Heads & Tails: Should Gender Be An Issue In Rock?

We were thinking the other day about how often people's opinions on music differ and realised that if coherently put, different points of view can make for a bloody good read! Therefore, every month our resident sister writers Holly and Bry will be going head to head to battle out the fiercest of issues. This month they've tackled whether gender should be an issue in rock and metal. Sit back, and prepare to disagree with a fair few of the points raised below! We wanna know your opinions too, so feel free to like, comment and share away and make yourselves known!


Yes, it should - Holly Khan


Guys and gals have different strengths and affinities. Obviously! We’re physiologically different. We’ve had a bloody long time to come to terms with this (7 million years, to be precise), so we should have worked through any great problems that it throws up, right? Here’s some old news: Nope. Gender is still a massive, in-your-face issue rife in most facets of modern life and the entertainment industry doesn’t escape its gravitational pull. 


Heavy music is unique: it provides a ready-made community for those who often feel they belong nowhere else, a global family accepting of passionate fans of all ages, nationalities and preoccupations. The family vibe is like one found in no other genre. Despite this, it is traditionally and stereotypically ‘male’. The aggression, the facial hair, the physicality - like it or not, metal (in particular) is manly. 


It is becoming an increasingly accessible world for us lasses but there’s no mistaking there is a residual, stark imbalance of male:female presence both in the audiences and on the stage. This, in itself, is not an issue. For me, being the only woman in a room of men is a-ok. Where the issues arise are thus: 

Any female fan knows that her choice of merchandise at a gig is invariably and unforgivably limited to one, measly ‘babydoll’ tshirt, hung apologetically between the masses of (better) designs available for the boys. Hey, fruit of the loom, we want to show our allegiance just as much as they do. 


Then, once said tshirt is purchased, no sooner have we put it on to go and watch our heroes take the stage are we being asked to remove it again: In what other setting is it acceptable for thousands of men to pressure a woman into reducing herself to a set of mammary glands on an enormous screen at a public event, other than at a rock festival? Newsflash *diva-finger-snap*: We’re not in attendance to satisfy your underdeveloped, primal neural circuitry - we just fancy throwing the horns to Creeping Death whilst enjoying a pint in the sunshine as much as you do. 


Our genre could still be a lot more female friendly in other ways too. Undoubtedly there are men who don’t appreciate being battered to a pulp in a circle pit or wall of death either (that is another debate for another time) but it is a huge pain in the ass for those of us with a more lady-like build. I regularly squat heavier barbells that most men, but when put up against the momentum of a 130kg Slayer fan my 5ft 3 frame stands no chance. Why must we be banished to the sombre peripheries for fear of being injured? 


The image of women in rock and metal also needs hauling into the 21st century. Not too many years ago, a certain metal magazine would publish an annual ‘women in rock’ calendar, featuring bands I’d never seen mentioned in the magazine itself – their only worth being the provider of eye candy in the form of attractive female members. 


Proof that women have the ability and dedication to reach the same heights as their male counterparts as performers is abundant – just look at master-shredder Orianthi or powerhouse vocalist and front-woman Maria Brink. And yet, despite being a continuous consumer of rock and metal media in all its formats and I could still only bring to mind a dozen female figureheads. Of all the musicians nominated for Metal Hammer’s Golden Gods awards this year, only 10 are women. Of 2014’s winners, only one featured a woman. It is a real shame that the majority of rock media coverage of late regarding women has been given to a gimmick featuring three prepubertal Japanese schoolgirls. 

This is not what the women of the rock and metal world are about. Joan Jett, Lzzy Hale, Angela Gossow and Becca Macintyre all fiercely fly the flag for true female rock talent that is un-adulterated by the pressure to wear revealing outfits or flirt with the camera for their success. Yet there are still plenty of front-women who satisfy this misogynist mould - women are as much to blame as anyone for all the ill-placed expectations.  


We make up an encouraging proportion of rock journalists, DJs and industry professionals and all have a collective duty to ensure women are getting the fair judgement and due value as musicians and fans that they deserve.  

Oh, one more thing: the next time you hear a female-fronted band on the radio, entertain the idea that it’s not Paramore by default, yeah? 




Awww, hell no! - Bry Khan


By simply asking this question, we are making gender an issue. Yes, the rock world is a male dominated territory, but there are plenty of female-inclusive bands getting recognition. Yes, there is an inbalance of male and female artists, but why is that a problem? There's no one out there saying that women can't be in bands or that they can't be incredible at it. If they are, I'm pretty sure no one is listening to them.  


Recently a post has been floating round on social networks like Tumblr and Facebook accusing the organisers of Reading and Leeds festival of 'ignoring' female artists. The fact of the matter is that there is only a small proportion of female artists that are popular in rock. And obviously, an even smaller proportion of these artists will be featured as a festival line up is just a sample of the talent in the genre that year. As chief executive Melvin Benn has summed up perfectly in his response, "it’s never been about the gender of the band, it’s been about the quality of the band". Festivals are money making events at the end of the day, and they are going to book the artists who are going to draw in the largest crowds. It would be discriminating against a male artist to pick a female inclusive act over them simply because they are female and not necessarily 'better'. The idea of that is stressfully ridiculous. Women should have equal rights and opportunities as men in rock, just as in everywhere else in life. Equality, not advantage.  


I can imagine how daunting it could've been for a girl to attempt to break onto the rock scene in the past. It's hard enough for new bands get in the spotlight, but the threat of facing sexism on top of that is enough to put anyone off their dreams. But now there's an increasing number of incredible female fronted bands that are now winning rock fan's hearts and ears. Bands like Evanescence, Halestorm and arguably most significantly Paramore have shoved open the floodgates, and you can only expect to see the rise and rise of more female artists. Rock is a genre that is ever-changing; it strives for the more unique. The likes of The Pretty Reckless are taking music back to a grungy rock and roll haven. Tonight Alive, We Are The In Crowd and Pvris are revolutionising pop punk. Is gender an issue here? No, it's a blessing. It's the refresh that rock needs and champions.  


I believe and relish that sexism in the broader sense in rock seems to be dying out now too. Last year at Download, I did not see one pair of tits shaken on big screens over the whole weekend. No one jeered for it when the camera turned to girls on shoulder, and no one complained when they were met only by a cheerful smile and wave. Admittedly I did see some at Leeds fest, but these were always completely voluntary - the girls actually took an insane amount of joy in it, which is fine, because it was their decision. There were no bad vibes hanging around putting pressure on them to do it.  


Rock and metal are probably the most accepting and welcoming genres of music. Hell, we have all the goths, emo kids, scary, scary metalheads and just every stereotypically weird introvert that doesn't fit in anywhere else on the planet. Gender is not an issue here. And yet, you rarely hear people question whether it is in genres like R&B and rap, where the lyrics are explicitly misogynistic, and female artists are almost non-existent. Nicki Minaj, I salute you. Kind of.