This May Sound Sexist, But Women Are Just Better Than Men at Rock Music: A Playlist

NOTE: This list is uh not safe for the whole family.

Rock represents (or at least one point did) rebellion, a pushing of boundaries beyond the mainstream. It has consistently expanded, pushing beyond itself when it was the status quo, through its sub-genres: psych-rock, punk, metal, new wave, grunge, emo while at its core remaining the same.

The oppression of women and their treatment is broad and long and does not need to be discussed here–their role in rock music is more the exception than the rule with a select few carrying the torch through a field of men. Even now, a struggle for recognition exists, though more underlying than explicit: women are accepted in rock music, but women are not in rock music. Of course rock music exists strangely today–it’s dominant, but those who dominate radio play are one-hit wonders rather than super stars. Mainstream rock is stale, as a 60 plus year genre should be, but as always there are great bands making great music on the fringes.

Women are making the best rock music right now–there is no question in my mind. There are so many little scrappy bands right now throwing together rock songs fit to be listened to in crowded garages–with short, speedy, belted out jams that are purely delightful. They tell stories akin to those in rock (and especially punk’s) early days, expressions from the fringe, taking angst often birthed from a sexist society (Trump anyone?) and turning into a musical rebellion, sometimes crass, but always creative.

Here is a wide, yet non-comprehensive playlist of what is currently happening–jump on board.

Sleater-Kinney

Foremothers (if you will) of sorts to this whole thing, Sleater-Kinney have been making rock jams for a long time. This year saw the release of their eighth album, showing that the group has not missed a beat.

Courtney Barnett

A singer-songwriter who leans toward punk-tinged rock music, Barnett’s specialty is her wit where she is a master at crafting lyrics. Tongue-in-cheek songs about making excuses to get out of going to a party and lawn mowing techniques–she’s very observational, creating stream-of-consciousness songs about what she sees around her and relating it to deeper personal tensions and insecurities.

Makthaverskan

A Swedish punk band whose name translates to “women with power”, they combine forward moving punk songs with a sort of 80s synth melody. Living up to their name, Maja Milner gets personal about her experiences with men, fighting through them in explicit and passionate ways.

Potty Mouth

Sounding like they’re coming straight from the garage, Potty Mouth embodies a sort of low-key aggression common amongst most the bands present on this playlist. Their guitars are fuzzy, the lyrics are straightforward, and the songs are catchy without ever getting poppy.

Ex Hex

Singer/guitarist Mary Timony has had a long road to the 2014 Ex Hex debut album Rips, as a seminal part of 90s noise pop group Helium and later super group Wild Flag in 2010. The Ex Hex debut was a wonderful rock and roll album filled with quickly paced and very catchy songs. It’s a perfectly capable album that anyone who enjoys guitar driven rock songs could definitely enjoy.

Screaming Females

Leaning on a more heavy sound than most of the groups listed here, there are moments on their most recent record Rose Mountain that are shockingly intense. This is lead by Marissa Paternoster’s strong vocals which are powerful enough to knock you back at any moment. The breakdown toward the end of “Burning Car” is pretty epic, reminiscent of those days I was super into metalcore.

Savages

Also a group that trends heavier and more serious, Savages burst onto the scene in 2013 with a very anti-technology/social media/distracted youth message. While they lack the sort of tongue-in-cheek attitude of a lot of these groups, they make up for it with the passion of their message, as lead track “Shut Up” shows, Savages are not afraid of confrontation.

White Lung

Definitely not for the faint of heart, White Lung leans toward the more old school side of hardcore when it comes to punk. These songs are aggressive, filled with quickly paced guitar solos, and pounding drums.

Hop Along

A group that probably rides or dies on the talents of its vocalist, singer Frances Quinlan goes all over the place showcasing a raspy yell backed by a tight backing band. Most of the labeling of Hop Along is as a folk rock group, likely because of the group’s origins (a solo project by Quinlan), but at this point they are definitely a rock band, fitting in quite nicely to the modern day emo revival.

