Ladies of the Road: Women and Music
by Amanda Rodgers
There’s a strange popular perception that music is for men. Even now, the majority of bands are made up of men (women tend to be solo artists), music critics are men, and most of the music podcasts these days feature an all-male panel. A lot of people seem to think that women enjoy listening to music but are not into discussing and analyzing it – and nowhere is this more true than in the world of prog rock.
First of all, that perception is bullshit. It’s true that men are far more visible in the music world than women are, especially in the prog genre, but that does not mean women aren’t interested. As the saying goes, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There are dozens of reasons why women are less visible, ranging from bigger issues like marketing bias to smaller annoyances like the popular phrase “dad rock,” which gets on my nerves because it increases the erasure of women from popular music. MOMS LIKE ROCK TOO.
And what’s more, we like talking about it! Take the Beatles, for example – so many people believe that it’s only men who like to dive into all the minutiae of the Beatles. I am here to tell you that this idea is totally false. Plenty of women are plenty excited about all that stuff, like how there are no drums at the beginning of “Hey Jude” because Ringo was in the bathroom, that George Martin suggested they speed up “Please Please Me” from its original Roy Orbison-like arrangement, or that the crazy opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” has a secret piano in it. It’s just that we are rarely asked. (And don’t even get me started on the fact that the Beatles would have gotten absolutely nowhere if it weren’t for all their teenage girl fans. Want to know what’s on the cutting edge of popular music? Pay attention to what teenage girls are listening to.) For an absolutely amazing discussion of this very topic, listen to this episode of Screw It, We’re Just Gonna Talk About the Beatles.
Which brings me to the prog issue. Prog fans – at least the visible ones – are overwhelmingly men. Go to forums on websites like Prog Archives, or read books and articles about bands like Genesis and Yes, and just about the only voices you’ll hear are male. I’ve never been to a prog rock concert, but my Discord & Rhyme cohosts who have tell me that there are more women at video game conventions than there are at prog shows. It’s worth noting, however, that even Robert Fripp has noticed more women turning up at King Crimson concerts in recent years. I will take a head count at the King Crimson show I’m going to this September and report back.
The lack of visible women in the prog world is really weird to me. All of the prog fans I know in my everyday life, aside from the D&R team, are women. It was my mom who introduced me to Yes, Genesis, and ELP. My dad hated prog rock, with the exception of some Jethro Tull (who were often more prog-adjacent) and my husband can’t stand it either. However, my young daughter’s current favorite album is Yes’s Fragile, and you should hear her sing “In the Court of the Crimson King” - she can out-drama Greg Lake. Speaking of Greg Lake, I honestly believe that ELP’s “Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Pt. 2” is one of the coolest things ever recorded. And my very favorite band, the Moody Blues, helped invent the prog genre, although they weren’t truly a part of it as it developed later on.
So the big question here is why don’t you see more women in prog fandom? Google this question and you will find plenty of dipshit male prog nerds pontificating on what women like. A couple of popular theories are that we are just not smart enough to fully appreciate progressive rock, or that women react emotionally to music rather than appreciating technical skill. This is akin to the idea that MEN connect to the ideas and concepts expressed in music, whereas GIRLS are all OMG HE’S SO CUUUUUTE!! There’s also the notion that women’s primary role in music is to give blow jobs to rock stars. I’m sure you can infer what I think of this.
These are obviously the wrong answers, but honestly, I don’t know what the right one is. I can only speak for myself, since it’s not like women are one big monolith. (Shockingly enough, we are individuals with our own opinions and preferences.) I wonder if part of it is self-propagating; maybe women see the attitudes that tend to crop up among male prog fans and decide they’d rather not pay concert-ticket prices to be surrounded by people who are going to treat them like a freak of nature.
Yes, that happens, and is a big part of why there are seven men on Discord & Rhyme and only one woman. The community where we all met, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was dominated by dudes. I was never the only girl around, but I don’t think there were ever more than two or three of us at one time, and most of the others didn’t last long. The majority of the guys were (and are) great, including the ones you hear on D&R. (Seriously, those guys are awesome.) But there was a very loud minority who just loved to be absolutely horrible to any girls who dared to claim they were music fans. I got interrogated a lot, insulted a lot, and the one time I had a brain fart and said something about Jimmy Page being the singer for Led Zeppelin (seriously, I don’t know what I was thinking) I got eviscerated. Eventually it got to the point where the negatives outweighed the positives and I quit hanging around there. This decision meant that I was no longer being harassed, but I also didn’t have anywhere to geek out about music anymore. That’s one of the reasons I love doing this podcast – it’s like the best of the Web Reviewing Community, in a new form.
So, if I had to pick a reason why you don’t see many women in the music commentary/criticism world, it would be the fact that we’re often made to feel extremely unwelcome here. Take a look at Twitter, for example, where a woman expresses an opinion and immediately gets a deluge of men explaining why she’s wrong. Granted, Twitter is a cesspool, but the point stands - in order to be taken seriously, a woman who dares to write about music has to be exceptionally good at it, and even then she’ll get more negativity thrown at her than your average male writer. This situation is absolutely improving, and I’m hearing more and more female voices in this world – Amanda Petrusich springs immediately to mind, and she’s far from the only one - but it’s hard to be a trailblazer, and I don’t fault anyone who doesn’t want to deal with all that bullshit.
My advice to ladies who love music? Keep on loving what you love, and don’t let anybody give you any grief about it. Your favorite singer is Taylor Swift? She’s the best thing that’s ever been yours! You love roaring along with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer? This show never ends! Want to put on your headphones and groove along to Funkadelic? Get off your ass and jam! And don’t feel like you have to memorize every single thing about any given artist, or pass any other ridiculous test, in order to be a true fan. Enjoy things the way you want to enjoy them, talk about them all you want, and fuck all the haters. Music belongs to everyone. Go claim yours.