Over the past few days a lot of my fellow female singers have been pretty upset. They’ve been upset and angry for some time now, but something in particular focused their ire and now they’ve done what no good woman should apparently ever do; they spoke out. And boy have I learned how we were expected to put up, shut up and fall to our knees in gratitude for any scrap of attention given from the press, however demeaning we may find it. As usual, many are being dismissive of what they’re saying, claiming that their “panties are in a twist”. Apparently we just don’t get the joke – silly women getting all upset instead of thanking the great comedians of our era for finally gracing us with their attention. The incident in question is a magazine cover from France “Hard Rock” which is currently running a special on MFVF. For the uninitiated, MFVF is the biggest festival in the world dedicated to female fronted metal and alternative music. It’s a big deal in the Femme Metal scene and gets a lot of international attention. The cover, should you wish to know what I’m talking about is here: *link no longer available*
It’s an adaptation of a previous painting by the same guy, found here: *link no longer available*
And transforms people’s promoshots with all the respect and subtlty of Benny HIll off his ass in the Playboy mansion: *link no longer available*
Before I start slamming anybody, I’d like to point out a bit of background. Firstly, that a lot of the women upset at this cover are professional musicians who are playing MFVF themselves. One lady in particular, who is one of the subjects of the drawing, has said in private how upset she is at having herself depicted stripped topless on the cover of a magazine without consultation. The first she knew of it was when the cover was released to the public. She chooses not to sell her music off the sexual potential of her body. That was her choice and it was taken away from her.
Maybe you are not offended by it personally. That does not mean that it is inoffensive.
Maybe it wasn’t intended to upset anyone. That does not mean that it has not caused distress.
Maybe there are more objectifying magazine covers out there. That does not mean that this is not objectifying.
Maybe Hard Rock is upset at being the straw that broke the camel’s back on this one. That does not mean that they haven’t, at best, been blindly accepting of a norm within the industry, that the subjects of which are frankly sick off. Getting butthurt when they complain and dismissing them as if they are ungrateful girls with no sense of humour just compounds things.
Hard Rock evidently feels as if it is being unfairly targeted and many agree so sit back, grab a hot drink and I’ll explain a bit about what’s unfair. It may go on a bit, but I’ll try not to use too many long words. Apologies if the vast majority of this is an exercise in stating the bleeding obvious. I wouldn’t have thought things needed spelling out so thoroughly but recent events appear to prove otherwise.
We live in a society that constantly and repeatedly values women on their bodies first, and on their talents second. For me, this is such an obvious, all-pervasive and depressing fact that I won’t insult you with reams of examples (besides, this is already turning out longer than I planned!) All you have to do is open your eyes and ears for 24 hours and you’ll be subjected to a barrage of objectifying misogyny, the like of which has me pining for the nearest shot gun.
I’m not just talking the obvious “page 3” type examples, I’m talking about how I constantly see and hear people that I’d like to respect being unable to witness a woman doing her job without inevitably having to vocally assess whether they would like to bone her or not. All too often no-one says a thing against this, it’s just accepted as normal and OK. If you do question it, you’re setting yourself up to be patronised and dismissed – and men are reduced to the equally insulting “boys will be boys” excuse (as if they are not cognisant human beings, inherently without empathy nor social awareness. I know many men who do posses these traits. It is not a valid excuse. Oh and FYI I’m bi-sexual, I’m more than aware of what it’s like to lust after the female body. It’s possible to do so without being a tool about it.) Maybe you think that this behaviour is ok, but for many of us it’s tiring, insulting and reductive. Maybe, just maybe, if these attitudes weren’t so pervasive then the pay-gap, glass ceiling and gross under-representation of women in many industries – particularly the music industry – wouldn’t be so prominent.
And so. On to the music industry…
When Dyonisis first started out I was advised to not promote myself too actively within the Femme Metal scene. Not because we don’t sound particularly metallic (a valid point) but because it’s perceived as a “Marketing Man’s wet dream” and “other musicians might respect you less”. That’s one hell of an image problem and one that those of us who love the music need to address.
The thing is, I liked some of the bands in the genre and naively thought that I might find some solidarity within the scene. Besides, it seemed to acknowledge the under-representation of women in the industry.
The more I saw of the way that the genre is promoted, the less comfortable I became with it. Look at the MFVF cartoon logo, some people are 100% comfortable with it, but to me it’s tasteless and over-sexualised. To be utterly honest, it was only through talking to some of the women involved in Eve’s Apple (https://www.facebook.com/evesapple ) – a worldwide community of professional female singers) – that I discovered that I was not the only singer who hated how much our music is perceived as some kind of masturbatory resource. Time and time again I hear how depressed and embarrassed these women are by the state of the scene. These are the very women that the genre claims to celebrate, yet many are so fed up that they are considering packing in music all together.
