When we saw the title of this panel listed on the SXSW guide, we instantly knew we had to be present. Thanks to Laina Dawes and Kim Kelly we were able to check out Friday’s Women in Metal: Why is this still an issue in 2013?
The panel was put together and moderated by Kim Kelly, a prominent metal journalist, and featured “What Are You Doing Here?” author Laina Dawes, drummer of Witch Mountain Nathan Carson, SiriusXM DJ Zeena Koda, Royal Thunder bassist Mlny Parsonz, and Mortals drummer Caryn Havlik.
Kelly started the panel by bringing up the difference in coverage—skin coverage—of female artists in magazine specials like Revolver’s Hottest Chicks in Metal and Decibel’s Women in Metal issue, and stressed the separation of covers not being titled “people” in metal. To which Havlik made the point, “When you focus on gender first, it takes away the fact of their talent or if they are worth listening to.” All panel members agreed that we shouldn’t judge the women who choose to do those shoots, because it is a way to get mainstream press and put their music out to a wider audience. Dawes added, “Showing a woman shows other women that they can do it too. It shows us that we have control over our sexuality.” Parsonz summed up, “It is what it is; I don’t think it matters. What matters is being true to yourself.” Yes, and being true to yourself and your music should be able to get you recognition and respect more so than being dolled up in a magazine spread.
Next was the topic of shows, many women have gone to shows—especially metal shows—and have been asked what we are doing there. As if we are not able to simply come to our own conclusions on the music we enjoy and want to experience live. Parsonz related an incident from the night before: someone asked her if she was selling merch, and how most people are shocked when they find out she is the bassist playing that night; stating that singing is what they expect. Kelly continued Parsonz account with the all to familiar ‘Whose girlfriend are you?’ or ‘Why are you here?’ adding, “Then they start quizzing you about the band.” For some mind-boggling reason certain people have gotten the idea that women may only be interested in what their boyfriends listen to or would only attend a metal show to spend time with their boyfriend who is often assumed to be in the band. Thank you, but we are fully capable of making our own decisions.
Kelly next steered the panel towards the “element of having to prove yourself. It wears you down. There are always those people that come up like ‘what right do you have to be here?’ They think I am trying to impress them. I’m not trying to impress anyone.” Once it is established that you are at a show on your own free will, often, you are next assessed on your knowledge of whatever band is playing or of the genre/subculture in general. As a musician you are expected to prove yourself even further. Koda summarized, “You’ve got to have super thick skin to be in this business; to be a woman in general. There is something to be said for learning how to defend yourself… and faith in your music and what you present.”
Koda next brought up the topic of competition when she stated, “I hate that I am always getting put up against other people. Women especially are put up against each other. You shouldn’t be in competition with each other. It’s sad that that’s what it always boils down to.” The current entertainment culture creates and feeds the competitive angle, conjuring up rivalries or other means to compare women. Showing and celebrating the contrast would be far more exciting and fresh. Kelly’s suggestion, “We need to help each other out and appreciate what we’ve got: it’s up to us to make sure this [competition] isn’t an issue anymore.”
The Grammy’s this year had a female-fronted band, Halestorm, take away the trophy for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. This can be felt as forward momentum. Koda on the subject, “The Grammy’s are bullshit to me anyway, but I think it’s great that it enables young girls to see that and know that it’s a viable option for them.” Kelly then added, “The mainstream metal women are a gateway. I went from Lacuna Coil to Electric Wizard; it’s not a bad thing.” The only qualms about the mainstream is the creative control the record label may yield over the band’s music and image, because they seem to stick to a cookie cutter formula. The choice in representation is a major decision for any artist, but particularly to a female. Parsonz related, “The label I work with, they don’t give a fuck. The look has never been an issue. I mean, who would want to sign to that?”
Closing thoughts on where gender equality in metal is currently headed:
Carson: “There is an extreme disconnect in women that are in corporate metal from underground metal… 20 years ago if I was at a Slayer show it was 20-1 male to female. I’ve seen a lot of positive change. That same Slayer show now may be 5-1. Why not bring in the other half of the perspective?”
Kelly: “It’s astonishing to see the change in the past ten years. There are still issues and there are still things that need to change. But it’s moving in the right direction… We need more visible badass women out there. It’s hard to find a metal band out there headlining arenas etc. without showing more skin and softening it up a bit.”
Parsonz: “I started playing in bands when I was 13. I’ve noticed in the underground scene that there are a lot more women. When I go to shows that are more mainstream you start losing it. Maybe women are more interested in these shows because they can relate to it. There are some badasses out there that I wish people knew more about.”