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Female Musicians and News (Un)Coverage

So when do female artists get news coverage?

That is a question I have been pondering over the past month. I use a news feed reader to syndicate various current  music magazines and websites such a Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork, Exclaim, NPR Music, BBC Music, Blender, Vibe, Venus, as well as, a few smaller ones, and a local Seattle, WA source or two (75 total feeds, 37 different sources.) I then filter out the women in music news for Jukebox Heroines. But, as I have noticed when I scan the headlines, female artists seem to get press for things that have nothing to do with their musicianship. Shocker! Wanting to actually see how poorly music outlets cover female musicians, I decided to do an informal survey.

So, from December 1, 2010 (midnight) to January 7, 2011 (midnight), I cataloged the women in music headlines from my feed reader. “Women in music” articles where articles that mentioned a female artist, an all-female band, musical group with at least one female member, or something specific relating to women in music, such as gender imbalances, women on the top charts, ect, in the article headline. But what I wanted more specifically to find out is when they are covered, are they talked about as musicians in terms of their musicianship, or other things not related to their profession?

Musicianship here will be defined as: Information about touring, music creation, chart success, new music/albums,  music videos, concert footage, personal interviews, collaborations, and/or events. These are the things you expect to read about a musician in a music magazine.

I noted how many article headlines mentioned female artists or bands. Once I had this data, I looked for patterns in news coverage. The patterns fellow into the following categories:

Musicianship, Appearance/Sexuality, Babies!, Relationships, Emotions, and Miscellaneous Non-Music Related Activities

Here are the numbers:

  • Total news feeds – 75 (37 different sources)
  • Total music articles in my feed – 5,318
  • Total “women in music” articles –358
  • Total articles on musicianship –224
  • Total articles not on musicianship –134
  • Total days of the study – 38
  • Average “women in music” news article per day – 9.4
  • Average “women in music” article relating to musicianship – 5.9
  • Average “women in music” article per source per day – .25
  • Average musicianship article per source per day – .16

News about female artists accounted for 6.7% of all music articles in the feeds. News that was actually about female artists’ musicianship was 4.2%.

I then broke down the articles that did not have to do with musicianship into the following categories. The number of articles per category are listed below.

  • Appearance/Sexuality – 19
  • Babies! – 6*
  • Relationships – 28
  • Emotions – 5
  • Health/Death – 21**
  • Misc. Non-Music Related Activities – 55

So, to sum. Women were 6.7% of all total music articles from Dec. 1-Jan.7. and 4.2% of all articles actually about their musicianship.

Out of those articles that mentioned women, 62.6% actually discussed news that was about the artist as a musician and not other endeavors personal or professional. The other 37.4% did not mention the artists’ musicianship.

Female artists who were not covered as artists were talked about in relation to their relationship/marital status 20.9% of the time, pregnancy/children 4.5%, their looks 14.2%, their feelings/emotional outbursts 3.7%, Health or Death 15.7%, and general non-music related activities such as social or political actions, legal issues, finances, gossip  41.0% of the time.

* Six articles in this category were about Mariah Carey’s twins.
** Two news topics (Aretha Franklin’s cancer and the death of Teena Marie) accounted for all of the Health category.

Music sources reported on women in music an average of less than 1 article per day over research period.

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Gender & the “voice” of a Song – Part 1

I had a strange realization a few days ago. Ok, maybe it wasn’t a strange “ah ha!” moment, but it was one that made more sense now that I am now older, wiser, hipper, (ha!) and have plenty of knowledge (and experience) regarding gender and music.

In case you don’t know, I had my own all-female rock and roll band in high school. We were just like the Runaways, the Y2K version anyway, and tore it up as best we could mingling our teenage angst with the mold in my mom’s basement. Plus, I am sure the fumes from our artfully spray-painted cinder block walls helped to fuel our hormonal  creativity.

This band was my dream band, and  since it’s end, I have never been able to quite match the fun and friendship we had. Even though it didn’t end the best note, (musical pun) I have plenty of fond memories, and isn’t that really all you can ask for?

