War on Women

Here’s a recent article that was published over at the Washington Post called, “Rape, street harassment and trolls. This punk band has a song for that” about the hardcore band War On Women and Feminism. It’s both an interesting and discouraging article about what female musicians face in the punk, hardcore and metal music scenes and goes on to speak about the band’s origin and experiences performing. In particular, like the article’s title suggests, band lyricist and vocalist Shawna Potter talks about fans’ reaction to her as a woman performing and her experiences of harassment.

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It’s sad to say, but Potter’s experiences are really no different than what many of the women I interviewed here in NYC spoke about. Even though a majority of metal news sites, commenters, and bloggers in the blog-o-sphere might argue differently, these moments of violence, mistreatment and racism still occur. It’s very much a “still happened, even if it didn’t happen to you” kind of thing.

I am glad to see articles like the Washington Post one being published because these issues of rape, racism, and sexism still are and should be ongoing discussions, lest we forget– see what I did there? –But seriously… the discussions shouldn’t stop at just media highlighting white women of more noticeable bands – there needs to be a focus on the intersectionalities occurring – women of color, of ethnicity, of varying gender identities etc.

And before folks get all uppity about there not being enough bands with women of the intersectionalities I just mentioned, you can just look to bands like NY’s Castrator or the site Female Vocalists of Extreme Music– the name implies only vocalists but it really includes a very in-depth listing of bands worldwide with women as musicians & vocalists.

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Heavy Metal Studies and Gender

MeralandGenderLast week, an article was published over at No Clean Singing that caught my eye. The article,A Metal Gender Study is a follow-up post by cultural anthropologist David Mollica who put a call out through No Clean Singing last March to recruit participants for his study about gender and metal.

Since Mollica’s research is very much aligned with my own work with regard to gender, I thought I’d share my thoughts on his article in hopes of opening a discourse about how gender has been examined in the past as well as how the perspective of women conducting the research themselves can offer different insights than previous studies done by men.

We_Can_Do_It!First off, though Mollica’s writing is aimed at the general audience in the blog post, I wondered about several aspects of his study. For one, he writes:

“…I ended up interviewing 6 women and 5 men, making this the first study of its kind that I know of to have equal gender representation.”

Since I’ve had to research a lot of literature on this topic, I found this statement to be  misleading and, with no sources cited, I also question the depth of his actual research. In the last decade or so, though statistics may have not shown an exact and equal ratio of men and women on studies like Mollica’s; the fact is there has been research done with women and men regarding the subject of gender and metal.

One example is the research done by scholars Leigh Krenske and Jim McKay entitled,Hard and Heavy: Gender and Power in a Heavy Metal Music Subculture“, in which gendered structures of power in a specific music club within the heavy metal subculture in Brisbane, Australia were studied. In this study a total of 10 participants were interviewed, 6 women and 4 men.

Additionally, in my own research, I have referenced academics such as Sonia Vasan from the University of Texas, whose dissertation,Women’s Participation in Death Metal Music was extremely influential on much of my ethnographic approach. Likewise, Sarah Kitteringham from University of Calgary has written and interviewed a variety of women from the Canadian Extreme Metal Music Scene, authoring her findings in her thesis, Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses.  There are other scholars from around the globe – Rosemary Hill, Gabrielle Riches, Jasmine Shadrack, Laina Dawes, Pauwke Berkers, Julian Schaap, and Keith Kahn-Harris – who have written about women in and around metal music. This also assumes one has referenced older and staple academic works written by Arnett, Walser, Wallach, Hickam, Purcell, Pillipov and Weinstein which mention and address different aspects of gender in metal. I’m sure I’m forgetting more.

KarynCrisisOn top of the lack of reference and context (which in Mollica’s defense, was probably due to not wanting to sound too academic on a commercial website), I thought the sample size of 6 and 5 to be small. In my own research, I interviewed – either in-person or electronically – around 80 participants from the NY area alone. If not for the cut-off period instituted by the IRB, there would have been many more – something I will probably use for a follow-up paper.

In addition, I’m left wondering about other aspects such as the demographics of his interviewees–Where was this study conducted? How old were his interviewees? What were their ethnicities? What were their educational backgrounds/careers?

Mollica points to conducting inductive research, assessing patterns as they arise. While this is a valid form of research, asking and answering such demographic questions is integral to finding out the patterns among his participants.

