“From Leather To Lace” – old high school project

The following was written as my High School Society and Culture “Personal Investigation Project” – essentially, a final piece of study to be conducted over the course of the class, and submitted at the end. The piece was written in 2009, so it is not without fault.

I wasn’t completely free in how I wanted to discuss things due to the limits set forth by the course (Which is fine). Hopefully, my writing has improved since then. I didn’t really know what I was doing then (Let’s be honest, I still don’t).  I’m basically just posting this to get the ball-rolling on this whole thing, and also because it is somewhat relevant to what I hope to discuss in this blog.

Evidence of inequality, and signs of equality

The culture surrounding Heavy Metal Music is large, with the music itself offering diverse sounds and often finding it’s way into that of other musical genres, thereby allowing a crossing between different peoples, philosophies, and ideals. Therefore, it can be argued that no two situations will be the same, and a female being a part of this, both as a fan and as a musician will experience many different reactions in their time, some positive, and some negative – involving prejudice and discrimination, leading to inequality.

Eliza Leah-Lane, a musician of 10 years, comments on the reactions she received when dropping the feminine image of her all-girl band. “When I first started out we were in sexy little outfits, more skin the better, and we got heaps of fans – really mixed crowd. Then I turned around to the girls and said “No more skirts. We are wearing jeans and wife beaters, because I’ve had enough of people yelling out silly stuff”…I got emails saying “Where are your legs? We’re not coming to gigs anymore.” Eliza, when asked about reactions from males, recalls a scenario she believes is “guaranteed, every gig I play”. After being approached by men after the concert, Eliza states “And they come up and say “Oh hi, how’re you going?” and I say “Yeah, good.” and they say “Don’t mean to be rude or anything” – That’s the first thing they say – “I normally don’t like chick singers, but I like you!””. It’s really quite funny!” she adds. “My favourite phrase is “You’re pretty good for a girl!”.

Eliza also mentions a particular concert she recalls, which presented her with problems simply making it into the venue. “I think one time I was in Canberra doing gigs there, and I walked up and said to the door person “Oh look, I’m with the band,” and they said “Yeah, it’s five bucks to get in,” and I said “Oh no, no. I’m with Reflection Point (Eliza’s band at the time)” and she said “Yeah, girlfriends have to pay to get in, too!” and I said “No no, I’m the singer,” and they went “Yeah, right.” Eliza continues “Then at the same gig, the guys are on stage setting up – you know how heavy bands normally have a really good set up, you know racks and all that – and you can hear the audience saying stuff like “Oh (Explicit), this band’s gonna be awesome! Look at this set-up! This will be great!” and then I walk on to put my stuff on and I hear “Oh no! Oh, they got a chick singer! Oh no!”

Eliza also refers to “posses around that think they are really metal and don’t have time for “silly little girls in silly little bands””, as well as making mention to the general surprise most people have to see a female at a concert of heavier music. “They sort of think “What is she doing here? She must be with someone else”. I rocked up to Five Star Prison Cell (Australian heavy metal/hardcore band), and I was right up the front and a guy came up to me and said “Which one of the band are you (Explicit)ing?””

Susanne of Wicked and Nachtlieder recalls a similar experience to Eliza’s; “…Usually when we are out gigging (Slang for, in this case, playing concerts.) I literally have to get on stage and play before people get that I’m in the band. Once we arrived to a gig, the arranger knowing we are a trio, and he asked the drummer and guitarist “where are the others?”, and I was right in front of him, I had just shaken his hand!”, as well as mentioning that an occasional derogatory comment such as “chicks can’t play” will be shouted at her whilst on stage.

Michele Madden, of Tourettes (Australian band, relocated to US) and Meldrum (US group, with the majority of members being female), when asked about reactions from males, bluntly proclaims “I think for the first few years it was a thing, but now it’s just balls out fear.”

When asked if they had experienced any problems in joining bands due to their gender, both Michele and Susanne respond affirmatively. “One problem back then was that the boys in my age thought that if they get a chick in the band they can try to pick her up. Which was annoying, subconscious or not it was a sign that they didn’t take me seriously. I was there to play music, not get a boyfriend… this is not a problem when interacting with older men/people though,” states Susanne. “That was a real long time ago” says Michele “I was never gonna let anything get in my way”. It is important to note that both women – especially Susanne – referred to these taking place when they were younger, and therefore they also encountered these problems in earlier years.