Anyways, back to my realization. Even though were were an all-female band, we mostly covered songs by male artists/bands. We belted out the best of Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Tom Petty, and Bryan Adams. However we did rock out to a few tunes such as “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways, “Manic Monday” by the Bangles, and “Papa Don’t Preach” (Kelly Osbourne style) by Madonna.

My “ohh” moment came a few days ago. I was listening to  some of our old tracks, and I realized that when we covered certain man-band songs, we changed the gendered pronouns.  Now, that doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface right? Since we were an all-girl band, it made sense to change the pronouns that all-male bands used.

But now I realize, it was more than that.

We weren’t just switching them because we were a “chic band,” but we were changing them to maintain a heterosexual song script.  The “voice” of the song in this case was the gendered narrative, not necessarily the physical voice of the singer(s). We didn’t do this for every song of course, only the ones about relationships and/or sexual scenarios.  If we didn’t change the “shes” and “hers” in the song, (sometimes “baby” and “darlin'” too) the song’s meaning changed. What is the result of this switch?  The underlying heteronormativity of the song remained intact. What’s that you say? It’s a term that means that the “default” or “assumed” sexual orientation is heterosexual, and it is made to appear normal, natural, and desired. Leaving the pronouns the way they were would have signaled a different sexual story (to some of these highly sexual songs) and that disrupts the status quo, if you will.

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Hey Ladies! Get Your Music On.

Turn it up! Grrrl style!

Check out this great new resource for those of you wondering what it is like to be a musician who happens to be female. It starts today with the online features, and on air segments on NPR. NPR asked hundreds of working women from all genres what it is like, and includes the results and other notable pages. I’ve spent about an hour so far just exploring and I am really impressed. The responses are amazing, and telling of what it is like to be a woman in still quite (que James Brown….no wait, Xtina’s version) a man’s world.


Hey Ladies: Being A Woman Musician Today

I am so excited and I look forward to hearing the on air segments, as well as, further exploring all of the online features. You can contribute your thoughts as well here:

The only thing I don’t like about the series is the “woman musician” part in the title. You don’t put “man” in front of musician do you? Nope. I know we are focusing on women, which is the point, which is awesome. But we need to say musicians who are also women, not “woman musicians.” Why? The default meaning for musician should not be gendered. I know that it is, and we need to take active steps in breaking that idea (thus this commentary.)

Musicians can be anyone! When we put “woman musician” and never do the same for “male musician,” you default musician’s meaning as male, and you maintain androcentrism with the notion that woman are not normally musicians. Therefore, women remain the marked gender that is not standard issue.  So when they are musicians, they are seen as somehow abnormal, unusual, and the exception, not rule, because you are altering the word with a gendered signifier. And that’s not true, nor cool.

Women have always been musicians, they just haven’t always gotten credit or recognition for their craft.  And I hope for those of you who are unconvinced check out this series and understand the awe and inspiring power that women have in their musical voices, hands, minds, and hearts.

Lady Gaga & Feminism – Why Is It So Hard To Believe?

Lady Gaga was on Larry King on June 1st, 2010. I just watched it, and once again, female artists have to defend themselves for their art, presentation, and politics.

Larry King asked if Gaga was a feminist, she said:

“Yes. Yes I am. I am a feminist. Does this settle the ongoing debate once and for all?”

Why is it so hard for people to believe that Gaga is a feminist?  I have a few thoughts on the matter.

Is it because she is a pop-star, and somehow we have obscured pop music/stardom with instant sell-out status, misogyny, and manufactured faux empowerment?

That isn’t to say that there is some of that in music, and that pop music, like every other music genre has issues with gender, race, class, looks, ect, but presuming this of pop music limits one from experiencing some amazing talent. Just becaise you can dnace to is, and it is accessable to the majority of people don’t make it lesser than. Pop music has a long-standing tradition of being seen as feminine, and as “of the body,” which is seen as less artistically sound and worthy than the masculine, “of the mind” rock or indie music scenes.

Is it because Lady Gaga is an attractive woman and hence, could never be a feminist, because you know, feminists are ugly, fat, hairy, bra-burners!

