Update: Recording of Barnard Panel Talk on Women in Rock and Metal

I meant to share this back in June, but of course so many things were happening. I was conferencing like a fiend, researching, and finalizing my new job status! On top of that, Vish and I were visiting pre-schools for Ella. Afterwards, summer hit, and all I could think about was fiscal close procedures at work and how to plan for Ella’s birthday.

So with all of that finally behind me, I’ve now have a tiny bit of relief in my schedule and am trying to get back on the horse with blog posting. Some of you might remember that back in May I co-moderated and organized a panel at Barnard College about women in the rock and metal music scene here in NY. It was panel born out of my thesis research. And although I posted about the wonderful shout-out we got from the online magazine, The Tempest, I wanted to share the recording that my husband did of the event.

So without further ado – here’s Part 1 and 2 of Women in Rock and Metal Music.

Panel speakers were: (from left to right) Charlotte Price (co-moderator), Joan Jocson-Singh (me!!), Mindy Abovitz (Tom Tom Magazine), Laina Dawes, (music journalist), Justina Villanueva (photographer), and Cristy Road (artist, musician & zinester)
Disclaimer –  In Part 1 you can hear a bit of my daughter’s babble, but it’s only for about a minute and half.

It gets better. Enjoy!

Part 1

 

Part 2

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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”

Popular Culture Conference, April 1-4 2015

pca-2015-montageb

My colleague Angela Washington and I presented at this year’s Popular Culture Association (PCA) Conference in New Orleans. This presentation was more aligned to my first love– art librarianship and not to metal music, though I did attend a metal panel at this conference.

Sailor Moon manga - MMA Dark Kingdom-2We presented our paper entitled, “The Metropolitan Museum of Art Gets Graphic: Building a Collection for the Library” under the Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Popular Research panel. We decided to present on how we started the graphic novel collection at the Met’s Nolan Library when I was working there back in 2010. It was right before we hired the current Public Services Librarian who is now conducting the teen and children’s programming. We were first up on our panel and got to meet and see wonderful presentations from the head bibliographer at Tulane and librarians from  both San Diego State University and Florida International University. Overall, our presentation went very well and Angela did a great job at explaining the Watson and Nolan’s collection policy and its unique nuances involved with selecting, purchasing, processing and programming at the libraries.

Below was our panel line-up:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Gets Graphic: Building a Collection for the Library The libraries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art are home to over 900,000 books and periodicals… Angela Washington

Joan Jocson-Singh

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Paper
Poodle with a mohawk: Collecting cat and dog comics in an academic rare books department In New Orleans, with its wealth of distinctive popular culture associations, it may not surprise… Joshua Lupkin Tulane University, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library Paper
NSFW: Sexually Explicit Comics in Academic Libraries Sexually explicit topics have been safely explored in the academic bubble for decades. However,… Anna Culbertson San Diego State University Paper
Doujinshi and Libraries Doujinshi are Japanese publications, usually created by amateurs and fans, though occasionally… George Pearson Florida International University Paper

Of course, I was most excited to attend the Music (metal) panel because of the papers presented (see below). A highlight for me was hearing Victoria Willis’s presentation on The Dialetic of T(werk): Hegel, Marx, and Womanist Agency in Mastodon’s “The Motherload” Video, because of her theoretical framework and it’s relation to feminism.

Title Body Presenter Affiliation Presentation type
Sunn O))) – A Camp Dimension? In a video posted to YouTube, the drone metal band Sunn O))) can be seen performing an… Albert Diaz UCLA Paper
“Rime of a Metal Mariner” “Rime of a Metal Mariner” looks at Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as an adaptation… Justin J. Roberts University of Kentucky Paper
The Dialetic of T(werk): Hegel, Marx, and Womanist Agency in Mastodon’s “The Motherload” Video In this paper, I examine the role of twerking in Mastodon’s recent video for “The Motherload.”… Victoria Willis Georgia State University Paper
Hype, Visual Personae, and “Real” Music: The Example of Lana del Rey Before Lana del Rey’s first album, ‘Born to Die,’ hit the stores, she was an internet sensation… Mark Allister St. Olaf College Paper

And the panel on Music (Gender) was too great to pass up:

Title Body Presenter Affiliation Presentation type
Bring It On Home: Gender and Sexuality in Led Zeppelin Sasha T. Strelitz: “Bring It On Home: Gender and Sexuality in Led Zeppelin”

Many…

Sasha Strelitz University of Central Florida Paper
“Bootylicious” with “Love on Top”: Female Empowerment and Performing Sexual Agency at the 2013 Super Bowl Halftime Show In the middle of an exclusively masculine contest of muscle and strategy between the Baltimore… Claire Anderson University of Washington Paper
“Papa, you ain’t got no mama now”: Analyzing Female Agency in Race Record Ads When it comes to analyzing and understanding blues music, many researchers have turned to the… Catherine Gooch University of Kentucky Paper
“What a Great Song…Except for the Lyrics!: Examining Rape Culture in Popular Music”

In this paper, I explore the cultural and social landscape that popularizes music that…

Melinda Mills Castleton State College Paper

I’ve been telling folks for years that the Popular Culture Association is the most interesting academic conferences I’ve been to. Because it deals with popular culture, it really spans disciplines and is one of the more affordable conferences to attend if you’re not a member. You can present as an independent scholar which is also nice. I had a great time meeting other academics and really enjoyed learning about the varied research that’s going on all of the states.

