± declaring that ¡°if you haven¡¯t got it, fake it; if you want it, get it¡±. As Spice Girls¡¯ acclamation for ¡°girl power¡±, they didn't really represent much either feminist spirit or rock spirit. Ironically, what they appeal to audience tends to be the sexy appearance rather than musical performance itself. In the film ¡°Righteous Babe¡±, the director quoted a fragment of lyrics from Elizabeth Wurtzel¡¯s ¡°Bitch¡± (1998) to make satirical meanings to Spice Girls:

These days / Putting out one's pretty power / one's pussy power / one's sexual energy / for popular consumption / no longer makes you a bimbo / it makes you smart

Ani DiFranco even criticized them as meaningless commercial label of women, who have become ¡°sex object¡± for men and don¡¯t do anything with feminism. Agreeing with Ani DiFranco¡¯s critic, I suppose that the rock music¡¯s commercial market conflicts with feminism because the contemporary consumer culture was constructed within the patriarchal ideology.


Gender construction and sexuality are the two major aspects of my analysis in the essay because in my opinion, they are best to illuminate the interrelationship of women and rock music. Within these to sections, rock music as popular culture and feminism as basic ideology are my subjects and orientation to view on the issues. I found that women and rock music have a dialectic relationship: feminism and rock spirit are both rebellious and claiming for powers; rock music provides a stage for women to exert influence and express; whilst rock music gained its popularity based on the patriarchal ideology. Music can be a tool for women to express opinions, embody artistic and musical talents. However, I don't think the two are really conflicting with each other, because feminism actually accords with rock spirit, because women and music actually have much common nature such as the sensitivity to the world. At this level, I want to end up with a quotation of Patti Smith, which expresses the very honest emotion of a woman in rock:

I thought it was Rimbaud but it was Dylan. I thought it was Dylan but it was me I was making. Sooner or later all of us must know. It comes on like a weeping revelation. It grips like a claw in the main. Everyman has got to do his own work. But when you get down to pure self portrait it¡¯s just the end of the line.<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[¢ß]<!--[endif]-->
Cut and paste alert!!


Rolling Eyes
Oh my God...

That's big text!!!!

I didn't read, so.... later i will do!

Patti Smith is one of the greatest artists ever.

What an intense essay. Smile
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