Women-in-Rock: Caught in the Double Bind

Dan MacDonald



As host of a weekly radio show focusing solely on female musicians, I've noticed a recurring question that has been repeatedly fired my way since the show started in 2001:
"Why do you ONLY play female artists or female-fronted bands?"
"Why isn't a woman hosting a show like this?"
"Why are you giving an entire hour to female performers?"
My only answer:
"Why not?"
Well, there's a little bit more to it than that.

I got interested in music when I was 8 years old, when my mother introduced me to an "all-girl-band" called The Bangles.
Interesting term: "All Girl Band".
How we love to point out the fact that such-and-such a band is "all-female".
In fact, you probably can't find an article about the Bangles that DOESN'T mention the fact that they are made up of four women.
Hard to believe, isn't it? Four girls actually playing their own instruments, writing their own songs and singing their own vocals!!! Truly incredible! A miracle really!
The Go-Go's, The Donnas, Sleater-Kinney, the Supremes:
They are seen as women first, then recognized as artists.
"She's not bad, for a girl."
Why isn't a band like Blur ever referred to as an "All Male Brit-pop group" or Led Zepplin as an "All Male Rock Band"?
Deep down, we all know the answer to this question. And it's really sad.
Personally, I never considered ANY of the music I was listening to while growing up with sex or gender in mind.
The Bangles were never the best "All Girl Group" I had ever heard up to that point. They were simply "The Best Band" I had ever heard. Period.
It was about the music, the harmonies, the catchiness -- the flat-out coolness of seeing those four amazing people up on stage playing instruments and making noises my eight-year-old ears had never heard.

After that, I began listening to as many of my mother's records as I could find.
The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, The Crystals, The Shirelles, Joan Jett, Dolly Parton, Cass Elliot, Grace Slick.
When I got older I discovered my own.
I was lucky to grow up surrounded by other music lovers who viewed these performers as ARTISTS first and foremost.
Before their looks. Before their cup size. Before their sex or gender. They just rocked. The fact that they were women never came up.
It was just music – for music's sake.
They were not "as good as" the "Bests." They WERE and ARE the "Bests."It was never an issue until I grew up and started to realize that if the majority of your favorite music was female fronted you were made fun of.
People didn't like it. People snubbed it as "stupid" or "ridiculous." People were angry for some fucked up reason.
And I was introduced to the wonderful world of sexism.
So all my favorite musicians just happened to be female. Does that sound like a big deal? Of course not.

But it was.

And from the e-mails and phone calls my show STILL GETS – to this day – it apparently, still is.

Girlie So Groovie – my show – is a double bind.
My show is dedicated to women who rock – and people who love them.
But in focusing solely on women, I must wonder – am I also reinforcing a sexist idea by treating "women-in-music" as its own genre? As a style? As a trend?
Am I just another slice of media recognizing these people for being women, before recognizing them as artists?
My only vision in doing this show is to present a tiny fraction of a much bigger exploration of the hundreds of thousands of millions of roles women have played in the history, development and establishment of the music industry – and to celebrate them.
The genders, sexual orientations, styles and degrees of feminism vary on Girlie So Groovie as much as the genres of music I play during my hour slot.
The ONE common thread connecting these amazing and incredible artists is NOT the fact that they were born with vaginas.
It's the experience each has faced – working and triumphing and creating and failing and inspiring and making waves and creating their own impact in a male-dominated industry.
There will probably be a day when the idea of a show dedicated solely to women will not be needed, because we'll all be One.
It will be People In Rock. Not men. Not women.
Just artists, the way it should be.
Rather than bitch about that day STILL not being here - all we can do is celebrate the noises women are making and push those noises into the male norm of society until the foundation cracks, and inevitably explodes.
When that day comes – we can FINALLY start enjoying music.
So yeah.
That's "WHY."

Girlie So Groovie airs Mondays 7 p.m. - 8 p.m.
CJAM 91.5FM Windsor/Detroit

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