In contrast, Mzzy, front woman of Mz Ann Thropik – a band which crosses many genre lines and therefore subcultures – demonstrates that “Men have always been extremely supportive. In the earlier days out of all the hundreds of shows we have played there were two shows that were a little uncomfortable. Not for me, but for men in the audience dealing with a woman on stage. One decided to yell out homophobic remarks and one threw bottles at us. I guess it was too confronting for them to deal with.”

As well as Mzzy having positive reactions, the other women interviewed have also sited these. Whilst Susanne mentions she finds the most common reaction from men to be a “positive surprise”, Eliza recalls her most recent encounter. “The last show we played, the EP launch that we played at the Gaelic club, it was funny because it was a huge crowd, it was amazing, and I walked out thinking “Oh (Explicit), I’m gonna get shreds ripped off me” and after the show the biggest, beefiest metal guys come up to me and shake my hand and say “That was awesome” and saying “Good for you” and I thought “You can always be proved wrong.”

When the attention was turned to female reactions, these were also very positive Eliza comments mixed, yet positive reactions – speaking about how some females are “pure metal” and that gender does not come into their thinking, whereas others become very supportive and “back each other”. Although stressing that she has not experienced bad reactions, but she nods to their existence.

Other female musicians know about the lack of females especially in heavy music, so they think it’s great. I don’t have many female friends, probably because of the lack of females within the scene.” states Susanne “The reaction tends to be a little more relaxed and neutral (than that from males)…more “so you are in a metal band, ok.””.

I write to every one who writes to me and they are the most supportive” says Michele. “I don’t notice gender in other players.”

Mzzy again displays positive attitudes. “If anything, I’ve met a lot of awesome female fans through traveling and touring around Australia who were then inspired to start their own bands.”

Gender Inequality in this subculture has also been investigated in a cross cultural sense. “Personally I don’t mind women involving in metal, I even prefer it…I think it would add another dimension to the band’s music” states Ahmad of Syrian metal band Crescent Moon. “I have no problem with women being in metal” says Metal-Archives member Deaths_Hand from Israel, “I think their potential to add distorted/tortured vocals can be a good element to extreme metal.”

Ahmad goes on to mention that in Syria heavy metal music isn’t “so acceptable” . “usually here, whether you are a man or a woman you will have trouble being a metalhead.” Deaths_Hand, however (also from an Arabic nation), states Israeli metalheads don’t see anything weird with women being involved in metal to begin with, in bands that use them in their expected “pretty” role (remember, Israeli secular society is very open)”. Deaths_Hand then goes on to compare this though with the more “extreme” side of the heavy metal music and culture, mentioning that this is seen “weird” by some – due to the expected gender roles.

Although the subculture surrounding heavy metal music yields many results towards answering the hypothesis, stemming from a musical genre, the music and creation of it must be examined for indications of gender inequality, as well.

Although lyrically heavy metal music is often associated with horror and the occult, many bands have at one point in their careers employed lyrics referring to women and sexual activity. Iron Maiden, one of the largest and most iconic bands of the genre have produced several songs over their career detailing the exploits of the character “Charlotte The Harlot”, with the first two chapters (Entitled “Charlotte The Harlot” and “22 Arcaian Avenue” respectfully.) detailing the sexual encounters of the Charlotte character during her time as a Prostitute. Although the first chapter may objectify Charlotte, containing lyrics glorifying this, the second chapter expresses empathy for the character, and infers a wish to free this character from her position. However, Iron Maiden are known to tour with Steve Harris’ (bass player and lead songwriter of the group) daughter, Lauren Harris’ solo band as an opening act.

Motorhead, another large player in the musical industry, has often been criticized for their lyrical content, having expressed in interviews the reactions they have had to musical pieces such as “Love Me Like A Reptile”, “Dirty Love”, “Fast And Loose” and “Jailbait”, all appearing on their album “Ace Of Spades”. However, front-man and lyricist of the band Lemmy has continually shown respect for women. Despite comments such as “I love women, and I think they should be backstage naked all the time” (“Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey”), Motorhead are known for their collaborations and tours with the band Girlschool, an all-girl band from the same era, recounting “Even the rest of my band said, “Oh, they’re girls” and I said “(Explicit) that, it doesn’t matter, they’re good!” and people would always say about Kelly (Guitarist) “She is pretty good for a girl,” and I’d say “She’s better than you!” (Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey).

