My capstone paper of my senior year at Agnes Scott College was on representations of women (mostly female musicians) in Rolling Stone in 1975. I started this project due to my love for Joan Jett…
who many of you don’t know was a part of the all-teenage-female rock band The Runaways in the mid-70s. If you saw the recent film adaptation of their lives, you would probably like the documentary Edgeplay which I felt was a more raw and authentic retelling of those few years spent together. (Likewise, Joan Jett does not take part in Edgeplay, but co-produced The Runaways…)
The band was not only just a bunch of women who wanted to rock, but a symbol of the rejection many women felt from the hypermasculine rock scene. Similarly, the band also represented how women were sexually objectified by the rock music industry and also sexualized themselves in order to maintain popularity in the male-dominated and controlled music industry.
Exhibit A) The Runaways
One of the many things that interests me about female musicians during this time period, is how little all-female bands knew about each other.
June Millington from the all-female rock band Fanny describes her experience as a female musician in the 70s:
We were painting our music on cave walls for a decade, beginning in the mid-60s, and it was a full-time job. I remember my sister Jean’s first song on electric bass–The Beau Brummel’s “Laugh, Laugh”–which we rehearsed with our first all-girl band, the Svelts, in our drummer’s living room in Sacramento, Calif. We’d gone from playing imes as kids in the Philippines to taking up acoustic guitars after arriving in the US in ’61, and then into electric guitar, bass and drums by 1965. I say cave walls because where were all the other women rock musicians in 1965? It was awfully dark in that cave. We didn’t know about Goldie & the Gingerbreads or other all-girl bands starting up and doing it for themselves. No peers, no mentors, no women’s centers, no support anywhere. As far as we knew, we were making it up. Jean and I sort of had an imperative from above–we just knew we had to play live and electric. I don’t think either one of us could have done it alone. We figured it out, and faced the world together.
Women have been part of music – as singers, musicians, djs, producers, journalists – since there was a music industry. However, decade after decade the media described their success as trends which both isolated female musicians from one another and continually othered them from more mainstream, masculine rockers. Likewise, many women felt forced to choose between identifying as feminist musicians and allowing all forms of sexual discrimination within the industry. But that’s another post for another day.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s current exhibit, Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power, features more than 70 artists, highlighting “the flashpoints, the firsts, the best, the celebrated — and sometimes lesser-known women — who moved rock and roll music and American culture forward.” Roadtrip?
Interested in reading more stories about the long lost tales of women in the music industry? Check these titles out:
Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin by Alice Echols
She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll by Gillian Gaar
Electric Ladyland: Women and Rock Culture by Lisa Rhodes
Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Rosetta Tharpe by Gayle Wald
Swing Shift: “All Girl” Bands of the 1940s by Sherrie Tucker