How Does Music Inform Our Noti Essay

, Research Paper

How Does Music Inform Our Notions of Gender?

Music allows people to express their gender and sexuality in either an advert or a subtle way. The Spice Girls used the phrase Girl Power which could not be less feminist in a We are Women, step aside men way, boy Power doesn t have quite the same ring to it. Girls in rock bands are women trying to fit into a male orientated environment by acting masculine, for example Courtney Love acts tough yet still gets away with wearing pretty little girlie slip dress s in the same way that Mick Jagger confused / crossed the line between male and female and met somewhere in the middle, he was pretty and androgynous and delighted as did David Bowie in gender bending , he even said himself What really upsets people is that I am a man and not a women what I do is very much the same as a girls strip tease dance. He confused the idea we had of gender. Where as more recently Spice Girls were defiantly female, Madonna goes about it in a very powerful way going about her work showing everything it is to be a woman in a masculine way.

Bands these days are very much manufactured, Take That all though are admired by flocks of adoring female fans were actually quite camp. Boyzone with their clean nice boy image calling themselves Boyzone although most are approaching their 30s seems an odd choice, Manzone would have been more appropriate with a much more rebellious testosterone filled ring to it. (Sheila Whitely 1997:28)

As this is such a wide area to look at I have decided to focus in one particular area: heavy metal. In this essay I plan to analyse heavy metal with response to gender. Heavy metal musicians show their masculinity through their use of instruments, lyrics, image and style.

Heavy metal music usually include impressive technical feats on the electric guitar, counter posed with an experience of power and control that is built up through vocal, guitar power chords, distortion, and sheer volume of drums. Also visually, metal musicians typically appear as males, leaping about the stage, leather clothing punctuating their performances with phallic thrusts of guitars and microphone stands. In Western Society, for much of its history metal has been appreciated and supported primarily by a male teenage audience. This is a group lacking in social, physical and economical power but besieged by cultural messages promoting such forms of power, insisting on them as masculinity. The purpose of a genre is to reproduce a particular ideology, and the aim of heavy metal until mid 1980s was for young white male performers and fans to hear and believe in certain stories about the nature of masculinity. However these representations can never be definitive and they are always open to transformation and changing figures. Since social circumstances may change so that particular forms of culture are no longer related to an individual. For example metal fans as they get older may gain some amount of economical power, or they may find children who replace them at the bottom of social or physical power. Also we have seen a great increase in number of female fans, since the late 1980s, concert audiences for metal shows have been roughly gender balanced. In my essay I will try to explain why male musicians and fans have dominated metal, also why there was a big increase in the number of female fans.

Until the mid 1980s, one of these three strategies excerption, misogyny and androgyny dominated heavy music. (Ruth Padel 2000:279) However another approach in recent years did soften metal with songs about romance, this kind of music particularly has drawn female attention to heavy metal. It is not only lyrics or visual imagery but also the music it s self that construct gender experiences.

Sorry No Chicks (Excerption): The most distinctive feature of metal videos is that they typically show it like a live performance. However bands are different in styles as Guns n Roses, and Metallica, they all rely on live footage. The video in a concert setting presents the group in all their glory, as larger than life figures whose presence is validated by feelings of community and power, and evoked by venue and music. These types of footage offer a fantasy world of action, one in which male bonding among members of the hero team is very important. The seductive women who sometimes but rarely intrudes into the video points out several things, first to trigger desire and its appeal to the male gaze and more importantly its threat to masculine control.

Sheila believes the major reason women do not tend to play the electric guitar, is because it is seen as male. She goes on to say that it is seen to be breaking the gender code for a woman to play. (Women with a guitar = a fish with a bicycle)

Heavy metal guitarists hold their guitars like a penis; masculine skills become inter-linked with sexual skills. (Sheila Whitely 1997:43)

The guitarist also tends to hold their guitar in front of their pelvis, yet most players actually find it easier to hold their guitar on their chest or waist. The reason given by men and women for this is because it just looks right . Sheila would argue that the reason is, to hold a guitar higher up, it looks and is seen as less masculine , she goes on to say a woman with a guitar looks wrong and to play at chest height, she would look even more wrong, basically in order to look good she has to play it in a masculine way. (Sheila Whitely 1997:44)

From 1965 the guitar became a gun, as well as a penis. Different artists like Keith Richards would often hold his guitar, like he was firing it into the audience. From wanking to repeat fire music became war as well as sex. Heavy metal was born. (Ruth Padel 2000:215)

Advertisements words are chosen like strong , overpowering , punch , touch , cut throat and so on. All of this causes problems for the woman guitarist, in terms of how she holds and plays her instrument. (Sheila Whitely 1997:43)

White heavy rock and later, the various branches of heavy metal all too often represent women as dehumanised and degraded, fulfilling simple their role to gratify the male sexuality wanting to be humiliated suppressed and physically harmed and objectified, the role of women, as earth mother was central to counter cultural mythology (Sheila Whitely 2000:39)

Male As Victims (Misogyny): Heavy metal has developed a discourse of male victimisation and androgyny; its power to reproduce or adapt patriarchy is often contingent on the absence of overt violence. Women are hinted as mysterious and dangerous, they are dangerous just by being there, their attractiveness threatens to disrupt both male self-control and male bonding. However female fans are invited to identify themselves with the powerful position that has been made for them.

Glam metal (Androgyny): Androgyny has a long history in music, from classical (opera) to pop. Famous examples would be David Bowie and Little Richard. Same in Glam metal, androgyny has found popular success to a degree unique to its own. Poison is a good example of a successful Glam metal band. Sadly even though they had commercial success they have gotten no critical approval. In the case such as poison, we might understand androgyny as a tactic to deal with a sort of male anxiety. Many metal fans link Glam metal closely to a threat of homosexuality.

In summary androgyny offers male performers the chance to play with colour, and movement, which is basically an escape of the expected man. . Music produced by bands like Cast, Space and the Lightening Seeds, suggest a masculinity that is soft, vulnerable and all together less macho, less threatening and less aggressive. (Sheila Whitely 1997:29)

Romance And Female Fans: Heavy metal changed a lot in the last half of the 1980s; a good example is Slippery When Wet Album (by Bon jovi). The lead singer Jon Bon Jovi showed a kind of genuineness and romantic exposure that appealed very much to female fans. It was bands mainstream success and helped heavy metal music to enter top 40. Obviously they were not the first to do so but nobody else got this much success. The most obvious change was the lyrics: going from creepy and gloomy lyrics to refining a positive, upbeat outlook, where the only thing, which is important, is love. This new product was so pleasing to the female market.

From what I have read about Heavy metal, I have discovered it is very masculine. Most artists in this industry are male and the small potential of women usually acts masculine on stage. The majority of music is violent and erotic. Society accepts this more from men and is less to tolerant to women.

Music lyrics, visual images and behaviour supply to assemble gender identities, infusing them with power and say that they are natural and desirable. These representations primarily serve the interests of the male musicians who dominate heavy metal performance. It is also important to mention that in heavy metal, women are more interested through adaptations of ideology of romance.


Ruth Padel 2000 I m A Man: sex, god, and rock n roll. Faber

Selwyn Pugh 1991 Women in Music. Cambridge

Sheila Whitely 1997 Sexing the Groove: popular music and gender. Routledge

Sheila Whitely 2000 Women and Popular Music: sexuality, identity and subjectivity. Routledge


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