Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with talented women who are taking a real stand to better understand gender and gender inequality.
I am in conversation with the gorgeous and talented Francesca Stevens in a shabby and slightly intimidating Pub. Metal blares out of the speakers behind me as a I gingerly balance on a broken sofa that should definitely have not been left outside:
What is the title of your MA Thesis?
I have a working title. It is about female sexuality and experience in heavy metal culture and specifically in extreme metal because it is less accessible for women.
Yeh, I think that it is just something that is general knowledge and broadly known about, especially if you are a woman and if you are part of extreme metal and you listen to extreme metal as a fan. You probably go to gigs and realise that you are 1 of 3 women in an hundred person crowd. It is on the rise now, in 2016 there was a statistic that a third of fans in metal are women so we are on the rise.
How are you going to study female experience?
My first chapter is a feminist psychoanalysis of the representation of women in heavy metal and I am looking at their representation in media and in the culture in general.
“Their gender and sexuality doesn’t prohibit them from being part of the culture, it gives them an empowering experience”
I am carrying out an ethnomusicology study into the female experience of doom metal with a load of fans that call themselves the women of doom in Birmingham, which is just amazing. They are basically an informal group of friends but they come from all over. The reason I am doing that, what is so important for me, is that there is a real hole in academia, nobody values female experience. A really really brilliant article to show that is by Sue Wise, it is about 1984 about Elvis and she talks about how she is a feminist and a massive Elvis fan. She looks at how you can be both, as the feminist view of Elvis is as a macho sex god but she deals with it by saying but that’s looking from a male view. She always as a young girl, and she is lesbian so there was no sexual longing toward Elvis, saw him as a teddy bear. When he died she cried for him as a dear friend and a teddy bear and it had nothing to do with him as a macho sex god. It is so important to me that female experience is heard and taken seriously. The whole point of this is to show how women enjoy doom metal and to show that their gender and sexuality doesn’t prohibit them from being part of the culture and it actually can give them an incredible, empowering experience that other genders cannot get.
So their gender is still important to the sense that they have a different experience, it just doesn’t have to be exclusionary?
Oh yes, I believe that all performance and all experience of music is gendered. The experience that a man will have and that a woman will have of the same piece of music is completely different because your experience is based on your gender and your experience of your gender.
“hold on, we have always been involved in it
and if you dismiss it then you are dismissing us”
So, as you say that it is empowering, do you think the music needs to change to be less sexist or is that not necessary?
I think that there are certain types of music, like a lot of death metal, there is actually a genre called porno grind which is just misogyny in musical form and so obviously I think that that should change, in fact I don’t think that should exist. I think music is getting better, I think lyrical content is getting better. In death metal particularly, on the whole, all the famous bands have stopped talking about women and have stopped having misogynistic lyrics and have started caring about something that is more metal, like universal concepts and like poetry.
“There is a real hole in academia, nobody values female experience”
So do you think it is a gradual process? Do you think more women will be included or do you think something needs to happen to make that?
Well, I think personally that it is happening gradually but that the media need a shove. The media are so in control of how the culture is run. It is important that media and magazines start including more women in bands, because they are there. That’s what this research is hoping to prove. There was a women in rock movement in the 90s and I think we are getting a women in metal movement because doom metal is full of women. They have just come out of nowhere and we are getting more and more female doom fans and it is just spreading. Then obviously you get genres that interconnect like black and doom metal . So I think that that is happening. I think that they should be more represented in magazines and they should stop being split apart from everything else. We shouldn’t have a page that is ‘women in metal’ because you are pushing us to the periphery. It says “You’re a women, you are a fad and you are not actually here for the long term”. But we are, we always have been but no one represents us. So I think the media has to change.
Why focus on heavy metal?
I chose heavy metal because it is a new area of academia. It is my personal interest and I have an inside view as well as an outside view. I think that it has been dismissed as masculine and misogynist since people started writing about it in the 90s. They said metal is misogynist. The same thing happened to rock in the 80s. They said it was misogynist and it was bad for women and they shouldn’t be involved in it. But hold on, we have always been involved in it and if you dismiss it then you are dismissing us and you are pushing us further to the periphery, even in academia. I think that is why it is so important for me that I talk about heavy metal because it is also personal to me.
“We shouldn’t have a page that is ‘women in metal’…it says:
“You’re a woman, You are a fad and you are not actually here for the long run”
When you are carrying out your research do you think you are being affected by what you already know and the assumptions you have drawn?
I have to be careful and it is like when you write any essay, I have to state that I am a woman and therefore that effects my view, I am also a feminist and a fan and that also massively affects my view. I think that It’s a good thing because I don’t think I would have known about these incredible bands otherwise because It is underground culture.
Do you find that with the other genres of music you are interested in, such as classical, that women have a similar experience?
I think with classical music there is definitely a split, men have this ‘superior tone’. I think you get that in all areas of life. I think women are always going to have to work harder to be heard and to be appreciated and respected. Especially in classical music, is old music, it’s traditional it is based around male composers. We are broadening, and with academia there is lots of work on female composers at the moment but I think that it is not still taken as seriously as Bach and Beethoven and these big male composers.
Are their elements of being a feminist, that mean when people say things it just infuriates you?
Yes, definitely but I am very liberal in the fact that I just want women to be able to do what they want to do, to wear what they want to wear and that is very very important to me. Obviously, I want equality but Its so important that women get to do what they want to do.
“I Just want women to be able to do what they want to do”