Thursday, 19 June 2008

Metal and rock genres and male sexual privilege...

First of all, take a look at this. I would like to thank BJ for drawing my attention to this blog as it inspired me to complete the ‘male sexual privilege’ post I had planned.

I had never really given much thought to the portrayal of women in music genres other than pop music, because it is that particular genre that has always made my blood boil somewhat. Watching scantily clad females ‘bopping’ around a stage singing about ‘love’ (a very narrow definition of love I might add) is not my idea of fun. It gives the impression that for a man to ‘love’ a woman (i.e. want to have sex with them), women must be attractive. I remember a television interview with The Pussycat Dolls – when asked what their image was all about they responded that they are all about ‘looking good’ and ‘being seen with the right people’. Am I the only person to see the shallowness in this? They are perpetuating the notion that women are only valued on how they look. And don’t think they are the only group to pass along that message.

When in Sainsburys the other day, I glanced at the magazines in the vain hope that maybe they stocked the music magazine Terrorizer. Suffice to say they did not. What they did stock however was what must have been about twenty different women’s magazines all stating that they have the answer to female problems. These problems are not life-threatening, although you would think so by the way they are talked up. These problems all relate to a woman’s appearance. How to make one’s hair shine, how to apply make-up evenly, how to have a flatter stomach this summer, how to lose weight (that’s the most popular one), how to have an even tan, the latest cosmetic surgery treatments. And those are just a few! Nowhere does it say that make-up IS NOT necessary, nowhere does it say that women do not have to aspire to a thinner figure.

Germaine Greer was not wrong when she claimed that “Every woman knows that, regardless of all her achievements, she is a failure if she is not beautiful” (Greer, The Whole Woman, 1999. p. 19). One only has to take a look at programs such as 'How to Look Ten Years Younger' to see this in action. The edition a few nights ago portrayed a woman who was fantastic at DIY. But this was somehow portrayed as irrelevant because she did not look ‘feminine’. The narrator even claimed that due to all that work her ability to use make-up had sadly been left to one side, hence putting across the prevalent notion that women who do not try to live up to ideals of female beauty are careless, lazy, and put no effort into their appearance - forget that they may spend their time engaged in other things. This sort of propaganda does nothing but place upon women an unfair pressure to look a certain way and be a certain way. The ‘contestant’s’ friends and daughter even paid little attention to her DIY abilities, focusing instead on how that ability had scuppered her chances of looking attractive. But don’t worry, Nicky Hambilton-Jones was there to help. The very same woman claimed a couple of weeks ago that she doesn’t “believe in feminism. Being sexy is one of a woman's biggest assets. To downplay that is madness. I don't want to compete with men. I want to play on my strengths while they play on theirs - and let's see who wins.” (see whole interview here). It makes me want to scream!

So now I ask the questions What does being a woman entail? What is being a woman like? What does it mean to be a woman? These are all questions appropriated by advertising that more or less propounds a message that scratches the surface yet claims to be exhaustive – being a woman, for such advertising, means being concerned with the condition of her hair, or the tone of her skin, the smell or hairiness of her body to a much more obsessive degree than males. And yes, I do mean obsessive. Women are conditioned from birth to be overly concerned with their appearance. Germaine Greer puts it wonderfully when she claims that whilst BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) “is pathological behaviour in a man”, it is “required of a woman” (Greer, p. 20). One only has to look at toys aimed at girls to see that women are primarily valued by how they look. Dolls where girls can primp and colour the hair and apply the make-up are nothing more than a practice for adult life that is increasingly becoming earlier and earlier for girls who are coerced into thinking that wearing make-up is something ‘natural’ that all women do, that it is part of being a woman. It is the toys and advertisements that do the coercion, portraying all the ‘popular’ girls as those who wear make-up, and by ‘popular’ I mean ‘popular’ with boys. Everything seems to convey the message that the point of a female’s existence is to cultivate one’s appearance so that men will find them attractive.

