Depiction of women in rock
 Rock Culture
Misogyny in Rock 
 Women in Rock
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 
 The Runaways & Joan Jett
 Riot Grrrl Movement
 The Beatles- Run For Your Life
 Guns N' Roses- It's So Easy
 Senses Fail- Choke On This
 Yuridia Chapa    May 2, 2014
 Women's bodies as advertisement
Effects of Rock culture on society
 Gender bias is something very present in a patriarchal society such as ours. The fact that women are not taken seriously is not news. The rock music industry is certainly not immune to such internalized norms. In fact, gender bias is even more prevalent in a sphere that has constructed itself with all that is depicting of masculinity.

Rock music, has as grown, evolved, and inspired many subgenres to the point of confusion. In fact, Wikipedia lists 225 different subgenres to rock music. (Wikipeida)What can be seen as rock today is vastly different from what was considered rock in the 1950’s. If you put Elvis Presley, AC/DC and Avenged Sevenfold side by side, the differences are easily notable. However, they and every musician that performs under the vast label of rock has contributed to its culture. Rock music has taken it upon itself to become synonymous with tough, rough and aggressive. This genre is plagued with musicians covered in tattoos and piercings, are known to have drug and/or alcohol addictions, and are promiscuous. According to Patricia Hill-Collins a masculine being is forceful and willing to establish authority/dominance and has the ability to control women. More importantly they must not be like woman. (Hill-Collins 188-193) The characteristics of rock culture go hand in hand with masculinity. To contrast, hegemonic femininity demands woman to be not be like men. They must physically indicate their gender through the emphasis of their breasts, hips, and booty. In regards to behavior they must be submissive, and should remain at home. (Hill-Collins 193-199) It is no wonder that this sphere that has built itself on the degradation of women, has left almost no space for them, either as an audience or performers.  It seems that the notion of what is believed to be an ideal woman and a rock star are incredibly conflicting. This makes it extremely difficult for a woman to enter and even more so to succeed in this genre.

 Woman are often times the subjects that musicians sing about. When it comes to rock songs women have not always been portrayed in the best light. The dominant stereotypes of woman depicted, at times extremely graphic, in these songs include woman as possessions or objects that are there for sexual purposes.  These women are shamed for being sluts, and the men are glorified and idolized as rock stars.


The Beatles is arguably the most well-known (early) Rock band. Their popularity is undisputed, even after over 40 years of the bands break up. While they do not embody most of the physical tough guy elements of today’s rock stars, they do portray some of the stereotypes discussed. The Beatles are certainly glorified, and people choose to blindly ignore their indiscretions, particularly those of John Lennon who “was prone to unprovoked acts of cruelty, jealous rage and perverse sexual fantasies.”  (Cahalan) While many of their songs can be romanticized and regarded advocating love and peace, they did perform others that depicted negative views of women. Run for your life was recorded in 1965 as part of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album. This song while upbeat and catchy, showed its writers, John Lennon’s violent side. Throughout the entire song this woman gets infantilized by being addressed as only a “little girl” who is in need of a “sermon.” This “little girl” is advised to run away if she is ever caught with another man, for it would be “the end.” The male in the relationship is seen as the one holding power. In fact, he holds so much power over her that he can make the decision of when to end her life, which he will have the liberty to do so if she cheats. He justifies this belief by stating that he is a wicked man, born with a jealous mind, something that she is aware of, and therefore must put up with. 
 Another well-known band who portrays negative views of woman is Guns N’ Roses. This particular band is known for its misogynist lyrics and its band members’ controversial actions. The lead singer, Axl Rose is notoriously known for his drastic mood changes, something that can be attributed to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He is even more known for his misogynist reputation. His incidence of domestic abuse was plastered on the pages of People magazine in 1994. Erin Everly, Roses ex-wife claims “that throughout her four years with Rose, she suffered regular beatings that left her bruised, bloodied and sometimes unconscious.”  (Dougherty) His thoughts on women can be seen plainly on his various songs that portray women as inferior. It’s so easy is a song on Guns n’ Roses debut album Appetite for Destruction. This song is entirely covered in a male dominance attitude. “Everyone is trying to please me” is repeated several times throughout the song. The woman that is being addressed seems to have two purposes, to sexually please and to work as a punching bag. Not only is she being sexualized, but so is her sister. This notion of trading a woman for her sister, who is better than her, is a long standing weak attempt at a joke. This woman who the male perceives as replaceable and exchangeable, is commanded to follow him to where ever he pleases, without asking any questions.


