“Rock’s rebel women, including its writers, are rarely assumed to be geniuses; often, they are assumed to be whores,” writes Anwen Crawford in this recent commentary from The New Yorker. In 1969, Australian-raised Lillian Roxon wrote the first rock encyclopedia. But Crawford laments that now “books by living female rock critics (or jazz, hip-hop, and dance-music critics, for that matter) are scant.” And this is true. And you know why? I’ll tell you.
That one line about women in rock – not dressed in leather and lace – speaks volumes about the music industry has a whole. (It still goes on today, check out these festival bills when the male acts are Photoshopped out.)
I can’t tell you how many times on my Rolling Stone assignments I was presumed to be a groupie, instead of a female music journalist who doesn’t want to sleep with them; I want to do my job and I want to do it well. I love the artist’s talent. So just because I am female, I can’t write about music or musicians unless I want to sleep with the artist?
At the time, I was also one of the few female rock writers (I think I was one of three at Rolling Stone at the time). In the patriarchal editorial team of Rolling Stone, I felt like I was constantly fighting for bylines, and was eventually resigned to writing one review a month – not earning enough money to put food on the table.
So just because I am female, I can’t write about music or musicians unless I want to sleep with the artist?
On so many occasions, I felt like saying, “Can we talk about male music journalists I’ve met who are mainly failed musicians themselves who are bitter about not being able to have women fawn over them?” (Side note: who are also far less talented writers.)
How many times have I been ignored during interviews? Presumed to be ditzy or not worth a serious conversation because I am female and just happened to be a music writer? Countless.
One example was with Melbourne band that was growing in popularity back in 2008. The lead singer flatly refused to give me answers of merit because I was female – I sensed this entirely with his curt answers and smug attitude. Another example was another Perth band that was moderately popular. As well as my Rolling Stone assignments, I was also a writer for Fairfax at the time. It was winter and I was wearing a leather jacket when I turned up for my interview. He asked me what I did. I told him my writing background to prove that I was actually a professional. The guitarist said to me, “So they let you wear leather jackets at Fairfax?”
I joked, “Oh no, I’m just a Band-Aid,” in reference to the movie Almost Famous. To which a musician replied, “No, don’t lower yourself like that.”
Granted, there have been many opportunities that have opened up for me because I am female, but sometimes it was because they found me a novelty. Like, “We have a girl! A girl writer! From Rolling Stone!” I know many males – photographers and writers – who have been invited to spend time with the band (not expected to sleep with them, of course), who have gone on to secure exclusives and invited to take photos of them, whereas I have often been resigned to the ‘Ignore’ pile because I’m female and have most likely offended their sensitive rock ego because I didn’t want to sleep with them.
That’s the whole point of difference. Penny Lane – who, by the way is said to be based on this Pennie Lane – from Almost Famous loved the music. She was there for the music. I am like that. (Penny slept with the musicians. I haven’t. Sorry to burst your bubble!) I am there for the music, for their talent and to admire what they have created. Often I would have to diffuse my sense of authority with humour to get the answers I needed from an interview subject. Once I even joked, “Oh no, I’m just a Band-Aid,” in reference to the movie Almost Famous. To which a musician replied, “No, don’t lower yourself like that.” I didn’t know whether to be offended or happy. Either way, it shows the distinct difference between males and females in the music industry.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. I’ve recently made friends with well-know musicians who count me among their friends and value my talent, just as I value theirs.
But it means we still have a long way to go. Would I like to be acknowledged and valued for my skill that I am offering to them as a writer and fellow music lover? Sure. Do I think I am going to get it with every interview? No. But you know what, one day I will share with you my stories of backstage mayhem and there will be a female voice writing a book about rock’n’roll. And Lillian Roxon will be smiling down on us.