Women in (Local) Rock
Men and women have been around for as long as reliable historical records can tell us. During that entire time, gender roles have changed and shifted from one extreme to the next, never settling on an equality between the two and always seeming to favor the male population.
We have seen many changes in the struggle for gender equality. And one area in which we have seen a greater role for women is in the arts.
But just how equal is it for women who choose to pursue their own muses in the arena of rock music? Women have always been accepted in the role of muse and inspiration. Even as performers, many have enjoyed illustrious careers — albeit within the strictures of a male-dominated industry.
That's changed a great deal in the last several decades: Women today operate at an unprecedented level of equality in the business of making music, calling the shots and melting faces all on their own.
But are things truly even at this point?
We decided to ask some women who might know better than most to find out: Rebecca Dixon, singer-songwriter-guitarist for the Dallas-based Lovie; Kristen DeRocha, bassist for Lovie; and singer-songwriter Jessie Frye from Denton.
Each of these talented women had more than a few things to say on the subject of women in rock.
Given the strong, male-centric nature of the rock music industry, how, if at all, has being a woman affected your musical choices?
DeRocha: I have to wear way more make-up than I normally would. It also contributes to my struggle with anorexia. [Laughs.]
Frye: I have never personally seen the rock music industry as male-centric, but I have seen people feed into this idea, which cultivates it. Growing up, I was mesmerized by a lot of male artists that had an extremely feminine presence — acts like David Bowie, The Cure, T. Rex. And, of course, I wore the tape out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But I really do enjoy paradox, and I think that is why male artists that are comfortable enough to play with their feminine side really inspire me. It's all about perception.
What do you feel are the differences between men and women in a band setting?
Frye: I identify myself as an artist before I identify as male or female. Gender can either be a barrier or a creative outlet. I choose the creative outlet. I get along really well with my bandmates; we have all known each other for a very long time. And I feel they respect me just as much as they would respect a male band leader.
Dixon: I've been involved in an all-female band setting, hung out in all-male band settings and rehearsed in mixed-gender band settings. There honestly aren't that many differences. All bands have members that fill the shoes of a particular bandmate stereotype. All bands ultimately have the same issues. This is a fact. I've heard stories.
What is the perceived fan reaction to you and your music? How large a role do you feel gender plays in that?
DeRocha: People think we're cute and silly. Oh, and they come to stare at our drummer, Leanna [Bates]. I don't think they hear my creamy bass tone while they're staring.
Frye: People often tell me that I come across as very sensual when we play live, very in touch with the music. I think it's silly to think that only women possess that power on stage. Look at Robert Plant, for example.
Dixon: There is no denying that gender plays a role. A crowd might stick around to see if we can "really" play or they'll stick around because they like girls in pigtails and short skirts and knee socks. I think Lovie has really proved that we're not just shtick, and, because of it, hopefully we earn the audiences' respect. But there are still occasional hurdles and those who are hard to win over. My favorite eavesdrop was at a gig in Fort Worth. I was at the bar, getting a drink and overheard this conversation between two men. "What's going on in here tonight?" one guy asked. The other's answer: "Oh, some lesbian band is playing."
What stereotypes and gender pitfalls have you tried hard to avoid or been criticized for not resisting?
Frye: My band respectfully stays away from shows that are billed and promoted as a girls-only kind of thing. It just does not feel right for the band. I think, if it feels right for someone else, that is awesome. But we have discussed it, and we do not want to necessarily be seen as "girl music." Hell, the three other members in my band are male!
Is it harder to be a woman in music?
Frye: No. I have a certain way of dealing with it in my head. I am pretty gender-neutral as it is. But that does not mean I don't think you should celebrate your sexuality, or your feminine or masculine traits.
DeRocha: I think it's hard to be an all-girl band. One or two women in a band actually make it look more "indie" these days.
What have been some of your largest disappointments as women in the music scene? Biggest rewards?
Frye: The only disappointments come from social constructions. Because I am female and write the songs and lead the band, critics or audiences may be quick to judge. They may have preconceived notions about gender that this band doesn't even pay attention to or consider. But it doesn't bother me.
Where do you see things headed in music with regard to gender and what would you like to see happen differently?
Frye: We will accomplish something when we stop seeing them as women musicians, and see them as just musicians first. After a while, it makes me feel like people think it is a miracle that a woman can play and sing. There is a very fine line between celebrating gender and making a novelty of it.
Dixon: I've always had great role models to look up to — Chan Marshall, Joan Jett, Kim Deal, Juliana Hatfield, Alison Moshart, Dolores O'Riordan, Jenny Lewis, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Liz Phair, Jenn Wasner, Aimee Mann, Mary Timony, the list goes on. It seems like music has always managed to generate some powerful female talent all on its own.
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