How Gender Equal is the Alternative Rock Scene?
Lorde was the first woman in 17 years to top Billboard Magazine’s Alternative Songs Chart as a soloist. 17 years!
Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth in a 2014 interview in The Guardian: “We were around people who felt like, ‘We’re groovy, we’re cool,’ but they were so sexist”
Has gender equality has reached a truly balanced level? In a perfect world, equal opportunity should be given to everyone, enabling any given soul to blossom – but there are certain sectors that still host gender discrimination whether it’s intentional or not. It’s seen a lot in positions high up the ladder, with men continuing to make up the majority of workers in the top 10% of earners.
Gender discrimination is a given in the corporate sector, but is there still a gender divide in the realm of creative jobs that offer more freedom and scope for involvement? The alternative rock scene includes an array of bands and solo artists, each expressing their individual style and vibe, but is gender favouritism still churning its rusty old chauvinist cogs within the more experimental of the music realms?
Lorde was the first woman in 17 years to top Billboard Magazine’s Alternative Songs Chart as a soloist. Billboard Magazine is a credible music website and this is just one example, but it still indicates a distinct hesitancy in the mucic industry to honour female alternative musicians. Could this be an underlying male bias – or are male musicians simply embraced more than female ones? Even if it’s the latter, you have to consider whether women in the alternative rock scene are given enough coverage in the first place. You can’t judge and celebrate ‘a top ten list’ when so many of the relevant acts haven’t even been presented to you. To remedy the reduced showcasing of women in alternative rock, a whole culture would have to engage in deep-down change… from record labels penning deals through to airtime and marketing. If it’s not out there to see… then you’re bound to miss it out.
Perhaps the alternative rock industry is simply going through a bad patch at the moment. After all, in the 90s we had various prominent females who were famously celebrated as icons for both women and men. The likes of Garbage, Alanis Morisette, Bjork and Courtney Love’s Hole (and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, pictured above) were all smashing their way to stardom. It resumed with the Yeah Yeah Yeah‘s and PJ Harvey, and much more recently Paramore’s frontwoman Hayley Williams. There are other female musicians and contributors to music who go under the social radar but still pump out great sounds – groups such as Metric, Emily Armstrong and Siouxsie Medley from Dead Sara, Flyleaf and legendary sound engineer Emily B Lazar. They’re feted in the alternative music domain, but you have to wonder what sacrifices they had to make compared to men. You can’t help wondering how they were treated and what their current experience is of life inside the industry.
The bottom line is that the alternative music scene is still widely regarded as a male-dominated playground where women are showcased only if they meet the attractive/outlandish quota. Who, then, is at fault for a potential failure of equal opportunity within alternative music? Some may argue that whilst there remains a standard male hierarchy right at the top of media you won’t be able to change anything. However, a more positive media slant can help to tweak alternative music’s order and identity.
Advertisers, record labels and festival event co-ordinators in control of billing can all try and adopt a fresh way of thinking and implement a fairer stance by featuring an equal number of acts that represent each gender. Once the musical diet of the masses is changed they’ll soon adjust to the added nutritional value, probably without even noticing, and then the whole perception of one gender being more dominant or better than others will adapt accordingly. The receiver (that’s us as an audience) can also help create a more even playing field. Why is it that women are comfortable declaring their love for male bands but it’s rare to see a man wearing a band t-shirt acknowledging a female artist? All these little things are sure to contribute.
This gender divide extends beyond alternative rock music. It’s a negative cultural habit. Even when women do end up at the front of the pack, there’s a risk of them being represented incorrectly, with stereotypes or in a manner that degrades the female identity. Music without women would be utterly boring and the same applies to all genders, so it’s about finding that fabled harmonic symmetry which offers audiences an opportunity to hear all the music out there.