Thursday, September 2, 2010

Indie Rock's "Boys' Club" Problem

According to an article in The Guardian, "Indie likes to pride itself on having an enlightened sense of gender relations. But that doesn't stop female audience members from being groped at shows."

"Without a doubt, indie has a more enlightened sense of gender relations than many musical genres. You can see this in a number of areas, such as pioneering co-ed bands (Pixies, Arcade Fire, Lush, the White Stripes, Elastica, My Bloody Valentine, Quasi, Slowdive, the xx , Autolux, Beach House, the Kills, feel free to carry on) and the blending of gender-coded imagery where androgyny has been consistent in clothing and physicality. Blur didn't write "Girls who are boys, who like boys to be girls, who do boys like they're girls, who do girls like they're boys" for nothing. Androgyny can even been seen in the common use of falsetto by male singers as a higher register is usually associated with femininity. The blending of gender imagery is common in rock and pop, but the central value of equality, even between performers and audience has made humanist gender relations the ideal in indie." (Emphasis mine)

Many forms of popular music have embraced androgyny and sexual fluidity. It has never guaranteed equality among its performers, fans, or critics, though. 80s glam metal was rife with misogyny while its members donned full-face makeup and tight clothing. Indie rock (which, in 2010, has become a nebulous term for anything "not popular," though a lot of is indistinguishable from mainstream rock), is purportedly more inclusive. On the surface, it looks that way, but dig deeper and the same old problems emerge. Aside from the bands mentioned, indie bands are largely male. Of the top ten bands on tagged "indie" only Belle and Sebastian has any female members.

"At indie shows, you still see gender distinctions in distribution patterns and activities. Women tend to stand right at the front and by the speaker stacks, rarely in the central area where dancing might happen. Groping is absolutely taboo, yet women are still loathe to crowd surf because it only takes one jerk in an audience to violate a woman which limits her ability to participate in audience activities available to males."

I'm nearing the end of my show-going days, but I usually stand front and center because I'm usually shooting. (Actually, front and center isn't the best position. Nostril shots.) I have been groped, shoved, had my ear screamed into by the guy next to me who insisted shouting his request, never mind that the band on stage couldn't hear it, and have had numerous pitchers of beer spilled on me. Some of that is part and parcel of club life, but the groping is vile and disgusting, scary and oh yeah, illegal. I've left shows because someone decided to grab at me for, I guess, the unspeakable crime of being a woman dancing at a rock show. I can't vouch for crowd surfing, given that most the acts I see these days are well into their forties -- and their fans as well -- and less likely to pitch their bodies into the crowd. I have been to a few shows where I was one of few women in the crowd, and that's an uneasy feeling itself.

"There is an assumption if you are female at a show that you are sexually available to performers. Just earlier this year, on Jeopardy (a popular game show in the US), university student Lindsay Eanet said she would like to be a music journalist like the fictional character William Miller (from Almost Famous, based on the experiences of Cameron Crowe writing for Rolling Stone). The host said, "Oh, so you want to be a groupie?" As she explained that she wanted to be a professional journalist, he once again mouthed to the camera "groupie"

Ugh. I'd like this trope to stop, ASAP. Can I add "cool rock chick" to the (short) list of archetypes for women who like music? Groupie or Cool Chick. Sexually available or "one of the guys." As someone who has fallen into the "one of the boys," trap far too often, this is a particular thorn in my side: the perception that women don't enjoy music; they want to band the lead singer. The only alternative is to prove yourself by being as good at being a hardcore fan as the guys. Not being a musician myself, I can only speak as a fan. I'm usually mistaken for someone's wife who was dragged there unwillingly, and if not, most men are flummoxed that I came alone. Do I feel safe? Not always, but I take precautions like not drinking or hanging out after. I shouldn't have to, and the only reasons nothing has happened to me is because I've been pretty lucky. The next generation shouldn't have to worry about being "lucky."

1 comment:

  1. I disagree 1000% with the Guardian's premise that indie rock is more woman-friendly than other rock genres.

    I was a highly-active member of a scene in a certain college town for years. It is painful to even discuss now. Let's just say the men had a fabulous time and still recount happy memories from their glory days. Whenever ex-scenester women get together, we talk about the disgusting, soul-crushing levels of sexism and sexual assault.

    If we dare speak of this with the men, we get the verbal beat down immediately, and are reminded that now, just as 'back then', there is/was a good reason to ignore our voices- we have nothing worthwhile to say and should just be happy to serve our function- walking fuckholes.

    Yeah, some "pride" in gender equality.