A Man's Musings on the Status and Contributions of Women in Music's Most Extreme Genre
Women have been marginalized in metal for a long time. Much of the reason for that begins with society's ideas of femininity, and metal's decidedly masculine ideals. It was exacerbated in the 80's, with the sleaze rock that passed for metal at the time, which objectified women--and which has forever colored the mainstream conception of what metal is. Even today, metal bands without any talent will recruit a woman, dress her up like a slut, and use her as a cheap trick to get them undeserved attention. And it almost always works. Hell, I even went through a short phase of listening to a lot of Nightwish and Lacuna Coil myself.
Revolver and its annual "Hottest Chicks in Metal" is the flashpoint around which this issue is discussed, a fact recently lamented by The Black Girl into Heavy Metal. The very idea of it is offensive, and it sells a lot of magazines. So no one can really blame them for catering to the lowest common denominator.
But things aren't all bad. Even in the 80's Lita Ford got respect. Yes, she dressed sexy, but she also came off as strong. In the 90's, it seemed like White Zombie's Sean Yseult was the only metal chick who was taken seriously, and she dressed like a regular person. But things really turned around for the first time with Angela Gossow. Whatever you think about Arch Enemy's music (and in my opinion it's pretty mediocre), you have to admit two things. First, she dresses like a human being, and not an object. And second, she's gotten all her respect by being a talented vocalist, and a frontwoman whose made their live shows the subject of almost universal praise.
All of this is true, and yes, the more mainstream varieties of metal do objectify women. But here's what I think: It's not about women and metal at all. It's about women and music that caters to the mainstream.
At first blush, that may sound ridiculous. Metal isn't supposed to cater to the mainstream. But take a look through the pages of Decibel or Terrorizer, and you won't find women in lingerie or thigh-high boots, or with cleavage jumping out of their shirts. Look through Revolver and you will. Probably Metal Hammer, too. But Revolver and Metal Hammer are all about catering to the lowest common denominator. That's what mainstream music is all about. And all of mainstream music treats women this way, as Rolling Stone will prove quickly enough. Decibel and Terrorizer are decidedly not about catering to a mainstream audience, and that's the difference.The only notable exception to this rule is Sigh, but hey, it's Japan, so what are you going to do?
And the fact is that once you leave the mainstream side of metal, women are making nearly as much (if not just as much or more) great, innovative music as men are, and getting credit for it based on their musical prowess. That was recently noticed by even the lowest common denominator for real metal. The kind of women who want to make extreme music are different, and they bring a different perspective and different skill set (at least vocally) to the endeavor. A quick look at Profound Lore's roster confirms my theory: Salome, SubRosa, Ludicra, Grayceon, and Saros are all great bands fronted by women, and they're all making wonderfully unique metal while wearing street clothes. The reason they're on Profound Lore is because that label seeks out great bands that are unique, so I don't think it's any coincidence they have a lot of female-fronted bands.
I want to pick out Ludicra in particular for making (as I noted in my review) black metal that's decidedly feminine, but in a pure way that has nothing to do with society's ideas or with sex, but femininity in its Platonic ideal pure form. We could do with even more of this approach.
So yes, now I seek out metal made by women. And it has nothing to do with the way they look. It's because they do it differently. Keep up the good work, ladies.