For example, in my study, I found that many of my online participants (which were women only) identified with Caucasian or Hispanic backgrounds. Asians, Native Americans, and African Americans had the lowest representative numbers. This becomes an important part of understanding identity construction, especially within an area like the NY tri-state region which is considered to be quite diverse.

Moreover, the women in my study (of which 72 were surveyed online) identified with the following stats: 18% between 18-24 years of age, 56% between 25-34 years in age, 18% between 35-44 years in age, 5% between 45-54 years in age and finally and most surprisingly 3% between 65-74 years in age. Considering age demographics is one way to reveal listening reasons. One can infer the musical styles that would have been around during the participants’ birth years for each age group and what may have been influential as well as what they were moving both away from and towards.

Also interesting – and not surprising – were the differences in our observations of women participating and producing within the scene. Mollica writes,

“Another thing that was mentioned was the stereotypically feminine tendency to herd up, move in groups, and sometimes stand on the periphery of the action.”

Though his interviewees mention this as fact, I and many of my participants witnessed otherwise – at least as the NY-area goes. Interestingly, many of the local extreme metal shows I attended had women attending by themselves. Perhaps this was due to the age of the women I noticed attending; they were often older and more mature, in their late 20’s and on, whereas younger adult women attended in groups, both mixed and unmixed. But, there are reasons outside of metal for this, and men are shown to move with their friends as well.

He also talks about authenticity within the metal scene, mentioning the similarities with geek culture and the acceptance of women within that subculture. I agree with his point and would add that this “burden of proof” placed on women to show their true fandom and authenticity elicits a form of tokenism, whereby they become objects which are judged and criticized. Schaap and Berkers work, “Grunting Alone? Online Gender Inequality in Extreme Metal Music”, explains this tokenism within extreme metal scenes, further supporting how sexism is widespread and cultivated throughout the subculture.

Finally, on Mollica’s last section, “What’s the Point?”, he writes:

Overall, most metalheads are probably not sexists who don’t want women in their “club”, as some other research has concluded. The reality is probably more that we bring our ideas about the world to heavy metal when we make ourselves part of the group.

I think I’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. For starters, this might be the case for the particular region of Mollica’s study. Since I’m not sure where that was, all I can offer are my own insights and experiences as a woman from the NY tri-state area. Most of the women I met with and interviewed felt that the extreme metal scene in NY was an arena that could be both restrictive and open in its acceptance of women as consumers and producers. Though many women felt established and included with the community, they also cited the difficulties in getting there.

My interviewees cited that their acceptance within the subculture did not eradicate the constant “testing” of their authenticity once there, whether it was being tested as a musician, fan, music journalist, or critic. Many women felt that this openness and acceptance also changed regionally, often telling me that once they were outside of urban and diverse areas like NY, they were more likely to experience sexism, racism and violence at shows.

castrator1In addition, the construction of the lyrical content does not offer many avenues for the dismantling of misogynist and sexist content. I can only think of NY’s Castrator as an example of a band that has turned traditional death metal lyrical content on its head.

With that, I leave you with a quote from one of my anonymous participants:

“Heavy and Extreme Metal still have a long way to go”

Individual Thought Patterns: Women in NY’s Extreme Metal Music Scene – 10.19.15

Cover of Natalie Purcell's book

Cover from Natalie Purcell’s book, Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture

I just realized that although I’ve been working on this research for some time, I’ve rarely posted anything that’s part of the draft thesis. So in case you were wondering…here’s a sample of what I’ve been writing about. I’ve included the abstract, table of contents, and just the working introduction, which reads very auto-ethnographic.
Draft – Individual Thought Patterns
And of course, please feel free to contact me if there’s something just glaringly odd/off. It’s still a draft form so I’m sure my advisor and second reader will have changes in mind.

Thanks  \m/

Castrator and Cannibal Corpse – A Love Story

CCandCastratorMashupSo as I finish up my thesis chapter devoted to the women of Castrator, I thought it would be nice to preface my section to the chapter with some lyrical comparisons from both Castrator and Cannibal Corpse songs, since really, each band has a way of textually inter-playing with each other.

