What’s the link between gender and music?
Musicians are both influencers and the influenced. Constructs like gender have defined musical culture for years, and in return, music helps to define these constructs within the context of society. Music is personal and therefore a can be used as a powerful political tool; in fact, it has been a medium for “complicated rebellions” against the status quo since its origins.⁴ A classic example is the Riot Grrrl movement in the ’90s, a punk movement aimed at getting girls to reclaim the stage.
Despite all of this, however, gender wasn’t acknowledged as a “social force” until the late 1980s.² Once feminists began to explore the role of gender and women in music, however, limitations began to pop up – limitations placed on women, and later members of the LGBTQ+ community, as performers, creators, and even listeners.
Female and LGBTQ+ musicians have often had to work harder to get the same recognition as men.⁵ Often, they aren’t taken seriously – shown in patronizing marketing towards women (or the lack of it), tokenizing and separation of minorities like Warped Tour’s special “women’s stage” from only a few years back⁵, and straight-up harassment.
I run a music blog, and still often get frustrated by the fact that despite Columbus’s rapidly growing music scene, I still struggle to find local female and LGBTQ+ musicians to write about. Our city does have a left-leaning political scene, especially in the DIY music community and the Ohio State kids, but I’ve found it difficult to actively seek out these bands.
Moreover, a study performed by a student at The College At Brockport set out to discover whether trends of increasing sexualization of women in music were helpful or harmful – and she discovered that although the opinions of those surveyed varied depending on genre, the vast majority of respondents believed that the current representation of women in music is oppressive.³ However, the wide variations in response led her to realize that every woman’s experience with media representation is different, although there are some similarities.
Generalizing these experiences by attempting to apply one label to all of them leads to a gross underrepresentation of diverse opinions – and this is one thing that I learned through my interviews, as well. Every person has a unique story, but underlying themes like tokenizing minorities, harassment, or patronizing behavior remain the same. To see four of these individual stories, check out the videos below! Pictured is my favorite photo that I took of First Responder performing at Double Happiness in February.
Check out my interviewees and their videos below – there’s also a bit of information on each of these people, as well as links to their band pages.
In case you’ve never heard of some of the terms mentioned in the videos, here’s a bit of helpful vocabulary (and check out Everyday Feminism for a more comprehensive list!).
Gender Binary: We talk about the gender binary in terms of masculinity and femininity. It’s the idea that there are only two genders (male and female) and that they both have a strict set of socially-constructed “rules” that they must abide by.
Patriarchy: Basically, it’s the social hierarchy where a man is always assumed to hold power. Women and genderqueer folks are assumed to be inferior, and believe it or not, it hurts all genders – not just women!
Gender: Gender is made up of a braid of three things: gender expression, gender identity, and sex assigned at birth. Cisgender people are those whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people are those whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Genderqueer people are those whose gender doesn’t fit the binary, whether that is through expression or identity. Gender is much more nuanced than that simple definition, though, so check out this GLAAD resource for more information.
LGBTQ: An acronym, standing for Lesbian (women attracted to women), Gay (men attracted to men), Bisexual (attracted to both men and women), Trans* (see above), Queer/Questioning (any other non-heterosexual orientation). Check out this GLAAD page for more info!
Sierra Mollenkopf (First Responder): Sierra Mollenkopf, vocals and guitar for noise-pop band First Responder, an awesome girl and part of an incredible band. I’ve been to two of their shows, both of which absolutely rocked, and First Responder’s latest EP In My Dreams My Windows Faced West was the first album I bought on Bandcamp. Plus, I write about them a lot. These guys are seriously one of my favorite local bands, although it’s a bit bittersweet – Sierra is leaving for grad school next year, and I’ll miss her, both as a musician and a role model.
Marie Corbo and Noah Demland (Corbezzolo): Corbezzolo is another band that my older brother introduced me to – and I couldn’t be more thankful. This alternative rock duo is definitely in my top three local favorites. Their sound is unique and engaging, and Marie, the lead vocalist, is an empowering role model to me and other musicians (hint: check out Sierra’s video). I’ve written about one of their albums and gone to one show, which you can read about on my blog!
Joey Selvaggio and Jesamie Houghtby (Flashback Humor): This power couple, Jesamie and Joey, are vocals, guitar, and bass for shoegaze band Flashback Humor. I saw them live for the first time shortly after this interview, and their energy on stage is incomparable to anyone else I’ve ever seen. As far as their sound goes, it’s loud and highly political with lots of passion. I had trouble figuring out how I felt about it, but you can read more about that here. The thing that sets them apart? They have a saxophone player in addition to the traditional rock instruments.
Ben Gardner (One Small Step): Ben is the lead vocalist for One Small Step, a raw pop-punk band from a little bit farther out of Columbus. If you’re into pop-punk, and I don’t mean along the lines of All Time Low’s mainstream brand, definitely check this band out. Their passion shows through with every line, and their sound is heavy and intense without being overwhelming. I’ve learned that Columbus is surprisingly big on pop-punk – and these guys fit right in with that classic sound.
So what can we do to improve music scenes, both locally and globally? Check out a few of the ideas from our interviewees and me, and feel free to add your own on the Padlet below!
When it comes to tokenization of women and minorities, the easiest way to fix that is to support their music based on the music itself, not on the gender or sexuality of the musician behind it. Special “women’s stages” separate those women and make them feel as though they’re only chosen for their gender.
Be aware of what’s going on, and more importantly, ask questions! If you’re uncomfortable with something or don’t know a lot about it, just ask. On the other hand, be aware of what’s going on both with your own behavior and that of the people around you. You know how it goes – if you see something, say something! Don’t allow harassment and discrimination to be perpetuated through the music scene.
Support diverse musicians! Don’t treat them as a novelty, but instead, try to intentionally find diverse bands whose music you enjoy and support them. Go to shows, like their Facebook page, buy their music.
1. Bloustien, Geraldine. “‘God Is a DJ’: Girls, Music, Performance, and Negotiating Space.” Girlhood and the Politics of Place, edited by Claudia Mitchell and Carrie Rentschler, Berghahn Books, NEW YORK; OXFORD, 2016, pp. 228–243, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14jxn16.18.
2. Cook, Susan C., Judy S. Tsou, and Susan McClary. “Introduction: “Bright Cecilia”.” Cecilia Reclaimed: Feminist Perspectives on Gender and Music. Urbana, Il.: U of Illinois, 1994. N. pag. Print.
3. Glantz, Jaime. “Women in Popular Music Media: Empowered or Exploited?” Thesis. The College at Brockport, 2013. The Spectrum: A Scholars Day Journal 2 (2013): n. pag. Print. Article 5.
4. Heywood, Leslie, and Jennifer Drake. “Third Wave Activism and Youth Music Culture.” Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2003. N. pag. Print.
5. Richardson Andrews, Charlotte. “Punk Has a Problem with Women. Why?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 3 July 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.