Both Lemmy and Iron Maiden’s actions indicate that these lyrics, much like those relating to devil-worship and gore also evident in many heavy metal songs, are not to be taken seriously, and do not reflect the true attitudes of the musicians involved.

Doro Pesch, successful female singer and self-proclaimed “metal-queen” comments in “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey” on her experiences with the music industry. “Somebody tried to put me in the “female-sexy” image, but without power, and I didn’t like that”.

An examination of heavy metal groups formed in each individual year since the commonly agreed upon birth of the musical genre (1969) has been conducted, utilizing www.femmemetal.net and www.metal-archives.com as explained in the introduction segment. In order to then analyze this, I have compiled a graph, displaying the amount of bands formed in each year.

PIP Graph

Graph of heavy metal bands formed with females over time.

The graph shows that activity during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s where fairly small, with the amount of metal bands with females forming peaked in 2004. The results for 2007-2009 are inconclusive, as many bands formed in these years may be yet to of reached any level of fame and publicity, meaning for less information available surrounding them. The graph was compiled in April, and many more bands may have formed in the time between then and now.

This increase in formation of bands alludes to the idea that acceptance of females in the heavy metal genre as musicians has increased, although Susanne believes otherwise, stating: “In extreme metal I guess the rise of female musicians has made it easier for other girls to join and form bands. But I don’t think acceptance is the thing too look for, there will always be misogynist bastards. As I said earlier misogyny and gender prejudice has been around for thousands of years, metal hardly 50. I actually don’t believe much has happened during this short time. Females in metal just need to keep on doing their thing.”

A continued attitude against females is evident in the conversation that took place in the focus group conducted on the forums of www.metal-archives.com, which Susanne, using her user-name, “Bitter****” (Censored) took part in. Opinions both supporting and showing disdain against females as both musicians and fans were shown, with reasoning steaming primarily from a fear of “posers”, or females who do not truly support the music or philosophies surrounding it, and do so with the prime objective of finding male sexual partners, these reasons bleed into the next section.

Reasons for inequality

This fear of these female “posers” is further mentioned throughout the focus group, reflected in comments such as “The vast majority of women in bands function as nothing more than liting-voiced eye candy and most of the female fans are ignorant of even basic aspects of the genre”, or “They have to stop using their liking of the genre as some sort of attention-grabbing gimmick.”

Deena Wainstein, sociologist at the DePaul University states “It’s very strong music sonically and..you’re supposed to be strong…using tools effectively is another part of this working class masculine ethos.” (“Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey”). Greysnow, a member of the Metal-Archives community reinforces the “masculinity” of the culture/music, nodding at the “emphasis on conflict, outsiderdom, primeval barbarity etc.”, also stating “Metal seems traditionally to be more tailored to typical male values or, probably more truthfully, values that have been typically embraced by males rather than females.”. These comments infer that, although the heavy metal music’s culture may not directly discriminate against females (Malcolm Dome, DJ & Writer reinforces this by stating bluntly “It [heavy metal music] wasn’t excluding them deliberately, but that’s the way it went.” [Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey])

 

Michelle Madden

Michelle Madden performing live. Used with permission.


Michelle Madden believes the prejudice stems from a general fear, stating “I just won’t bend”. This idea of fear leading to the discrimination is reinforced by statements from sources such as Musicologist Robert Wayer,

commenting “All the anxiety you get about gender as a young man, for awhile

at least, they are gone. It’s not an issue about how to deal with the relationships between men and women, there just aren’t any. So for awhile you get this sort of heroic-male-only world, where men band together and do the job. That’s a way of thinking about gender by not thinking about gender”

 

