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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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