Women in Music

Boots of Letty, lead singer of  San Antonio punk band FEA.

Boots of Letty, lead singer of  San Antonio punk band FEA.

I remember the long, awkward pause after my first boyfriend told me he didn’t like all-female or female fronted bands.  I had been trying to talk to him about Brody Dale, singer for the Distillers, before he cut me off and shut me down with, “Women just don’t know how to capture the essence of rock n roll.”

I felt so disrespected that I was constantly having to prove my knowledge on music to him. In that moment, I realized his how hollow encouragement was when I told him I wanted to start my own band.

Over the years, I’d be astonished at just how many men shared this same view point not just with rock n roll, but with music in general.  “It’s just my opinion,” they would say softly, mocking my annoyance with “It’s just music,” proving that whatever my counter argument would be, it didn’t matter.

Though my experiences in the limited amount of time I've spent in the music scene (or industry or whatever you want to call it) have been mostly positive, I have encountered different indirect sexist mannerisms. From instances like men introducing themselves only to my business partner and not even acknowledging me (what would a 24 year old Mexican woman know about running shit, right?), to musicians not taking interviews seriously and using it as an opportunity to flirt, to certain levels of infatuated aggression and misguided possession that are enough to make anyone uncomfortable, to being groped while trying to photograph a show, to others who completely tune out to my opinion.

However, the two worst by far: one, the misogynistic comments casually dropped in conversations I have to pretend like I didn’t hear, in order to not jeopardize a company opportunity; and two, seeing the pain, discomfort and frustration it causes amazing ladies in the music scene I’ve grown to know.  The unfortunate part of it all is that to no degree is it going to let up or “get better”. Because much like anything else that is systemic, that’s just how the inner workings behind music are, and it’s all just a matter of how much you love the art of music.  

Pauline Black, pioneer of punk and from the band The Selecters, was interviewed by Flavorwire for their Forgotten Women of Punk Series where she states:

Yeah. It’s about the power of subculture, and also the power of multiculturalism. That’s what we’ve emphasized over the last five years, that 2 Tone came together to show that black people and white people could get along perfectly fine in a band and make really great music. In a way that says more against racist ideas than any full-scale thesis could really do —just seeing it, the visual aspect of seeing that, and of seeing a woman fronting a band, a fairly male milieu, and having ideas and having a very upfront image and way of putting those ideas across. And that still resonates today.
— Pauline Black, The Selecters

Sexism, misogyny and just straight up lack appreciation plague every nook and cranny of the music industry having an effect on every music genre of music and aspect of it.

In fact, I didn't realize the extremity of how bad it was until rock critic, journalist (and personal hero), Jessica Hopper brought it to attention amidst the release of her first novel 'The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic'

With a single tweet, she lit a beacon for women in the music industry to come forth and share their stories. The response wasn't just a a handful, the response came from hundreds of women from all over, even women who are widely known and respected throughout the music community to the point that media got involved,  The Daily Dot wrote an article including a small gist of the overwhelming response

So what's a lady to do when her passion and escape are simultaneously liberating her and destroying her? When the further it takes her in life, the more it's working against her?  I hate how painfully aware I am of just how misogynistic music is and when I really sit and think about it and how it affects youth culture it makes me question why I do what I love in the first place. When I turn on the radio, I cringe at the lyrics I hear from The Weeknd’s newest song dampening my spirits on the amazing beat he decided to correlate them with. I cringe when I revisit the songs that got me through my roughest adolescent years such as Sense Fail’s “Tie Her Down”.

So with this, we air out  frustrations, we share with you what we’ve seen been happening, we discuss the issues in the three main genres of music, discuss the trials and tribulations women must go through to be considered “musicians” when the reality is we are considered “muses” at best,  and we praise the music of those women who long fucking deserve it. 

Dismantling a Common Problem

Language commonly used in media impacts the way that we talk about women in music/ women and music. Why can’t we talk about women and music without including the factor of fashion? Why is this so prevalent in the way we talk about woman-identifying musicians? Unfortunately, it’s never been a matter of how or how well these women are presenting their art, it’s how they look doing it.

Of course there are bands such as GWAR who’s appearance and stage production play a role in their performance but never have I read an article that includes something along the lines of “Conor Oberst walked on stage in his signature navy hoodie, scuffed chucks and gave the performance of a lifetime and closed out the night with ‘First Day of my Life’" Why? Because unless it contributes to the performance itself,  it’s not relevant. 

