In my teens I was engrossed with music, but I simply could not stand a lot of the dance, synth-heavy, auto-tuned music I often heard on the radio. If I was in the car with my family, we would turn on the radio, change the station until we fully cycled through all of our options, and eventually I would end up listening to my own music. I loved the distorted sounds of Nirvana, the political themes of The Clash and The Jam’s “mod” perspective.
As I moved through adolescence, becoming more passionate about these and other bands (in part due to my teen angst, but mostly because I was also improving my abilities as a guitarist and bassist), I began to wonder – why weren’t there any girls playing in the bands that I loved?
I was never going to be “one of the guys”, nor did I have any desire to be, but as I tried time and time again to form rock bands, I found that as a girl, I often wasn’t taken seriously… thus began my immense respect for women rockers like Joan Jett and Patti Smith, two women who clearly defied the odds of what it was to look like and be a woman in rock.
I’ve always wondered why there aren’t more women in rock. Is it the lack of imagery? I hardly ever find pictures in advertisements or on album covers of women playing instruments, as women tend exclusively to be singers if they’re in a band. Is it considered unfeminine to plug in your electric guitar and distort the effects to play Zeppelin?
I played with dolls when I was a little kid, but I never felt overly girly, nor did I identify myself as a “tomboy” – but, am I less of a girl because I want to play punk rock with the boys?
During my recent college application process I went on a lot of campus tours, and I always asked the same questions: What’s the music scene like here? Are there bands? Are girls in these bands? Do I have to be a music major to get a practice space? Most tour guides scoffed at my persistent questions, but when I went to visit Oberlin College, my tour guide grinned and excitedly described the many different ways I could become involved musically, which played a big role in my decision to attend Oberlin.
When I arrived on campus this fall, I immediately joined a band with some guy friends from my dorm, and I also applied for my own show on WOBC-FM, our campus radio station. I was fascinated and excited by the idea of hosting my own radio show, and decided that in order to make the show a bit more genuine (as listening to Howard Stern’s interviews with celebrities had taught me), I would need to bring in a personal element to my act.
So, I chose to center my show, “Queens of Noise” (named after the Runaways album and its title song), around women in punk rock music, focusing in on my favorite era – the late 1970s/early 1980s.
This task, I quickly soon found, was much more difficult than I first expected, I couldn’t find enough women to feature to keep the show going. So, I kept the show name, and expanded my playlists to include great women singers who did not play instruments (no loss though – I love Pat Benatar and Debbie Harry) and moved beyond the original era constraint, now also moving beyond the “punk rock” label into classic/hard rock.
While I wanted to keep the original motive of the show, I didn’t want to bore my listeners by playing the same artists again and again each week (albeit, most of my listeners to this point have been my family due to the early time slot, but still).
That said, I’ve really enjoyed transcending the “punk rock” label – last week, I finally succumbed to my mother’s requests and even played a folksy Joni Mitchell song. Two friends of mine have guest DJ’d the past two weeks, and we’ve played bands featuring many strong, passionate women like Beth Ditto from The Gossip and Marina and the Diamonds.
Scouring the internet researching girl musicians or trying to find others to play with in my own life can be frustrating. But, what I’ve come to learn is that girls in rock music are simply a rare breed. For that reason, regardless of voice or instrument, we need to band together and support one another in order to be heard.
And finally: it doesn’t make you any more or less of a girl to embrace music that doesn’t sound like happy sunshine and rainbows or to play music that isn’t just about unrequited love; it just makes you more empowered.