Being a woman entails in many senses being the lesser sex – ‘lads-mags’ portray this message perhaps the most comprehensively. Homogenous, airbrushed, flat-stomached women arranged in increasingly provocative positions, tagged with the words ‘Take her to a motel room and bang her like a beast’ (Nuts, July 2006 – more quotes here under the leaflets section). Women are always the ones being enjoyed – even when the female is in a sexual position deemed more under a woman’s control, it is the male’s pleasure that is focused upon. ‘Lads-mags’ are widely available in newsagents and they all portray the message that women are there to be enjoyed. Even more disturbing is the suggestion that women like a man who will ‘take control’ in the bedroom, that women are thrilled with this male-appropriated take on sex. This is where notions of ‘she’s playing hard to get’ come in. Ideas like this ensure that some men believe that ‘no’ does not mean ‘no’, that it in fact means ‘please continue trying to get me into bed, I’m actually enjoying this forceful coercion’ (and, of course, the coercion may be justified later by the male claiming that it was ‘just a bit of fun’, something which usually gets the offender off the hook as the phrase implies ‘shared knowledge’ amongst men, and thus is a method of trying to get other men to see his point-of view). The woman’s ‘voice’ is not taken into consideration unless, of course, it is moaning in pleasure at the controlling man.

This is all nothing more than evidence of an insidious male sexual privilege that men and women are conditioned into from birth. Men think they have a right to sex, and it is women who are expected to provide themselves for it. Think about it – when in a relationship men expect that they will get sex. If they don’t get it, they look somewhere else for it under the innocent line of ‘this relationship isn’t working out’. A woman’s explanation for why she might not want sex at that particular point in the relationship will, in essence, fall on deaf ears. There is an unspoken number of weeks whereby a man can expect his girlfriend to ‘put out’, and if that number of weeks is not met then the relationship is over. This may sound somewhat melodramatic, but it is true. It is incredibly telling how defensive men get when women point out to them this notion of male sexual privilege. It is almost as if they want us to shut-up just in case any other women overhear and also realise it to be true. I'm not, of course, suggesting that women don't enjoy sex. A lot of women do. I'm just pointing out the expectations that males place on us when it comes to sex.

The above is why the blog I linked to at the beginning is so interesting. Women in the rock and metal genre are expected to be more forthright. I have never met a woman into metal that likes the portrayal of women in generic lads-mags such as Nuts or FHM. Yet, many will wear ‘gothy’ lingerie on an Ann-Summers theme night or in a bikini contest (on a side note, I remember when being a goth meant showing as little skin as possible, but then again I’m confusing being a goth with being into rock music).Wearing these clothes are not for the women’s benefit. They’re deceiving themselves if they think it’s a sign of women’s liberation. It is just perpetuating the notion that to get any attention from men, women have to fit into a narrowly defined ideal of female beauty – in this case the ideal is different to the mainstream as it requires more of an edge (spikes, dark reds (because it’s the colour of blood?), blacks, metallics), yet the ideal is still prevalent throughout the ‘rock scene’. Thus male sexual privilege is at large within the ideals here as well. When I say that such women are expected to be ‘forthright’ I mean defined as having a loud voice, willing to act violently, and swearing a lot. Personally, I would prefer women to be forthright in the sense that they are able to put across a rational view forcefully rather than shouting violently any old nonsense.

Being loud is not going to liberate women – if anything it’s just the masculinisation of women. Germaine Greer beautifully describes a vision of womanhood that is not subject to a male perspective: “[A] woman who [does] not exist to embody male sexual fantasies or rely upon a man to endow her with identity and social status, a woman who [does] not have to be beautiful, who could be clever, who would grow in authority as she aged” (Greer, 1999. p. 5). Now this is an ideal that could be relevant both across the mainstream and the rock and metal subcultures – women as no longer valued on how they look, but for their intellect and strength of character.

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