As a journalist, I understand the need of having to meet a certain word count, I understand the need of trying to capture the overall essence of a show, but describing the music and performance rather than outfits is essentially a must and shouldn’t even be a problem to begin with. Contextualization is journalism 101.

Excerpt of a local article written about Chulita Vinyl Club (some members pictured above) 

Excerpt of a local article written about Chulita Vinyl Club (some members pictured above) 

In an article published in Noisey, all female rock band Skinny Girl Diet exasperatedly addresses this matter on a personal front stating:

“We had an article written about us that was scrutinizing us on what we were wearing rather than what they were hearing, which defeats the whole object of us creating music. It was really frustrating, because male bands can roll up wearing something they’ve slept in the night before with no questions asked or wear a full head to toe glitter suit and be seen as eccentric rather than making an effort. They wouldn’t be seen as a “fashion” band, which is what girls instantly get if they feel like expressing themselves in that way while making music. It just highlights how our society is so looks orientated still; it’s about the art, not make-up we’re wearing.

In a review of one of our shows, a music (not fashion) critic for the Guardian wrote, “The effort they’ve put into their clothes – Delilah wears a quirky trouser suit adorned with slogans and her sister a silver lamé jumpsuit, while Cutler goes for a regulation riot grrrl pinafore dress – suggests they are keen to impress.”
— Skinny Girl Diet

You’re Welcome for Rock n Roll

In reference to my opening statement, let’s acknowledge history and get one thing straight: A woman invented rock n roll, and not just any woman, a woman of color.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a guitar prodigy by the age of four which was not only a major accomplishment as a whole, but it was a huge accomplishment for a person of color during this time period. Sister Rosetta Tharpe influenced the music of rock n roll big leaguers such as Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Born to musicians/ cotton pickers in the early 190s, Rosetta Tharpe got her musical start through her parents and by performing in church and would later become the first artist to become a gospel music’s first crossover star. 

A great aspect of rock n roll is the "I don't care what you think" attitude of it. So when badasses like Janis Joplin, Chrissie Hynde, Suzi Quatro, The Runaways, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Siouxie Sioux, Kim Gordon and Debbie Harry were leaving their staple on rock history, they rolled with the punches and threw a few of their own.

Genre to call our own: From Punk to Riot Girl to Punk Rock Feminism

There were those that were on the front lines of creating subgenres of rock such as punk in the early to mid 70s. The Slits and Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex paved the way for bands such as Babes in Toyland, L7. Women like Exene Cervenka, Alice Bag and Kim Gordon then inspired the women who also helped shape the birth of the sub punk genre Riot Grrrl when punk was so male dominated for the preceding 20 years.

Riot Girl, a sub genre thats pretty widely known but has been highly misconstrued since when it first came around in the 90s. It had coined the phrase 'girl power' before the music industry lumped the Spice Girls and Dream into the same category causing a substantially weird umbrella that garbled the original meaning The repercussions caused for a confused message and was enough to drive the genre's poster girl Kathleen Hanna to go by the stage name Julie Ruin. It astounds me that it still even happens to this day. I've had several women talk to me about how their all female bands get lumped into this category if they're in anything that remotely sounds like a rock band. 

Riot Girl is a daughter genre of punk and was politically driven with women's rights as the message. It comes from bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Le Tigre. The movement also sparked that of DIY Zine culture and an organized movement fighting for women's rights and societies standards.

Bands such as Potty Mouth (who actually got their name from a Bratmobile album) keep the riot grrrl movement relevant as it influences a new genre that has emerged in the past five years known as Punk Rock Feminism that now has a global stand point that still stands for the core values of riot girl but is built to include the discourse of marginalizing those who identify as womyn and women of color all over the world.


It's also interesting to see women in the local music community contributing to this movement. Band members of FEA for example, a punk rock feminist band (signed to Joan Jett's label)  actually helped influence one of the godmothers of Latinx punk Alice Bag record her first album despite being a staple in the chicano punk scene already but was so consumed by DIY culture, a studio recorded album was something she never did.

The fact that female punk rock has grown from a northwest music scene into a global movement speaks volumes on how the issues at hand are still very much at hand.  To get a better understanding, I asked my friend Bianca Quinones, front woman of hardcore punk band Amygdala (who has traveled and played the DIY scenes all over the country, even Latino Punk Fest) about what it's like being in her shoes on stage and constantly in the environment of an aggressively male dominated front to which she responded: 

I wasn’t aware of what was really going on until I started getting more involved with shows, booking and wanting to start my own project. I felt like my support wasn’t taken seriously or even considered. After all, most of these bands were full of guys complaining about how girls screwed them over. This got tiring to me really quick as it started to become routine. If that wasn’t enough I began listening more to the conversations these guys were having afterwards and became very uncomfortable.