 Senses Fail does not share the same fame that the previous two bands do. I decided to analyze a less well known band to illustrate that this Rock culture is not solely an occurrence attributed to famous bands. Choke on this is an excellent example of the cultural double standard in regards to sexual activity. In the very first line the male performer claims that the woman being addressed is “the trash that infests [his] sheets.” Just in case that was not clear enough the next line claims that you simply “can’t make a wife out of a whore.” This song reflects the societal notion that a woman’s worth as a romantic partner is drawn from the number of sexual partners she has had. Once this woman is deemed not worthy of a supposedly sacred institution such as marriage she is labeled a whore, or a slut. Once a whore, it is fair game to use her for sexual purposes and then “disposed of…like a lighter out of fuel.” It is also interesting to see that the male performer proclaims himself as sexually promiscuous, and a liar. He does so with confidence because these traits on men are not negatively viewed. He can say to her that she “is one of many” without losing social value the same way the “whore” does.  Another song that agrees with the notion that whores are not worthy of good things is Misery Business by Paramore. The negative portrayal of woman is not something that is only perpetrated my men. Woman too ascribe to several misogynistic views, including the fact that “once a whore you’re nothing more.”

 It is through these songs as well as countless others that woman have come to be perceived as objects for sexual pleasure that are inferior to men. This perception of woman goes way beyond song content. The displaying of women’s bodies has been used for the promotion of male rock performers through sexualized album covers and advertisements. One of the most shocking displays of this was used by the Rolling Stones. In order to promote the release of their album Black and Blue in 1976, they used an image of the model Anita Russell bruised and tied up over the phrase “I’m Black and Blue from the Rolling Stones – and I love it!” This incredibly degrading image was not just a page advertisement on a magazine. This monument to misogyny was erected on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood in a form of a billboard.  Placing such an add in a space shared by advertisements of fast food and car insurance depicts the fact that these views have become so internalized by some that it is seen as an everyday thing.


 The fact that Rock music is designed this way is a big deal due to the fact that constant exposure to this culture can evoke changes into people’s beliefs. I am not arguing that rock music molds men into Satan worshipping wife beaters, but constant exposure to sexually aggressive ideals shapes people’s perception of women. In a study conducted by Janet Lawrence and Doris Joyner, men between the ages of 18-24 were exposed to 5 songs (about 17 minutes) of three music genres which included heavy metal music, Christian rock and classical music. This study found that “exposure to sexually violent material increases acceptance of violence toward women, lowers compassion for victims of sexual aggression, contributes to sex-role stereotyping, and adversely affects males’ attitudes toward women.” (Lawrence and Joyner) The attitude changes from pre exposure to post exposure in these men were enough to be statistically significant. If less than twenty minutes of this exposure can make attitude changes, then certainly a more constant exposure can shape long term ideologies.


 These perceived stereotypes of women have left almost no room for them to thrive as performers in the rock music industry. The Rock and Roll Hall of fame foundation likes to believe that it is the authority in deciding what good rock music is. The hall of fame exists “to recognize the contributions of those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) If the Hall of fame houses what is considered to be the best in the rock industry, then it is easy to gage what gender is considered worthy. The fact that only 8.5% of people inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of fame are women is a prime example of the gender bias present in the rock industry. Out of 719 individuals inducted, only 61 have been women, and none of these women have been inducted more than once. The way these people get inducted is also very important to consider. “Ballots are…sent to an international voting body of more than 600 artists, historians and members of the music industry. Those performers who receive the highest number of votes are inducted. Beginning in 2012, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened nominee voting to fans around the world.” (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) Essentially, the hall of fame is representative of the industries’, and more recently, the public’s perception of the best in rock. A perception that deems women as unworthy, something that can be attributed to the dominant male presence as voters. 
 It is clear that rock music is seen as a masculine thing. The very act of playing the kind of instruments associated with this genre, such as electric guitars, the bass, and drums, are seen as masculine instruments. It is remarkable that any woman was able to penetrate through the negative gendered notions and achieve the status of rock stars, or woman rock stars as they are more commonly referred to. The difficulty of such an act is demonstrated by the amount of women in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, again only 8.5%. None the less, Rock has witnessed amazing female artist and female led subgenres that have led into movements such as the Riot Grrrl subgenre.


