A really good, searing piece in Jezebel this week by music writer Tracey Moore, about the level of gender bias inherent in how people react to women writing about music, especially in the areas such as rock, metal and indie.
It was prompted after “My Husband’s Stupid Record collection,” a site about a non-music loving woman writing reviews of her husband’s large vinyl collection, went viral around the internet. Moore picked up on the telling gender slant in the responses towards a woman who wasn’t seen as a music writer and to those who write about music full-time for a living. As she notes;
But as someone who also wrote about music professionally while female, I can’t help but notice the jaw-dropping difference in response to a woman who sits down to riff on music as an admitted outsider being greeted with an enthusiastic thumbs-up by dudes, VERSUS being a woman who sits down to riff on music as an insider and being greeted with a shit-fuck-ton of vitriol by dudes. The latter experience would be mine. But more on that in a waxy minute.
Moore goes on to describe the levels of vitriol that she and other female music critics often receive from male musicians, fans and industry wonks. and jeeeez, it’s fucking disgusting. Many of the insults and slurs often border on that of sexual violence. If it’s not this, then they find that men simply can’t believe that they could write about music in a knowledgeable way. The message they encounter is simple – that women couldn’t possibly be into, or be able to write about music the way dude music nerds can.
Some more quotes;
This is why it’s not really about Sarah O’Holla at all, though I certainly sympathize with how she feels post-scrutiny. And in her defense, I want to say something: Coming at music like you don’t know dick about it (pun intended) is a valid way to approach it. It’s not traditional criticism, but it’s useful. I’ve always hated the sense that there is only one way to talk about music. Decades of male-centric rock criticism — the obsessive, cataloging, record-collecting, liner-notes driven, grading variety — reminds me that we could use more writing that approaches music innocently. Too often, we forget what records are for anyway — cleaning your house, getting ready on Saturday night, going out for drinks, FUCKING DANCING. This is anathema to the traditional critic, who couldn’t give a fuck what you play the record for, but this is why most people don’t give a fuck how a record has been reviewed, either. Critics often appear to write to other critics, and that is why criticism often deserves every punch in the softballs it gets.
This bit made this obsessive, cataloging male music nerd wince, because she’s aiming that snark at the likes of me. And in many ways, she’s absolutely right. We often end up spending our time dominating discussions IRL and online, trying to score points about how we know oh so much more than everyone else.
I can see this being acted out a bit a local level. There’ve been some great female writers who’ve written about music in Icelandic media and the GV, and I’ve haven’t seen them receive the abuse that Moore has received locally. But more than once I’ve spoken to female writers who’ve expressed anxiety and concern about writing music reviews. The reason? They felt that they didn’t know enough about music to be able to provide a “proper” opinion about the music. Of course their opinion is just as valid, but it definitely points to the dominance of the idea that in order to write about music “properly” you need to be a (mostly male) music nerd. Even though I am a boring nerd, this idea fills me with dread and resentment.
My favorite magazine has always been Maximum Rocknroll – I’ve been reading it since I was 12. But some of the people that review records for Maximum lived for that punk thing of, ‘I know more about music than everybody else.’ The only way you can review music is by saying it sounds like this band, then you get the fucking record and it doesn’t sound anything like that. I want to hear, ‘I listened to this record and it made me go out into my garage and eat half a box of ho hos and smash stuff.’ That will get me to listen to a record. I think there needs to be a shift in music writing. Actually, no. I think everyone should be able to write about whatever they want, but I would like to see more people writing about music that write about it differently. I just want to hear about how the record made you feel.
Easier said than done. I remember one example, when local writer and poet Angela Rawlings wrote a couple of years ago about rock bands at Iceland Airwaves. it was a great read, very different in style and form to what would normally be expected for those bands. But many in the rock/metal community expressed utter befuddlement or suspicion with it. “this review makes absolutely no sense,” I recall one well-known metal musician saying on his FB feed. that and the replies seemed to tell that they felt she didn’t know what she was talking about, because she wasn’t an “insider.”
Mind you, it ties in with this from Ian Rogers about the recent spate of thinkpieces attacking music writers for not knowing enough about music theory. There’s always a perennial scuffle going on about what music writing should “look” like and “be about,” and if the above is anything to go by, we’re often still mired in the same tired, reductive self-important clichés.
I for one would thoroughly welcome more women locally coming forward with strident opinions about what good music should be. The different aspects/approaches/ideas that having a more female centered approach to music writing could at least provide a chink in the whole music writing as tick-boxing-your-music-tastes that certainly is the dominant form. As the squire Reynolds notes…
I actually think it is even more arrogant in a way when music writers just present their eclectic tastes for the world to contemplate and don’t attempt to make a coherent aesthetic of them. I mean, why I should care that you like X, and Y, and Z, and P, and L? If you can’t bother to try and make some larger claim for the aggregate of all your disparate taste positions and aesthetic reactions, than why should I pay any attention?