Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rock, Women, and Androgyny

Sara Kanter's post about 70s rocker Suzi Quatro reminded me of a quote from Simon Reynold's book, The Sex Revolts, that I filed away some time ago:

"Suzi Quatro is the archetypal male impersonator. As a teenager, she fronted one of the few (if not only) all-girl garage punk bands, The Pleasure Seekers... Quatro's demin-clad, no-nonsense image showed she was one of the boys." (p.244)

Kanter agrees:

"Like the guys, Suzi was a gender-bender. Instead of the low-cut polyester frocks that the disco divas preferred, Suzi wore black leather jumpsuits adorned with zippers. She had a shag haircut that could out-do Rod Stewart's any day. She fronted her band with authority while her hair wafted like Farrah Fawcett's. She audaciously belted out lyrics about boys whose "engines" weren't ready to go. Plus, she fucking handled one of the heaviest bass models of her time with ease!"

A few months ago, I drafted a post about women, rock, and androgyny, based on the success of Janelle Monae, whose tuxedoed image has been the talk of the music (and feminist) blogosphere, and La Roux's Elly Jackson, who also sports an "androgynous" look and covered The Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb" without changing the genders.

And then it went kind of downhill. And I never published the damn thing.

There are so many ways I could approach this: one, as someone who has never in her life been a "girly girl" (and hadn't even heard the term "girly girl" until her late-twenties), I am beyond thrilled to see examples of women making in the music industry without having to "sex it up."


Rock's construct is tough, wild, loud and intrinsically male. Being "one of the boys" isn't about challenging anything. I've spent a chunk of my adult life in the company of male music fans, most of whom show a good deal of contempt for "chick music." Who makes the grade? Joan Jett. Patti Smith. Chrissie Hynde. Lucinda Williams once in a while. Basically anyone who "rocks pretty hard for a girl." And I love those three artists, too, but deeming an artist worthy because she "rocks like a guy" is kind of fucked up. I don't think that was the point of original post, nor the book -- I am a fan of both Bitch and The Sex Revolts and I fear looking overly critical when I take notice of the phrase, "she was the original male impersonator." Donning a pair of leather pants and a guitar doesn't make one a dude. Or it shouldn't.

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