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz has revived the alt-rock of the 90s, giving it a modern indie rock feel, with definite punk influences. Another group that started as the solo project of its lead singer (Sadie Dupuis) and grew into a full-fledged critically acclaimed rock group (does this lead us into female rock star auteur theory?).

Tacocat

Taking on The Ramones’ at their most surf rock, Tacocat goes full tongue-in-cheek, exploring the female perspective with a full blast of irony. These are perfect beach songs, even if “Crimson Wave” isn’t as pure a surf song as it might seem upon first listen.

Alvvays

Indie pop filtered through a slacker rock aesthetic, from their purposefully misspelled name to their songs about getting married and grappling with the irony of growing into an adult, and Molly Rankin’s voice which always features a wink to it.

Chastity Belt

Reappropriating a device typically used to inhibit and to censor, Chastity Belt takes it on with a badge of irony, letting their feminism shine through the mores of old. Musically the band very much fits into a punk vein, but does so much more slow and pronounced than typical.

Perfect Pussy

Confrontational to its core (as their name might suggest), they originally started as a fake  band for a movie, but now are here to provide the most blatant and in your face group of the bunch. Their debut album clocks in at a brisk 29 minutes–nearly all of which is distorted and screamed.

Childbirth

https://childbirth.bandcamp.com/track/cowling-at-the-moon

Childbirth actually features two members from groups listed above (Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt, Bree McKenna of Tacocat) and takes on the same comic feminism as both of them. Their new album is aptly titled Women’s Rights, is filled with brash lyrics, more obscene than thoughtful reflections about feminism, but punk has always been brash, and Childbirth do it more hilariously than most.

Big Brother 16 and why a Dating Hierarchy is Damaging

This season of Big Brother has featured your typical casting of hot young people fighting it out in a house for the duration of the summer in a battle to win 500K. As is apt to happen in these reality shows, so called “showmances” start showing up left and right where people begin pairing off in a mix of puppy love, restlessness, and strategy.

This summer however, houseguest Caleb has become infatuated with Amber, the young model who has not returned his favors. He continually pressures her and advances upon her, while she nervously tries to laugh it off and remains noncommittal. Caleb is a southern boy, strong, with tattoos and a strong Christian faith; he tells the cameras he believes Amber to be the kind of girl he can bring home to his parents. He even gives up his safety in order to protect her in the game –  afterwards believing that she now owes him something.

As a fan of the show, the perception of Caleb’s one-sided showmance has gradually changed. Going from a sort of aw shucks Caleb has no idea that she’s not interested, to a more worried – can Caleb emotionally handle the rejection that is inevitably going to happen?

To think about this scenario outside of the Big Brother house is even more worrisome, yet it is one that consistently happens (the #YESALLWOMEN movement showed that) and it is something that is portrayed all the time, even positively in pop culture. Earlier this year, Genevieve Valentine wrote for the AV Club about the male character who often pressures the female into going out with him until finally she gives in and realizes that he is sweet and she does like him. She uses people like Ross from Friends, Niles from Frasier, and Morgan from The Mindy Project as examples, saying:

“A generation of romantic comedies rewarding men for diligently pursuing a woman until she caves has normalized a behavior that has direct and unwelcome corollaries in real life. In an era when we’re having open conversations about representation and sensitivity in comedy, the shtick of a guy who won’t take no for an answer has lost any charm it once held. It’s become either a romantic signpost to set up a long-term romantic dynamic (which it shouldn’t), or it’s shorthand to denote a clueless creep while rarely taking him to task for it.”

(She also notes that the behavior of a character in Brooklyn 99 follows along with warning signs that the Network for Surviving Stalking has on their site)

The man in pursuit and pressuring the woman is a familiar trope in our television and movie watching experiences, but when it gets translated into real life the lines of consent are blurred in troublesome ways. Women get pressured by men all the time and saying no can be dangerous especially when the guy looks like Caleb does – big and tough – the kind of person you certainly do not want to piss off. How will he handle this within the show when surrounded by cameras and a lack of privacy? How will he react off of the show where there are limitless bounds for messed up things to happen? (I should say here that perhaps Caleb is a wonderful guy caught in the midst of puppy love on a national television show within a house that does crazy things to you – but he serves as an example of a wider problem both within pop culture and society as a whole).

