Tag Archives: Rolling Stone

That’s What She Said: Female Musicians Discussing Gender

“I see differences between women after the 1970s. Women entertainers were suggestive until then. Women have become way too salacious since then. There is little left to the imagination.”

Bettye LaVette

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Holy Jesus, do I hate when men say, “That’s what she said.”  But in this case it’s actually true – NPR gathered responses from 700 female musicians on questions over music style, influence, and most intriguingly, gender.

My own research is on representations of women, mainly female musicians, in Rolling Stone in 1975.  I examine how these women are objectified or how they sexualize themselves, how they support other female musicians or how they denigrate feminism – which makes comparing responses from female musicians from 1975 and 2010 pretty interesting.

So how have things changed for women since then?

Here is just a sample comparison between Terry Garthwaite from Joy of Cooking (interview from 1974) and Janet Robin from several bands including Air Supply and Meredith Brooks (interview from 2010).

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Interview with Terry Garthwaite, Joy of Cooking, from Katherine Orloff’s published collection of interviews with female musicians, Rock ‘N Roll Woman, printed in 1974 (page 59).

Terry Garthwaite (top row, far right) and Toni Brown (top row, middle) were the lead performers for their band Joy of Cooking.

“A lot of times it’s hard to know whether problems arise because you’re a woman or for other reasons which you’ll never know.  There are some things which are more obvious than others.  I think also, when you’re woman who doesn’t fit the stereotype of somebody who’s in the music business, and there are a lot of pigs in the music business, that creates problems.  (Orloff asks what that stereotype is for women.)  Well, women should be what I call “chicky-poo,” they should be ultrafeminine and be submissive in their attitude.  That’ not necessarily always true.  I supposed I’ve felt that if I’m being who I am and asserting some idea which a man int he music business doesn’t agree with, that he would be offended, somehow his hackles would rise, rather than being able to really discuss it as a valid idea…

Also men want women in the music business to be attractive in a certain way.  That’s not simple to do, but it’s a simple concept, a simple-minded concept.  The music business is just a funny, funny space to live in.

It occurs to me that the importance of women in rock today has to do with women 1) playing instruments and being taken seriously as actual musicians, and 2) making meaningful statements about women’s feelings through and around music, rather than the traditional statements which have frequently been put in the mouths of women by male writers.  For women to be exploiting their own sexuality (which at the very least is a given) as a means of getting a so-called foot in the door is falling prey to the old set-up.  If women are serious in their efforts as musicians, then let the world know it’s their music and its message that merits attention, and it should speak for itself.  Whatever advantages of being a woman will then be a bonus.  Self-exploitation of the stereotypical women’s wiles only confuses the point of women in rock.  Women have been in music through history, but within rock they’ve been able to emerge as serious and articulate musicians/writers, speaking to and for a large audience.  How much easier it would be with more women in all facets of the business, including record-store owners, publicity agencies, rack jobbers, deejays, engineers, producers and of course record company executives. Can you imagine?”

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Janet Robin, Air Supply, Meredith Brooks, etc., from NPR’s collection of interviews, “Hey Ladies”, published online in 2010.

Janet and band @ Hotel Cafe ©Peter "Hopper" Stone/stonefoto.com

“Well, certainly it’s gotten better for women in music, these days you see a lot more women out there playing and doing their own thing. Or, being hired as players in bands. When I started, it really was a novelty. When I was in my band in the 80’s we had a major record deal (Polygram and Capitol), we were an all-girl band, (actually friends with some of The Runaways girls), and as we started promotion for our records, radio stations actually said to our faces that they could not add another band with a female singer. That their roster already had one (ala Pat Benatar or Heart) and that they only allowed for one female fronted band at a time on their playlist….Totally ridiculous, of course. We also had some guys come up after our shows and actually ask us if our “”boyfriends’ were playing the instruments behind the curtain because “”girls can’t play rock n’ roll”” that was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

Now, it’s much better and the more women who get out there, learn and play their instrument proficiently, the better. When I got hired to play in Lindsey Buckingham’s solo band, he specifically wanted a woman who could play guitar and sing background vocals. There were not very many at the audition, I can tell you that. He was extremely open to the idea and I’m sure all those years working with Stevie Nicks opened up his mind to even the concept of a women musician. People like Joni Mitchell, Heart, Runaways, Fanny, Suzi Quatro, Bonnie Raitt, even bassist Carol Kaye, all helped women get to where we are now. When there are even younger women players and musicians getting recognition now, I hope they remember where it originated from.

Like I said above, I find that some of the younger women musicians may not know much of people like Joni Mitchell and Heart or even Bonnie Raitt. I have a few guitar students and I try to educate them. Fanny and The Runaways were some of the first all girl bands around, then came Go-Go’s, Bangles, Girlschool from the UK, Vixen, (and my band, Precious Metal), during the glam rock days. We all knew each other, whether we were big and famous or not. It didn’t matter, there was a comraderie. Now, there are girl bands everywhere, and a lot more girl musicians with companies making guitars for girls even- and really trying to promote playing an instrument to young girls. I think it’s great. I just want to make sure that they know their history and know of some of these other women that came before. Even in the blues, there were incredible women guitarists such as Memphis Minnie and Sister Rosetta Thorpe. Most people don’t even know who those people are, but for example, Memphis Minnie wrote “”When the levee breaks”” the song that Led Zeppelin made famous and basically doesn’t give her any credit. She was also an amazing LEAD guitarist and her husband was the rhythm guitarist in the band. These are facts that not only women should know, but men too- and people of all ages.

Someday I wish to put on a show that features women guitarists and pay homage to women guitarists from the past and present.”

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