Groupies and guitarists: Women and heavy metal

Conventionally deemed as an “all boys club” with little or no room for women, metal has come a long way since 1979 when Girlschool an all girl band began their collaboration alongside Motorhead and went on to release “The St.

Valentine’s Day Massacre (EP)”. What started off as a largely male dominated fan base, with women spotted back-
staging as groupies, heavy metal has earned itself a large following of metal-head women from all across the globe.
Contrary to popular belief women, the heavy metal culture does not discriminate and is all welcoming in its fan base.

Women have celebrating and appreciating metal and other extreme genre for a very long time, however, being the
kind of genre that pushes for more aggressive sound (a characteristic women are not deemed poster children for)
female artists within the genre often struggle to be taken seriously. On exploring the albeit controversial sub-genre of “glam metal”, you’ll find that, in many ways, heavy metal celebrates femininity. Bands like Twisted Sister, Posion, Motley Crue and Kiss would put on live performances in lace and full heads of make-up. Now perhaps this is a more superficial representation of femininity, but it is femininity, nevertheless.

Violence in general is a prevalent theme particularly in a lot of death metal or extreme sub-genres of metal. While
some of this can be categorized as violence against women, it could be argued that a greater percentage speaks of
violence in general. In that regard alone, metal does not discriminate. It does not specifically perpetuate an “anti-
woman”, misogynistic view, rather it embraces violence as a whole. With the exception of a few questionable band
names and lyrics, its aggression isn’t specific towards women.

In the heavy metal documentary “A Headbanger’s Journey”, created by Canadian anthropologist Sam Dunn, several female artists were interviewed to get their take on their personal experiences as female musicians. While each interview highlighted a varying issue, the underlying premise, in a nutshell was that female artists are treated
differently than their male counterparts. Mercedes and Morgan Lander of Kittie mention that “talent isn’t always
enough in the eyes of the masses. You have to be attractive if you’re a woman.” Jackie Chambers and Kim McAuliffe of Girlschool have also been on the receiving end of blatant sexism in relation to being women who perform as heavy metal artists. Doro Pesch was asked to take on a more feminine image and drop the “leather jacket act” to create a more appealing image for her on-stage image.

If you do zone in on a few countries that seem to be averse to women in metal bands, you’d find that it’s a part of a
much larger issue altogether. It isn’t that talented women aren’t taken seriously as a rock or heavy metal band, it’s just that being in any kind of musical group short of a church choir would be severely frowned upon (if not much, much worse) in a lot of societies. If it is a rarity in places like Saudi Arabia, clearly it is for very different reasons.
While that may be so in a few select countries, the situation isn’t that bad on an international scale. Clearly we’ve come a long way since then, with all-girl bands like The Runaways clearly being recognized for their talent alone.

With bands like Swedish death metal act Arch Enemy that was formerly fronted by Angela Gossow, Otep led by Otep Shamaya and Halestorm, fronted by Lizzy Hale, all huge names in metal, female metal artists clearly aren’t as much of a novelty as it used to be. It is safe to say that a lot of women (if not all) are definitely being celebrated as musicians, gender be damned!