So, to cut out all backstory –
I was pissed. I was beyond pissed. After listening to the local radio station play a ‘Tribute to the Ladies’ for the better part of EIGHT hours, you’d think they could have slid in a couple of songs that were by, you know, female artists. Especially seeing as it was a tribute to them and all.
Not single a song sung by a woman, and not a single credit to a female backup vocalist or musician.
Nothing but songs by male musicians about wanting ‘her’, or her legs, or how this male really, really wanted her, but she was having none of it.
It was eight hours of listening to men heckle and objectify women.
To the radio station’s credit, they somehow thought that a bunch of songs sung by men that call out women’s names would somehow be a tribute to women. Rhonda, Michelle, Caroline, Angie, Roxanne, Proud Mary (and not the Tina Turner version).
My blood’s still boiling thinking about it. Add in some Black Magic Woman, Legs, and a lot of Baby, Baby, and Hey, Hey Mama and you see my point.
Great, you did roll call. Now, can I talk, please?
And this is what was missing – any input from a female singer, or acknowledgement of their work (even when you could hear them in the background) – it was lost in the male perspective. It was men, telling us what they thought about women, be they tricky or sexy or desirable, and not allowing a female’s voice to enter the conversation.
It was an entire radio program of shut up, please and thank you, honey, and we’ll tell you what we think of you.
So, I took it to Twitter, and told them how pissed off I was. And, lemme tell you, there was no shutting me up then – please and thank you, honey.
(And to give the station credit, there was that moment of godawful awkwardness in the announcer’s voice as she realized they had been playing a bunch of songs that simply mention women’s names and sure wasn’t a tribute to anybody, and they adjusted their programming as best they could.)
But still, no Janis Joplin.
What the heck was I so mad about?
2000 (or more) years of male domination and misrepresentation.
I was furious in a way that only over 2000 years of misrepresentation in the arts can bring. Don’t believe me? Crack open any art history text book, and you’ll find a handful of female artists represented in a time frame covering a span of about 1950 years. (That’s ONE THOUSAND, NINE HUNDRED and FIFTY YEARS of pissed off.)
Who do we see? Freida Khalo, Georgian O’Keeffe, Artemisia Gentileschi, Mary Cassatt, Emily Carr. Five women who are portrayed as artists in their own right, and not the subject of the painting itself. And definitely not anybody’s muse.
You have to remember that most depictions of women in the arts was to either acknowledge rank (i.e. Mona Lisa) or soft corn porn (i.e. Manet’s Dejuner sur L’Herbe). No middle ground. Even the statuesque Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People features toplessness, and let me tell, it’s damn hard to lead a revolution when your boobs are hanging out. Something about a complete lack of support in the face of a charging enemy.
But in all seriousness, take that number. Five. In most art history books, that’s the number of women you’ll see making art before the 1950s (of course there are more, and things started to change around the 1920s, but we’ll stick with our five).
Freida Khalo, Georgian O’Keeffe, Artemisia Gentileschi, Mary Cassatt, Emily Carr. You might have even heard of them.
This was not because women weren’t making art – its just their kind of art wasn’t recognized by broader society or the institutions it supported. Most women through history were stuck at home doing feminine arts such as embroidery or weaving. Maybe painting ceramics.
There weren’t a lot of male artists willing to let women into their studios, other than as a sexy subject to objectify. Artemisia Gentileschi was a Renaissance painter who was taught by her father, and her work portrays a frustration at her lot in like. She was female, and expected to marry, raise a family, and not paint. Her depiction of Judith Beheading of Holofernes remains unique in its time, for the sheer gore and anger evident in the beheading.
But she was one woman we’ve heard of, in a span of nearly two thousand years. (Kahlo, Cassatt, Carr, and O’Keeffe weren’t painting until about the 1900s or so.)
As you know, writer friends, the world of literature wasn’t much better.
You might have heard of a poet named Sappho – she was around in Ancient Greece, and then there’s near radio silence on female writers until nearly the Victorian Era. And sure, the incredibly high illiteracy rates among both men and women had something to do with this, but when you look at who was getting published in Victorian times, it was men, and a few women who snuck in using male pen names. Eventually people like the Brontes and Jane Austin paved the way for rest of us.
And, its not as though women weren’t writing — they were writing journals and letters, and a few sketches here and there. But nobody thought to publish their work – in times of heroes, and epic poetry, and a male-centred view – who’d want to hear about the lives of women?
Flash forward a couple hundred years or so, and welcome to the internet – the land of mommy bloggers, who, corporate sponsors soon realized were a great way to promote themselves, because having a well-placed product description in the blog of a well-established blogger meant reaching a market they were previously unable to tap.
Huh, funny how that all works out.
So back with the whole radio thing – I was furious because it came down to acknowledging artists and their contributions, and being fair. Equal representation and opportunity for women’s voices to be heard. Sure, let the guys sing about girls, if that’s what they want, but let the women of music tell their own stories, in their way.
So the debate became a little ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and a lot of let women’s voices gain fair representation.
Because I have my own words I wanna use, and you know damn hell I’m gonna use them – please and thank you, honey.
Liz McAdams is a short, sharp writer with a fierce edge. When she’s not slaying local radio stations, she’s writing about serial killers, vampires and all kinds of gruesome things. Her work appears on Spelk, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama and all around Twisted Sister. You can connect with Liz through https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/
But for more on women in the music industry, be sure to check out
Janis Joplin Little Girl Blue — a documentary that may appear on public television, Netflix, or YouTube depending on your region
The Punk Singer — a film about Kathleen Hanna
20 Feet From Stardom — a film about the backup singers whose voices shaped music history, and you might never see