Greysnow (Mentioned earlier) also reaffirms this, stating that the aversion stems from “metal being a kind of male comfort zone for many, not unlike a Victorian gentlemen’s club.” (This comparison has also been made by Malcolm Dome in his statements from the film “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey”). Greysnow goes on to expand on this. “I guess many men, on coming in contact with women in the metal scene, feel like a Victorian gent when a suffragette barges into his club and disturbed his reading the Times in carpet slippers, or like a Papuan warrior contently chewing betel nut in the initiated men’s house who is having his peace disturbed by a woman demanding to listen in and chew betel nut herself while hunting stories are being swapped. It’s due to men wanting a place for themselves to escape the pressure to be well-behaved and in competition for female attention all the time, basically.” Greysnow goes on to make another comparison. “It’s probably all down to male insecurity, but on the other hand, a group of women having a girls’ night out would be extremely irritated if male company were forced on them while they’re enjoying themselves and the opportunity to breathe freely and to be able to be free from all the pressures and awkwardness between the sexes.”

 

These statements indicate an interesting viewpoint, explaining the resistance to females within the subculture as stemming from insecurities, a wish to escape from the sexual based interactions of life (Possibly due to undeveloped social skills of certain members of the subculture). However, it can also be viewed as a wish for simple escapism – the music of heavy metal is often described as “primal”, and it may be assumed that many fans with to indulge in this “primal” fantasy – a tribal feeling of sorts (see Manowar’s “Brothers Of Metal”, “Carry On”, or “Warriors Of The World”), which they feel will be compromised by the inclusion of the opposite sex – as opposed to necessarily truly feeling like they are indeed the same as a part of a warrior culture as Greysnow mentioned, there is simply a craving to indulge in a “make-believe” world of this.

 

The culture of Heavy Metal is known for being resistant to change which leads to a “softening” of the music. Pop and glam sensibilities introduced in the 80’s, hip-hop/electronica influenced music of the 90’s, and the introduction of other popular music sounds and production values are met with stern dismissal from the general Heavy Metal community, due in part to a sound and philosophy seen as “weak” manifesting itself, as well as these musical stylings rising to mainstream popularity, marketed as heavy metal – despite being considered as having nothing to do with the community or sound by the majority of fans. “True” and “Pure” Heavy Metal are aspired to by the community, and this may be seen as a sign of xenophobia.

 

This rejection of influences deemed “un-metal” or “soft” can be viewed as a reason some of the rejections of females, due to the “masculine” properties associated with heavy metal, as mentioned before. Therefore, rather than fear of strong, dominating females, one of the masculine qualities disappearing from the musical scene. Is this fear actually gender based, or attached to feminine qualities? Eliza’s comments on Michele Madden, and judging from her position in the world of heavy metal supports this.

 

 

 

Results of Inequality

By this point, the existence of inequality has been established. Whilst viewing “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey”, comments were observed showing results of this, both within the music itself and the culture. Rob Jones, Radio DJ for the American station KNAC, states “When I got off the road and decided I was done it took me a long time to embrace a woman with any integrity at all, they were all pigs. And a lot of those guys are still head (Explicit)ed about it”. Jones indicates a lasting effect of the heavy metal lifestyle involving a developed prejudice against women, and objectification. This can be related to the argued effects of pornography put forth by religious groups. However, Rob Jones’ involvement was with the “glam metal” scene of Los Angeles in the 1980’s, separate from many of the other smaller communities within the heavy metal musical culture, and also one often considered by fans of the music to not be part of the culture at all.

 

However, Jones’ comments, regardless of this, has offered an insight into effects of gender inequality and exclusion in the heavy metal music and culture leading to further objectification. However, when asked about this in “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey”, Pamela Des Barres, author and “groupie”, states “That is so lame! Because they’re exactly where the want to be. Women who are hanging out with bands are not dragged and coerced into the band’s bedrooms or backstage or buses or anything, they want to be there! They make every effort in the world to be with the band, and they are doing exactly what they want to do.”. This perspective directly contrasts with that of Rob Jones, however, it may rely on different interpretations and perspectives of “objectification”. Regardless, this first-person perspective offers that objectification has not resulted from any resilience to women entering certain aspects of the heavy metal culture.

 

Dee Snider, lead singer of Twisted Sister, a group who crossed over the aforementioned smaller scenes, comments on the feminine appearance of bands such as his own, Cinderella and Saxon, expressing it as “Males viewing guys like they were women”, before jovially remarking that “some scientists need to look into this”. What Dee Snider has offered here is a reflection on the effects of the heavy metal subculture being absent of females. With the lack of females involved in the musical scene, men have needed to become substitutes appearing as women for their predominantly male audience in order to satisfy the want for them. “I knew guys who wanted to (Explicit) the chicks in Poison (US glam metal band, consisting entirely of men)” offers Rob Jones.