Where does this come from? The idea that pressuring women into liking you is an acceptable form of behaving? I wonder if it is not rooted in the hierarchical ways relationships have been set up in our society.

In America, our society encourages that men seek after women. This is the way it has been and mostly continues to be. Men are the ones who ‘pursue’ women, opening doors, asking them out on dates, and paying for their meals. There is a historical precedent for this, one that has been challenged and pushed back against, but still largely exists across the American landscape. Men are the breadwinners, the ones who buy the ring, and propose. The women may have the power to say yes or no, but it is the men who are in pursuit, attempting to capture them. This is a hierarchical view of relationships, in which men have a higher and more ultimate power.

For the most part this can be healthy, most relationships are like this and most people I know are totally fine. Yet, the power to pursue someone is easily abused, while the power to say yes or no is too easily overcome at the hand of abusers.

Having believed that it is their job to pursue a woman and to “get” her to say yes, men believe that they can force a woman into their good graces. It is their job to get the woman. While this may start as a harmless knight saving the princess fantasy, this notion can be misrepresented and transformed into a stalker-like tendency under the guise that he simply needs to convince her that she should love him.

I posit that an egalitarian approach to dating culture, relationships, and marriages is necessary. As I wrote previously, the breadwinner man seems to come out of a former necessity that is no longer as relevant in our current age. As of now the man as the pursuer seems to solely come from tradition’s sake, one that is based in a time where women were property and given to men so that they could be provided for. In today’s day and age, women are perfectly capable of providing for themselves. Why should a man pursue a woman? A relationship based in mutual understanding and desire should be just a fruitful without perpetuating the pursuit and persuasion angle of dating that I see as harmful.

Will this approach solve everything? Certainly not, people are messed up. Will an approach to dating that sees both people as perfectly capable of making decisions for themselves and for one another ease the ‘I must convince you to date me because it’s my job’ – mindset? I’d like to think so.

Hip-Hop vs. How I Met Your Mother

barney stinson

 

I found this image here

(note: this post is meant for and comes from an outside and likely mainstream view of hip-hop. Please let me know if I generalize anything or come across as ethnocentric in any way, I will take your criticisms and evaluate them and my perspective on the world. Thanks)

I think there is a trend happening for those out there who engage and critique popular culture from a moral and critical perspective. Those who study, think through, or all together avoid certain artistic works because of the content that is presented. The trend, which may have existed for decades thus making it not a trend, is to avoid or criticize rap and hip-hop artists and songs for being misogynistic and self-glorifying. While I think there is merit to such a claim, I want to push back against it, and criticize other widely accepted parts of pop culture, namely, CBS’ long running hit show How I Met Your Mother.

First, I think we must look at hip-hop’s roots and history in order to discover where it is coming from. Without doing this, there is little to no right in passing off judgements on its merits or meanings. In his series of posts for the AV Club music and pop culture critic Nathan Rabin discusses his early love for hip-hop and the way that the genre shifted year after year. Rabin notes that when NWA released “Straight Outta Compton” in 1988, it felt revolutionary, that they “dared audiences to hate it”, and it “became a victim of its own massive success and influence, as its innovations long ago devolved into tiresome clichés”.

Like rock ‘n roll and punk music before it, hip-hop (or gangsta rap) thrived because it was new, it was angry, and it allowed young people to express something that they weren’t able to express before then. But, like most things, when something feels revolutionary it is soon co-opted by the mainstream; by marketers looking to make money off of the hottest thing. While to this day there are innovative hip-hop albums being created, perhaps much of where the criticism comes, is in the cliches copied by those wanting to emulate groups like NWA.

The members of NWA were teenagers, they were trying to figure out how to make their way in the world and did so by using their gift of artistic expression. Rabin expresses this by saying, “they’re living out the sociopathic fantasies of angry teenagers everywhere in a realm where they possess all the power.” They created a world in which they have the opportunity to make and express something big. They, like most teens, did not make the best or safest decisions, but they made something that resonated with people around the world.

