By Ashley Allen
Last year was a great year for metal music. Ozzy announced a No More Tours II farewell tour, after which he will no longer tour (maybe for real this time!); Rammstein announced a new album coming out in April 2019; and Sleep released a new studio album in April with absolutely no advertisement. With so much happening it was hard to keep up at times. In fact, Sleep’s newest album, ‘The Sciences,’ was the doom metal group’s first studio album since 1999. It has been dubbed by some as the greatest metal album of 2018, particularly by their dedicated fan base who patiently waited those two decades for it. Their fanbase is assumed to be predominantly male, as are most metal bands’ of any sub-genre. So, does that mean that women simply don’t listen to hard rock/metal or that they are underrepresented? Fans of metal are known as the most dedicated consumers of any genre, according to Spotify streaming numbers. Still, an issue persists and that is the involved experiences of women in the metal world, both as artists and fans.
Heavy metal is a very loud, powerful, and sometimes brutal genre of music. It has had many pioneers who’ve aided in its modern formation, most of whom have been men, but women did, and still do, find their way into the genre. Metal has been notorious for catering to the sexual preferences of men — perhaps most obviously in the Hair Metal days of the 1980s when women were primarily represented on album covers and in music videos to fulfill a marketing tactic: Sex Sells. It was, and is not, an easy task to move beyond that objectifying beginning to get behind the album cover. Women who do get involved in the metal genre face a different set of issues when compared to their male counterparts — sexism, harassment, and assault to name a few. They face issues that men just do not face, making pursuing a career in music to be daunting and discouraging. More often than not, a female musician’s “worth” to the genre is not based on her existing talent, but her looks. In response, many leading female musicians have chosen to be as powerful and strong as possible, to show their talent exists beyond their appearances.
Women who have succeeded in music commonly speak out about their experiences. Lzzy Hale of Halestorm has spoken extensively about being a woman in hard rock/metal music. When talking to Consequence of Sound magazine, Lzzy Hale described her beginnings in music as having a “childhood naivete” that later developed into “newfound empowerment.”
“So, we’d be touring or playing a gig, and I would be stringing my guitar and somebody would always come up and be like, ‘Oh, my girlfriend never does that for me,’ or ‘The merch table is over there,’ or ‘Who are you dating in the band?’ It wasn’t assumed that I was even involved in the band. So, you end up using that as a weapon later on, as in, ‘OK, you’re not expecting me to be a part of the band, so I’m going to bring it.’”
Halestorm, In This Moment, and New Years Day are all bands with female leads, that went on tour in 2018 with extreme success. It was an example of how powerful women in metal can be. Tours like this are examples of how women in music are more than just sex appeal and can be just a strong and heavy as any other group. While women have been involved with metal for decades in one form or another, they continue to push the gender norms and boundaries of what is expected of them. The Runaways, although considered punk, rocked the world in the late 1970s. Girlschool is the longest running all female band, founded in 1978, and found their success in the UK and are now a world-wide legend. Even more recently Kittie, of Canada, rocked the metal community with their certified gold album, Spit, in 1996. Women are a part of metal history right along with their male counterparts. But they were, and still are, a minority.
While female musicians on the stage face instances of sexism every day, so do their female fans in the crowd. Being a female fan of such a predominantly male-run genre can be just as testing as making the music yourself. Sure, some women enjoy a little Queen B and some Tay Tay from time to time, as do some men, but there are countless numbers of women who find enjoyment in a darker, heavier style of musical expression. They just often don’t receive the same welcome that male fans do from one another. Imagine a pop quiz from a stranger to prove that you are “actually a loyal fan.” Yes, a woman can love Marilyn Manson, and no, she doesn’t have to recite every Type O Negative album in reverse to prove her loyalty to the band. She can attend shows and not be a groupie and not be groped. No one, male or female, should have to prove themselves as a fan. It is a type of elitism that leads some (namely insecure men) to feel superior to others. Metal elitism is a problem that everyone is subject to in one way or another, and women are often at the receiving end of it as well as the bands themselves.
Music tastes can tell you a lot about a person and how they may think or feel. Listeners of heavy metal tend to object to authority and be very strongly opinionated and yet have low self-esteem according to research. Within its ranks there are standards and expectations. Women have been pushing against those expectations for decades, and still face pushback from the rest of the community. Every person has a love of metal for their own reasons, women the same as men. Looking beyond genders of fans and musicians and into personal experiences or actual talent is the first step to moving beyond sexism, elitism, and the overall negative experience that can sometimes occur for women seeking involvement in the heavy metal world. Men are strong and powerful, women are strong and powerful, and heavy metal rules.