“You know,” said Mr. Brum last week, as we sat and had coffee in the middle of a truly gold-medal-caliber rainstorm, “you don’t review a lot of women musicians.” It wasn’t a dig at me, or any wish to start any sort of big conversation – just an observation.
I thought about this for the rest of the day. Not about whether what he had said was true, because it is, indisputably. I review far more men than women for this column. And while that is interesting all by itself, I’m far more interested in the reason behind it: I listen to much more music that is made by men.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this should be so. I’m a hardcore feminist; I value and enjoy being exposed to women’s experiences, both in music and outside it. When it comes to my iTunes, however, the roster is overwhelmingly male.
I got to thinking about this and came up with a couple of theories.
1) It’s not that I don’t like women’s music, in and of itself; it’s that I don’t care for the type of music they usually make.
Hear me out. Obviously women are just as capable of men at making marvellous music (and shit music, too). Consider, however, the ways in which women are likely to break into the music industry. When I was a kid, there were two options: Spice Girls or Alanis Morrissette; that is, you could either get your tits out or be an angry quasi-feminist. Again, totally valid musical genres (actually, I’m still not sold on the Spice Girls) – but not ones that ever did anything for me personally. I still don’t really get excited about female singer-songwriters with soulful guitars, but neither do their male counterparts really pique my interest (except for those who mattered deeply to me in my childhood, like Joni and James). The point here is not that women make bad music; it’s that, due to the way the music industry is structured, they only tend to break out in very narrow musical genres, none of which appeal to my personal taste.
2) My identification as a woman doesn’t draw me as deeply to music as it does to other forms of art.
I can’t get enough of female newspaper columnists. In the UK, we’re blessed in having a great many of them: loud, opinionated women who aren’t afraid to throw their weight around and be heard, women like Caitlin Moran, Grace Dent, Zoe Williams, Decca Aitkenhead, Suzanne Moore – the list goes on. I love reading their columns and hearing what they have to say. I love wanting to punch the air every time they take a dig at some old, rich, white, House of Lords peer who doesn’t realize that women are no longer automatic dishwashing machines you can also have sex with. This rising, glorious sense of (to use a term I hate) “girl power” doesn’t extend to music.
Do you have to be a woman to appreciate the music that women make? Of course not. I’m also not suggesting that women should support female musicians simply because they’re female; everyone deserves to be judged on their own merits. All I can really say is that, for me, my feminist punching power is stimulated and encouraged by writers, not musicians.
3) I tend to be drawn to musicians in terms of their social context rather than their gender makeup.
As I discovered social movements that I identified with, I found that lots of them had happened before I had even been born. Punk is a good example. So is glam rock and its association with the rise of gay acceptance in the UK. When I learned about these movements I wanted to be part of them, even long after the fact. The musicians I found who exemplified these cultural moments – acts like David Bowie and The Clash – were all men; but I saw them less as representatives of the male sex within a cultural movement, and more as representatives of a cultural movement who happened to be male. The more I identified with the movement, the more I loved the musicians who played a part in its rise.
This may be a vicious circle: I’m not sure whether or not women were more constrained in the ’70s and ’80s, music-wise, than they are now. I’m not confident enough to draw a definite conclusion either way. But I do recognise that women not being able to participate in those movements, or at least not becoming as well-known as their male counterparts, affected how many of them were handed down to me 30 years later.
I’d really love to hear what you all have to say about this. Does your music library skew 50/50, or do you favour one sex over the other? Do you know why? Share it in the comments.