“A girl can only go on tour if every one can fuck her” said one guy. “Yeah, she can only sing for us if we can fuck her” said another. Resenting woman was the subject content of their songs meanwhile they also disfavored us playing in bands. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere in this damn boys club. Even when these guys would talk about well known, expert girl musicians they would dwindle them down to a sexual object and share their “tour fantasies” if they were in her band. As you might imagine, a lot of people going to these guys shows were cis males. Usually a handful of girls and I would attend but it was never an equal ratio. The music was amazing but they were still boring the living hell out of me and surely my female show goers felt no connection either. I wanted to show them that girls had more to scream about than their petty self loathing of their privileged lives. With the help of my bestfriends Amygdala was born. We rose to be the only active female fronted screamo bands in Texas at the time. Chaotic guitar chords and blasting drums were the perfect background to the screeching vocals I belt out.
— - Bianca Quinones, Amygdala
Jacket of Bianca Quinones of Amygdala 

Jacket of Bianca Quinones of Amygdala 

The Rap Battle of Objectification

Fact: There are only two women who have won Grammys in the category of Rap/Hip Hop in the entire history of the award show. This past year, I purchased Shea Serrano's 'The Rap Year Book' excited and intrigued at the notion of the book and the fact that it was written by someone from San Antonio. Before disappointingly handing it off to my significant other, I skimmed through the entire 36 years of rap songs that he chose to include and examine, and all of them were male. 

How was Salt n' Peppa's 'Push It' not make it in for the year of 1986 when it hit #2 on Billboard's rap charts? How is Missy Elliot's 2000 hit "Just Loose It"  not considered "influential" when it was literally plastered all over MTV day and night? Why aren't Lil Kim, Da Brat or Eve mentioned as often as NWA or Snoopp?

It's because rap started off predominately male centered, women weren't looked at as equals, they were objectified and dehumanized in songs and even in real life

When 'Straight Out of Compton' came out in theaters last year, Huffington Post reporter Zeba Blay wrote an article that stated, "Since the 1980s, hip-hop artists have been accused of objectifying women, demeaning women, and promoting violence and sexual abuse against women. They're guilty of colorism, too -- the praise of "lightskinned hoes" and the denigration of darker skinned women is evident even in the controversial casting call for "Straight Outta Compton."

The problem isn't just with women the rappers degrade in their songs, it includes their 'comrades', other rappers who are doing the exact same thing they are but just have to identify as women. It's the need to oppress anything that threatens masculinity. 

There are rappers that have emerged over the past decade that challenge this issue and are exploring gender fluidity such as Lil B who has been known to do interviews in sundresses,  and Young Thug who wears women's clothing almost on an every day basis simply because he likes them. There those of course who see this as a negative impact on rap culture and just in a negative light all together, even on a local level

In her article, Zeba clearly states that it's not the genre itself, it's those who are making the music that make it so offensive. 

"Hip-hop most definitely has a problem with women, and it's one that needs to be addressed in a real way," she said in conclusion. "That's clearly evident by the fact that, 20 years later, Ice Cube can still defend the music he made with N.W.A -- seminal, but still highly problematic. What's disturbing though is that while we're at least reckoning and grappling with the realities of hip-hop, how we can both love the music and critique it in a meaningful way, the same conversation about other genres hasn't really started. It isn't right that the totality of hip-hop is thrown under the bus while the rest of a super sexist industry gets a pass from having to actually deal with its relationship to women. It's a subtle, but profound double standard, and it needs to be acknowledged."

Pop Music: The Good, The  and Bad, The False Prophets.

Lady Gaga calls music industry "A fucking boy's club" after winning Billboard's Woman of the Year 2016 title. 

Top 40/ Pop is a mess right now now that internet culture is attached to it. Actually it’s more than a mess, it's downright terrifying. It is one genre that has completely sold it’s soul to the corporate devil. The irony is that for a while, from the outside, in front of the curtain, Pop was the most accepting and woman “dominated” genre for years. Women like Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Goldfrapp have been setting the tone for pop music for the past few decades and will be immortalized for it. 

