What does metal mean to women?

jill mcentee

How many female metal fans do you know with whom you can get into ultra-animated, impassioned discussions the way you do with other menfolk? No doubt there is a sizeable presence of women within metal circles, and a few have even gone on to become integral parts of bands, publications, and record labels but these are an obvious minority; most don’t care for the kind of obsessive-compulsive, personal investment that men regularly develop with this music, coming across as little more than hangers on and outcasts attracted to a “dangerous” music for some time before they “grow up” and latch on to the next trend that would have them. Lack of definitive role models doesn’t help either; mainstream media tends to favour objectification of centrefold models like Angela Gossow and Cristina Scabbia over women of substance like Corinne van den Brand (Achrosticon) and Jill Mcentee (Funerus), regularly posing insipid “Who’s the hottest female metal singer?” questionnaires to appeal to both sexes’ vanity and retarded intellectual development.

While it is true that traditionally patriarchal models of development have relegated women to a subservient, nurturing role within society (for better or the worse is a debate for another time), the more pertinent question here is whether there is something innate within heavy metal that prevents women from fostering a meaningful, one-to-one relationship with it. Heavy metal fans are usually desperate to establish a working kinship with classical music but a casual Google search indicates that even in that most austere and regimented of musical forms, there has been no shortage of woman practitioners through history, if not out and out brilliant composers, working as they did in a far more draconian social framework than they are subjected to today. Jazz, country, blues, and punk have all had their share of respected divas, so why is the heavy metal canon so devoid of outstanding female talents in spite of having come to real fruition post gender equality battles?

Women, by nature, are more emotional but also more practical than men, both in the short and long terms, trading abstract idealism for an earthier, far more grounded sense of identity and reality. While this setup apparently doesn’t discourage them from pursuing classical music, centred around an ideal of perfection though it may be, metal’s blatant fascination with the outre and the politically incorrect, and the dissonant textures it is wont to embrace doesn’t seem to sit too well with them. This doesn’t preclude groove-ridden misfits like Pantera and their ilk, or pseudo-Gothic ensembles like Cradle Of Filth; the former appeals to their inherent sense of rhythm, the latter their sense of fashion and the melodramatic, but give them something like Prosanctus Inferi and Ares Kingdom, admixtures of sacrilegious outrage, civilizational decay, lost grandeur, and instrumental excellence, all presented in an eminently confrontational manner, and the significance is more likely than not to be lost along the way.

While the last statement is liable to be applied to an equally large number of male metal fans, it seems to me that women for the most part either refuse to take serious metal seriously, treating it as yet another male affectation to be tolerated with a knowing smirk, or are, somewhat more pointedly, simply incapable of relating to its overarching message.


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4 Responses to What does metal mean to women?

  1. 8eight8music says:

    Reblogged this on 8eight8music and commented:
    Women and metal.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hah. I’ve been thinking about this a little today, so I’ll share my thoughts on this. For context: I’m an Indian woman in her 30’s, brought up in a super-liberal mixed-religion family.

    My little brother and I have a history of sharing music and we discovered rock via parents/cosuins – blues, folk, psych, The Doors, Woody Guthrie, Hendrix, Joplin, Grateful Dead etc. Then came cable tv and we discovered ac/dc. Love at first sight/listen! Which went on to KISS, Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Motorhead, Steppenwolf, Black Sabbath. Now, these are still some of my all time favourite bands EVER and I have some epic memories related to listening to them and was OBSESSED with them at the time, but… I don’t listen to them anymore. Ever. I’m going to come back to this though, please bear with me.

    So then we carried on exploring, grunge, glam, punk, new wave and then I lost my brother. Yeah I went away to university, so maybe that contributed, but I went more towards post-punk, new-wave and then frnech house, experimental small-label electronica etc. He went more down I guess contemporary metal(?) and then seemed to just go back and get deeper into older metal stuff.

    That made me wonder. Why the difference between my brother and me? Our formative life experiences were pretty much identical. Maybe it was just that I experimented more and he didn’t? Or maybe I just forgot how good metal was? Got influenced by other people around me..? So I decided to dig out some of my old music today and give them a listen. Here are my thoughts:

    First of all, connecting back to some of the points you’ve made:

    – I don’t know if metal was ever ‘dangerous’ to me. Going to watch wu-tang clan play in some dark and dodgy club in Britain is the only time a music-related-activity has made me feel unsafe. And still i wasn’t put off.

    – lack of definitive role models: i think there’s definitely something in that. I’m obsessed with Joan Jett and spent years cutting my own hair (like Chrissie Hynde did) to look like Chrissie Hynde. And a lot of the modern music I like have strong female frontwomen, doing something with that role. And I know a lot more about these women, than i do about men from bands I love even. I’ve never thought about this before, but the more I do, the more relevant it seems to me..

