women in rock

women in rock
   A traditional aspect of the music industry is the emphasis on its masculinity. Sexism has always pervaded, from the organization of its workforce down to the lyrics of its songs. It means a struggle for nearly every woman working at all levels of the industry. Women are the exception to the rule: an addition to, rather than an integral part of, the music-making process. There continues to be fewer women than men working in the management, engineering and production aspects of the industry. Music is a way of expressing a social or political statement, and most pop and rock music is often a vehicle for the objectification of women, classing them as secondary and static. Women who make inroads into the industry often have to comply with these values, casting aside notions of individuality to become a part of the process of ‘otherness’ so readily set out for them, becoming ‘female’ musicians or ‘all-girl’ bands. They had their established roles as lead singers, backing vocalists or groupies. The 1960s saw a host of successful British performers, including Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Marianne Faithful, none of whom achieved full artistic control.
   The video, now established as a crucial accompaniment to the song, with institutions such as MTV dedicating their whole airtime to music, means the image of the performer is as essential as the song itself. It is of cultural, social and economic significance that how a person looks can determine their income and status; hence the birth of the ‘rock chick’ and ‘babe’, manufactured acts such as Louise and the Spice Girls, Eternal and All Saints relying on their looks rather than on any specific talent to gain chart success. Innovative women are often assigned dual roles, or signified as unnatural. Kate Bush is the English eccentric, or just plain weird. Annie Lennox, Sharleen Spitieri from Texas and Justine Frischmann of Elastica all adopt the androgynous look. Cerys Matthews from Catatonia is largely defined in terms of her sex appeal. An A&R man at a major UK record company, when recently asked whether he was interested in signing an all-girl band replied ‘No thank you, we already have one of those.’ The industry is nevertheless having to readjust itself to female power, because, as Kurt Cobain so succinctly argued shortly before his suicide in 1994 ‘the future of rock belongs to women’.
   Further reading
    O’Brien, L. (1995) She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul, London: Penguin.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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