“What’s a pretty girl like you doing making a horrible noise like that?”
“Are you the groupie or the merch girl?”
“Watching with the sound off cos I don’t wanna listen to your music but I wanna fuck you so bad.”
“Angela Gossow would kick your ass and Simone Simmons is way hotter than you.”
These are just a few of the comments I’ve received as a woman playing in a metal band. I think I despise the last one the most.
Firstly, Simone Simmons is the fantastic soprano singer in Epica. I play guitar in a post metal band. But, despite having very little in common musically, our appearances apparently *must* be rated against each other.
No one compares the handsomeness of our male guitarist against say, Bruce Dickinson, because they realize how ABSURD and IRRELEVANT that is. They manage to discuss the boys’ vastly different musical merits without turning it into some kind of sexy Top Trumps trade off. But no, screw my guitar playing and Simone’s singing, when it comes to the great variety of women in metal – what matters is who is the most attractive? The last thing I’d expect from a metalhead is such a shallow, reductionist attitude.
You see, one of the first things that I loved about metal was that it seemed to be all about the music. It didn’t reek of the image-obsessed mentality that permeates pop. Metal musicians didn’t have to look a certain way, they didn’t have to follow fashions, they could just get on with shredding. Warts n all.
Therefore, I am filled with dismay every time I see women in metal being rated solely on their looks, because I genuinely thought the metal scene was better than that. Is it only “all about the music” when the musicians are male? It’s okay to objectify musicians when they are female? Should women feel grateful to play on tours entitled “THE HOTTEST CHICKS IN METAL” as though it’s not a massive insult to their talent?
Reeling it back to the comment, why exactly would “Angela Gossow kick my ass?” WE ARE NOT IN COMPETITION WITH EACH OTHER. If anything, I would be thanking her for the inspiration. I would thank her for persevering against the grain. For paving the way. To all women in metal: I salute you. Because firsthand experience has shown me it’s not fucking easy.
You are up against negative attitudes from the get go. You find yourself in demoralizing situations quite often. I had to stop a show at a festival in Germany because someone was trying to lift my skirt to take photos of my underwear whilst I was on stage.
Let’s just reverse that situation for demonstrative effect. You are a guy shredding onstage, getting lost in the music, then a stranger twice the size of you tries to remove your clothing and take photos. In front of hundreds of people. How would it make you feel? Terrified? Angry? Worthless?
But do my male bandmates ever worry about this happening to them? No. It just wouldn’t. They can sleep easy. They don’t have to plan ahead to try to prevent any forthcoming sexual assault on stage.
Now, to be fair, that was the utmost worst thing that has happened to me in the band. It was an example of the most degrading kind of incident I’ve faced. I’m not saying every show is like this. A standard gig features a gentler, patronizing sexism in the following forms:
- Not being given a backstage pass because you can’t possibly be in the band
- Not being given a soundcheck for your guitar amp because you can’t possibly be playing an instrument
- Fans being overfamiliar and disrespecting personal space
- Backhanded compliments after the show such as “you’re pretty good for a girl” or “I was expecting you to be shit but you can actually play”
The latter, once again, is the most annoying. Why would you automatically assume that a woman can’t play? Why would you lower your expectations because of something as inconsequential as a musician’s gender?
If you went to a bakery, would you ask who baked the bread – a guy or a girl? No, because you realize that the gender of the maker is irrelevant to the product.
But unfortunately, in the metal scene, it’s not. Our women in bands are labelled so that the audience can manage their unfoundedly pessimistic musical expectations. You know what I’m talking about.
“FEMALE FRONTED.” Ugh. This term doesn’t exist in any other genre of music. By using the term “female fronted” in metal, we are saying there is a need for segregation of musicians based on gender. We are highlighting something irrelevant to the music. We are treating women like a novelty. Like they need their own category. But the key word in the phrase ‘positive discrimination’ is discrimination – by describing a band as female fronted, you are reducing the entire bands creative output to the sex of one member.
When we will just be seen and treated as equals?
It’s not just the female metal musicians who are subject to dismissive attitudes either. Female metal fans are often treated with doubt and suspicion over their taste in music. “You don’t really like death metal, you are just saying you do to impress boys.” That’s a common one. Then comes the grilling.
“Oh, you say you like Dying Fetus? Name your favourite album. Name all the band members. Name all the tracks you like.” Why the hell are you testing us? Who makes you the decider on whether we “pass” as a “real” metal fan or not?! Has it ever occurred to you that we like something because we personally enjoy it? Has it ever occurred that we don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone? Guys may dominate the metal scene, but that does not automatically make them the authority on it.
Believe it or not, we’re not here to ruin things so there’s no need for the defensive hostility. We are here to share a passion for heavy music without being discouraged, excluded, objectified or made to feel unwelcome. In the bellowed words of Angela Gossow, “WE WILL RISE.” We will rise above the sexism in metal. No more “female fronted.” No more “hottest chicks in metal.” No more male authoritarian bullshit. Just metalheads united by music, supporting each other, regardless of their differences.