Thursday, May 29, 2008

There are moments where I do believe that that "being a girl" is completely divorced from my passion for music and the manner in which others perceive that passion. But for the most part, I can't help but recognise that my musical skills, knowledge and passion have been undermined for that very reason.. and I think I've figured out why.

Think of the footage of the thousands of hysterically sobbing, hormonally charged teenage girls, watching the Beatles perform at Shea Stadium. These images have become so seminal because they've reinforced this very idea - this cliché that a girl's attachment to music is so trivial. That it is purely motivated by sexual attraction. The idea that a girl can become intellectually engaged with music becomes so far-fetched that even the label for a female fan is a derogatory term. We are "groupies" or "fangirls" or "band sluts". You can never just be a girl who loves music.

All of that might seem so distant from what we perceive to be happening now, but I really do believe that this is still such a relevant issue. We don't even realise it's happening anymore. As long as we decide to do this, we will always be asked why we aren't assuming our traditional position. Why we aren't behind the barricades, hysterically sobbing for the real musicians.

NB: China of choir croak them out goodies has written a stunning article in response to this. I suggest you go read, post haste!


China said...

I think about this a lot! I get frustrated, also, at the idea that in the majority of cases, you don't see male fans going gaga over female musicians the way girls do over male musicians. Also, when women are in bands, they're usually stuck with bass, keyboards, vocals or rare to see a female lead guitarist in an otherwise male band, and I suppose this is why men don't idolize female musicians, as lead guitarists are usually the ones who play the role of "star." No one gawks over a keyboardist, right?

What do you think of the case when a female fan truly adores an all-male band for the music but is also sexually attracted to a band member by coincidence?

Eleanor said...

You're completely right on all counts, china.

In order to be successful, female musicians have to recognise the importance of conveying strong sense of sexuality in their image. This is not only a significant consideration with all the Madonna's, Britney's and Christina's of the world. I'm talking about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Kills, Sons and Daughters, Cat Power, Feist and all the rest of them. Regardless of the quality or significance of their music, the front woman's beauty/courage/power will always be the greatest consideration.

Inversely, when a female's talent far outshines her physical appearance, people become so confused and repulsed. They don't know how to musically engage with a female they just don't find physically attractive. Just look at Beth Ditto.

I suppose the irony in all this is that while it is accepted that guys can swoon over female musicians, girls cannot admit a sexual attraction to a band member without completely trivialising their passion.. and while a good number of girls in the world may harbour rather warm feelings for Morrissey, Syd Barrett, Julian Casablancas, Richard Ashcroft, Stuart Sutcliffe, Damon Albarn and Mick Jones, we would never openly admit to it. It would completely ruin whatever little musical credibility we had to show for ourselves.

China said...

You're very right on the prominence of sexuality even in indie rock - it's difficult to name a conventionally unattractive female indie rocker, right? You name Beth Ditto; my example for talent outshining looks would be someone like Patti Smith or Peaches. In either case, they've mostly got female fans because the average man doesn't know what to make of them, and the only exceptions I've known were rare straight men who had crushes on either or gay men who appreciated them, and therefore developed a fascination/followed their music. With the straight men, I'd be curious to know whether the music followed the attraction or vice versa.

Funny thing about your last bit, I saw the Kooks not long ago and befriended another woman in the audience. The first thing she mentions is her crush on their bassist, and then of all things she asks me, "which one do you like?"

Eleanor said...

Ahhh! These are all such interesting points!

In truth, I think it would be so difficult to determine where physical attraction cuts into genuine musical affinity. For one thing, we would hardly be truthful about something so embarrassing.. and occasionally musical fascination is simply mashed together in an incoherent blur. Who's to know what we fall for and why we fall for it?

That's hilarious about the Kooks gig, though I have to say that I'm not at all surprised! Konk had so many foolishly lovely romantic sentiments in it.. I knew that scores of teenage girls would promptly swoon to that album.

But you know, I haven't really examined any of the band members close up so I'm yet to call a favourite. Haha! I'll let you know!

China said...

This is where I mention that the lady at the Kooks show appeared to be in her late 20s. Being a fangirl never gets old.

adam said...

Everyone know all the best music bloggers are women, and that's not just because they want to waste so many words on fancy boys. x

Anonymous said...

i think the problem with citing Beth Ditto is precisely that she is an isolated example. Terrible indie rock publications (well, mainly NME) single her out on the very basis of her identity - that she is a plus-sized lesbian front-woman. The whole thing smacks of charity case - "Look, we're promoting a fat chick, and she's GAY! How progressive are we?!" - and then after that they can get back to masturbating all over the exploits of all-male rock bands. I think for a genuine feminist politics in indie music to work, gendered categories themselves must be effaced, or not the point - the moment we get someone like Ditto up there without being clearly identified as a lesbian, then we've won.

China said...

The anonymous comment's pretty spot on, I think. But the issue with Beth Ditto being an isolated example brings back the issue of attractiveness - it's virtually impossible to find a female musician who isn't also attractive and equally/more known for looks than music. Women may be more inclined to like female musicians for the music because attraction's not getting in the way, but few men will gush over a female musician. I actually find it strange that Ditto's known so prominently as a lesbian icon if only because the first thing I noticed about her was that she's a hell of a singer - I'd never have known about her orientation if music publications didn't make a big deal of it and refer to "Standing in the Way of Control" while ignoring all their older albums.

Oh, and Adam, I dunno about El here, but I'm a slight hypocrite who wastes a lot of words on fancy boys. :)

Eleanor said...

Beth Ditto has to be a fascinating case in point. Despite her prodigious vocal talents, those terrible indie rock publications are so preoccupied with her appearance and sexuality. You can only recall the Ditto posing naked on the cover of NME. It really begs the question, why the hell is she naked?? This is meant to be a musical publication, for chrissake.

But we have to remember less severe cases are happening all the time. I read an article in the Age a day or two ago about Princess Superstar.. and all I got out of it at the end is that she's a girl AND she has contemporaries who are girls. It all seemed to be marginally complimentary, but who can take this type of journalism seriously when it appears to be a thinly veiled attempt at tokenism. I find it really irksome.

I suppose another interesting perspective on this issue is the prevalence of effeminate male musicians. You have to wonder whether the languid posturing of musicians like Brett Anderson, David Bowie and Brian Molko affect the way female musicians are perceived...