I am guilty. This is really embarrassing to admit: I used to believe that “those other girls” at shows were not really “into the music.” At least, not like I was. Luckily, age and ideology got the better of me. This is not to say I previously had ZERO woman friends, because I did. They just weren’t into metal and therefore not a perceived threat. I grew up, got over my bullshit “alpha female” stance and made some wonderful friends in the metal scene that happen to be women. Recently, I read Rosemary Hill’s article and it resonated so deeply, I felt the need to write about it.
Hill’s research, conducted in Britain, finds most women not interested in hooking up with bands. Granted, this is British rock research, but womanhood in merry ole England and America are not terribly different. The most important points of Hill’s article, I felt were:
“To be a woman fan, then, is to be assumed to be sexually attracted to male musicians…. This representation is a myth because most women fans do not sleep with musicians, but if they do or want to this does not mean that they do not love the music in passionate and thoughtful ways too.
However, in spite of their criticisms, quite a few of the women did describe erotic feelings towards particular musicians… Their attraction was bound up with musical pleasure in complex ways… This indicates that the relationship between women’s musical pleasure and their feelings about musicians is more complicated than the groupie myth allows.”
In sum, most women don’t find themselves wanting to sleep with musicians. Attracted to, and admiration for, possibly, but attraction and admiration are not always sexual. Women are more complicated than a stereotype.
But the groupie myth is so easy for men and women to perpetuate and so difficult to eradicate! Do we just assume that other women at shows are attracted to and will pursue musicians? Are women attracted to the perceived power, popularity and status of musicians? Do they enjoy the perceived competition with other female music fans? Do women only enjoy music- especially extreme music- because they feel it makes them more unique and appealing to a certain type of man, who they can pursue, “conquer” and brag about?
Despite the fact that none of the above was true for me or the few ladypunks and metal women in my super-exclusive (read: I was a huge bitch) circle, I believed the myth! I believed I was a special snowflake, one of the only women of my age group, in my city to actually be into the music and not at shows for a boyfriend, a friend, or to hook up. Yes, it shames me to admit this now, as a full grown adult. But I’ve grown and learned (and made fun of my past self for being a shitheel who perpetuated negative stereotypes).
I was mean! I never outwardly called anyone a groupie or was noticeably hateful, but I was not warm and fuzzy to women newcomers the way I might have been to men. I may have made snarky comments under my breath or been rude or rolled my eyes. Other women and girls had been suspicious of me and had talked behind my back so I felt that gave me a right to be suspicious of other women who treaded on “my space.” I accepted and perpetuated myths about women in heavy metal- that they couldn’t really be into the music because they weren’t X enough- whatever X was didn’t matter – or they were too girly, too pretty, too thin, too tall, too bookish, too perky, too whatever to really be into the ugly world of extreme music.
With the rise of social media, women didn’t just have to be at shows to be on the receiving end of my Groupie-Myth-perpetuating. Case in point: The first time I met Ashley was on a music group on Facebook. We were both regulars, but I distrusted and disliked her. I tried to avoid her posts, but eventually things came to a head on a mutual friend’s post over one thing or another, and we were sending each other public (and private) hatemail at a rate no admin could keep up with. How could she be into, really into, my preferred kind of music? She doesn’t fit “the type”- whatever the hell I thought that meant. I blocked her on Facebook and told our mutual friends never to bring her name up ever again. We were NOT going to be friends. (Male friends’ responses: Me-ow.)
Was it stupid? Yes. Was it immature? Yes. Looking back, I think it stemmed from insecurity and jealousy. If more girls were into, really into, the music, maybe people would decide to like those girls better. Maybe I would be pushed to the side in favor of that tall, skinny, pretty bitch girl (I love you Ashley!). I didn’t think there was enough room for all of us. For me to accept another woman, it meant my space was diminished.
I lashed out because I believed the groupie myth. I bought into negative and harmful stereotypes of women. Whenever I complained about another woman at a show or on a forum for a perceived or actual slight, men in my life rolled their eyes at my “typical female” behavior. Not only did I believe negative stereotypes, I reinforced the stereotypes to the men in my life. In hindsight, these women probably said the same things about me. I had a lot of male friends, went to a lot of shows, and had an ex-boyfriend join a well-known metal band while we were still together. As far as it looked to any outsider, I was a groupie too.
After looking at my life, my values, theory, and having a conversation with a friend (at the time, a complete stranger named Katy*), I realized I was an idiot. She was a very pretty woman, into metal, married to a musician. She loved the music, but we talked mostly about our lives- education, being with someone who was gone, the difference between her home country and America… This seems like a no-brainer now, and I kick myself for now for ever doubting it- but she was just as complicated and interesting and into the music as I was.
From then on, I decided to try something new. I applied my own experiences in working with (mostly not-metal) women in a mentoring program to my metal life. I gave women chances. I didn’t want to be a mean girl anymore and I certainly didn’t want to perpetuate negative ideas of women in metal. I even reached out to Ashley, apologizing for being an idiotic, bitch snobby mean girl. And we became friends. I found women metal fans were just as passionate about the music AND we had similar experiences. I learned to collaborate and share rather than compete. We shared friends, music and stories about being treated poorly (or hilariously) at shows, record stores, etc. Those women understood and related to experiences the men in my life couldn’t relate to. Of course, our friendships stretch beyond the confines of music, but music was our first commonality.
Does this mean no women are interested in groupie roles? No. Sure, there are women who are interested in hooking up with male musicians. Some women may even play into the role. As Hill pointed out- women’s relationships to music and musicians are complicated. (But so are men’s. As someone from Despumation Press pointed out on my Facebook page- do all straight men like Arch Enemy for the music? Are they also attracted to Angela Gossow? If they are, does it matter and who asks a man this question anyway?) What it comes down to- and Hill’s evidence corroborates this- is that women are just as attracted to music as men (and I would add, to mind our own damn business). This statement seems almost comical to write, but there you go.
What it comes down to is respecting our choices and decisions while allowing others autonomy. I have no control over another woman’s behavior at a show, and her choices to pursue band members (or not) has no bearing on my friendships with members in the band, the audience members or the bartenders or my enjoyment of the music or the show. We’re all complicated people, and every person should be allowed autonomy to make choices suited to THEIR lifestyles. Because I believed the groupie myth, I lashed out. I didn’t want to share my precious space with other women. I ended potential friendships before they started. That was my choice, and a poor one.
I’ll never know who I could have been friends with that I blew off. Maybe there was a potential BFFFFFF that I alienated with my meanness. I’m sorry. I’m trying to make it right by apologizing when I can and by being nice- genuinely nice- to other women I meet at shows. So far, so good. I have a wonderful network of women in metal, each with their own desires, fears, tastes and backgrounds. And I wouldn’t trade them for all (or any) of the rockstar sex in the world.
*name changed – originally posted here.