    – I don’t know if women are more emotional than men, or if they’re just more able/willing to express emotion? In general i find more women are emotionally mature than men, and they seem to reach emotional maturity much earlier than men too (probably something genetic to do with the nurturer/care-giver role, or maybe it’s inherent sexism that teaches men: not okay to express your emotions). Regardless, i definitely thing women process a much larger bulk of emotions through the day because of it. And yes, I suspect that might have something to do with it too… (explained below in detail)

    So. I’ve been listening to some of my old music (metal/heavy rock) through the day today and i found it ‘difficult’. While I loved listening to it and was dancing and skipping round my room periodically (freelance & work-from-home) and had a stupid smile plastered on my face.. I also found it very distracting. While I’m able to easily tune out any of my newer music, i was not able to do the same here. Possible reasons why:

    a – it’s too emotionally draining. I don’t know if it’s because it takes me back to a time when my hormones were running wild and so I’m re-experiencing those same emotions out of some neuro-biological memory reflex. Or the high intensity of emotions in the music were just affecting me and involving me. Either way, listening to it drained my ’emotional battery’ a little. I mean I’m fine. But if one of my friend’s/a family member had a crisis today and needed some emotional support, I’m not sure I’d have been able to do a good job of supplying it..
    I guess men don’t have that problem, because they aren’t usually expected to manage anything beyond their own emotions…? (genuinely asking, i have no idea what being a man feels like)

    b – Connected to the above, Listening to this while working, took up much more cognitive effort from me than listening to ‘light music’ does. So it did impair my efficiency at work, through the day.
    Wonder if it’s the same for men?

    c – how my life has changed from when I was a teenager, to even at age 25: in addition to what most men my age were doing: University, p/t jobs to support being at University, then full-time work, building a career, managing to wash and dress and feed and house yourself. As a woman in a patriarchal world, I was also having to put in the effort of fulfilling the “subservient, nurturing role within society”. That takes effort too you know. Learning how to cook, clean, sew, knit, grooming yourself top-to-toe, staying fit, navigating the bottomless cesspit that is womens’ fashion, teaching yourself how to cut hair like Chrissie Hynde, vaguely keeping an eye on the health of your ovaries and eggs, developing nurturing skills, developing your emotional skills (self-management and management of others), interacting with crazy women (yes there are a lot of them and they’re weirdly competitive and women fight in bizarre overly long complex ways), keeping your manicure fresh, developing meditation skills/a drug habit/superhuman patience to get you through practising all of that subservience, etc.

    After a whole day of all of this, I simply don’t have the time/energy to listen to heavy meaningful music. I want to tune out to an episode of Gossip Girl, or read some escapist book, or listen to ‘light’ ‘happy’ music… Is this because I may have more varying cognitive demands through the day than most men? Or because men have brains that are wired differently to process the day and to unwind at the end of it? Dunno.

    In support of theory c, the only girl my age that I know still listens to metal, is a stay-at-home wife, that does no housework (ie – does ‘nothing’ all day). But maybe that’s just a coincidence…

    Maybe it’s none of these. Maybe there’s something in the music that affects male brains differently from female ones. But no, i definitely don’t think it’s a “male affectation” or something that doesn’t warrant being taken seriously. And now I’m curious as to why women don’t take metal seriously too.

    I hope this is helpful. I’m going to try this all over again at the weekend and will report if I feel any differently.

    • I’ll explain my stance on role models but in case you haven’t done so before, you might like to check out the lyrics written by one Lori Bravo of death/grind/thrash band Nuclear Death on albums like Bride Of Insect, All Creatures Great And Eaten, and …for our dead… It’s macabre and extremely violent, as befits the music, but it’s done with unparalleled flair.

      But yeah, my personal take has always been more inclined towards the music being hermetic/completely self-contained of itself, and so by correlation not allowing of “role models” in the general sense of the term. That doesn’t mean you can’t be inspired by someone but ultimately one hopes the inspiration arises of the art and art alone, and isn’t confused with the artist who, all things considered and at the risk of sounding terribly arrogant, is only a midwife of sorts. Great metal, to me, has certain intrinsic and universal truths, and as long as the listener can tap into that mindspace, I don’t see the need for fawning over role models.

      I’ll try to address your bullet points.

      (a) I think men are socially conditioned to bury their emotions to a far greater extent than women. However this is far from being writ in stone, and I’m sure we’ve experienced plenty of situations where traditional roles have been reversed πŸ™‚ It also seems to me that men are are more prone to idealizing, as futile as it may be in the face of reality, while women come to terms with mankind’s general lot in life with more grace and equanimity. This ties in with the themes associated with a lot of serious metal; if you don’t have the propensity for gathering wool, you probably wouldn’t give a damn!

      (b) I agree that great metal absolutely demands all of your attention. I prefer silence while working or exercising, but a lot of people can do either while listening to music, so who knows.

      (c) I haven’t had the good fortune to go through the female metamorphosis you describe…yet. Newer metal rarely moves me, but I can still manage to stir myself into fits of frenzy over the stuff I’ve grown up loving. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop but I think I can safely say that I’m a lifer. Also, and maybe this is just me, again, but my ideas on what metal means to me have become more fleshed out over time. I’ve always felt strongly about it but now there’s more clarity about what I expect out of the music.

      Thanks for your honest comment. Makes a good add-on to the post πŸ™‚

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great point about the art being inspiring, rather than the artist!

    I see that you feel very strongly about metal and that it clearly ‘means’ something to you. I can’t say I feel the same at alll about any kind of music, but there’s a lot of art that affects me. Particularly, fine art and prose. Enough, that I’ll actively seek out regular doses. Enough, that it has the ability to transform the energy in every cell of my being πŸ™‚ Maybe that’s what matters to me. Maybe that’s all it is. Everybody needs to be in touch with some form of brilliant creative expression that affects them in such a fundamental manner.

    Still don’t know why more women are not attracted to metal πŸ™‚ I like your point about men more likely to be idealists and so more attracted to the themes of it. That makes the most sense to me so far.

    I’m so pleased you didn’t hate my post! It was all rather slapdash and at the end of a long week (hence the typos and rambling).

    Great writing by the way! I hope you start writing about more than just metal someday. You know.. for us philistines πŸ™‚

    Read Lori Bravo’s lyrics. Once I got over my immediate reaction of horror and repulsiveness – very very very beautiful actually, thank you. It’s a shame her writing has such a narrow audience.

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