"There’s a lot of gender inequality for sure, probably more gender inequality than race inequality. For instance, it usually breaks down that the men tend to be the producers and the women tend to be the hook writers," John Seabrook, author of 'The Song Machine' said in an interview with Noisey,  "So, you have men (producers) and women (topline writers) and the way the studio sessions are set up and run, the producers—the men—book the rooms and are usually paid by the hour by a label. Whereas the women—the hookline writers—are only paid based on whether or not their songs make the cut. Most songs do not get made into records. So all the time they spend in the studio working on songs that don’t get made into records, is basically time they’re not paid for. Whereas the men are always paid, whether or not the songs turn into records."

 Desensitized masterminds behind labels and PR agencies are smart and always one step ahead of listeners, successfully driving their focus-grouped products down consumer throats for years.  They take talented young women and construct an entire image for them, manipulating their trust, thrusting them into the limelight where they are mauled and berated by the media and public for being too different (Miley Cyrus) or for being too conformable (Ariana Grande). And the worst, throwing them to the wolves, the big wigs who call the shots at these companies and all the other predators lurking in the dark.

 However those predators are no longer working in the dark, this is no longer behind the scenes, behind the curtain, it’s flagrantly happening before our eyes and we as a society are doing nothing about it. The Dr. Luke and Kesha scandal has sparked a firestorm as we watch a victim become legally bonded to someone she’s terrified of but bravely stood up to only to have the court rule in favor of her abuser/rapist and the Sony company.

Kesha deals with emotional trauma at the hands of her record company and is fighting the case in the public spotlight. 

Kesha deals with emotional trauma at the hands of her record company and is fighting the case in the public spotlight. 

While female musicians are facing the reality of nightmares that go on behind the scenes, PR companies see that nightmare in a different sense as they try to spin a situation that works in, for example this instance, CEO's favor . There are outspoken advocates who are conglomerate stars in the Pop world who are too big to silence such as Lady Gaga who uses her platform who not only enlighten audiences about the matters at hand but to let women know that it’s ok.

 Then there are the “feminists” the music industry positions to give off the illusion that they are not the problem, but trying to help the cause. For example, Taylor Swift. I respect Taylor Swift’s hard work, I respect her hustle, I respect what she's done to get to where she is, and I respect the good things she does for her fans.

But I can’t respect  the fact that she turns around and sues her young fans for selling their art on websites such as etsy just because they have her  lyrics on them. I cannot respect her perfectly choreographed routine of playing victim while contributing to the problem itself (or perhaps it is her lack of knowledge on the problem).

Oh the irony of her Grammy speech sermonizing feminism and how women should stand together, to win an award for an album where the highest grossing track was about her ridiculous feud with another female pop star. Oh the irony of her walking down to receive that awardwhile that song is playing to follow that speech. Oh the irony of her long silence on the entire Kesha matter until other female pop stars started to give her flack and she donated  money. Oh the irony that so many young women are so misguided to the point of frenzy over this person playing to the music industry's idealisms of instilled roles that women are better poised to be groupies. 

Equipped with just a beat machine and guitar, Colleen Green performs a solo set at k23 Gallery

Equipped with just a beat machine and guitar, Colleen Green performs a solo set at k23 Gallery

In conclusion as Jessica Hopper said, “But much of that [possibility of connections and radical notions] hinges on continual presence of radicalized women within the leagues and those women being encouraged- given reasons to stay, to want to belong- rather than diminished by the music which glues the community together.”

And through that community womyn camaraderie is growing strong and exploring new ventures with the same stigma. St. Vincent invented a guitar to shape a woman's body better and Mish Way is a journalist rewriting the instilled masculine jargon used in media and exploring more gal specific topics at the source.

Bianca points it out as well, "I was 17 when I first got into the punk scene and things are changing fast, " she said. "Girls are booking more shows, playing in more bands and are the ones doing the out casting. That is, out casting the misogynist. We will not tolerate this behavior any longer and will continue to defy the patriarchy."

Women have had a hand in shaping and molding various musical genres all over the world but one common theme that they all share is how no matter in what genre of music, what field in the industry you may work at, as women we're going to have to square up with the boys. So we'll put in our 110% effort and make it mean something,  build a strong mentality to block out the "not good enoughs because you're a girl", know our self worth and music experience is indeed as important in real life as it is to us, remember its not all about what we're wearing, and to push past the fucking door guy who doesn't believe you're in the band. 

Jam some lady bad asses today: