Saturday, August 7, 2010

Girl fans and Fangirls Revisited

It seems as though I'm writing about music fandom instead of musicians themselves a lot these days. Granted, I have a hell of a lot more experience as a fan than as a musician (that would be exactly two months of piano lessons and grade school chorus), but I feel like I'm shouting down a rabbit hole every time the subject comes up and someone decides to revisit the old trope that women are emotional, visceral creatures while men are nothing but rational and logical, and this spills over into the ways men and women experience popular culture.

I am trying to write a book review* for another site. I want to keep it light because overall I enjoyed the book. It's a music-themed memoir of sorts, and I was totally charmed until the author posited that girls' fandom is more visceral, emotional and less preoccupied with coolness or validity. Even if that is true, I highly doubt there is a gene for rock coolness and another for swooning. I think we're missing the larger picture here. Women's culture, anything made for or by women, is devalued. "Guy stuff" is serious; "girl stuff" is superfluous and silly; not serious. Even if it's meant as some sort of compliment (girls don't have to worry about being "cool"), it removes women and girls from the intellectual sphere. I know plenty of women who are critics, who are incredible and breaking down pop culture, but the cliche of the panting, screaming "fangirl" rules the day.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a lot written about women as fans from a woman's perspective. I keep going back to this three-year-old post from a blog called Online Fandom: Does the internet make it easier to be a female music fan? In it, Nancy Baym says:

"Meanwhile, music on and offline is as much of a boy’s club as it’s ever been. When I worked in a record store (the only woman who worked at that store), almost all of our customers were male, and all of the ones who came in and dropped tons of cash on large stacks of records and later CDs were. Women in bands are expected more than ever to be sex objects as well as singers (have a look at coverage of the most recent American Idol if you doubt that). But few and far between as women in bands are, fewer and further between are women behind the counters at record stores, working at record labels, acting as managers (let alone producers or engineers), and working behind the scenes at “Music 2.0” sites. We can’t expect the internet to overcome a playing field that unlevel to begin with."

My own experience as an online music fan has been a mixed bag. I can easily fall into the "guy's girl" role, thus exempting myself from any perceived "swooning," but it doesn't do much to elevate women's status as fans or as band members. I've often felt my taste is questioned if I have too many "chicks" on my playlist. (From my not-so scientific studies, men generally don't listen to music made by women -- at least, not that often.) I studiously avoid the mainstream music blogosphere, although I've never experienced any overt sexism, which makes it all the harder to identify. I think that's why the stereotype of women as less serious music fans hits a nerve with me. A few months ago, Tiger Beatdown did this Ladypalooza series, which was some of the best writing on women and music I've read since... well, probably ever. Although I've never played in a band, Silvana's post resonated with me:

"I had moved to the United States when I was seventeen, and I didn’t know anything about music. Everything I knew was out of date. To my mind, Nirvana was still new and this was in the year 2000. And so I fell in with all these Band Dudes who were very serious about music and took each other’s opinions about music Very Seriously. Everything they listened to was made by men. The Pixies had Kim Deal; that was basically it. As far as they were concerned, Kim Deal was the only woman in the history of women who didn’t suck at music. My only frame of reference for women making music was when I had listened to TLC and the Pocahontas soundtrack back in the eighth grade (”how high does the sycamore grow…” I can still sing that song top to bottom). So I felt like I was the only young woman in the world who felt like making some goddamned rock music."

Ugh. The Kim Deal paradox. Don;t get me wrong, I love Kim Deal, but I'm probably quite a few years older than Silvana, and I can't count on my fingers the number of acceptable "rock chicks." Kim Deal is one. Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth is another. Sometimes Neko Case and Jenny Lewis qualify. Joan Jett is usually grandfathered (grandmothered?) in. One thing I notice all of them have is a kind of "one of the guys" quality. My experience with other music fans has been similar.

* I don't really want to call out the author without writing a full review.


  1. I do agree that women are less interested in validity. They like what they like and if some critic doesn't like it, big deal. A good example would be Melissa Etheridge fans. I believe Rolling Stone named her the worst rock act of 1993. Did her fans care? Nope.

    It removes them from the intellectual sphere if you consider rock music to be an intellectual sphere. There is certainly some intellectual rock music (Dylan), but, for the most part, it's misogynistic boy/men wailing pathetically about some woman they can't fuck while simulating masturbation on a guitar. I love rock music but the Algonquin Round Table it's not.

    I certainly wish there were more women who rocked my socks off but like you say, most women in rock are 'one of the guys' types and the patriarchy tells women they need to stay 'fuckable' and feminine.

  2. I thought about that after I posted this. I should have clarified: I was thinking more along the lines of rock criticism and the more hardcore kinds of fans, where women are underrepresented. Not being a music, or a music writer in a professional setting, I can only speak as a fan.