Two weeks ago, Metal Hammer published an article entitled Metal’s Most Interesting Voices Are All Female – And It’s About Time, an opinion piece which highlighted the fact that a lot of metal's most vital new music is currently being created by women. At time of writing, it's received over 1,300 comments on Facebook – the majority of which are sadly negative, ignorant or merely confirm why that article needed to be written in the first place.
“Without exception, every female fronted metal band is shit.”
Serena (Svalbard): I’m really impressed that you’ve taken the time to listen to every 'female-fronted metal band' ever. So, you must be well aware that Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult sound nothing like Nightwish? Or Walls Of Jericho sound nothing like Myrkur, right? But despite these vast variations between women in metal, you’ve still concluded that we’re all 'shit'. Every single one of us. The term 'female-fronted' needs to get in the bin. It's defining a band by their sex, not their sound. It's reductive. It enables this dismissive, blanket way of thinking. Not all women’s voices in metal are the same.
“Screaming, growling vocals from women is not necessarily a turn on.”
Serena: Maybe, just maybe, we aren't trying to turn you on? If you are seriously evaluating female vocalists on whether they turn you on, please stop and ask yourself this: would you rate male vocalists this way? Would you ignore their musical abilities to focus solely on whether it gets you hard? Not everything women do is an attempt for male attention. Sometimes we're just making music because we love to create music. Women do not exist solely for the purpose of turning dudes on, so stop rating us this way.
"This is one of the most accepting subcultures of all time. It's not about time because it's always been here. This is obviously written to make some demographic happy that most likely have no desire to be part of what we represent."
Djamila (Ithaca): Says the person whose demographic has always been represented to the detriment of everyone else. Stop telling us that our lived experiences are a lie. What do you represent? Sexism? Misogyny? Exclusion? Delusion? I can assure you, we have no desire to be part of what you represent. Take a day off, mate.
“The only ones saying women are 'suppressed' in metal always happen to be women.”
Serena: I think you'll find that the person who wrote the article is a guy. But you’ll know that, since you took the time to read it and then comment.
Yes. Women are saying they are oppressed in metal, because they are sharing their experiences, their stories of what it’s like to be excluded, diminished and dismissed by a music scene that treats them with so much hostility. You may not have experienced the disrespect female musicians experience in metal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn't exist. You want evidence of the hostility? Read the Facebook comments on the original piece. Read the YouTube comments on any music video featuring a woman. Then remember that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what we endure.
“When there’s a lead female vocalist in a metal band, the music is all watered down/generic. It’s all for image. Hot chick frontman = $$$.”
Serena: Ahh, that explains the millions of pounds my underground metal band is raking in. Because despite spending 15 years teaching myself guitar, seven years forming a band and crafting our sound, I exist purely for the image. I am a 'hot chick' to rake in the dollars. Nothing more. (But remember guys, I’m apparently 'not oppressed'.)
"I don't give a shit if it's men or women making the music, I just want good music. Stop forcing politics on art.”
Djamila: It's. Not. About. You. It’s not about what you want. It’s about visibility. It’s about proving that this is an inclusive space everyone can get involved in. When the ratio is 10:1 male to female, what kind of example does that set? This is yet another incredible example of the thinking that everything women do is for male benefit and specifically for the purpose of impressing men. Have you ever stopped to think that we don’t give a fuck about your opinion, or that some of us want to connect to people who aren’t men? Or that we too, would like our experiences heard? I relate to female musicians. Maybe some of them relate to me. We don’t care about you.
“Female vocalists in metal bore the shit out of me.”
Serena: In what way? In the way that Floor Jansen has one of the widest, most dynamic vocal ranges, from hard rock, to opera, to growls? In the way that Larissa Stupar uses powerful death metal screams to channel her topical rage? In the way that Anneke van Giersbergen can belt a hauntingly beautiful melody with such character and emotion? Oh wait, I forgot: we’re all the same and we’re all 'boring'. Again, let’s reverse this. Imagine how absurd it would be to claim that male vocalists in metal bore the shit out of you. Of course, this doesn’t happen, because Corey Taylor, Ozzy Osbourne and Shagrath all have the privilege of being acknowledged in their own right for their unique vocal stylings, not lumped together and dismissed because of their gender.
