Monday, October 4, 2010

Metal and Masculinity: Pt. 2

Here's the second part of "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" about gender and sexuality. I would like to examine a couple points in this documentary and expand on them a bit.

Sam: "And of course the big debate perhaps is that groupies are percieved as being objectified and powerless--"

Pamela: "That is so lame! Because they're exactly where they want to be. Women who are hanging out with bands are not dragged and coerced into the bands' bedrooms or back stage or buses or anything. They want to be there. They make every effort in the world to get where they can be with these bands, and they're doing exactly what they want to do."

The assumption that groupies are objectifies and powerless is, in and of itself, a sexist sentiment. It assumes women aren't sexual beings, don't want to be sexualized, that they all aspire to the ideal of the proverbial virgin. If anything, the people being objectified as sexual objects in this relationship are the male performers. They're the ones who are the sexual trophy, they're the ones being conquered by these women. To assume that this can't happen is also a sexist sentiment. It assumes that all men want lots of sex, which may not always be the case.

"And then finally you start realizing, shit, this is a job too. You know? It's a business. It's not just constant partying."
"When I got off the road and I decided I was done, it took me a long time to be able to embrace a woman, with any integrity at all; they were all pigs. And you start to, you know, it, a lot of these guys, you know, are still headfucked about it. You know what I mean? A lot of these guys still try to live that lifestyle because they don't know anything else. But, you know, you become a product of that environment."

Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe (first quote above) seems to have been horribly impacted by the "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" philosophy. His name is associated not only with the band, but with sex tapes and multiple accusations of assault on sex workers. It would be hard to argue this has no relationship to the lifestyle he maintained in his band. Having a 24/7 all-you-can-eat buffet of women may have made it very difficult for him to mature and adapt to normal society, and in a way he was a victim of that lifestyle. Much like how women sex workers may start stereotyping all men as pigs, heavy metal artists who were contantly exposed to sexually driven women may have lost respect for all women. With such a loss of respect comes consequences.

I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that heavy metal and rock 'n' roll are the devil's music, and bad for everyone, and should be banned. Absolutely not. But I would suggest that, when it comes to the sex part of "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll", all parties have a responsibility to consider the gender consequences of their actions. Treating men as sexual objects is playing into patriarchy in just the same way as the objectification of women is.

"When we get on stage, people give us a great deal of respect, which is fantastic. But, um, I've been in bands before Girlschool, but I've been on stage, people asking me if I'm 'tuning the guitar for the guitarist' or, you know, that sort of patronizing comment. 'Cause they don't expect a female to get up and play guitar. But, you know, that's the way it's always been."

That's one thing that metalheads pride themselves in, is that they're equal-opportunity, and show a great deal of respect for people who participate but are not the mainstream. This doesn't just apply to women; when non-whites begin participating, the community is enthusiastic and embracing, and shows a great deal of respect toward them. At the same time, there's always the risk of tokenizing them.

When I suggest metal is a "celebration of masculinity" one of the first things opponents do is point to females in bands. They completely disregard the fact that these women are respected specifically because they perform as men, that they demonstrate and embody masculinity. If they don't embody masculinity, if they speak of women's issues and the experience of girls, if they demonstrate any sort of femininity, they are rejected, in the same way nü metal and hardcore bands are. Take for instance the band Kittie, who frequently speak directly to female listeners in their lyrics. Like Slipknot, this band is not taken very seriously in by metal purists, and often rejected from the genre entirely. While they don't get called "pussies" or "fag music" like a male band might, you might hear someone say "they don't count."

"They tried to put me a little bit more into the, you know, female sexy image, but without power. And I didn't like that. And the people at the record company said, 'Get rid of the black leather. That's number one. Be more of a girl.' And I said, 'Oh no no no no no I can't, you know, I can't do it. And I don't want to do it. I definitely want to, you know, be myself.'"

So while fans love to see women "wearing the pants" in metal, that's not to say they haven't faced resistance in the scene. Record labels know that sex sells, so the assumption is that, if you have a female artist, you need to sexualize them to make bank. Even the members of Kittie feel pressured to look good in order to be successful. This is a conflict male performers don't really have to deal with. But for the women in metal, they find themselves more successful when they resist being turned into sexual objected, and, I would argue, would fail or be rejected if they gave in.

Sam: "Is having kind of a tough persona on stage, is that important to you"

Angela: "Yeah, yeah. Because I am tough on stage. You know? I feel very strong on stage, and I want to give that to the people in front of that stage. If you can just have a lot of strength and power, and want to give it to these people and they take a bit of that home."

Even though they are women on the stage, in a way they are still participating in homosociality, in that they emulate masculinity for a masculine audience (regardless whether the audience members are male or female). The main goal is to share that masculinity, that power, that rebellion, that freedom, with the audience. It doesn't matter what the sex of the performer is.

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