Articles about social mores and the metal scene often start from a hostile point of view. Sometimes that’s for clicks and other times it’s because the writer is anticipating the comment shitstorm they’re about to whip up. And one thing I really love about the internet is the opportunity to tell people who disagree with any of my frivolous opinions to go fuck themselves.
This post, though, is fairly sober. I don’t have any specific targets and I’m not demanding anything. It’s just about a fairly small decision I made. And after ten years of music writing, I’ve only been doing it for a month.
Write about metal long enough and it becomes increasingly difficult to find new, interesting ways to describe loud guitars and screaming. So having a little extra color to add to a review or a profile is always helpful. And when there is a woman in the band, that’s often the first place you turn to for a slightly fresher angle. After all, female metal musicians are still somewhat of a rarity in the scene and as other writers, editors, PR people, label heads and the vox populi will tell you, it should be highlighted.
Up until a month ago I’d convinced myself that it was feminist. Spotlighting a woman band member was high praise from me, the extreme music oracle. It was my promotion of a strong female who pushed through all the bullshit. It was my small part in elevating someone who was making it work in a scene awash in misogyny. And, if they’re a vocalist, then they add that different timbre, right? You can expect a different lady sound. Isn’t that necessary information?
To skip that felt like describing a ska band and never mentioning the brass section. Like an inherent part of the band was being purposefully hidden. It felt like I wouldn’t be doing my job.
Then I had a review to write. A brief one, maybe a hundred words. Not a lot of room for nuance, but there was a woman who played guitar and sang. There was room for that. Now, it wasn’t easy to tell these were female vocals. In fact I had to double-check to make sure she was listed as the singer. And that was pretty much when it clicked. It still felt weird, almost subversive, but I removed the gender identifier and sent it off.
And the world didn’t fucking end.
It’s unfair to portray this as some sort of thoughtful epiphany when there has been plenty of noise about this topic. The meme “‘Female-Fronted’ is Not a Genre” has been around at least a few years, clearly explaining how this one facet of the scene is so frustrating to women. I just finally realized that I wasn’t an exception, that there was no way to frame this that didn’t fall flat.
It’s simple: a woman in a metal band doesn’t guarantee some level of inherent quality. The “25% female” pitch is usually meant to elicit a universal acceptance that the band has some different, enviable dimension. But it actually means that the woman, no matter what she brings to the band, is a novelty. Her vocal pattern, guitar riff or drum fill is given an asterisk, as if the music you’re hearing was created by a bear on a tricycle.
This isn’t a call for a gender-blind scene. I’m not demanding all metal be played behind masks (though even that wasn’t enough for the newest member of Ghost). Nor am I saying that women who remain in a scene where they are scrutinized, constantly challenged and surrounded by explicit themes and threats of sexual violence should be forced to blend in. There are places at the table for them, along with people of color and transgender metal heads. They should all be allowed to openly process how they’re treated and listened to. They deserve to live by whatever identity they choose.
What they don’t deserve is to have an identity thrust upon them just to make the one-sheet pop or add a little color to a blog review. Maybe mentioning grrrl-power shredding is an honest expression of how impressive that truly is, but despite the perceived difficulties of attending band practice while menstruating, some people just seem to pull it off.
I’m not trying to crack you over the head like you don’t get it. I know you understand that in the metal scene it is harder to be a woman than a man and one reason is because men refuse to stop bringing up that you’re a woman. And these problems with misogyny and racism are so bone-deep that an entire article about not gendering band members will likely be seen as a bit of inconsequential, self-congratulatory puffery.
Maybe that’s true. It is small. But I hope what means more about is that I made my decision because I listened to women explain why it was wrong, and they were right.