Ha, you know that one. All the myths associated with feminism, I’ve heard them all before! They never seem to go away. Let’s run them down: feminists are only women, they are not attractive (ugly), hate men (perhaps because their ugliness denies them a suitable mate), hate children, are lesbians, angry, don’t wear make-up, witches, choose career over family, cock-blockers, want to rule over men….did I get them all? These myths serve in separating women from each other, and deter women from joining a movement that is about social, political and economic equality for not just women, but all. There is nothing wrong with that, except that it challenges a system of inequality in our culture that continues to keep women in a second class status. Challenging that is dangerous. Therefore these myths exist to maintain the status quo and silence any opposition.  And why would a beautiful woman want to get involved with any of that? She apparently has everything right? Oh, how wrong that assumption is, and Lady Gaga isn’t fooled by those myths. She smashes them with a sequined, flame-engulfed hammer.

You could say Gaga even makes fun of the whole bra-burner myth via her fabulous spark-bra.

Is it because young feminists often have different approaches toward fighting for equality that often to not mesh with previous generations’ views and ideas of how to accomplish those goals?

I think in some cases this is true. Much has been written about the second-wave/third-wave generational divide among feminists where the 2nd wave thinks that the 3rd wave has forgotten what their mothers fought for and take it for granted, while 3rd wavers think that the 2nd wave’s politics are irrelevant to current needs and narrow on interdisciplinary issues. I agree there may be some conflict here, but most of it is just a fabrication to further divide women. It assumes this weird Freudian oppositional relationship between mothers/daughters, old/young activists that cannot be reconciled, and is just inevitable. It also has this quite snobby tone that young women are ungrateful, foolish, self-absorbed, and older women are judgemental cronies, which isn’t exactly a very feminist assumption to make now is it? There are all types of activists fighting for equality, and many, many ways to do this. Just because the current generation’s ways may not look like the previous’ doesn’t mean young women have been duped by the patriarchy. Assuming young women do not have agency and intelligence, and previous generations are ignorant just furthers it.

Is it because she is a woman claiming feminism at a time when it has been deemed irrelevant?

I think this is it. It is assumed that we don’t need feminism anymore because everything is just peachy now right?  Mission accomplished, men and women are equal! ? Nope. Sorry.

As much as this would be a feminist best thing ever moment, we are not yet there. Women are still oppressed in the US and across the globe. Women still make 77 cents to every dollar a man makes, eating disorders run rampant, 1 in 3 women will be raped and/or sexually assaulted within her lifetime, lesbian couples cannot marry and are denied visitation rights to their partners, pregnancy/menstruation/menopause are seen as “problems” that need fixed with drugs and invasive medical procedures, pharmacists can refuse to fill your birth control prescriptions and medical professionals can deny abortion services, AIDS is the fastest growing STI among women especially women of color, women make up over half of the population but are barely visible in “representative” governments, we still have sexual harassment in the workplace, sexism in hiring and promoting with the glass ceiling, childcare and motherhood are still devalued and not considered “real” work, and of course, women in the music industry are still seen as tits and asses to sell products, not as actual creative people who can produce and sell music based on talent.

Lady Gaga is an amazing musician, activist for the gay/lesbian community, homeless youth, patron against AIDS, advocate for safe sex, speaking up for female artists, and for the next generation of feminism.

Lady Gaga is a feminist. I am a feminist. Many women, of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors are feminists, men are feminists. You can be a feminist too. All you have to do is admit that we have a problem, and that we need to do something about it. Lady Gaga is, I am, what are you doing to end injustice?

Lady Gaga on her Feminism via FashionGearLive:

“I am a feminist. I reject wholeheartedly the way we are taught to perceive women. The beauty of women, how a woman should act or behave. Women are strong and fragile. Women are beautiful and ugly. We are soft spoken and loud, all at once. There is something mind-controlling about the way we’re taught to view women. My work, both visually and musically, is a rejection of all those things. And most importantly a quest. It’s exciting because all of the avant-garde clothing, and musical style and lyrics that at one time was considered shocking or unacceptable are now trendy. Perhaps we can make women’s rights trendy. Strength, feminism, security, the wisdom of the woman. Let’ make that trendy.”

My previous posts on Why Lady Gaga is a feminist.

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