 The Runaways are one of the most well-known all female rock bands. Between the years of 1975 to 1979, The Runaways released 4 albums, played sold out shows both in the U.S. and Japan, and toured with other well known (male) bands, such as the Ramones, Tom Petty and the heart breakers and Van Halen, all of whom have been inducted into the hall of fame. (Wikipedia) (Songkick)  All of this was accomplished in spite of the several lineup changes and difficulties due to their gender. Joan Jett, the bassist and at times vocals of the band acknowledges this by stating in an interview that "people would say, 'Girls can't play rock 'n' roll,' because socially, rock 'n' roll is sexual and that was threatening to a wide majority of people." (Laudadio) Through songs such as Cherry Bomb and Queens of noise, the Runaways established themselves as women who were not going to be objectified, they were “wild things” who were “not one of your toys.” Through their songs they established themselves as tough aggressive rock musicians in charge of their sexuality. Even after their split, several of the band members went on with their music careers.

Joan Jett has been called the queen of rock, and has been labeled a rock legend, however, she is not one of the many people that have been inducted to the hall of fame. These titles are well deserved, Jett co-founded the Runaways, started her own label, and has three albums that have been certified either gold or platinum. Her musical accomplishments continue to include having a song on Billboards top 100 for seven weeks, having several songs on top 40, as well as being the producer of several bands, having a Joan Jett day in west Hollywood and being the first women to receive the Golden God award in 2014. (Wikipedia) (Revolver magazine) This woman made her career at a time where women were not taken seriously, even less so in the rock music industry. After splitting from the Runaways Jett made several attempts to be signed to a record label, 23 times to be exact. (Wikipedia) Being told 23 different times that you are not good, or do not fit an image worthy of being signed to a label can be a difficult thing to deal with, but that did not slow Jett down. She started printing out her own records, essentially meaning that she was the first female artist to start her own record label- Blackheart Records. (Hill) While she has been nominated for the Rock and Roll hall of in 2012 and again in 2013, she has been passed up both times. 

 The female empowerment in rock displayed by the Runaways and Joan Jett, among others, influenced the Riot Grrrl movement. Riot Grrrl is a punk rock movement that started in the 1990’s which often address issues such as rape, sexual and domestic abuse, and patriarchy in its songs. (Wikipeida) “[These] women decided they wanted to start a “girl riot” against a society they felt offered no validation of women’s experiences.” (Feliciano) Fed up with the fact that the rock industry did not leave much space for them as performers or even as an audience, they decided to create it themselves.  One of the bands considered to be pioneers in this movement was Bikini Kill, a mixed gender band that is known for their radical feminist lyrics. In their song, Don’t Need You the notion of a woman needing a man is shot down. “Does it scare you that we don't need you? Does it scare you boy that we don't need punk rock whores we don't need you.”  Not only do they call out patriarchal notions and reappropriate degrading terms, they also bluntly established themselves as sexual beings and dismissed the misconception that feminist do not have sex with men in their song I Like Fucking. This song explores the meaning of a woman’s body in a world full of rape, refusing to believe that “[her] body must always be a source of pain.” Beyond that, the performer calls for action from their listeners. Urging them to get up and take action against “troll-guy reality.” The Riot Grrrl movement is more than just a subgenre to rock music, it is in fact an entire subculture which encourages women to take initiative on accomplishing things on their own, as well as taking action against misogyny. This resulted in the creation of garage bands, woman making their own documentaries and the creation of zines, “small circulation self-published work.” Women create chapters, organize, and are active in feminist protests and movements. Contrary to popular belief, this movement is pro woman, not anti-man. The way they empower the feminine gender does not come at the expense of men. While Riot Grrrls do experience certain backlash from societies due to their unwillingness to conform to hegemonic feminine ideologies, it has not stopped them from chasing after their goal of having more of a female presence in rock music.