I was going to give some examples, like how when the only female member of a band was skipped in the pre-gig handshakes it was because “I thought you were just a groupie” (but of course, women in rock are just sex toys, right? how stupid of me to try and forget that) I could say how women have been told that their band would earn more money if they lost weight. How it’s commonplace for women in bands to starve themselves before gigs or photoshoots. Or how, when I used to lurk on an “old industry” messageboard, if someone with a female username came along, people would immediately call her “darling” should they disagree with her points and use anything possible related to her gender to demean and insult her. I would highlight how it’s still a novelty to see a female sound engineer or rock muscian. But I don’t have the time. Believe me, these tales are just the tip of the iceberg.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that many women are trying to actively withold from selling their music via sex. It’s their choice, their bodies, their image and if they choose to be covered up in their promotional material maybe it’s because they’re sick of the “their music only sells off the back of a sexy frontwoman” type comments so often used to dismiss the genre. I’m NOT saying that women in music should all dress like nuns. I’m not saying that women “should” or “shouldn’t” do anything. I’m saying that once a woman has decided for herself how she would like to represent or display her body, and once she has excersied her right to control over when and where she wants to express her sexuality, that decision should be respected (yes, including being treated with respect if you choose to show some cleavage) I’m saying that, either way, it’s a CHOICE and that, against the backdrop of today’s society, it’s not surprising that many women would not like to be depicted topless without their consultation in order to sell a magazine. Rocket science; this is not.
And yes, I’ve done some boob-tastic photoshoots myself. I have hefty tits and I’m not going to try and deny their existence. However, that’s MY CHOICE in my own promo. To be honest, with that choice comes having to tolerate people looking at the back cover of our first album, then at me, and then having to watch them dissolve into leering imbeciles. It made me reconsider the sagacity of promoting myself via the lobotomising effect of my mammary glands, at least until society decides to grow the fuck up.
We all know, deep down, that when magazines run a “best of” women in alternative music, it’s often just a thinly veiled swimsuit edition. But again, we are supposed to be silent and grateful because it’s so damn unusual to get representative press in a “normal” edition. Perhaps this is why it was hoped that Hard Rock might handle it’s “special” with a bit more tact and intelligence. But no. Someone, somewhere thought “we’re doing a special on female fronted bands. You know who would be good to do the cover? Flowery buttplug guy. He really *gets* women.”
Actually, a hell of a lot of women found that picture demeaning, insulting and experience the attitudes that it props up to be intimidating. When they complained they were patronised with “it’s a caricature”. Really?! I had to look up caricature because it seems that my definition is at odds with Hard Rock’s. If a caricature takes real-life features and exaggerates them, then why would you choose to focus on the sexuality of a woman who actively chooses not to overly sexualise herself? Is it lampooning Zuberoa’s love of strippng at inappropriate moments? Or is it because you have a shallow perception of women and the only thing that you can think of to exaggerate is their boobs? Is that really all that women in music are to you? So lacking in merit that you believe that’s it’s perfectly OK to photoshop their heads over any old naked torso irrespective of their beliefs and how they choose to promote themselves AND THEN think that they would be grateful?! Or is it supposed to be ok because we all know that women = boobs and we’re all just there to be joked about and fantasised over? Did at NO POINT someone think “maybe women are sick of havnig their sexuality focused on over and above their talents 24/7. We respect women in music, lets cut them a break and behave in a manner appropriate to how they feel on the issue. It’s not the 50s any more after all.
Besides, isn’t rock and metal supposed to be about rebellion? What’s so rebellious about proping up a 50+ year old societal norm where women are primarily sexual decoration? Hasn’t the rock scene been ploughing this tired old furrow long enough? Liberation isn’t about being forced to accept being objectified. It’s about the choice to express your sexuality when and how you wish to. Until society and the music scene is more balanced, many women are choosing to play down their sexuality. Looking at the world around me, I can hardly blame them. Besides, it’s lowest-common-denominator stuff. Art is supposed to be about imagination, exploring new boundaries and self expression. Not selling a magazine off poorly rendered tits. Excuse me whilst I don’t join the chorus of “but it’s aaaaaart” commentators. It’s a tacky picture and I don’t have to agree with it’s message just because somebody thinks that Flowery Buttplug Guy has talent.
I don’t feel sorry for Hard Rock. They made their choice. They patronised and ignored the many singers who felt insulted by their cover. Their apology sounds whiny and my “give a shit” is broken.
Right… I’ve gone on waaaaay long enough. Thank you for reading this, even if you disagree with my point of view, at least you have taken the time to find out what my opinions are. I’m of the belief that you have to set the standards by which you wish to be treated and then stick to them. I doubt now that I’ve left any doubt as to my feelings on this issue! If you think that the level of objectification in society is a none-issue or that feminism is a dirty word, We will never see eye-to-eye on the subject, kindly withhold from attending Dyonisis gigs.” I’d like to have more respect for my friends, colleagues and fans of the band than that
Thanks for reading – Nel