Changes and reasons for change

The graph shown before indicates that, indeed, females have a larger part in the culture and music of Heavy Metal than in previous years, working towards proving the hypothesis set forth. However, the reasons for this remain more ambiguous, and cannot be determined through face value. Therefore reasons behind these changes must be looked into.

As history has shown, any inequality – be it relating to sexuality, race, or gender – results in fighting against it. Eliza offers that the best way to defeat prejudice is by cutting off the “gender-thing”. “You see a lot of girls, I mean – pop music is the best example, if you aren’t hot and sexy you won’t get a single” she laments. “I try to look at it as an arty thing, try to look like a nut bag…I think I like people to kind of go “Hang on, it’s a bit different.”” she related this to her peers, both Michele Madden and Mzzy near the end of the interview, recommending the interview with Mzzy in the process. Knowing both of them personally, she offers her own personal insight.

Eliza sees Michele Madden as having stripped herself of feminine qualities on stage, removing the sexual element in the same way Eliza has. When interviewed and asked if she has changed to combat prejudice, Michele simply states that she “Got bulletproof and went to war. I know who I am, I know what I do and I have the people that I love on my side. No changes. You don’t like it? Don’t look.” Eliza goes on to offer a comparison between the two, commenting on the feminine qualities evident in the sound and image portrayed by Mzzy. But whether or not these are the results of changing (Which Eliza did not imply.) would appear to be that they are not, judging both from Michele’s comments, and Mzzy’s when asked the same question. “I haven’t. And if I was ever faced with it I wouldn’t have it. We live in 2009. Gender, Race and Sexual Preference should not be an issue, as it never should have been! I guess on a person level I have stayed focused on my goals, but my gender has never been an issue to me, no matter how hard things have been in the past.” Susanne’s comments also enforce this stance. “I have not done any changes. I do what I do because I love it, it does not matter what other people think. The best thing to do to cope with such things in my opinion is just keep on playing.” she states.

These comments indicate that, in fact, females have not had to change their identity or alter their persona in order to suit the culture of Heavy Metal Music and become accepted. Angela Gossow of acclaimed melodic death metal act Arch Enemy indicates something similar in her comments in the film “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey”. When asked if strength is important by Sam Dunn (Anthropologist, and creator of aforementioned film.) she replies “Yes, because I am tough on stage, certainly I want to give that to the people.”

Despite this evidence, females do continue to have a more active role in heavy metal music, as seen by the increase in bands formed with female members. The reasons behind this, therefore can most likely be seen to lie in the increase in popularity of heavy metal music, and an increase in other females within the music inspiring more and more. I think that women like Angela Gossow is a pretty big role model for young Israeli women in the scene. They sort of look up to her as a role model, since the gender role in Israeli society is very expected of its females. comments Deaths_Hand.

However, Eliza contemplates that women in both heavy metal and in music in general not having as great an impact as they previously did. She states “The whole new wave of chick musos, like The Spazzys, they don’t go very well, because they are trying to target a market that has already been exposed to Old school girls bands…I think it’s very different from young girls now, I think they aren’t getting into it as much as when I was younger.”

The Future

After examining the continuities and changes evident in all elements concerning gender equality in Heavy Metal music and culture, certain estimations can be made about the future of this.

The influx of women appearing in heavy metal music, as displayed in the graph above, leads to the belief that this will increase, with more females moving into the heavy metal world as both musicians and fans. Examining the music of bands such as Lacuna Coil and Nightwish, both famous for their use of female vocals, displays a softer sound, based more on feminine qualities and lyrical themes, attracting a more feminine fan-base, and inspiring these fans to form bands themselves. Eliza’s comments on previous experiences and her own contemplations on the genre foreshadow possible changes – Eliza makes mention of “girl festivals”, festivals focusing on women-based bands, and it is plausible to assume that these may begin appearing focusing on heavy metal groups.

However, continuity of heavy metal music and culture being male-dominated is expected, due to it’s continual existence of 40 years remaining this way, with no signs of a need for the genre to change in order to survive.

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