Explain how music can be seen as related to gender.
For many years discussions of sexuality were informed by a distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. The sex of a person was judged to be ‘biologically determined’ and their gender to be ‘culturally and socially constructed’ (Abercrombie, Hill and Turner, 1988: 103). Gender roles are frequently based around the ideas that women are expected to be more passive and emotional and men more assertive and rational. “The first type of essentialism that can be found in this area [music and gender] is the idea that men and women ‘express’ some essential masculine or feminine forms of sexuality. The second type is that this in turn can be found manifested in the content of particular cultural products and practices.” (Negus, p.124). Jeffery Weeks argued that biology merely provides ‘a set of potentialities that are transformed and given meaning in social relationships’ (1986: 25). One of the reasons why gender has perhaps often been considered to be more ‘social’, and ‘sex’ in turn more natural, is that gender is usually more visible as a series of conventions about dress codes, expected public bodily behaviour, manner of speech and so on. Sex, however, is closely connected to ‘sexuality’, which has often been informed by beliefs that this should be a more ‘private’ affair. The distinction between sex and gender is therefore both ideological and misleading. Here I follow the approach of Weeks, who has argued that gender is the ‘social condition of being male or female, and sexuality, the cultural way of living out our bodily pleasures and desires’ (1986: 45). Is ‘rock’ itself an inherently masculine genre? One of the earliest attempts to start theorising the relationship between rock music and sexuality can be found in an essay written by Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie (1978), in which they argued that rock operated as a form of sexual expression and as a form of sexual control. Frith and McRobbie declared that, in terms of ‘control and production, rock is a male form’ (1978: 5). This argument was illustrated with reference of two different types of music: cock rock and teenybop. Cock rock is a term that was coined by feminists during the early 1970s to refer to male performers such as Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant, who were ‘aggressive, dominating and boastful’. Women were often portayed as subordinate in their songs and represented as sex objects on LP covers. The music was ‘loud, rhythmically insistent, built around techniques of arousal and climax, the lyrics are assertive and arrogant...cock rockers’ musical skills become synonymous with their sexual skills’ (Frith and McRobbie (1978: 7). They believe that men dominate and control the production, reproduction and dissemination of rock music - and this is reflected in the music. Comparing this with teenybop, which was judged to be consumed almost exclusively by girls, Frith and McRobbie found a contrasting representation of male sexuality based on softer ballad styles, and evocations of self-pity and vulnerability which encouraged female fantasies about being the partner of a singer. Frith and McRobbies argument was based on a narrow series of essentialist assumptions which privileged heterosexual behaviour. As Weeks (1986) has argued, ‘male and female sexuality is far more varied and differentiated’. Against Frith and McRobbies’ argument that rock is male because it is controlled by men and therefore expresses a male sexuality, Robert Walser (1993) has proposed a more dynamic and historical approach by claiming that rock has been actively ‘made as male’. Focusing on a specific subgenre, heavy metal, he notes that heavy rock is not enjoyed entirely by male audience and neither does it communicate one type of masculinity. Walser continues to argue that heavy metal musicians do not simply express some essential maleness but instead are involved in what he calls ‘forging masculinity’. This is not a type of...
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