(Credit: Getty/Bloomsbury Publishing/Salon)
It was a time of incredible hope for a number of musicians, hope, and change, and brilliant fun, but it was also a deceptive time and a mean time, and an evanescent one. Today people look back and think it an era full of bold and witty musicians with integrity who made gritty, tuneful, roughhewn albums and who then travelled the country playing tiny clubs to warm little crowds of fans who hugged them afterwards in the afterglow of a big group consciousness. Them against the world. “Our little group has always been,” you know. And it was. But it was also a time veiled with the false consciousness that often cloaks artistic pursuits that at bottom are making someone some money. And if there is one way that the indie rock era failed in its promise of communal, anti-capitalist utopia, it was in its attitude towards women fans. As Liz put it:
[Guyville guys] always dominated the stereo like it was their music. They’d talk about it, and I would just sit on the sidelines. Until finally, I just thought, “[screw] it. I’m gonna record my songs and kick their [butt].”
As that image indicates, instead of embracing women, indie rock took its cues towards them from commercial rock, where the explicit exclusion of women audiences has been empirically documented. For example, Elizabeth Wollman’s study “Men, Music and Marketing at Q104.3” illustrates the way that commercial radio stations of the 1990s, by using gender-specific tactics and appeals, “consciously oriented their programming solely towards male listeners while simultaneously ignoring female listeners.” Wollman quotes the kind of masculine rhetoric heard on stations like WAXQ (104.3) in New York City, such as commercials that confused the word “variety” with “vagina,” which used the Primus track “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” as their in-joke text, or that had a “win a girl” contest on which men ridiculed women every Wednesday night by posing questions about orgasms and breast size—the type of chit-chat made popular on the Howard Stern show every morning.
Stations like these, Wollman explains, did so because they explicitly courted the lucrative male audience demographics.
In the case of Q104.3 heavy metal guitar solos were used in advertisements to attract and hold the interest of young, male listeners. Backed by busy, complicated sounding guitar solos, announcers praised skis, car dealerships, the Internet, sporting goods, beer, local restaurants, and Q104.3 itself. The preponderance of heavy metal in advertisements also worked to connect, in the listener’s mind, the station, the products it advertised and the music that served as its cultural product.
The station also simply didn’t play music made by women. According to the station manager of Q104.3, this was not a market-driven decision, but because such music was “bad.” “A lot of these modern women musicians just sound mad at the world—they’re just filled with rage,” a DJ told Wollman.
We don’t want that on our [current, classic rock format]. We want a more upbeat, positive sound. The previous format . . . played some women. …read more