it’s time to stop asking female musicians “what’s it like to be a woman in music?”
Speaking to Gusher magazine about how rock and roll can alienate women and non-men, and what they're doing to stop that.
Images via Gusher
When did rock and roll become a man's game? Or rather, why are we so often lead to believe it is? In actuality, the genre was invented by a black woman named Sister Rosetta Tharpe — and it's been dominated by powerful women ever since. Rock and roll has been a language for social, political and gender discussion for decades; with entire waves of feminism closely soundtracked by artists like Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, the Slits and Bikini Kill. While on the other side of the stage, non-male fans have largely defined what it is to love and celebrate sound.
But despite the achingly powerful pedigree of female and queer fans, our experiences are often trivialised and forced into narrow, digestible sound bites. While male artists are encouraged to take on the world, women get stuck explaining how their gender influences their music.
Thankfully though, this approach is a perspective not a reality. And one that can be corrected. That's what Isabella Trimboli and Juliette Younger from the Gusher have set out to do. Their magazine isn't just an examination of amazing women in music, but also a studied look at the experiences of fans. We caught up with them to talk about creating your own kind of change.
Being a magazine that's chosen to look so closely at women in music I feel like I should start by asking, do you feel women and men relate to music differently?
Juliette: Rock and roll music is universal — it's the often aggressive, macho or outright misogynistic culture that surrounds it that can alienate women and non-men.
Is that what you had found prior to starting Gusher, and what lead to its conception?
Isabella: Both being huge rock and roll fans, we were just looking for a rock magazine that was contemporary, included great writing and didn't isolate us as female readers. The majority of rock music magazines are completely tailored towards an older, white, male audience. Every cover story is a nostalgia-drenched circle jerk of a classic rock band and it's like, "it's 2016, we've moved on."
Juliette: And because we're not their target audience, these sorts of publications often ignore women and non-binary fans, critics and musicians. We aim to include as many different perspectives as we can in Gusher. We're by no means perfect, but we'll always strive towards being a publication that is inclusive and which actively seeks out voices that are absent from other music publications.
What did you seek to avoid with Gusher?
Juliette: There's a tendency for the media, especially music publications, to frame their stories on successful women solely around their gender, and in doing so, they often fail to engage critically and meaningfully with their work. So often you'll see interviewers ask female artists these inane questions like "what's it like to be a woman in rock?" or "do you consider yourself a feminist?" and it's just so reductive.
Even as a writer, it's amazing how often you accidentally subscribe to the idea women can only be experts in gender, and maybe getting their hearts broken.
Juliette: Yeah, like music magazines release that one issue a year about "women who rock!" and they just lump all these diverse-sounding female artists together in the name of feminism. When you limit women to their gender in this way, you deny them agency and complexity. This is a trap we actively avoid.
I'm also really interested in your take on female fandom, how do you feel it's unique?
Isabella: I think female fandom is so special because there's this great sense of camaraderie and friendship. As a young teen completely obsessed with rock and punk music, being able to go online and gush over the things I was so passionate about with other diehard teen fans was really comforting. In female fandoms online, I felt like my opinions and ideas were valid and important, something I lost when I entered IRL male-dominated music spaces.
Being a fan can be such a powerful experience. Why do you think fandom, especially female fandom, is often dismissed?
Isabella: I think it's because there's an assumption that female fans are only enjoying music on this shallow level: that their intense passion negates their ability to be critical consumers of music. One of our favourite music writers Jessica Hopper recently tweeted: "Suggestion: replace the word "fan girl" with "expert" and see what happens." And it's so true — we reduce female fans to "fan girls" because gender roles deem women emotional, foolish and unstable.
You mentioned before that women have found an escape from that online, and it's cool that you've brought that community into the physical with Gusher. Final question, who are you inspired by?
Isabella: Both of us have total admiration for trailblazers like Lillian Roxon and Ellen Willis — women who were writing about music when pop culture criticism was still in its infancy. We also have so much respect for Jessica Hopper, who not only is a brilliant writer but who also constantly advocates for women and queer people in the music industry.
Text Wendy Syfret
Images via Gusher