Thursday, May 29, 2008

A painfully long rant on a very old issue.

If you've not visited at any point, there's yet another 23-year old ladyblogger, one who runs the Cassettes & Chocolate Milk blog somewhat sporadically. El is quite a decent writer and actually posts some carefully thought-out ideas betwixt apologies for not posting more frequently, and today she's brought up the concept of what it is to be a female music fan who's forced to separate her musical appreciation from her sexual preferences as a woman.

El points out the now-cliche image of the screaming girl declaring her fandom as an example of why we associate the relationship between male musicians and female fans with pure attraction, little more. Where do you draw the line between being a girl and being a music fan, though? And how do you allow yourself to be sexually attracted to a male musician without appearing to appreciate the look more than the music? I feel dreadful admitting my sexual attraction to Syd Barrett, to Nick Drake, Bryan Webb, Tyondai Braxton, Doseone, Joe Strummer – because I genuinely love the music that all of these men create(d) and don't want to give the impression that my attraction influences my musical appreciation, when it's in fact the opposite case.

Coincidentally, in digging around for others' opinions on the topic I found this post from 2007, where Nancy Baym noted that her lust for male musicians followed her appreciation of their work. Just as one might lose interest in a physically attractive individual who opens his mouth and reveals that he's rude or incapable of intelligent conversation, there's a lot of power in art and it is undoubtable that attraction to the male musician is heightened by an appreciation for his art. And just as it's difficult to be attracted to someone whose work you don't support, it may very well be difficult to be attracted to a musician whose music you don't genuinely enjoy. Alternately, I've known a number of men who've been able to separate an attraction to female musicians from their musical tastes, who've declared an attraction to female musicians without caring for their music, and seeing as there are more conventionally attractive women than conventionally attractive men in music (speaking in ratios and numbers), it's interesting to note that the only men I've known to be attracted to unconventionally attractive women did so after establishing an appreciation of their music. Men, however, aren't often known as giddy fanboys or groupies.

What I'm getting at is that women may be frequently attracted to men in bands because music holds great power, and as Baym addresses, when music itself is an aphrodisiac, we may learn to confuse the creator with the work, training ourselves to find the creator sexy by association. As I've also mentioned to El of C&CM, women are rarely lead guitarists, and it tends to be the lead guitarist who is idolized as a musician...there are also many sloppy front men who are idolized by men and considered oddly sexy by women, and by contrast, female vocalists tend to be rather polished and, well, too pretty to be looked at for their singing talent alone. Few, few exceptions.

What's very interesting is when you go beyond the female music fan and look at the woman who's more deeply involved, to what is now a traditionally male level of love for music. One of the comments left under Baym's post was by a woman who claimed to feel as though she was taken more seriously in online music forums if she never revealed her gender; I've certainly found this to be the case in my own personal experience. And like Baym, I've often been the only woman at record stores entirely or almost entirely run by men. Female music nerds are hard to come by because women have become accustomed to the music world as a boys' club. You know what makes it difficult to geek out over music? It's not that we lack music knowledge – the music and its history are easy to learn. The problem is that it's difficult to go to a record store and strike up a conversation with a male shopper or employee about a shared love of music without sounding as though you're trying to hit on him. It's frustrating to talk to a man about music without seeing him attempt to show off and one-up you in his knowledge of the subject. But it's just not fun to keep your music to yourself. So you listen politely and give in, or you risk appearing rude by demonstrating that, yes, you do know quite a bit, in fact. Or, you avoid the record store altogether, as plenty of women do.

On the music journalism side of things, there are all sorts of adjectives one might use in music writing that blur the lines between attraction and pure description, and certainly I'm guilty of using words like “sexy,” applying them to music but acknowledging their application to the musician. Further, I've interviewed male musicians and found myself attracted to them physically, terrified to act on impulse for fear that my efforts as interviewer would cease to be taken seriously. In some cases, it really is near-impossible to be a music fan without forcing yourself to forget that you're female. Morgan Freeman said on 60 Minutes a couple of years back that a way to eliminate racism was to stop pointing out differences, and this has always been my philosophy toward gender, that women should stop pointing out their continued oppression and simply live so that respect as an equal would follow. However, it's difficult to do within an industry like music, where we're not only reminded that we're female, but where the only way to keep from drowning is to consciously mimic the boys.

So, what's the solution? Fuck if I know.

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