Women in Rock and Roll/Rock and Roll in Women
The rock and roll scene has often been credited with pushing limits in society. However, the role which women have played in rock music has been less than what one might consider progressive. Women have certainly performed a vital role in shaping rock and roll, but rock has also shaped women in unfortunate ways. The genre of rock and roll has carried misogynistic overtones throughout history by relentlessly viewing women as incompetent, not accepting femininity from female performers, and giving male sexual predators a platform.
Throughout the history and progress of rock and roll, women have not received nearly as much visibility as men. This is not unheard of, however, when it comes to many different forms of art and entertainment. A 2012 report done by the Women’s Media Center: The Status of Women in the US Media states that “Women have consistently been underrepresented in occupations that determine the content of news and entertainment media, with little change in proportions over time” (Drane). Nevertheless, rock and roll culture has a specific method of treating its own women as though they are less than their male peers.
According to Steve Waksman, who is a professor of Music and American Studies at Smith College, women are often treated as though they are inept in dealing with tools, therefore the marginalization of women playing instruments is rather unsurprising. Waksman further explains this by stating that “Singing is something that’s been more open to female artists because even though it requires a lot of talent, it’s also something that comes more directly from the body, and somehow we’re more comfortable with women having a natural talent as opposed to one that involves mastering a tool or a skill” (Drane). This places women in an inferior position to men–a position which presents them as incapable of learning the most essential parts of being a rock and roll performer. Women are provided with less room to be experimental than men are when “rock and roll is a style in which, at least visibly, the best artists are rule breakers,” as Waksman explains it (Drane). Women are consequently maintained at a lower value to rock music and at no fault of their own.
This idea that women are inadequate in the face of the challenges of being a rock and roll performer has been expressed by famous rock figures throughout history. Frank Zappa confirmed this preconception when he stated, “I don’t think there’s a girl around that would fit in with what we do” (Wright-Mendoza). Joni Mitchell described being viewed as less adequate than her male peers when she said in an interview, “For the most part I found that initially they always lumped me in with the women. Whereas in fact what I was doing was not what most of the women were doing. My peer group was really Phill Ochs, and Dylan, and Eric, and David Blue. Basically that was my peer group. They had me lumped in with Judy Collins, who didn’t really write at that time, and Baez” (Wright-Mendoza). The fact that an entire gender is being treated as a music genre further illustrates the fact that women are not viewed with the same level of seriousness with which men in rock and roll are viewed.
According to Jack White, “It’s a real shame that if a woman goes on stage with an instrument, it’s almost a novelty. Like, ‘Oh, isn’t that cute.’ It’s a shame that in 2014 that’s a little bit of what’s going on in the perception in the room” (Wright-Mendoza). The perception of women in rock music has evolved in a surprisingly scarce manner. Viewing women as simple and inadequate has remained rather consistent in the culture of rock and roll.
However, sexism in rock culture goes beyond a lack of visibility and opportunities provided for women. History seems to prove that a woman will be more successful if she fits into a specific mold. Often, she must shed her femininity and take on more masculine attributes in order to be taken seriously. Janice Joplin, for example, was well-known for her struggles to become “one of the guys” in order to make it in the business (Auslander). Although she was often regarded for her ability to blend in with her male counterparts, after her passing, her ex-lover Joseph McDonald explained that “Sexism killed her. Everybody wanted this sexy chick who sang really sexy and had a lot of energy … and people kept saying one of the things about her was that she was just ‘one of the guys’ … that’s a real sexist bullshit trip, ‘cause that was fuckin’ her head around … she was one of the women. She was a strong, groovy woman. Smart, you know? But she got fucked around” (Wright-Mendoza). Assuming that what McDonald said was true, it is clear that Janis Joplin felt pressure to change her lifestyle and herself–a pressure that was not necessarily put on men in her business.
Janice Joplin herself confirmed her own internal misogyny when questioned in an interview for Village Voice about why she didn’t perform with other women. Joplin remarked, “You show me a good drummer and I’ll hire one. Show me a good chick … Besides I don’t want any chicks on the road with me,” before going on to say, “I’ve got enough competition, man. No, I like men” (Wright-Mendoza). These statements speak volumes about her perception of other women. Her views align with the ideas of the rock and roll scene and other performers such as Frank Zappa, despite the fact that she herself is a woman. She must shed her femininity and speak about women in a misogynistic manner in order to gain any amount of respect within her profession.
The culture of rock and roll is guilty of treating its own women poorly and yet it extends to women beyond that. The culture of rock and roll has a history of providing a platform to men who are sexual predators. The bass player for The Runaways, Jackie Fuchs, addressed her own rape by her manager, Kin Fowley, when she was underage (Auslander). Furthermore, the evolution of rock culture gave rise to the popularity of groupies in the 1970’s. Artists such as Jimmy Page and Iggy Pop were sexual predators as they engaged in sexual activities with “baby groupies,” or underage girls. Iggy Pop’s lyrics: “I slept with Sable when she was 13, her parents were too rich to do anything” in his song, “Look Away,” say it all (Auslander). These men were given a platform and endless power. If they wished to have sex with a thirteen-year-old girl, then they did so. They could even speak openly of their predatory behavior with little repercussion. Rock culture is not the only culture guilty of idolizing predators. For years, society has placed a man’s reputation at a higher importance than a woman’s safety from sexual exploitation. This is evident in the fear of victims of assault and continuous success of pedophiles, rapists, and sexual exploiters (Almukhtar).
Generally, the first world has seemed to accept the concept that women are capable of progress and self-improvement similarly to men. More and more fields of work and recreation have begun to extend more equal opportunities to women. Although some progress has certainly been made in reshaping the way rock and roll fans view women, society has a long way to go. Women have played a part in making rock what it is today and they have been around since the beginning. Unfortunately, however, the rock and roll scene has had and continues to have misogynistic overtones.
- Almukhtar, Sarah, et al. “After Weinstein: 71 Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct and Their Fall From
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- Advocate, 27 Jan. 2016, valleyadvocate.com/2016/01/25/women-rock/.
- Wright-Mendoza, Jessie. “No Girls Allowed? Women and Rock N’ Roll.” Blank on Blank, 27
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