In addition, Castrator’s decidedly feminist content make for some interesting call and response dialogue with Cannibal Corpse. The fact that Castrator can transgress the inherently masculine domain that is death metal, makes for an alluring discourse. Looking at the lyrics below, I’ve paired Castastor’s song Emasculator with CC’s Stripped, Raped and Strangled to offer a re-imagined version had the power shifted from the rapist to the victim. In my mind, I call it Emasculated Rapist and if I were any kind of musician, I’d find a way to actually cut and mix the two songs.

They think they know who I am
All they know is I love to kill
Face down, dead on the ground
Find me before another is found

Vigilante women on the loose 
Instruments of vengeance
Balance Restorers
The hunter will be hunted
Spirits of their victims rejoice
No longer will they endure

I come alive in the darkness
Left murdered and nameless
Dead, unburied and rotten
Half eaten by insects

Tightly she holds the blade
With which the rapist will be raped

She was so beautiful
I had to kill her

Tied her up and taped her mouth shut
Couldn’t scream, raped violently
Rope tight, around her throat
Her body twitches as she chokes
Strangulation caused her death
Just like all the others
Raped before and after death
Stripped, raped, tortured

Castration
Of the rapist!
Emasculation
Take his weapon!
Castration
Crush and cut the balls!
Emasculation
Oriectomy!

They’re all dead, they’re all dead
They’re all dead, by strangulation

I come alive in the darkness
Left murdered and nameless
Dead, unburied, and rotten
Half eaten by insects

It felt so good to kill

Castration
Of the rapist!
Emasculation
Take his weapon!
Castration
Crush and cut the balls!
Emasculation
Oriectomy!

I took their lives away
Seven dead, lying rotten
Unburied victims
Their naked bodies putrefy

Strangulation caused her death
Just like all the others
Raped before and after death
Stripped, raped, tortured

Form a line of prisoners
Led up one by one
Leaving genital parts behind
Penile amputation
Remove the weapon
From the offender

EP Review: Castrator’s “No Victim”

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My review of Castrator’s new EP. This can also be found on Metalriot.com.  Enjoy!

“Tightly she holds the blade
With which the rapist will be raped.
Castration Of the rapist!
Emasculation.”

Talk about a reply to any number of songs from Cannibal Corpse’s discography! Having discovered these ladies last year, right before their demo was released, I was ecstatic to finally hear Castrator‘s 4-track EP released in early May under the Horror Pain Gore Death Productions label. These five ladies hail from all over the map (Sweden, Colombia & Norway to name a few countries), marking this group as both ethnically diverse and fem-tastic! Shrouded in a bit of mystery, the ladies are credited as M.S. (vocals), M. Akesson (rhythm guitar), R. M (bass), C. Perez (drums) and P. Serrano (lead and vocals). You might already be familiar with many of the ladies from their other bands, which with time, I’m sure you’ll all figure out.

It’s sort of a supergroup in the making. Castrator’s EP has brushed off the dust to reinvigorate traditional death metal, and, in fact, does so with a healthy dose of feminism. And for you males out there who shy away from the f-word – put simply, it’s about leveling the field.

No need to cry misandry; these ladies are playing within a genre that’s definitely seen its fill of violent lyrics towards the female body. So in a lot of ways, though traditional, their lyrical content and approach has definitely revived and made for a refreshing and innovative change for the scene. The ep’s success lies in its ability to make your ears bleed with death that harkens to a time when classic death metal was still a driving force to be reckoned with. On first play, one might just think it’s all blood and gore with a little bit of fun inserted for shits and giggles, but really, throughout you get the added dose of subversion of content.

Opening with their song titled, “Honor Killing”, you’re made immediately aware that the narrative will speak of women’s injustice, but accompanied by growled vocals, driving guitars and rapid blast beats; the rhythms oscillate between intense drumming and savage guitar riffs, incurring some very vicious melodies.

My favorite song is “The Emasculator”- Not unlike many death acts from the early 90’s, it opens with a gory clip from the movie Hostel 2. You hear a man calling a woman, “a f**** c***”, (wrong move!) as she proceeds to go Lorena Bobbitt on him. What makes this a successful interpretation of what could easily be called a “man-hating” song based on its intro is its political confrontation of rape culture through its lyrics. It’s a transition from women being victimized to being empowered. And of course, this is most evident from the EP’s self-titled and title track, No Victim.

Overall, the EP is traditional death composed of melodic grooves and interspersed with guitar solos and growled death vocals. I felt that by the end, it made for a compelling reversal in which feminist politics serve to undermine the typical stances of a genre almost always aligned with patriarchy. Fans of early death would appreciate this project and probably be left like me, waiting for more, as Castrator continue “Unleashing her plague upon the earth”.

