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Girls Just Wanna Be Heard: On Wild Flag and Female Rockers

Listening to the new girl-band super group, Wild Flag (comprised of former members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium and the Minders), prompted me to post a video of their new song “Romance” on Facebook challenging, “Why isn’t this band getting more press? Oh, I forgot. They’re a girl band and girls can’t rock.” Initially the video received no response, though it was eventually greeted with this one:

“It is not sexist, it is just true. There is women’s basketball, women’s, soccer, women’s tennis, you should consider starting a women’s ‘rock’. Please be forewarned!! Much like women’s basketball, soccer, and tennis, crowds will be limited… to parents and close friends guilted into watching, and some hanger ons from the hey day of lilithfair. Look at this way, all the shows will have that ‘small intimate setting feel’!!! The problem with that is.. You will never be able to tell your snobby music friends , ‘I saw them WHEN’ .. because basically it is always going to be WHEN , in their musical career….:) [sic]”

My gut reaction was to first correct his grammar and punctuation, then I was just pissed, but finally the honesty of the comment struck me. This single Facebook comment summed up years of female rock star’s lives and marginalization (yes, the m-word). This is why Joan Jett plays at state fairs in America’s Midwest, why no one knows who Betty Blow Torch is and why the term “girl group” even exists; because rock and roll belongs to men. This is no surprise but it isn’t said enough. I’m not here to beat you guys up for it. I love rock stars (the male gender assumed in this word). In fact, I’m fully aware that I don’t just wanna fuck Jack White, I really just wanna be Jack White. I want his swagger; I want to own a stage; I want to call the fucking shots in every aspect of my life: the pure testosterone and the allusion of impenetrability and the sheer immortality in the gaze, I want it all. (And music is more than chords, chord changes, melody, riffs, etc. It’s much more than that. It hits us at a primal level and this is something no one ever really writes about. We get references — as in it sounds like, or the math of that song is, or how this album/song fits into a historical context and a classifying genre. It’s about controlling the result of the sound and our reaction to it through strident measures, but I digress.)

All this fantasy and instilled drama is lost on girl rockers. Guys, mostly, still have the “I’d do her” thing going on, but on some level guys understand their most favored status and most certainly don’t wanna be her. Plus what guy wants to give up his penis? I mean, let’s just be honest. So, girl music is at best interesting to some guys, but it will never be the music to feel empowered or challenged by and will most likely not find a home in a man’s iPod workout rotation. (Unless he’s gay.) And for sure, they won’t buy a concert ticket unless the lady in their life makes it happen. Which is why the male commenter on the Wild Flag video on Facebook spoke articulately for most of his gender on the state of “women’s rock.”

But let’s talk about what girl groups do for women and about what listening to “Romance” does for me. I like an insistent guitar with girly vocals and a bouncy sensibility (and hand clapping to boot!). I like seeing four girls that work well together do something their way. I find hope in the group of women (because I’m just being cute with all this usage of the word “girl” in this essay/rant/whatever) and the possibility that right-on sisters still exist despite the studies that suggest that women strive to sabotage each other on the same level as “Housewife’s of Fill in the Blank.” We can be tough, take care of ourselves and still have a voice, but we can also be girls and rock out with our cocks out at the same time.

But don’t let all this talk of gender and heady theory of essentialism keep you from listening to Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Janet Weiss and Rebecca Cole. Expect their new album out September 13 via Merge Records, go see them live, and I implore you take a guy with you if you do… because if you’re still reading this, chances are you’re a chick, too.

[This article was written by guest contributor Judy Mills.]


3 Comments

    I’m a chick, they’re baby cool, This track is very polished, was hoping for some rrriot grrl gritt. Still looking foreward, I know my girl is excited. I lloveddddddddddddddddddd Helium.

    cheers

  • There’s definitely a divide in terms of my taste in rock music. For the most part, I just don’t care if it’s a girl or a guy when it comes to who’s behind the music – boring rock is boring rock is boring rock. But I definitely still tend to lean away from female acts… just a preference that’s developed over the years, I suppose. Sleater-Kinney was a kickass band, but I didn’t really see them much as girls first (they were just a tight band), aside from the range in vocal tones that they were able to incorporate into their tracks. (How awesome was “The Woods”?!) What really hits me is when women are able to pull off an edgy appeal without doing just for the sake of doing so. Whether inspired simply by image or not, Brody Dalle did this for a while, but then she became a far more appealing version of Courtney Love and ended up in that “I’d do her” section you mentioned. I’m not above it — I’m attracted to attractive women, be it rockers or not. But once they lose whatever it was that made them unique, it’s hard to maintain interest in them as an artist – be it guy, girl, whatever.

  • Speaking as a guy here, I am dying to hear the new Wild Flag album. And as for not feeling empowered by chick rock, Sleater-Kinney’s last album, The Woods, was some of the most balls-out rock and roll to come out in years. I gladly throw that one when I want to blast some loud rock, even back to back with Mastodon or Black Sabbath. And no, I’m not gay.

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