The Necessity of Non-Men in Angry Spaces, Or: The Irony of Men Dominating Angry Spaces
Welcome to my new newsletter, Thot's Thoughts.
Thot’s Thoughts is here. It is a newsletter by me (Danielle Chelosky) that reckons with misogyny, sexuality, and power dynamics within music and the scene that surrounds it. This first essay examines the way heavy/angry music is dominated by white men, who historically have been oppressors, and why that’s a problem.
“Women in power are seen as breaking down barriers, or alternatively as taking something to which they are not quite entitled.” -Mary Beard, Women & Power
In angry spaces, women don’t just exist. By angry spaces — this could apply to anything and be accurate, but for the sake of this newsletter — I mean musical. Hardcore, metal, punk — heavy music where the centerpiece is this relentless sense of anger. In these spaces, women don’t just exist — they are breaking down barriers just by being there, they are participating in something they are not entitled to participate in, they are trying to fit in where they don’t.
Well, I don’t know why it took me until now to think of Jessica Hopper’s essay “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t.”
We’ve evolved, to some extent. Another possible headline for this essay of mine: “Heavy Music: Where The Girls Are (Uncomfortable).” I’m not here, though, to discuss misogyny in the scene per se. Hopper, in her classic essay, talks about the way a lot of emo music relies on misogynistic lyrics, like Brand New’s or Jawbox’s or Strike Anywhere’s. I suppose this makes sense — the genre of emo, short for emotional, is frequently used as an outlet for heartbreak. Resentment makes sense.
And so I want to talk about this — the way that resentment and anger are at the core of heavy music. Therefore, women should not be viewed as breaking down barriers or taking something to which they are not entitled by becoming involved in it.
“What singularly defines the situation of woman is that being, like all humans, an autonomous freedom, she discovers and chooses herself in a world where men force her to assume herself as Other,” wrote Simone De Beauvoir. “An attempt is made to freeze her as an object and doom her to immanence, since her transcendence will be forever transcended by another essential and sovereign consciousness.”
It is a given that men will be given a platform over women, even men who are not worthy (“The most mediocre of males believes himself a demigod next to women,” wrote Beauvoir), for countless reasons. Men are raised to be entitled, men will cross boundaries without thinking twice, men are taught since the day they are born to do whatever they can to gain power. Women, eased into submission, do not operate on the same assertive, determined mindset.
For this reason, there should be more women, and more non-men in general, in angry spaces. Too often women in emo music, and in most music, are reduced into what they are constantly reduced into: Objects. In the same way Hopper writes about women being belittled into harsh lines in songs in her essay, Kate Zambreno in her book Heroines writes about women who are used as muses for literature and then disposed of. “[French surrealist writer André] Breton was not in love with Nadja, he was just surgically fascinated with her. He is interested in her as a character, not as an embodied woman.” If writing songs about a woman does anything, it takes away her voice even more, no matter how the song portrays her. She becomes a source for the male — of inspiration, and, later on, power and capital. Still, not a person, but a disembodied idea, object, a tool to use for the male to gain something.
Now, I am thinking of VOICES by Gilded Age, an album for which the band took a step back and recruited people who are woman-identifying, non-binary, as well as BIPOC to write the lyrics and perform the vocals. The result is an explosive, cathartic journey grounded in a powerviolence soundscape. “Is she unlovable?/ Is she unfuckable?/ Is she valuable/ Don’t shame me!” someone screams on “Shame,” a 24-second ripper with fewer than ten lines that gets across the powerful message of the way a woman’s value is determined by how fuckable she is.
Non-men should be more entitled to heavy music than men are. The genre that emphatically advocates for transgression is perpetuating the same antiquated, oppressive values that they claim to be against.
“Many men affirm, with quasi good faith, that women are equal to men and have no demands to make, and at the same time that women will never be equal to men and that their demands are in vain,” wrote Beauvoir. “It is difficult for men to measure the enormous extent of social discrimination that seems insignificant from the outside and whose moral and intellectual repercussions are so deep in woman that they appear to spring from an original nature.”
I guess what I am saying is that I would like to see more heavy music that grapples with the moral and intellectual repercussions of this sexism and misogyny. And I would like that music to be heard and paraded and normalized. And I would like to see the patriarchal system of the heavy music scene be dismantled, piece by piece, by everyone everywhere. It is not a safe space if the system of oppression is still there.
(Remember how the frontman of As I Lay Dying hired a hitman to kill his wife and nothing ever happened to them? They get booked to this day without trouble? It is not a safe space if this is happening, either.)
When women have, since the beginning of time, been forced into submission, I wonder why the face of heavy music is typically a white male one. How redundant is it to, as Hopper illustrates in her essay, champion bands of white guys who further force women into submission? How harmful is it for them to shame women publicly with their songs that reinforce misogynist concepts? That is retrogressive art; that is a backwards music scene. Men gaining capital and power through perpetuating the cycle of oppression — this is nothing new, but it must be acknowledged that there is nothing artistic or beneficial about it.
People discuss the issue of representation all of the time, but too often it turns into a vapid conversation of tokenism.
Has anyone considered why we need more women in the heavy music scene? Because we have more to be mad about. Was punk not rooted in the idea of being an outsider? “He is the Subject; he is the Absolute. She is the Other,” wrote Beauvoir, and this is how it has been forever. Where are the efforts made to incorporate women into heavy music? Efforts that aren’t tokenizing? What about efforts to examine one’s own fragile masculinity and misogynistic tendencies? And where are more bands doing what Gilded Age did, handing off their materials to underrepresented voices? Using their privilege to support those without? And where are women on hardcore fest lineups? At metal festivals?
“An integral part of growing up as a man is learning to take control of public utterance and to silence the female of the species,” wrote Beard. The silencing of women is tradition, it is commonplace. It is tiring to consistently see the narrative that heavy music is the oasis away from the commonplace, that it lies outside the norm. It could be… but it’s not.
I know efforts are made, sometimes. I know the oppression of women is rooted so deep that there will, for a long time, be an inevitable disproportion of male bands and non-male bands. I still can’t help but wonder why more people don’t contemplate this concept — why are angry spaces dominated by the group of people who have been dominating the world since the beginning?
There are tons of bands in the heavy scene with non-men, and plenty of music sites are making sure everyone know this. I still long for the day where the listicles end and real examination is done and the system of oppression is deconstructed.
Looking back at why I got into heavy music, it was a gradual descent after realizing how voiceless and powerless I felt after a series of traumatic experiences with men. It was a place where I didn’t have to hide my anger, and I could shed the facade that people saw me as, which was just some quiet, shy girl. I wonder what women do who haven’t yet turned to heavy music or tried to turn to heavy music and didn’t feel welcomed or comfortable enough to stay. All non-men deserve a place to scream and let out all of their frustration about their oppression, and it should be safe, normalized, and freeing — dominated by no one, equal.