Being a woman in rock shouldn’t be something worth writing about, writes Emma Cameron of Christchurch band Decades.
Yes, I am a woman and yes, I play rock music – but the truth is, I did not grow up being aware that I was different for being someone with breasts and a vulva playing a guitar. I also don’t personally know what the male rock music experience is for comparison. All I know is there are a lot more men successfully playing rock music for a career out there than women, and that because we’re a sexist culture historically, there is a tangible (distasteful) reason for that.
My teenage years of playing rock music were spent likening myself to my rock heroes who, at that time, happened to be all men. It did not occur to me then that if I were to continue down the path of a music career that I would face any problems because of my gender.
Everywhere I looked there were dudes at school, in public, on TV, on radio, playing guitars and writing rock music. I liked rock music, I played guitar, I sung and screamed, so I was one of them – right? I wasn’t actively thinking that, but that was my subconscious experience.
I didn’t associate myself with other women playing rock music; in fact, I was barely exposed to it at all. I did not actively seek out women in rock, past or present, and it did not even occur to me to do so. I just liked the music I liked. Simple as that – right? Not really. The lack of opportunities for women in rock music throughout history and the exposure of that music to young girls like myself is a whole other piece of writing altogether.
When asked to write about my experience of being a woman in rock music, the first thing I did was Google ‘women in rock music experience’. I wanted to know what other people were saying about this topic; whether the voice of what was being said was that of other women in rock music themselves or people doing feminist studies and focusing on rock music, or whether it was dudes talking about it. That whole 20 minute, highly academic process made me mostly think about how weird it was that I should be asked to write about being a woman in rock music in the first place – is that even interesting to people? Why should it be? It’s not that interesting to me, personally. Then I had a realisation: that was the bigger picture.
One of the first results to come up on my search was the Wikipedia entry for Women in Rock, in which this Philip Auslander quote about Suzi Quatro stuck out to me: “[she was] kicking down the male door in rock and roll and proving that a female musician … and this is a point I am extremely concerned about … could play as well if not better than the boys”.
This kind of rhetoric ‘extremely concerns’ me – that last line is not empowering women, it’s just reversing the historic idea of ‘men are better than women’ and turning it in to some sort of shocking epiphany like ‘oh my god… what if… after all these years of us thinking women can’t play guitar… women are actually better than men at it?!’ The ‘women vs men’ narrative is not one that should exist, let alone one we should buy into. You’re either really good at what you do, or you are alright at what you do and maybe you should just practise a bit more.
I realise I may come across as an idealist, but I’m not ignorant. I know the reality is we still live in a world where women don’t get given that same base-level human respect for doing the same job – or art – that men do. And it does grind me, which is one reason I run a blog called Good for a Girl to talk about the things that happen to myself and other women in the music industry (it isn’t genre specific to the rock music biz, either), and experiences even women consumers of music have.
When push comes to shove I’m always at the ready to stand up for women and fight, but I think if we could have a conversation about how absurd it is that we’ve created these non-existent differences in the first place, in a way that is non-threatening, it may help us move on to a more fair social/gender landscape.
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.