Next year’s conference will be in Seattle – so I’m really looking forward to that.

Heavy Metal – Women and Perception

All-Female Blackened Doom Metal Band (Japan)

I’m constantly scouring the internet in hopes of finding new articles, books, and comments regarding women in extreme metal, let alone heavy metal, for my research. So it was nice to see this post over at The Metal Advisor blog. http://www.themetaladvisor.com/2013/07/a-maze-of-thoughts-women-and-heavy-metal.html

The author rightly points out some of the most interesting female musicians who often go under the radar. What’s nice to see is that the author (whom I can only guess is male) validates some of the typical misconceptions and stereotypes female musicians receive, almost always having to do with their not being judged on musical ability, but rather on their appearance. Vocal quality and it’s likeness to how male metal vocals are produced is mentioned, though if you ask me, it interesting to note how women have to negotiate both vocal and bodily acceptance in the hyper-masculine environment; meaning recognition is given when a woman can sound undecipherable from male vocals/growls/shrieking or if she embodies the male musician look/style.

In some of the research I’ve come across, this issue of negotiating the female body and it’s place in the heavy/extreme metal scene seems to be very black and white. Women are judged not only by the males in the scene (both musicians and fans) but by other women as well. What results is a very simplistic perception of female participation as either “hyper-serialized feminine personas” or “masculine ones” (Walser 1993).

Sonia Vasan’s analysis of this very issues applies a social exchange theory in order to make sense of what is sacrificed by the female fan in being included in the Death Metal scene. In her paper, “The Price of Rebellion: Gender Boundaries in the Death Metal Scene“, Vasan argues that in order for female death metal fans to be perceived as authentic, they must be willing to conform to a hegemonic masculinity.

It’s this questioning of negotiation and sacrifice that is extremely fascinating to me. With my own research, I hope to answer what these characteristics might be, not just for female fans who are accepted into the scene, but for the female producers/creators. I wonder how this negotiation impacts female musicians and their artistic vision within the scene. Are they able to re-appropriate commonly masculine themes within the genre and make it their own or do they submit the to hegemony? Can they approach themes of death, rape, brutality, and violence through a gendered lens of feminist theory? And how would/has that changed the common themes written about in heavy metal?

Women in Death Metal

crisis1For some time, I’ve been curious about the absence and marginalization of women in an already marginalized musical genre like Death Metal. I was first introduced to the genre back in the early 2000’s by my then boyfriend, now husband. I’ve mentioned this before in one of my earlier posts, but back then I couldn’t grasp why the music was so appealing to my husband. Over the years though, I’ve grown to like the music,  I’m not comfortable calling myself any kind of expert on Death Metal but I’ve become a fan.

This newfound interest in all things Death Metal led me to question how other women perceive the genre. I, myself, did not gravitate to it until after my adolescent years, in my early 20’s. I attributed this gravitation to having endured a death in the family that changed my whole perspective on life.  The down-tuned guitars and growling guttural vocals correlated with the grief I was feeling. I did not embrace Death Metal with the angst of youth that so many males have and seem to do. So then, how do other women gravitate to it? It’s this and a slew of other questions regarding women and Death Metal I seek to answer with my marinating thesis.

During the course of my research, I’ve read many articles which present women participating in Death Metal on the sidelines; we know they are there, we see them at shows, we see their comments on threads, we even see them in some of the bands – though this is still a minority – and yet, for all their visible presence, it’s a seemingly silent voice.

Is this silence attaining a louder presence? With the rising growth of such groups as the International Society of Metal Music Studies, I can see women taking up about half of the conversation, discussing right along with their male colleagues topics of gender in heavy metal music, nationalism, the economy of metal music, and even such things as how metal music is perceived by both the public and academia. So why is it then, that women’s participation as both consumers and producers is so lacking in media?

The picture above is of the band Crisis, one of my favorite female-fronted death metal bands, now dismantled. Karyn Crisis is probably the second reason for my pursuing research on this topic, aside from my husband’s encouragement. I’m curious about her as both a creative and innovative producer, as well as consumer of the genre. From where do female producers draw their influences and inspirations? How do they balance femininity in a hyper-masculine environment? What challenges do they face with their own gender perceptions from other women? I’d love to see how other musicians like Jo Bench, Dawn Crosby (RIP), or even Krysta Cameron, would answer these kinds of questions.

As you can see, I have a lot of questions! I’m hoping the community and my research will help me to answer them as this blog continues (though slowly). and as I gain my balance between being a new mom, working full-time, and attending graduate school – I hope to answer these questions and many more.