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”

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A Need for a Metal Music & Special Collection’s Library in NYC

MetalLibraryPic1

I’ve decided to add the task of starting a Metal Music Library to my list of life goals. As a side effect of all the research I’ve done, nothing feels more professionally fulfilling to me than merging my two loves at the moment – metal and librarianship. Living in New York, it just seems so senseless to me that there isn’t already a physical manifestation of some sort of metal library and collection here. I guess I’m finding it hard to stomach because New York’s history is rich with metal culture and ephemera. We are the birthplace of some of metal’s most notable bands like Anthrax, Dio, Kiss, Life of Agony, Manowar, Nuclear Assault, Tombs, Type O-, etc., Not to mention more extreme metal bands like Brutal Truth, Cannibal Corpse, Demolition Hammer, Immolation, Internal Bleeding, Malignancy. Mortician, Suffocation and on and on. Some of these have spearheaded entire sub-genres of metal.

When I worked at the Met, the Costume Institute Department had a number of music-related exhibitions like, Punk: Chaos to Culture, AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion, and Rock Style. I can easily see these kinds of exhibitions displaying the material culture of heavy metal, perhaps record collections, even the fashion, which believe it or not, there is. Just take a look at how the latest Kardarshian brood is co-opting our style.

Kendall-Jenner-loves-Slayer

Or just celebrities in general:

And I’m not posting these images to make metal-heads angry; on the contrary, it’s says a lot about mainstream culture appropriating and encouraging a heavy metal style, even if its a misinterpretation. Is heavy metal music becoming more acceptable, and if so, why? How are perceptions changing and what is the historical importance? Preserving aspects of “our” popular culture and subcultures are important for a variety of reasons.

Take a look at fellow WordPress blogger and musician/scholar Jason Netherton’s book, “Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground” in which he collects an oral history of death metal music from the musicians and people involved in the early scene. Additionally, he’s been scanning and making available early death metal zines from the 1980’s and on, in his blog Send Back My Stamps! – talk about preservation and accessibility!

As I research and work alongside my metal academic comrades, I see further evidence of the need for preserving metal music and it’s material culture. My colleague and fellow librarian, Brian Hickam, maintains a wonderful online bibliography for the International Society of Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) with categories for searching via books, articles, chapters, etc. It’s been very helpful in my own studies.

There are other institutions such as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library & Archives, which, of course, collect under rock-and-roll, but also includes a variety of subgenres, metal being one of them.

Over in the UK, there is The Home of Metal, a project started as collaboration project with the Black Country Arts Partnership, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Wolverhampton Art Gallery to celebrate and preserve the birthplace of heavy metal in the West Midlands.

Gary Shafer, the man behind Heavy Metal Museum, is also catering to heavy metal preservation and offering a platform for sharing and selling metal memorabilia. And if I couldn’t push the case for Metal Music studies and libraries being important, this article from the Wall Street Journal does the job for me.

In my own home library, here’s what I’ve been collecting and hoping to preserve for my daughter…(it’s very much a growing collection)

Home_HeavyMetalLibrary

Survey: Women in NY’s Extreme Metal Music Scene

Hi Folks,

As part of my thesis research on Women and Extreme Metal Music, I’ve created a survey to help inform part of the study.

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

The purpose of this study is to survey female participants (fans, musicians, and music industry workers) in the New York Tri-State area and address/answer the following overarching questions:

(1) What elements surface as common identity markers for women in New York’s Extreme metal scene?
(2) How does this compare to women in other regions (with regard to ethnicity, age, education, etc.)
(3) In what ways do the behaviors and conventions of women in the NY extreme metal scene intersect with feminist/post-modern theory, 3rd Wave feminism, and feminist musicology?

The results from this project may provide information on the unique experiences of women in the NY-Tri State area in relation to the Extreme Metal music scene.

If you have any questions about this study, you can contact Joan Singh at Joan.Jocson-singh21@myhunter.cuny.edu or Hunter College’s Human Research Protection Program (HRPP)office at 212-650-3053 or hrpp@hunter.cuny.edu, if you have questions regarding your rights as a subject for this study.

So if this survey sounds like it pertains to you, by all means Take the Survey!!!!

And please pass it along to any women you feel might have some insight on the NY’s Extreme Metal Scene.

MetalSurveyFlyer1_with QR code_REVISED

Thanks and Metal  on  \m/

Jucifer

jucifer2Over 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.”

And:

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?!

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