How Not To Write About Female Musicians, Part 7,081
This Dallas Morning News review of Gorilla vs. Bear's weekend concert came to my attention this morning. Now, in my preview piece for this show, I did mention that I appreciated the wealth of ladies on the bill. I pointed it out. Some might consider that stating something that doesn't need to be stated, since you wouldn't necessarily comment on an all-male bill. OK. Fair enough.
I thought I was just setting the table. DMN writer Thor Christensen cleared it for me, starting with the title, "Dallas' Gorilla vs. Bear festival turns into a Girlapalooza." Commence longest cringe ever.
Christensen then goes on to compare the fest to Lillith Fair, which hasn't been a functional festival in years, but featured all women so, yeah, it's an easy stretch for a lazy writer. He likens Chromatics singer Ruth Radelet to a "fashion model lookalike," remarks that Twin Sister singer Andrea Estella is dressed "like a tramp in a '50s horror film," and says of Glass Candy singer Ida No, "Her voice wore thin in a hurry, but if her music career doesn't pan out, she'll make an excellent aerobics teacher." No word on what Johnny Jewel should do if his career doesn't work out. A mechanic, maybe?
These sweeping generalizations about women's intelligence, work and art based strictly on their appearance aren't new, but I suppose I've been noticing it more locally, especially a few awful sentences relating to girls "in heat" and "chick rockers."
Having spent an afternoon at Girls Rock Dallas last week (and yes, I understand in the context of this piece, bringing up an organization many people think "ghettoizes" young women is counter to the argument, but stay with me), I was inspired by the camaraderie I saw. There's something unblemished about young women of grade school and middle school age. They don't quite have an internal editor yet, so what they say to you is just purely them, and they don't care what you think.
As we become teenagers, and become more image-conscious, we often get more insecure, but that's the boon of a place like GRD. They eschew the use of "cute" to describe their campers, encouraging them to use another term. Body image is discussed, as is self-defense. Beyond learning instruments, they made their own zines, learned about marketing, and learned it's OK to be loud and say what's on your mind.
"Girls Rock Dallas" is just a bookmark in a larger story, but they are girls, some as young as 7. Last Saturday, at their Dada showcase, I saw them taking ownership of their voice. Having spent five summers at the camp in Austin, either observing or as a speaker, I've seen them go on to start a blog, start a real band, go from being shy and awkward on Monday to knocking over mic stands on Saturday. There's that confidence that comes from working with other females, and learning why a term like "Girlapalooza" is condescending.
More importantly, no one's telling them that they'll be a good aerobics instructor if music doesn't pan out for them. The artists performing at Gorilla vs. Bear are grown women. Why don't we treat them as such? And be a little more creative with the dialogue?
I'd like to point to Village Voice music editor Maura Johnston's recent piece on writing about female musicians, as it makes a lot of good points about how music writers sexualize women, or compare them to other female musicians. I've been in this business of music for 10 years now. I actually had an old editor tell me, with a straight face, just last year, that writing about music is a "boy's profession." I've always tried to not let things like that crease my skirt, but it's starting to, because it's 2012, and I really can't believe this sort of shit's still happening.
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