Over at NPR, I saw an interesting article titled, Gazelle Amber Valentine: ‘Gender Is Not A Genre’. It’s an interview with Ms. Valentine from the band Jucifer; a band made up of married couple Gazelle Amber Valentine on vocals and Edgar Livingood on drums. They’re considered a sludge metal band though from what I keep hearing about their live performances, they are anything but sludgy, and in fact, have been known to have intensely emotional performances.
I bring up this NPR interview because the author Kim Kelly (an awesome metal writer by the way) asks some important questions regarding gender. I found Gazelle’s answers to them to be quite interesting especially if we look at them through a Third Wave Feminist lens. Since my thesis aims to examine how both female fans and female musicians look at gender, I was curious to see what Gazelle had to say. Below are some interesting excerpts from the interview:
Q: To detour for a moment and revisit your own roots: How did you first become interested in and aware of feminism, and womankind’s fight for equality? How has living your life as a musician and metalhead affected your identity as a woman?
My identity as a woman was always secondary to my identity as ME, if that makes sense. Being a musician and metalhead might not have even happened if not for that. I’ve had to reject a lot of socialized bullshit to openly be what I am: a woman who is, and is at ease with, simultaneously embracing traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine things. I don’t find they conflict, but society says they do. People have told me both literally and figuratively that “girls can’t” do just about everything. Fortunately I never believed them and will do it anyway. The truth, of course, is that gender doesn’t have anything to do with a person’s capabilities. If anything, my life in metal has cemented everything I already guessed about the world. You know; the highest compliment I can get after a show is, “I thought you were a dude until I got close.”
Q: Metal’s “woman problem” that has been mentioned all over the media and in barroom conversations from here to Timbuktu. It’s a question we’ve been asking for years, but: why? Why is it still an issue that a woman is interested in metal, especially extreme metal? What are men – and some other women – afraid of?
Society trains us from a very early age to be male or female, so as long as people believe metal is “dude stuff,” women who enter the metal world will create some discomfort. It’s really sad, because there are lots of guys who’d probably be stoked to hang with a woman who appreciates their music … except that somehow it threatens their sense of self. Everybody’s trained into this adversarial relationship that benefits absolutely nobody — we’re set up to argue and complain about each other, and in too many cases have lifelong relationships with someone we resent.
Obviously that’s a generalized, cisheteronormative analysis. But that’s the axis of metal’s tradition of women problems. Metal is considered a male toy, women are considered toys for males. When your toy steals your toy it’s a mindfuck. As far as intragender hating, the main thing I notice about women within metal is actually something men do to one another too: judging others on style choices or which bands they like. It’s fuckin’ dumb, y’all. What’s the point of seeking outlaw, non-mainstream stuff just to turn around and police it?!
Discussing the line between empowerment and exploitative behavior is dicey. There’s chicken and egg stuff going on. Do women control their sexiness? Do they even create it? Or do they inherit it from traditions built on controlling them and making them unnatural? Is it patriarchal colonialism that we like our cleavage or our butts, high heels, long hair, lipstick, whatever? And if so can we ever belong to ourselves while enjoying that stuff? In addition, isn’t stigmatizing women who sell their sex appeal hyper-patriarchal in and of itself? At the same time, isn’t selling oneself as an object pandering to patriarchy? It’s a proper hornet’s nest with no clear answer. We have to seek our own ways to celebrate ourselves while getting stung as little as possible, I guess……
As a humanist, a womanist I support individual agency. I also don’t believe any of us has to be a role model.
That last comment as being a humanist/womanist sat well with me. I also feel that it aligns itself nicely with Third Wave Feminism in that it puts the individual in control over their fate and challenges a normative binary type of gender, i.e.- my gender is created, not predispose. What also becomes apparent from this interview is Gazelle’s thoughts on the genre that she is part of and her ability to reflect on it’s overall engendered space. By default, her very presence in the scene empowers her to reclaim a space that has generally been a man’s sphere. What’s more interesting though, is that no matter what, there seems to be a negotiating of identity in taking part in that world. This can be seen where she says, “You know; the highest compliment I can get after a show is, “I thought you were a dude until I got close.”
Should women have to negotiate and exude male traits to be accepted?
You tell me.
Here’s a live performance from Ohio in 2013:
And here’s a another YOUTube video of a live performance from Paris in 2013.