So then when we think about hip-hop we must remember where it was birthed from. NWA came out of Compton (straight out of there), a place that to this day is hardly known for being a safe place for the whole family, but it is the reality from which they came. Author Misha Emanoil expresses this saying:

“Lil Wayne is the artistic symptom of poverty and the societal ills it creates, not the cause. Believe it or not, most people, even the disenfranchised poor, want to be good, successful citizens and will not try to emulate these artists.”

From then hip-hop has grown to the point that a sort of pop-rap has become huge in clubs and on radio stations everywhere. It is certainly sexist at times, but part of this is due to consumeristic driven markets that co-opt the types of expression that young and sometimes poor people made in the late 80s and early 90s.

Moving beyond the roots of hip-hop, we turn now to the nature of the art form itself and how this amplifies the sexual, violent, and misogynistic appearance of its lyrics. Hip-hop, by nature is a far more expressive genre. While I have no empirical evidence to cite, I would bet that the typical hip-hop song averages more words than that of a rock or pop song. The speed of which the lyrics are sung is so much faster that other genres that it requires this (that’s what rapping is right?). With more lyrics to write, rappers have to be much more expressive than other lyricists, making sexist themes much more obvious. My point here is not that rap is not sexist, but that other types of music are and do so much more subtly, which to me is much more dangerous. If you need proof of this go look at the lyrics of rock classics such as Poison’s “She’s My Cherry Pie” or Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” or AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” all of which get played in public on a regular basis, yet insight little moral outrage.

One of television’s most beloved characters at the moment is How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson who Wikipedia describes as “a serial playboy, [who uses] his wealth to seduce women for sex with no intentions of engaging in a relationship”. Hold on, what? This is a character for which Neil Patrick Harris has received four Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe nomination? This was a character that Entertainment Weekly named one of the top 100 of the last twenty years?

I get it though, backstory, backstory, backstory. I get that his father abandoned him. I get that he has had things happen to him that made him who he was. I get that. I just spent the last few paragraphs talking about how we shouldn’t do that. We have to ask ourselves if we are treating both the same? I realize that there are some people who love both rappers and Barney Stinson for their playboy tendencies, I mean Hugh Hefner is a bonafide celebrity right? But for those of us who do think critically about these things do we treat both the same?

I really don’t think Barney Stinson is such a beloved character because of how well rounded he is. No, its the catchphrases, the “bro code”, and how charming he is, while we ignore what Wikipedia so blatantly points out that he is “a serial playboy, [who uses] his wealth to seduce women for sex with no intentions of engaging in a relationship”.

Finally, I want to address the notion that hip-hop artists are obsessed with themselves by looking at Soong-Chan Rah‘s study of religious music in different cultures. The stereotype is wide and perhaps somewhat true, rappers brag about their wealth, their status, and other conquests. Their music videos are filled with hot women, gold chains, and shiny cars as they rap about how great they are. It’s a pretty obvious cliche.

Rah writes in his book on cultures and the Evangelical church about the differences and the need to reconcile the average predominantly white church and minority churches. He talks about the religious music in each, noting that while white churches tend to be more affluent, lyrically their worship songs are based in suffering and pain. Those in minority driven, poorer churches are much more celebratory and thankful. While this isn’t an exact parallel, perhaps some wisdom can be gleaned from Rah’s observations.

Notice two genres that began to come into prevalence around the same: hip-hop and emo.  The former features usually poor African American youth, the latter usually white suburban kids. One is notorious for its songs about wealth, one for songs about sadness and depression. Where does this disparity come from? Why do rich white kids sing sad songs while living in places of abundance, while poor African Americans talk about how great they are? I am not here to give an answer to this; simply to point out a trend.

I guess I hope that instead of pointing out the flaws of others, that we would instead begin to see the flaws in ourselves and work to change those. No culture or subculture is perfect, the world is rife with injustice and we should call it out. In calling it out though, we need to remember to think through our reasons, to check for prejudices, and to see if we can see the world from the other’s perspective. Then we can a make a point and then we can work together to change all that is wrong.