 The term rock star is not gendered, yet it is more than likely the people will invasion a tough guy holding a guitar when encountering this term. The gender bias in the music industry stems from our internalized understanding of masculinity and femininity. Society at times hold very strict, and separate guidelines for a particular gender, especially when it comes to public figures. If there is any truth to the study discussed then it seems that our norms affect the construction of music, and music affects our norms. While it has been characteristic of human beings to take social change painfully slow, these absurd notions of shoving preconceived characteristics to a person based on their gender are extremely outdated. The label woman or female rock star should not be needed. Any person that plays under this genre should be acknowledged on musical talent and achievements, and should not be seen as second rate musicians due to their gender.


 About The Project
 When given the opportunity to choose your own topic, with basically no restrictions, the immensity of ones options can be a tad bit overwhelming. My choosing of this topic actually came from listening to a Taylor Swift song. While the particular song has eluded me, the fact that she was singing about a petty conflict with another woman, attacking her for her right to be a sexual being has not. This particular song got me thinking about misogyny in genres other than rap and hip hop which are the go to genres when discussing negative portrayals of women in music. Compiling rock songs to prove my argument was way too easy. Quick google searches, exploration of my own music library and suggestions from friends gave me plenty of songs to work with. I choose songs of different subgenres, time periods band popularity, and image to better illustrate my point. Also, I decided to include information of the personal lives of some of the band members to explore the questions of whether the music they perform is simply an act or a persona they put on while on stage.  It seems to me that with allegation of abuse, these misogynistic tendencies are less of a persona and more of who they actually are.

            The inclusion of the study by Lawrence and Joyner is reflective of me being a sociology major as well as my own struggle of being a feminist and a fan of rock music. I do not analyze every song I listen to, at times I am not sure of the lyrics. I do however, find myself at times repeating some of the more catchy phrases. Some of which are not even remotely reflective of my views. While I may not take apart lyrics of songs and construct my belief around them, other might be doing so as discussed by the study.  While the implications of rock music on society cannot be absolutely proved, at the very least, we as listeners of this kind of music are supporting these kind of misogynistic attitudes.

            The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the perfect example as to an institution that encompasses the effects of viewing women as second class musicians in the rock industry. Going through the list of inductees tallying up their gender was so frustrating due to how wildly disproportionate it is. The low percentage of women inducted is infuriating. An emotion that is exacerbated when realizing that the voters are essentially all men, again due the lack of space left for women. If there is one thing that I learned from this project, is that even if I am not a big fan of her music, Joan Jett is absolutely deserving of being in the hall fame. The fact that she has not been inducted is ridiculous, and I will be impatiently waiting until she does. 

Works Cited

Cahalan, Susannah. "Give Beast A Change." 12 October 2008. New York Post. March 2014.

Dougherty, Steve. "Bye Bye Love." People magazine 18 July 1994.

Feliciano, Stevie. "The Riot Grrrl Movement." 19 June 2013. New York Public Library. 13 April 2014.

Hill, Bob. "Joan Jett and the Legend of BlackHeart Records." n.d. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts . 11 April 2014.

Hill-Collins, Patricia. Black Sexual Politics. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Laudadio, Marisa. "The Real Runaways: Still Rockin' 30 Years Later." 21 March 2010. People. 11 April 2014.

Lawrence, Janet and Doris Joyner. "The Effects of Sexually Violent Rock Music on Males' Acceptance of Violence Against Women." Psychology of Women Quartely March 1991: 49-63.

Revolver magazine. "Alice Cooper Presents Golden God Award to Joan Jett at Revolver Golden Gods." 24 April 2014. Revolver. 25 April 2014.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. n.d. March 2014.

Songkick. n.d. 11 April 2014.

Wikipedia. "Joan Jett." April 2014. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 11 April 2014.

Wikipedia. "The Runaways." 14 April 2014. Wikipeida, The Free Encyclopedia. March 2014.

Wikipedia. "List of Rock Genres." 3 January 2014. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. March 2014.

Wikipedia. "Riot Grrrl." April 2014. Wikipeida, The Free Encyclopedia. April 2014.