"Behind every female vocalist is a good band of male musicians."
Djamila: And behind every comment like this is a man who hates women. I’m not even going to touch this.
Serena: But… I'm the guitarist in Svalbard as well as the vocalist. Why assume women can’t play?!
“Always some feminist to get angry over nothing.”
Serena: If you spent years working hard to be a musician and were constantly objectified and dismissed based on your gender, you would be angry. But what do I know? I’m only speaking from experience.
"Alternatively, why not choose music by quality, rather than gender?”
Djamila: This is interesting, because at no point has anyone been asked to choose music based on gender over quality. What we’re asking you to do is consider bands including other genders in the same way that you consider all male bands. This means holding bands with women/trans/non-binary people to the same standard as all-male bands. If the music is shit then it’s shit – but what this means is giving us an equal opportunity without immediate dismissal. What we are asking you to do is to admit that the gender imbalance is a real issue that exists and to maybe sit down and think about what you can do to make anyone who isn’t a male musician feel more welcome. And to be quite honest, if you’re not willing to do that then you need to shut up and get out of our way.
“In most cases people have a female vocalist to get people in the door. Pretty sad to be honest. Oh do you think you can get up here in the least amount of clothing possible? Can you scream even a little? Can you use your body to draw attention to our band? You’re hired!”
Serena: No one in any of the bands mentioned in this article was hired. They founded the bands they are in. The women in these bands aren’t the result of some cynical boardroom meeting. We are musicians with our own agenda, not marketing puppet gimmicks bought into the fold at the last minute. I once got told by an agent that my band would "sell more records if I wore less clothes". And you know what I said in response? I said that metalheads aren't that stupid and kept my clothes on (not that there’s anything wrong with however a woman wishes to dress). Seriously, show me one example of the women in the original article wearing 'little clothing' and 'using their body to draw attention to the band'. Oh wait, you can't.
But here’s the thing: women have bodies. And we have been objectified by the male gaze in the media forever, resulting in this patronising view that we are manipulative sex objects who 'use our bodies' to get what we want. No, we don’t 'use our bodies' – we merely exist in them. Every fucking day. There’s nothing we can do about the bodies we are born into. By merely having breasts, you get accused of 'using them for attention' when all you want people to pay attention to is your sweet new riff. It’s enough to make you want to don a mask and jumpsuit. But should we have to? Is that what it will take to be taken seriously? (Remember guys, apparently, we’re not oppressed.)
“Representation is less because there [is a] lesser number of women in comparison to men. The reason for that is [a matter of] understanding what metal music is about. When you have majority of the human female population not listening [to] or liking rock music in general then yes the influence [over] the same music will be lesser. There is a genuine lack of talent in that sphere.”
Djamila: There’s a lot to unpack here, so instead i’m going to respond with a few questions.
1) Fewer women in comparison to men where? On Earth?
2) Please, please, please tell me: what is metal about, and why do our tiny dumb bird brains not understand?
3) Where the hell did you come to the conclusion that the majority of the female population don’t listen to rock music in general?
4) What sphere? The 'female sphere?'
None of what you’ve said here is true, and none of this has any basis in fact at all. Educate yourself. It’s genuinely baffling to me that people can say ‘But there are loads of women in metal, what are you talking about?’ and in the same breath come out with ‘There are no women in metal because women are shit at music’. This is so contradictory it’s painful. I can tell you some real facts, though:
1) Just as many women enjoy rock and metal as men do.
2) Metal is about whatever you want it to be about.
3) Women are just as talented musicians as men are.
Some questions you should be asking are:
1) Why are there more men than women at the metal shows I go to, and what can I do to encourage other people to join in?
2) Why are there more male musicians in heavy music, and how can I encourage others to get involved in making music?
