Photo Robert Mapplethorpe
Patti Smith Photo, Robert Mapplethorpe

Let me start by asking you a question – how does the title of this piece sit with you?  Does it intrigue, annoy, irritate, amuse?

Some of you will already be aware that I recently wrote a two-part feature about the transition of female artists in the music industry, from pretty poster girls to poster girls for empowerment, who as it happens, can also fall into the pretty category; nothing wrong with that.  But, it is no longer by any means the first choice of adjective when it comes to describing female music artists!

The reaction that I’ve had thus far to the first part of this two part series, ‘Twelve Women In Music Whose Names You Need To Know’ has quite literally been staggering, and the feedback has made the move of dipping into more serious realms truly rewarding.  All of which has got me thinking (not that I hadn’t been thinking beforehand) …

Discussing the topic of how female music artists are now beginning to position themselves alongside men on centre-stage, on such a high level, is really only scratching the surface.  There is so much more around and about this topic, and across the broader spectrum of the correlation between male and female music artists, male to female/female to male music fans/artists that it has become apparent that I have only just touched the tip of the iceberg, and that in fact, this written voyage has only just begun.

I recently read an academic journal article published by the Canadian University Music Review written by Ellen Koskoff. 1. Koskoff opens the article with what is a deliberately controversial and thought provoking statement:-

“In many societies, musical roles are divided along gender lines: women sing and men play. Of course, men also sing, and women sometimes play; yet, unlike men, women who play often do so in contexts of sexual and social marginality.”  

It may surprise you to learn that this article was first published in 1995 – it certainly surprised me, particularly in light of the statement “Of course, men also sing, and women sometimes play” . What was it that in 1995, only twenty years ago, still made Koskoff hold firm to the opinion that it was men who predominantly played instruments?  Had she never heard of Kate Bush or The Slits?  Did the whole Punk scene pass her by unnoticed?  Or was (is?) it because the world view of scenes like Punk was (is?) that they were/still are “Le territoire des hommes”?

In a 2015 article in The Guardian, the reviewer, Jude Rogers, refers to a meeting between Lee Brackstone, Creative Director with Faber Social and former editor for their publishing house, and ex Slits member, Viv Albertine, during which the pair discussed Viv’s back-story (which she subsequently wrote about in her best-selling book, ‘Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, etc‘.).  After their meeting, Brackstone had an epiphany of sorts, a retrospective lightbulb moment …

After meeting her, it also hit me very strongly that the history of punk – or British punk at least – had always been his story.

For me, this epiphanic observation hit the proverbial misogynistic ‘nail on the head’.  Punk, like most things music industry related was viewed in terms of its “maleness”.  Rightly or wrongly, this perception has coloured the view of every generation of music pundit and fan alike since rock was a pebble.

In her journal article, Koskoff focusses on “literature (on) women playing musical instruments in a variety of social and cultural contexts” and she excavates that data shaft well, expounding some well argued theories that touch on the correlation between social structures and gender stratification, with the aim of getting a wider view of gender relations.  Too deep a quarry for us to mine here, but both the opening line, and indeed the title, got me thinking.

Is there really a difference between how men and women play musical instruments?  Is that how the gender roles are perceived – “women sing & men play”?  And if that is the case, what role does sexuality and gender identification have to play in that?  How clear or blurred are those lines?  And do women really play in “contexts of sexual and social marginality”?  How do male musicians view the world in which their female counterparts “co-exist”?  And vice versa.  How as music fans themselves, does their opinion of a favourite band or song vary according to the gender of the performer?  Or does it?  Can we separate fact from fiction?  Do geographical, societal or cultural nuances come into play?  Is all of this just fantastical feminist hogwash or are male and female artists viewed differently, and how differently and by whom?

With all of these thoughts buzzing around my brain and in the immediate aftermath of the initial focus piece on the rise of young women within the industry to a parity of status with their peers, I came to the conclusion that those best placed to answer these questions were musicians themselves.

So, with this in mind, I would like to compile a series of essays written by musicians – male and female – and music writers/fans/gurus alike – any of you who would be interested in making a contribution to this project, who have views on any or all of the topics, different angles, an issue they would like to address, or flag to be addressed, or any other ideas.  I would dearly love to have as open a forum on this as possible.  If you’re interested, or would like to discuss it further, please contact me via Facebook, Twitter (private message if you’d prefer) or email me at dervswerve@gmail.com.

Ideally, I would like to get the ball rolling on this within the next 2/3 weeks.  It doesn’t have to be long 750 words will suffice, or you can peak at 3,000 words if you’re on a roll. The floor is yours, please make the most of it.

Derval.

Leaving you with a video of The Carpenters performing ‘Close to You’.  Why? Because it opens with a series of stereotypical headshot frames of Karen singing the opening verse of the song;  “Women Sing”. The camera angle then opens up to show Carpenter is also playing the drums; “Men Play”. Really?  Well so do women!

  1. When Women Play: The Relationship between Musical Instruments and Gender Style“, By Koskoff, Ellen
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