Why “women in rock” magazine issues are both highly relevant and highly depressing

Until recently, Decibel Magazine was the only print music magazine that I had a subscription for, which was either a reflection of the sorry state of print publishing or the sorry state of my discretionary income. (I recently subscribed to the highly underrated Rock – A – Rolla magazine, based in the U.K., because it’s probably the best reflection of my current musical tastes: noisy and experimental.)

My metal interests are not “extremely extreme” like Decibel‘s editorial staff, but I really enjoy the writing and I usually discover three or more new albums or bands to check out with every issue.

I’ve also long been impressed with the open-mindedness of the magazine’s online community, especially compared to the sausagefest that is the norm for most music blogs, where rampant sexism (racism … homophobia … just go down the list) and all around douchebaggery can often reign supreme, especially in the comments. I’m used to reading “get back in the kitchen” or “that’s gay” at least once when anything involving gender and sexuality is mentioned. In turn, I remember being very pleasantly surprised when Decibel’s coverage of Cretin’s Marissa Martinez’ transition from male to female in 2008 was responded to with positive encouragement from blog commenters.

Decibel’s first Women in Metal issue hits newsstands next week and it is in its way, a response (or at least an alternative) to Revolver’s annual (and infamous) “hottest chicks in rock” issue, which usually features the female lead singer of some Hot Topic-approved hard rock/metal band in a corset or something. It presumably sells well, since they do it every year, and honestly Revolver isn’t doing anything different than Rolling Stone or other magazine that sexualize female musicians and singers on their covers. These kinds of covers sell, point blank. Sad to say, but it’s kind of a bold move for any music magazine these days to feature female musicians, fully clothed and not provocatively posed, on its cover. I can’t even look at a guitar magazine and avoid at least one ad with a bikini clad blonde model. She’s not even playing it! She’s just straddling it!

And yes, it’s 2012, and the idea of having a magazine issue devoted to female musicians seems like a step back, not a step forward in some ways. Most women musicians don’t self-identify themselves as women musicians, just musicians. And music is idealized as being gender blind, color blind, egalitarian, universal. But it’s often not in the mainstream music press, and certainly not in online music fandom where female musicians are almost always evaluated by their looks first and their talent later, if at all. But to mention this double standard on any level means you’re spoiling the utopian ideal of it being “just about the music, maaaaan.” It’s easy to just write off these comments as the work of trolls, but no one wants to feel like they’re being crapped on as soon as they walk in a room. Reading some of the comments on some metal blogs about Decibel’s women in metal issue only confirmed it for me, there were a lot of positive comments but most of were rating the women on their perceived hotness or even worse, in the case of Cretin’s Martinez, some really nasty transphobic comments.

I am far enough removed from the metal scene personally these days to not take the trolling to heart the way I would have, say, in my teens and early 20’s, but I feel for the younger women who are really active in this community – there seems to be a pressure to either remove your identity completely from the issue of gender to be a part of the scene or call out sexism on any level and be written off as a humorless, angry man-hater, because (all together now) “it’s about the music, maaan.”

So to me, Decibel’s issue doesn’t feel like pandering or ghettoizing. It’s still the elephant in the room in a music community that’s still largely homogenous, even with its proud outsider label. I want to hear what women in metal think about being active in such a hypermasculine scene, if they honestly feel like things have gotten better in the recent years. I’d love to say that I never want to read about this topic again, that it’s played out and over-covered. But it’s not. When this topic stops being relevant, I’ll stop wanting to hear about it.

Comments (4)

Awsome essay. Ya can’t win. Recently saw a lot of this around Fuzz Box Girl’s release of a signature fuzz pedal. She knows her fuzz, is a rockin’ guitarist and has made something of a livelihood for herself as an fx demo persona and blogger. And yeah her image is badass-sexy; so what? The responses on forums from the “he-man woman haters club” was really an embarrassment. Simultaneously titillated and moralistic, but most of all just plain disturbed that a woman would know anything about GEAR (let alone way more than they might). To be fair there were also guys who stood up for her, though often with the caveat “I don’t like her image,” or “I don’t like how she exploits her sexuality,” and so on. Fuck them too, really.

Thanks, Nick. I feel like in a way, the internet makes it easier for guys to act like dicks about stuff like this. there’s definitely a boys club mentality in a lot of those forums, which is why i don’t participate as much as I would like.

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