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Women in Rock Journalism

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Women in Rock Journalism

I’ll be honest. When I sat down to write this piece, there was a lot I thought I knew. Write a long form about the need for more women in rock journalism? No problem. I get it. I’m a woman in journalism. A relative newcomer to the rock part but heck, I’m a woman, period. I. get. It.

And then I began doing some research.

Ladies and gentlemen, I had no idea. I suppose it’s easy to delude yourself that something that happens to you doesn’t necessarily happen to everybody. To chalk things up to weird little anomalies rather than a systemic problem.

I remember a few years back when Justin Trudeau (who I’m aware is not a woman in rock journalism) was questioned about the logic behind gender balance in his cabinet. “Because it’s 2015,” was his response. It’s possible that sometimes I also delude myself into thinking that this is a widely used line of reasoning.

It’s 2017 now, two years later, and women are doing all of the things. I have friends and acquaintances who truly believe there is no need for feminism anymore. I like to quote Caitlin Moran to them, undoubtedly to their great delight:

”What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”

Far be it from me to complain about anything resembling a global scale. I am aware that I’m a white woman living in the first world. But let’s just say this is me admitting, freely, that I had absolutely no idea just how far behind we still are when it comes to women in rock journalism not to mention every single other aspect of the music world.

In 2010, NPR gathered a group of women in music together to discuss their experiences in the field. The roundtable, called Nine Women in the Room, was an honest and eye-opening glance at what it’s like to be one of the few women making it in a world dominated by men.

For starters, nary could a single one of them come up with a solid female mentor they’d encountered. They talked about fighting just to be taken seriously when all they’re trying to do is their job. The struggles to get musicians, both male and female, to sit down with them rather than their ostensibly more legitimate male counterparts bring to mind some dystopian alterverse. But no. It’s just reality.

Stand in front of the music section of any magazine rack and count how many cover stories are written by women. It won’t take you long. Music is, and ever was a man’s world.

Even when women do break in and make their careers there, the stories they tell about their experiences are almost always rife with a million little moments of ­­indignity.

Lina Lecaro, a music writer, radio host, and DJ, wrote a personal account of her reality in the field for Vice in 2015. She held nothing back when it came to the inherent misogyny and double standards she encountered, not to mention the complex balance women are expected to strike. Too sexy and you’ll give the wrong impression. Not sexy enough and you risk losing the focus of your interviewee as Lecaro herself experienced with a very distracted Gene Simmons. When was the last time a male rock journalist (or any man) gave a second thought to whether his top was too low cut?

Just give that a minute to settle. If you are a woman it won’t need to percolate much because all of us walk out the door every day aware that our character and ability to function as a real adult in the world will be at least in part predicated on how we look.

The image of male rock journalists is pretty much iconic. The dude on the sidelines scribbling notes. No one gives it a second thought. On the other hand, what sort of women hang around backstage in our collective consciousness?

Look, just like every other aspect of life, women don’t just want a place at the table, we deserve one. Not because we expect to be treated differently, in fact on the contrary we just want to be treated equally. The dearth of women in rock journalism is like hearing only half of a conversation. It’s a lack of perspective on a scale so enormous it’s difficult to even see it because we’ve just never had the chance to know what we’re missing.

Here’s the thing, rock and roll is and forever has been extremely masculine. All of it. It’s perfectly acceptable for male rock stars to dress in whatever way they want and sleep with whomever they choose. When women do it? You know the next verse.

And what about some of the founding icons of rock journalism? What made their stories so compelling?  Often it was the way they lived hard and, for some like Lester Bangs, died young. Men are allowed to be crass, unseemly, rowdy, and lecherous. These things are considered subversive virtues, particularly in the rock world. We’ve all seen what happens when women behave in any of these ways and, except in the very rarest of circumstances it doesn’t propel their careers forward.

There is a double standard for men and women across the entire social structure. We all know this even if some choose not to internalize it. Rock journalism is like a microcosm of that larger universe pointing out in sharp detail just how little women can get away with if they want to run with the boys club. We are expected not to age or sag, we aren’t supposed to own our sexuality in public even though it is exploited pretty much everywhere you look, and we certainly shouldn’t expect to be taken as seriously as the men who do the same things we do.

Anwen Crawford wrote a piece for The New Yorker about the need for more women in rock journalism in 2015. She sums things up succinctly, “Female expertise, when it appears, is repeatedly dismissed as fraudulent.”

That right there, and about a zillion other stories and musings like it, are why we need to take a close look at the lack of women in rock journalism. It’s 2017 for crying out loud, we are tired of having to prove ourselves. It’s like hearing people say gravity is only a theory. Yeah, well, so far that’s been working out pretty well. Women are equally capable, the conversation should be over by now. Or at least two-sided.

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Julia Tolstrup is a freelance writer situated in the northeast corner of things. When she isn't typing, she raises vegetables, a small flock of chickens, and and even smaller flock of children. She is inspired most by her mother who is one of the bravest people she's ever known.

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