Full Track Listing:
1. Honor Killing (3:14)
2. Brood (3:09)
3. The Emasculator (4:06)
4. No Victim (3:24)

Individual Thought Patterns: Women in NY’s Extreme Metal Music Scene – Castrator

Castrator logoOn the research side, things have been coming along nicely..or at least until I’m told the famous, “hey, this isn’t going to work…your topic is too narrow/broad, you won’t be able to finish this at the Masters level, etc. ” I don’t know why, but I feel that statement lurking behind some shadowy academic in my future. I’ve been told that its the natural thing for advisers to critique your work until you’re in fetal position. I remember art school being like this. In light of this very real fear, I’m going to try and keep the optimism burning.

Last night I had my latest interview with a wonderful woman who was part of the metal scene back in the day. She’s a media personality now, working with an urban music label and moonlighting as a front woman for an indie rock band. She had lots to say that helped inform my study with regard to women and where feminism lies within NY’s metal and hardcore scenes. One of the common patterns arising from my interviews with women in NY’s extreme metal music scene (EMM) has been the diversity of backgrounds. I’ve met with a variety of women coming from all walks of life, varying ethnic backgrounds, and a range in age from 18 to 40. It confirms that metal’s reach is truly global…especially here in NYC, which is already rich in diversity.

As far as the compiling and writing portion of my thesis, all I can say is that it’s coming along. I’ve managed to organize my thoughts into a draft table of contents/outline. I’ve been working on parts that come easily to me. One of the sections that I’ve written about was about women and their re-appropriation of the death metal music scene. I’ve attached a small part of of my draft below. I’m currently editing and refining it based on one of my professor’s comments, but hopefully the majority of it will be part of the final thesis. I thought it would be nice to bring to light my happy discovery of the NY band Castrator. They’re significant in their pursuance of leveling the male-dominated NY death metal scene. I wholeheartedly support women with this agenda.

Re-appropriation and the Changing Discourse

 A number of the women I conducted one-on-one interviews with were musicians in the extreme metal scene. I interviewed two members from the New York City band Castrator, Carolina Perez (drums) and Mikaela Akesson (guitars). Castrator is an all-female band who play death metal, one of the styles blanketed in the extreme metal category. The other members consist of M. S. (vocals), P. S. (guitars) and R. M. (bass).* Not only do these women represent a multiplicity of ethnicities, they are a rarity with regard to actively choosing to create an all-female line-up, unique in the EMM scene. The band’s construction allows the women to create a space in metal in which expectations of gendered identity either fall by the wayside or become fuel for songwriting. The experience of performance for them paves the way to transgressing masculine space and sexualized gender tropes and subverting the normative patriarchy of the scene, rather than reinforcing them.

The band’s name, as well as two songs on their demo called “No Victim” and “Honor Killing” also serve to transgress the genre. Naming the band Castrator fits naturally with the death metal image of morbidity and the macabre; however with women behind the name, it gains a new appropriation, hinting at the inverted expression of female masculinities (Halberstam 1998).

Their lyrical content is a direct opposition to the current masculinized death metal hegemony and yet adheres stylistically to the genre’s sound. An example of this can be found in the lyrics to the song “No Victim,” which tells the tale of a man’s attempted rape of a woman. The tale is told from the woman’s perspective in which thoughts of “always in fear” and “trying to be brave” position the woman as victim. However, as the end approaches, the discourse undergoes a complete reversal – the woman overpowers her attacker and takes his knife and ends his life, “the knife from his hand she grabs, stabbing him multiple times”. When I asked Carolina about her thoughts behind writing this song, she said, “every woman has the fear of being raped and it shouldn’t be like that”. There are, in fact, many death metal songs, penned by men, glorifying rape. Some graphic titles include Cannibal Corpse’s “Fucked With a Knife”, “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” and the evocative “Entrails Ripped from a Virgin’s Cunt”. She said that with this band she wanted to show the EMM community that women “could play as brutal and as fast” and that “they like death metal music for what it is”. This mode of practice allows Carolina and her band to destabilize the gender norms of EMM by reclaiming masculine space for their own.