“Women have never been oppressed in rock or metal.”
Serena: Women: 'We are oppressed.'
Men: 'No you’re not.'
Just because you don’t experience oppression in metal doesn’t mean it does not happen! How many times do I have to say this?
"Oh, I'm sorry, was someone stopping women from joining metal bands up until now? Who the fuck comes up with this shit?"
Djamila: Oh, I’m sorry, are you a woman who wanted to join a metal band at some point? If something is generally outside your realm of experience, trying to invalidate others' lived experiences makes zero sense. In short: shut up and listen.
This is an issue of representation. Maybe for some women just joining a metal band was easy, but for the vast majority it’s not. Sure, no one is physically stopping anyone, but when you have little representation it’s hard to imagine any success in your chosen field – be it work, music, whatever – when its not been proven. When I was growing up there were a couple of really incredible female hardcore/metal vocalists that I idolised, but it wasn’t enough because these women were a tiny minority.
There was no one in my local scene and no one tangible for me to relate to. As a result, I didn’t feel like playing metal was attainable for me in any way, because I wasn’t represented enough to believe I could do it.
As a woman, maybe you’ll chase your dream and want to be the exception to the rule, or perhaps you’ll shrivel and not even bother trying because you know it’ll never happen for you. I did the latter, and then the former. And you know what happened when I decided to do it anyway? I was made to feel like shit every step of the way by men who thought I was weak, unworthy and unable to match them. For some reason, they all thought I was trying to impress them when the only person I was trying to impress was myself.
Why shouldn’t everyone be given a chance? The important thing is that everyone is represented in heavy music and that everyone has someone to relate to and be inspired by. Once again, you cannot pass comment on something you’ve never experienced. It’s not a difficult concept.
“So tired of this made up oppression.”
Serena: What on Earth would we benefit from 'making up' oppression? What on earth would we benefit from inventing all the hostility we face? Whenever we speak about our experiences we are met with more hostility, more dismissal. And yet you continue to tell us it doesn’t exist. Please give us the benefit of belief. We have nothing to gain from speaking out against our negative treatment, we are speaking out about it because we want it to stop.
“Yeah, jump on the bandwagon too of hating on guys.”
Djamila: Oh, poor you! Are you upset? As one of the many people calling us fragile, weak ‘snowflakes’ for merely requesting an even playing field, are you feeling attacked? Clearly the irony is lost on you.
Feminism is not about hating men. Feminism is not a bandwagon. Feminism is about equal rights and equal opportunities. Stop derailing the conversation because, once again, this is not about you. But I can assure you – feminism is for everyone.
“Women’s voices just don’t work in metal, I’m not sexist, it’s just my opinion.”
Serena: You are sexist. It’s just my opinion.
Djamila: These are just a small snippet of the thousands of comments received on the Metal Hammer facebook page in response to the original piece, and unfortunately the vast majority of them were in this vein: patronising, sexist, diminishing and invalidating.
The thing is, no one is forcing you to listen to music you don’t like or that you think is bad. What we’re actually asking for is recognition as artists without being reduced to merely our gender identity and to be held to the same standard and consideration that our male counterparts are. We do not want special treatment and we do not want to be tokenised; we have a genuine longing for the day that there are so many women in heavy music that it becomes a boring subject that isn’t even discussed anymore. We’re sick of talking about it too. Just let us fucking play.
So how do we move on from this? By promoting, encouraging and supporting bands including women, trans and non binary members, as well as people of colour and those from other discriminated groups until everyone has equal representation.
If you’re a man, make an effort to promote, recommend and book us (because you like the music, not because you expect us to fuck you out of gratitude). Buy our music and support us so we can carry on making music. Understand that our experiences are valid, listen to us and believe us. Speak up when you’re confronted with inequality within your own scenes as well as online. Be a friend, be an ally.
If you’re not a man: Start a band! The future is yours.
Ithaca and Svalbard will be playing together at Boston Music Rooms, London on 16th March and Green Door Store, Brighton on 30th March.