*Initials used for anonymity

About Me: Depth & Transgression

JoanI realized, the “About Me” section in this blog is a bit wanting and I thought that even though I’ve been relaying all the sordid details of my research, I haven’t really let my audience know about me (although one can argue that you’d get a feeling about who I am if you’ve been reading my posts!)

But anyway, here’s some details about me and where I’ve been going both academically and professionally. First off, this blog was started back in 2011 as a way for me to get my bearings with writing in academia as well as a way to force me to just, well, WRITE!

I’ve always been a fan of all types of music, especially 80’s New Wave, Classic Punk, and, as you can tell–Extreme Metal. By Extreme metal, I am mostly talking about Death, Doom, Sludge and some Grind.

My first life was spent as an Art lover and student. I went to SUNY Albany for my Bachelors in Studio Art (Drawing) and Art History (Medieval Art and Architecture). Having experienced first hand working in a Visual Arts Library, I thought to myself, wouldn’t becoming an Art Librarian be cool???And I wouldn’t have to be a starving artist to boot! So about a year after I graduated college, I went to Pratt for my Library degree in Library/Information Science with a Certificate in Archives (which is gathering dust by the way).

In the midst of my Pratt life, I ended up, very luckily, working at The Thomas J. Watson Library in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I worked there for about 6 years as an Art Librarian, enjoying the highs and lows that accompany art reference, cataloging and inter-library loaning! This was a great way to merge my love of art with reading and organization.

However, somewhere down the line, I ended up thinking about getting a second masters degree. I remember talking to some mid-level librarians who told me that in order to work in a college library, having a second masters for specialization was helpful. So that’s what I did. I decided to go to Hunter’s CUNY program in Anthropology with the beginning intention to write about Anthropology and the Pacific. Having found out that most schools in the NY didn’t really have faculty focused in that area-unless you’re going for the PHD, I was outta luck. So I started thinking about what else was fascinating about humans and culture.  And then I had an enlightening conversation with my husband. He brought up Karyn Crisis from Crisis and her influence as seminal person in the death metal scene in early 90’s NYC metal. It got us to thinking about women in Heavy Metal Music. And it most certainly led me to researching what, if any, academic literature was written in Anthropology about women and their experience in these often “hyper-masculine” and “misogynistically” described musical genres. We talked about Dawn Crosby from Fear of God/Detente, as well as women who were musicians  not vocally fronting in bands, like Jo Bench. I wondered what led them to participate in this sub-culture of extreme metal and I wondered if they felt marginalized or empowered by the scene.

Side cutFor me, around 2007, my reasons on listening to Death Metal became apparent. For one, my ears had slowly become trained to actually listening to the genre as form as oppose to just hearing loud noise. And two, no other music for me could correlate to the passing event that I had just overcome, that of my mother’s death. Down-tuned guitars, heavy bass-lines, and blast beats all lent itself nicely to both the angst and grieving I was undergoing. Finding women as vocalists and musicians in the scene served as a way to connect. This became very poetic for me and it’s what I believe happens to people when they connect to a particular style of music. It was a transgressive experience.

But where has this left me? It’s left me at a point where I am still learning from many of the women I have surveyed and interviewed during my research. I am finding, that like me, they are empowered by the music and their acceptance. Although bad experiences exist in any sub-culture, emerging patterns of tolerance have also been relayed to me. I am finding that in NYC, diversity and gender are ever the forefront in cultural concerns. What that may mean for women in the EMM scene can have a variety of meanings. For one, if feminism, especially that of the third wave feminism can be applied to EMM, then the make-up I am seeing, which is fairly diverse when compared to EMM scenes outside of NY, aligns itself well with the third wave.. There is a predominantly Hispanic population of women involved in the the local EMM scene and it does indeed encompass, “many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds”.

In the near future, my professional plans are to finish up this thesis and disseminate it. After that, I plan on going back to my first love of art and perhaps dabbling in creating music. All of this research has cemented to me that there isn’t many female artists lyrically writing about what it is to be a women, if they even get to write the songs!

For example, what would it be like to hear something like Cannibal Corpse’s “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” from the point of view of the victim? Or maybe lyrics that relay the pain, terror, and joy when birthing a child? How about lyrics about being a female serial killer or the pain felt when having a miscarriage, etc? These are all reasonably within the motifs of Death Metal but align themselves with a feminist agenda. It’s something I have yet to hear with maybe Brooklyn’s Castrator being an exception.